Let's talk about nerds.
And by nerds, we mean us. In the course of mocking us endlessly, the media seem to have developed an interesting set of stereotypes about the common geek. No, not the glasses or the acne or the pocket protectors, but the things we actually get geeky about.
There is a very specific set of interests that Hollywood ascribes to anybody who is identified as a nerd, dork, geek, dweeb◊, or what-have-you. Not only is that the Holy Canon of Geek Interests, but for some reason, every geek is obsessed with not one, or some, but all of them. The only time (mostly) any shows subvert that last part, it's to make a joke where one stereotype calls another stereotype a dork for liking one geeky thing instead of another geeky thing, which of course never happens in real life (cough).
This is a Sub-Trope of Small Reference Pools and exists for the same reason that trope does. Namely, the show is targeting a general audience with only limited familiarity with geeky and nerdy interests.
Examples from Canon
- If non-hentai anime exists at all, it consists solely of Pokémon, Sailor Moon, Dragon Ball Z, Gundam, Studio Ghibli movies (and even then, only Totoro and Spirited Away), AKIRA, Speed Racer, Naruto, Ghost in the Shell (1995), Death Note and Cowboy Bebop in order from most likely to least likely to exist. Something like Avatar: The Last Airbender might exist if writers didn't do their research. Since 2010, you might be able to see Attack on Titan, My Hero Academia, and One-Punch Man acknowledged if you're lucky.
- In Japan itself, you have non-shonen series usually representing manga as Shonen Jump or a very Jump-like magazine. The titles that usually run in it will be action-packed where Everyone Has a Special Move in the vein of Dragon Ball or One Piece. Expect the characters who read from them to rattle off about friendship, effort, and victory (Jump's main motto) or having a warped Black-and-White Insanity view on the world for reading it. If girl's media is shown, it will likely be a pastiche of that year's Pretty Cure.
- Shoujo books in a given series are likely going to be based around Boys over Flowers, Glass Mask, or The Rose of Versailles. In some cases, it may even be all three combined into one.
- Geekdom on Television and in movies also often has a high correlation with the collecting of large numbers of either comic books or action figures (both likely in mylar or in their original packaging)—because apparently mainstream interest in either kind of collectible is non-existent and successful movies based on comic books are just an illusion. Meanwhile, the exact same hoarding and protection provided to sports memorabilia is perfectly acceptable. Also, the pre-1970s equivalent of playing with action figures (playing with green plastic army men, or astronauts, or Cowboys and Indians) is never depicted as geeky - only as childish.
- There are no X-Men other than Cyclops, Wolverine, Professor X, Nightcrawler, Storm, Jean Grey (a.k.a. Marvel Girl or Phoenix), and — if we're lucky — Gambit and Rogue. Because everyone remembers X-Men: The Animated Series and some people saw the movies... more often than not, however, Wolverine Publicity wins out every time. There exist no X-Villains besides Magneto, Sabertooth and Mystique, and they are always affiliated with the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants.note There may also be a character actually named X-Man.note
- There are no DC Comics heroes that were not created in the Golden or Silver Age. Etrigan? John Constantine? A Green Lantern who is not a WASP? What vivid imagination you have, you NERD!
- Wonder Woman is the only female superhero (with the possible exception of Batgirl and Supergirl). There are no non-Caucasian superheroes (with the possible exceptions of the ones created for Superfriends).
- All comic books are about superheroes. note
- Star Wars, which is not the same thing as Star Trek (Star Wars is the one with an actual war, and on Star Trek, they're actually on a trek through the stars note ). Tends to be more popular than the alternative, so expect its fans to be portrayed less negatively, mostly due to how stunningly obsessed most Trekkies are portrayed as being. Also expect:
- A massive number of visual and dialogue references to scenes from the original trilogy, mostly because every living human being has seen them.
- Speaking of Original Trilogy, any work made since the release of The Phantom Menace will be lousy with geeks bitching about the prequels. Okay, that part is true.
- Common before 1999 but after 1997 (and common since then, but overshadowed by the above) is bitching about the Special Editions of the Original Trilogy, well-known mostly because they were actually released theatrically. Nobody knows who Greedo is, but he apparently shot somebody before they shot him, and it's "hilarious" to hear geeks complain about it.
- Thanks to the movies, The Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and The Chronicles of Narnia exist. Fanboys can be heard occasionally complaining about someone named Tom Bombadil who was apparently cut from the movie. More often, they can be seen clutching some prized collectible and calling it their "precious", but that's Rule of Funny. The main thing known about Harry Potter is that dressing up as the title character consists of drawing a scar on your forehead, putting on round glasses, and constantly raving about being a wizard.
