Two years ago, I stumbled on a Youtube video of The Big Bang Theory. I found myself infatuated with Sheldon Cooper and his “ragtag band of scientists” – Leonard, Howard and Raj. With the exception of Howard who is an engineer, three of them are physicists by profession at Cal Tech, which by the way is currently ranked no. 5 in U.S. News & World Report’s best colleges of 2012. Despite the disarming charm that these Star-Wars lovin’, video-game playin’, research conductin’ and computer programmin’ Romeos seem to have over me, it took me awhile to pinpoint what made them kind of sexy. Is it the geekiness itself? But I don’t really remember feeling the same way about Steve Urkel from Family Matters. Though Steve Urkel’s apparent intelligence and quirky nature convinced the producers to make him the center of the show – (He was only supposed to be a guest character that appears in only one show) – he was more cute than sexy.
[pullquote_left]Despite the disarming charm that these Star-Wars lovin’, video-game playin’, research conductin’ and computer programmin’ Romeos seem to have over me, it took me awhile to pinpoint what made them kind of sexy. [/pullquote_left]
So, does it mean that The Big Bang Theory guys are more sensual than Steve Urkel? Not really. It seems that there is a change over time in societal perceptions of nerds, geeks or intelligent individuals that made them more appealing. During the nearly two decade difference between these shows – The Big Bang Theory premiered in 2007, while Family Matters originally aired in 1989 – advancements in software technology were made (Think Microsoft and Apple, Inc). In a scholarly article entitled “Race, Sex and Nerds: From Black Geeks to Asian-American Hipsters,” R. Eglash explains that “The development of technological expertise requires not only financial resources but also cultural capital. Nerd identity has been a critical gateway to this technocultural access, mediating personal identities.” In other words, he argues that nerdiness has become a pseudo-cultural identity that entails opportunities in the digital, business and academic world, a venue for continuous profit and success (Think Bill Gates and Steve Jobs and the people who get tattoos of these techno-gurus on their skin).
It took about decades before society realized the allure of nerdy people. In fact, the “nerd” look is often sported by men and women alike as a kind of cultural and intellectual statement. Clothing stores like Urban Outfitters popularized the “professor satchel,” a messenger bag which is now sported by men and women who themselves are not usually seen nerdy or geeky, but instead fashion forward. Even the thick-rimmed rectangular glasses, which were seen as “square” or a little too Woody Allenesque is quite popular in today’s urban youth. Steve Urkel’s look – the five-buttoned cardigan sweater over a plaid shirt – which used to be mocked by his high school bullies now graces the glossy lookbooks of Abercrombie & Fitch, J.Crew and H&M.
However, these retailers substitute the adorable awkwardness of Steve Urkel with the chiseled features of a tall and muscular Brad Pitt look-alike. However, as the media portrays it and it has some truth to it, nerdy men seem to be more caring than the average college frat boy: Steve Urkel treats Laura Winslow like a princess and Leonard is the nicest guy that Penny ever dated. Add in How I Met Your Mother’s Ted Moseby, an adorable architecture nerd who planned out an AC/DC Christmas lights show to cheer up his ex-girlfriend. Nerdy women are equally – or even more appealing: think of the way Lisa Simpson (from the cartoon The Simpsons) stole the heart of Milhouse and the hearts of her audience. In a more realistic sense, Harvard grad Natalie Portman and the ever-geeky and adorable Tina Fey are both men-magnets.
We can’t really generalize or rely on the media and say that all nerds are nice, smart and has a high probability of success. However, we can say that most – if not some of them are – and I think that’s what makes them sexy. Forget abs or street-cred, smart is the new swag.