Being a nerd is far more acceptable these days. I just watched “Chuck“, the new NBC series, which I taped on Monday when it premiered, but only managed to watch this evening. The story revolves around a member of the “Nerd Herd” tech support employees at a “Sell More” store. Although the story in some ways recalls Johnny Mnemonic, Chuck is not enhanced through any actual technological add-ons, and thus he is different from both Johnny Mnemonic and from Jamie Sommers of Bionic Woman.
Yet Chuck is enhanced – by knowledge. Top secret information was sent to him in an e-mail, and the information was encoded into pictures in such a way that Chuck now has the information in his brain. The idea that while a computer can provide useful analysis, it is nothing a person’s brain cannot do just as well provides a marked contrast to the cyberpunk vision of the future found in The Matrix or eXistenZ. Chuck is emphatically not enhanced in any of the ways one might imagine a cyborg could be. Nor can he throw knives, or even throw punches, or even apparently duck on time and avoid flying vases. Chuck is just an ordinary nerd, who happens to be useful. Most nerds are – in spite of the fact that (unlike Thomas Anderson/Neo in The Matrix) we don’t have a technological shortcut to knowing kung fu.
At the end of the pilot episode, Chuck walks away from an NSA and a CIA agent who are threatening him, confident that they need him. This is the new vision of the nerd, and it is a refreshingly positive and hopeful one for nerds (a status which I proudly claim as my own – I might as well, since it is not as though I could deny it even if I wanted to). If in school the jocks pushed you around, take heart – they’ll be back begging you to get their computer working before you know it.
Oh, and yes, in the end the beautiful women do marry us nerds. Trust me on this one…