- Star Trek has turned Gene Roddenberry into some kind of patron saint of male virginity.note Every geek in fiction can speak Klingon, name every species in the Federation, draw a diagram of the original Enterprise freehand, and fight with a Bat'Leth if you know what that even is.note . Expect:
- Fights about whether Kirk or Picard is the one true captain. Nobody will ever argue for Sisko or Janeway. Nobody will argue for Archer either, but that's accidental accuracy.
- Going on from that, the only two franchises that exist are the Original Series and The Next Generation.
- References to notable moments from the Original Series and/or The Wrath of Khan, also known by television writers as "the ones I've seen" (or seen parodies of).
- Costumes. Also dating back to the Sixties series. If a scene takes place at a sci-fi convention, there will be a Klingon. We dare you to name an aversionnote . A Vulcan is also likely. The Klingon is a metaphysical certitude. Although, ironically, it will not be an original series Klingon.
- ...and when Wars and Trek geeks collide, expect battles on whether the Death Star/Imperial Cruiser or the Enterprise (or a Borg cube) is superior.
- For a while, Battlestar Galactica was allowed to replace Star Trek as the go-to reference for something geeks take too seriously, but now it's been off the air long enough for non-geeks to completely forget it ever existed.
- If you are a furry or know one, you may be aware of the infamous CSI episode "Fur and Loathing" (not to be confused with the trope of that name), which tried to go nuts with the fetishy aspects of fandom, but even woefully failed at being that. Probably because the creators did not even want to be aware that fursuit sex sounds more attractive to people outside of the fandom than people inside it. If you would do that there is, after all, a very big risk that you would die out of heat exhaustion.
- For a period somewhere roughly between 1980-2005, giving a character interest in Doctor Who and its trappings was to the United Kingdom what Star Trek is to America; the best way to create a character instantly identifiable as a hopeless, socially awkward geek. The popular success of the new series has largely returned the show to its pre-1980 mainstream status, but the image of the Doctor Who geek does linger on in several ways.
- Babylon 5 probably doesn't exist, but in the rare cases where it does, it's either the show that true hardcore nerds despise as a pale imitation of Star Trek or it's the show that true hardcore nerds embrace because Trek is too mainstream. It's impossible to like both.
- Wherever tabletop wargaming with military figures (please, not toy soldiers) is depicted on TV, this is a drama shorthand for "this person/people are socially maladjusted and incapable of dealing with the real world. Like model railway enthusiasts (another particularly British TV shorthand for loner geek) they have given up trying to deal with the complexities of the real world and instead have created worlds of their own where they are God".
- In an episode of Midsomer Murders, a teenage boy with a massive collection of Games Workshop miniatures was depicted as having a stalker obsession with a beautiful girl who was - naturally - way out of his league; he was depicted as obsessed with sculpting and painting her as an Elven princess.
- American TV has used this trope too: an episode of Columbo depicted the murderer as a manipulative and devious strategist. Proof of his manipulative and coldly calculating nature was established in the first few minutes of the show as he was seen setting up the Battle of Gettysburg with "toy soldiers" on a finely detailed representation of the battlefield.
- In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, O'Brien and Bashir enjoyed using the holodeck to take part in famous battles, such as the Battle of Britain and the Alamo. In the case of the latter, they became obsessed in later seasons with trying to figure out a way to win the battle with what the actual combatants had on hand. They went so far with it that O'Brien built a scale model of the battle, and figures for both armies. Worf at one point derisively referred to this as "playing with toys." That's right, these guys were too geeky even for Star Trek characters. It was played with in that Dax actually made fun of Worf for this attitude.
- An episode of hospital melodrama Casualty set up Tonight's Emergency Hospital Admission in its usual way. A married couple, the husband recently made jobless, are having trouble making ends meet. She becomes a prostitute to pay the mortgage. The husband is portrayed as so amazingly useless that in addition to being unemployed, his hobby and recreation lies in making plastic model kits of the Airfix variety. As his missus leads a paying customer into the bedroom, he is seen, miserably, working on the Airfix kit of the Tiger tank. (Bonus points awarded to watching nerds who correctly identified the model as the 1942 Pnz VI "Tiger" Ausf b.) ... plastic kit modelling is used as shorthand for "complete waste of space who cannot pay his bills. A complete and utter failure as an adult man who allows his wife to screw other men for money" . Although a razor-sharp modelling knife is used to good effect later. Hey, this is Casualty!
