Sunday, June 26, 2011


I was reading today's New York Times and I spotted this in a review of The Geeks Shall Inherit the Earth by Alexandra Robbins, a book that sees former high school nerds triumphing in today's adult culture:

The teen-to-adult turnabout theme isn't particularly novel. One of its latest incarnations is a forthcoming Warner Brothers film, "Revenge of the Jocks," about middle-aged former athletes struggling under the yoke of the nerds, their onetime victims.

OK, first of all, I don't fully agree with the thesis of the book under review -- sure, being an ex-nerd is good training for working on drool-inducing Apple products, being a game designer, creating summer tentpole movies, writing bestselling fantasy novels, or devising exotic, mathematically complex ways for Wall Street to be even more parasitical than it already is. If you're the kind of ex-nerd who can take advantage of any of those opportunities, life is good; if not, your adult life is probably pretty much like your high school life.

But the notion that nerds now run the world is appealingly high-concept to media types who write trend pieces (and trend books) -- and now, if that forthcoming movie is any indication, there could be a shift in what's considered zeitgeisty.

Revenge of the Jocks? Yes, the movie really is on its way; it'll be directed by the guy who directed Jackass, and a couple of its writers worked on Tropic Thunder. So it could be a hit. And it's coming out in, um, 2012.

Do you see how well this could fit into media talk about a "man-cession" (male nerds aren't really men, after all, as every high school bully will tell you)? Do you see how it jibes with statistics showing that the unemployment rate for blue-collar workers is horrendous, while the rate for the college-educated is not that bad? Do you see how it could fit into the tale of Barack Obama the "elitist" -- in an election year?

Never mind the fact that the biggest brainiac in the punditocracy -- as defined by the fact that he has a Nobel Prize and no other regularly scheduled pundit does -- is constantly railing against policies that keep blue-collar people unemployed. Never mind the fact that MSNBC prime-time viewers are well-educated people who want unions to thrive even if they'll never belong to one. If this movie is a big hit, pundits will see its success as the public's way of expressing outrage at effete, technocratic, cerebral types like those in the Obama administration (as if the problem is smart people rather than the wrong smart people), and as a certain harbinger of the triumph of the GOP in 2012 (yes, that'll be true even if Romney is the nominee -- maybe he'll start eating pork rinds or something).

The David Brooks and Maureen Dowd columns will write themselves.

I see an analogue to this in the past: Bruce Springsteen's song "Glory Days." Yeah, Bruce is a lefty, and the lyrics to that song are bleak, but the sound of that song, and of "Born in the USA" (despite its skeptical, downbeat lyrics), helped them fit perfectly into the Reagan "morning in America" moment, with its narrative of flag-waving anti-intellectuals with simple notions of heroism triumphing over wussy effete rootless-cosmopolitan nuance-loving liberals.

Springsteen's mid-'80s jock-gone-to-seed could be 2012's jock-getting-back-at-Obambi. And if that happens, once again we'll be warping the real class war to fit a right-wing frame.


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