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Revenge of the Nerds: Tech Masculinity and Digital Hegemony

Revenge of the Nerds provides a cultural history of the evolution of white nerd masculinities in American culture through interpretations of a wide variety of texts and representations using the methods of literary studies and American studies. The dissertation is organized around four overlapping stages of nerd masculinity based on changes in technology and their effects on culture, as well as white male nerds’ efforts to remain culturally relevant and gain the benefits of being close to hegemonic masculinity. The four nerd types are the computer nerd, the gamer, the gatekeeper nerd, and the maladaptive nerd which reflect the following movement through chronological development: the introduction of computers into the mainstream of American culture, the early years of video gaming culture, the nerds’ cultural power and influence as early adopters of the Internet and the white male nerds’ participation in a backlash against factors like social media which made gaming and Internet cultures more mainstream and diverse. Throughout these changes, white male nerds chased a promise they felt was implied by the adoption of “revenge of the nerds” as an American pop cultural myth, but the nerd identity was constructed in such a way that it would never be perceived as fully congruent with hegemonic American masculinity. Therefore, the identity was based on an insecurity about masculinity, which nerds tried to assuage by being especially aggressive in their pursuit and enforcement of American norms of masculinity.