- All geeks can do calculus in their heads, have the periodic table memorized, have pi memorized to four hundred places, and know what those weird symbols you see on the blackboard whenever a science or math class appears on television mean. You only need a high school education or a background in troping to know what any of them mean: on most shows, absolutely nothing.
- Additionally, nerds will only be either math, science, or engineering nerds. While English/Humanities or drama nerds do occasionally show up, they usually won't be identified as nerds (aside from possibly being goody-two-shoes obsessed with getting good grades for the former and overly stressed out drama queens for the latter).
- Alliteratively, in some cases even if a geek is primarily fixated on artistic subjects they'll still be ridiculously good at math, despite the fact that Writers Cannot Do Math.
- Dungeons & Dragons has become the shorthand for social failings and maladjusted virginity. Sure, it's one step better than the Satanic Panic days, but really. And apparently, the hobby consists only of Dungeons & Dragons, and games like Warhammer and Vampire: the Masquerade do not exist (unless you're doing a true crime show on a "vampire killer").
- Although the Midsomer Murders episode referenced above does use Warhammer settings and figures as a plot point.
- Since the writers will have no idea how the game is actually played, depictions will vary wildly if characters actually play on screen instead of just referring to the game, but there are a few constants: expect players to wear costumes and use elaborate props (at the very least the Dungeon Master, if there is one, will wear a cape or pointy "wizard" hat), speak in Ye Olde Butcherede Englishe, and engage in ritualistic behavior like chanting "all hail the Dungeon Master!" at the start of each session (if a non-geek regular character has been dragged to the game — which one probably has, or we wouldn't be seeing the scene — the geeks will be confused or outraged that they don't know or want to take part in this behavior).
- Its also common to depict the death of a player's character as having an unusual level of finality to it. There is no resurrection (very common in D&D) or even rolling up a new character. Similar to the way when your character dies in Super Mario Bros. the cartridge permanently self destructs and you kill yourself out of grief. This is getting better with the widespread popularity of MM Os and console RPGs helping more writers and audience members realize how ridiculous this is.
- What the hell is GURPS? Some gross bodily function?
- And even if you stepped away from D&D and tried another system, like LARP, the setting is ALWAYS medieval-based high fantasy with distinct character classes. We never have sci-fi, historical or fandom settings, despite that those are also highly popular among roleplayers.
- See Live-Action TV for examples of how TV drama stereotypes D&D players and tabletop wargamers in general.
- When it comes to Video Games, one game genre geeks usually will play Ultra Super Death Gore Fest Chainsawer 3000. Unless they've caught Pac Man Fever and still play 8-bit games. These days they've started mentioning Grand Theft Auto (for its bad influences) and Halo.
- The other main genre of games that are commonly mentioned is the MMO RPG. With World of Warcraft as the main example of a specific game.
- The only MMO Geeks ever play is World of Warcraft. Older shows will occasionally do something loosely parodying EverQuest or a more general parody, but... well, as expected, any video or computer game parody will be to a real video game what A Trip to the Moon is to the Apollo program. They might as well just call them Video Game. Judging by subscriber stats, this one is borderline Truth in Television.
- The main character's online avatar will either be a hulking, muscular swordsman who looks like either Conan or Sauron, or a beautiful woman. The gender of the character does not affect which of those choices they take but expect the male character playing a female character to be played for laughs and/or the idea that the character secretly wants to be a woman. It will always be a human, an elf, or too heavily armored to determine its species.
- In Japan, JRPGs are usually represented by some parody of Dragon Quest or Final Fantasy. If you see an RPG hero referenced in anime, manga, or light novels, expect it to be a Loto clone. Also expect that hero (or the guy playing him) to be taken the piss out of to establish his world does not work the way he (or his player) thinks it does. In western media, Final Fantasy VII and Kingdom Hearts are the only JRPGs that exist. If a fictional JRPG exists, it will always have some sort of spiky haired pretty boy with an overly large sword as a protagonist, with some sort of convoluted, angst-ridden plot that is instantly confusing to anyone that hasn't played it.
- If a Romance Game is brought up in a Japanese work, it'll almost always be Tokimeki Memorial. On the rare occasion otome games are brought up and it isn't just based on the "Reincarnated As a Villainess" light novel trope, it'll usually resemble Angelique, Tokimeki Memorial Girl's Side or more recently, Diabolik Lovers or Uta No Prince Sama. BL games are so rare in fiction that they may as well not exist, but for the rare times they are, they'll likely be either pure smut or angsty and vaguely Nitro+Chiral-esque.
