Frances S. Jin ’10 speaks up for former nerds everywhere
You know what, Liz Lemon? “30 Rock” may have three-peated its “Best Comedy” routine, but you can suck it. We get it—you’re a nerd, but people still love you. You’re “unattractive” but you’re actually still pretty. You have no social grace but you still manage to have friends. Pretty much your life is perfect. I don’t know about the rest of you, but Tina Fey playing America’s unsociable, flatulent, yet lovable, nerd is beginning to piss me off.
In high school, I was the unsociable, flatulent nerd. Lovable, not so much. No nerds were; that is at the very core of being a nerd. Pretending to passersby that I was waiting for my brother after school, while secretly wishing the Mathletes bus would hurry up and get there—that’s a nerd. Winning the public library’s book raffle three years running, because no one else entered—that’s a nerd. Ordering the Kong so frequently that the owner laughs every time I call and asks, “Eating alone to stay up and study late againnnn?”—well, that’s just sad. And also, not high school.
As a high school senior, I thought Harvard would be a haven for others like me. The unfortunate truth, though, is that a nerd is a nerd, no matter where you put him, and, as it turns out, a Chemistry major is a Chemistry major, no matter how prestigious the university. I recall a particularly painful interaction, when, as an overeager Freshman, I was hit on by a Quadling in the Ten-Man. Looking up at this upperclassman with my best come-hither stare, from behind my intensely thick glasses, I tried as hard as I could to imitate the flirting I witnessed all around me.
“What’s your name?” he asked me.
“Frances,” I responded, kicking myself for not having a sexier name.
“What’s your major?” he persisted.
“…Chemistry,” I dejectedly replied, knowing that, with one fell swoop, I had brought that flirting ritual to a halt.
My sober, late-night Kong infatuation aside (how did he always know I was going home to eat alone and study until I fell asleep on my Orgo textbook?), I like to consider myself a “normal” now, no longer a nerd, who has to compensate for her dorky major. Proof? I’m now an Economics major. I wear contacts. I generally shower once a day. It’s hard to say whether the concentration switch triggered my nerd-to-normal switch (indulge me for a second and let me believe this switch has actually already occurred), or whether the social metamorphosis was the catalyst (get it?) for the academic one, but either way, by the time Sophomore spring rolled around, I re-emerged as an Ec10 butterfly, and shed my outdated, dried-up, Chemistry cocoon. Goodbye, goggle marks, goodbye problem sets. Hello, going out on Thursday nights, hello, learning-how-to-flirt.
As a recovering nerd, I am still confronted by my dark, glasses-braces-andunflattering-jeans-wearing past every once in awhile. Those who have gone through the same adjustment during their time here know what I mean. You see that friend you made freshman year, that you never really kept in touch with, and you debate whether to keep your head down and scurry past to avoid the “Wow, you look great!” remarks, or whether to stroll past them just to flaunt your new, hipper self, specifically to get those remarks, while then nonchalantly pretending like you have no idea what they’re talking about.
There are no right answers with nerdity. There’s no 12-step program for recovery. No Public Service Announcements to warn you of the deleterious effects of mixing five-hour labs with poor personal hygiene. The only support network you have are other former nerds. You look at a relatively well-dressed, socially competent individual, and you share that split-second glimmer, wherein you both silently acknowledge each other’s nerded past, and then you quickly move on.
I know, as a convert, I have little right to be upset with the portrayal of the nerd in popular media, but truthfully there are times when I miss it—the rush from finishing a problem set I’ve been sitting with for 15 hours. The happy resignation that I’d rather be stewing in sweats, eating Kong, than out flirting with the sanitarily showered. The unabashed satisfaction from taking masochistic MWF 9 a.m. science classes, 3 semesters in a row. It’s a people and a culture I love, though I may have left it for the time being.
My point is, Tina Fey, with your Emmys, your celebrity, your stylists, and your kickass job, you are simply not equipped to play the role of the nerd I know so well. It’s offensive to nerds everywhere. Sure, some of us manage to overcome our unsociable, flatulent pasts (ignore the Kong scenario above), but it takes years and years of training, grooming, exfoliating, and polite torment from your friends (“Frances, you seriously need to learn to hold it in. Also, take down those Science League plaques.”). It is not the walk in the park that “30 Rock” and Liz Lemon make it out to be. She’s making light of the plight of the nerd, and, sticking up for my former fellow brethren who don’t have time to watch TV, I don’t like it.
—Frances S. Jin ’10 is an economics concentrator in Adams house. For some reason she’s convinced that she’s no longer a nerd.