- From the late 10s onward, in video game related works aimed at children, expect the only three games covered to be Minecraft, Fortnite, and Roblox. If you're really lucky you might occasionally see popular Nintendo properties as well, but not as often as you'd think.
- The Canadian comic strip Larry Leadhead is all about self-mocking humour from and about the rather unworldly types who collect and game with military miniatures.
- The only Western cartoons nerds ever watch are Transformers and for media made in the early 21st century years, My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic. In the case of the latter, expect even other nerds to scoff at the thought of liking a girl's show, because it's not like people actually watch it in real life, right?
- In Spider-Man, Peter has a Magic: The Gathering poster in his room.
- Magic is getting slightly more play in film nowadays (read, Hasbro is willing to shell out for more Product Placement).
- What's the one major difference between those girls in Death Proof who get killed and those who get the killer? While the former seems not to be interested in anything apart from sex and gossips, the latter are movie geeks (knowledge of the semi-obscure pictures that are mentioned in each part of the movie, seems to be some kind of kudos). Otherwise, they make quite similar impressions so that the difference doesn't surface until Zoë Bell shows up. By the Geek God.
- In E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, Elliot's older brother and his friends have a remarkably realistic session of Dungeons & Dragons. No funny clothing or strange language, just arguments about pizza and whether the Dungeon Master is allowed to bend the rules. They even have all the right sorts of dice. D&D hadn't yet caught the eye of hysterical news pundits back in '82, so they had few negative stereotypes to work with.
- In The Last Starfighter, the only video game anyone plays is "Starfighter". Justified as it is the Macguffin of the movie.
- Chuck is in the "by geeks" category. An odd example, though, in that the writers are older than the characters and it shows. At least half the geeky references are from the 80s, but considering that the title character was born in 1981, it strains credibility that he's personally a fan of all of it. Given that Chuck's dad was also geeky, and they were raised by him, it makes sense that Chuck would have access to, and an appreciation for, the older stuff.
- Spaced is likewise "by geeks". The "Homage-o-meter" on the DVDs will point out references you missed the first time around. Yes, you. Adrian.
- House: Kutner is depicted as a geek, referencing Harry Potter and comic books, collecting action figures and stuff. He also used to be quite a popular person and also a bully at school. Far from the stereotype. It doesn't count as "made by geeks", does it? Considering how many Internet/meme references House makes on a regular basis (especially in the most recent seasons), the show could be classified as at least "written by geeks" a lot of the time.
- The Big Bang Theory has many easy jokes from within the reference pool, some of which are a little outdated, however, the references are usually exactly correct. It also includes a lot of science jokes and more obscure references. There have been moments in episodes referencing the then-ongoing Batman: Battle for the Cowl and Flash: Rebirth storylines. Definitely in the "made by geeks" category.
- The guys are also fans of Firefly, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, Star Trek, (Original and TNG) and Battlestar Galactica (2003). Stan Lee, Leonard Nimoy, Katee Sackhoff, and Summer Glau also make guest appearances. Wil Wheaton makes regular appearances.
- Unfortunately, this just means that when the show gets things wrong (such as Sheldon's affirmation that Alfred kept the secret of Batgirl's real-life identity of Barbara Gordon from Batman... in 2010 when Stephanie Brown was Batgirl) it's all the more frustrating.
- CSI had an episode about a murder at a Brand X Star Trek convention, which may seem bizarre at first; CBS and Paramount, which owns the Trek rights, are both Viacom subsidiaries (sort of. It's complicated). Turns out they needed to obscure the name for plot purposes. Also turns out they did their research into Trek In Jokes and culture, as well as cameoing Battlestar Galactica producer Ronald D. Moore and Ellen Tigh.
- On Heroes, resident geek Hiro Nakamura usually stays within the Geek Reference Pool (which is a little odd, since he's Japanese and originally spoke no English, yet almost all his references are to American media). However, when he used his time-stopping ability to mess with Daphne, he taunts her by saying, "Muda muda muda", the catchphrase of Dio Brando, another time-stopping character from the at the time very obscure (remember, this was before the 2012 anime series made the series popular within English-speaking territories) manga series JoJo's Bizarre Adventure.
"Now I know how Trunks felt!"
- Hiro's actor translates the lines the writers give him into Japanese himself, sometimes inserting references which don't show up in the subtitles.
- Hiro's Character Blog makes his geekery over JoJo's Bizarre Adventure more obvious.
- Hiro makes another reference outside of the "pool" when describing his love interest to his past self:
- Leverage includes arguments about World of Warcraft raids and if CGI or puppet Yoda was better, Shout Outs to Star Trek when Wil Wheaton appeared as a Special Guest, and using fanfic vocabulary:
Parker: I really like Elliot slash Sophie. Could you do Nate slash me? No! Nate slash you!
Hardison: Please, please stop.
(in fairness, she was talking about Hardison's combining the photo-IDs used in their covers for different members of the team when he had to adapt one he set up for Elliot to work for Sophie).
- Freaks and Geeks: Written by, well, freaks and geeks. Including, among other things, period-accurate Dungeons and Dragons played accurately. Interestingly enough it doesn't really stereotype any particular group with everyone from jocks to hippies to somewhat naively well-meaning guidance counselors all getting enough depth and understanding to explain them as more than just a poorly understood straw man for their particular subculture.
- The final episode of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles included a brief appearance by Dungeons & Dragons — including the actual 3rd edition PHB — and the depiction of how the game plays is spot-on:
Murch: Okay, it's a large room, it's dark, it's quiet, it's impossible to see. You may wanna roll a scan.
John Henry: I'll roll a scan. I rolled a one.
Murch: One. Oh, okay. Tough luck. You don't see the umber hulk as it crawls from its nest in the stone and attacks you. You take three hit points of damage from a bite to the shoulder.
John Henry: I attack the umber hulk. Twenty.
Murch: Wow. Okay, that's a crit with the vorpal longsword to the umber hulk. Unbelievable. Lucky roll.
John Henry: Hello, Ms. Weaver. I just delivered a crit hit to the umber hulk.
Weaver: Congratulations. Mr. Murch? Who's winning, Mr. Murch?
Murch: Oh, it's not really that kind of game. But I'm a little bummed that he killed the umber hulk so fast.
Weaver: I'm sure you've considered the possibility he can roll whatever number he desires?
- An episode of Community shows the characters playing D&D, and while a few details are off, it gets much more right than it gets wrong. Except for the adventure they play, every D&D product shown is real (albeit from a mix of different and largely incompatible editions), and even that adventure looks like something TSR might actually have published circa 1984. The gameplay is depicted in a mostly realistic manner (with the exceptions being mostly Rule of Funny-driven), including some of the same questions Dungeon Masters often have to address from actual first-time players.
- Mr. Young: The geeky characters (Adam, Derby and Principal Tater) don't show any interest in fiction, and only Adam knows anything about science or math. It's the popular kids (Echo and Ivy) who show interest in "geeky" things.
- In The Sorcerer's Apprentice, the main character is a nerd...whose interests are in history and fashion design. Not a Star Trek model in sight.
- One VG Cats strip details a discussion between Aeris and Leo about Star Trek - Aeris is a TNG fan, but in defiance of this trope, Leo doesn't mention the Original Series as a counterpoint; instead, it looks like he's a Niner. (And apparently isn't aware at all of any other Star Trek series, somehow.)
- The Venture Brothers, written by two tried-and-true geeks, to the point where almost everyone in the cast makes references far geekier than anything that would be considered geeky in another show. This is even mentioned in the commentaries during the episode O.R.B. From Aleister Crowley, to Fantômas, to Oscar Wilde. It's a love-letter to late-19th/early 20th-century culture; or, as they say, "things that Doc likes."
- Robot Chicken has sketches that demonstrate encyclopedic knowledge of cartoons, toys, video games, comic books and science-fiction movies (especially Star Wars). Generally plays it straight when it comes to the subject of anime, though, aside from one skit spoofing Ranma ½.
- South Park tends to stray a bit outside the canon, varying from full-fledged "made-by-geeks" territory (generally, anything about anime or video games) to "at least bothered to do the research" territory (they'd clearly seen The Fellowship of the Ring and knew at least the general plot of the later books (which hadn't been released in movie form when they did their The Lord of the Rings parody episode) but they also apparently thought there were paladins in Middle Earth).
- A Breather Episode in Voltron: Legendary Defender shows quite a realistic portrayal of Dungeons & Dragons in form of in-universe game Monsters & Mana, albeit some features are streamlined with sci-fi technology and video game elements. There are things like RPG characters dying and being re-created (acting as a running gag and foreshadowing for Shiro's characters), d20 dice, and different RPG character backgrounds varying from a reasonable and driving story (like Hunk's character) to Rule of Cool (like Lance's character). Despite streamlining and futuristic elements, it gives a gist of what a D&D session is actually like (the good and the bad). Bonus points for Coran explaining sensibly roleplaying to the newcomers Shiro, Allura, and Lance.