#TalkNerdyToMeLover’s Ian Daley
The traditional image of the heroic figure, throughout time, has been the broad shouldered, brave, take-charge alpha male, from Achilles to Arnold. This motif even snuck into religion as the ancient Greeks’ chief god, Zeus, plowed through nymphs, goddesses and beautiful country maidens, married or single, like George Clooney with a long weekend in Vegas and a stomach-full of cubra libres, only in possession of supernatural powers and Charlie Sheen’s moral standards.
With such colorful objects of worship, it’s no wonder the theater culture of ancient Greece thrived and offered a breathtaking diversity of writing style and character development within their distinctly limited frame of reference. The Gods were their celebrities and tales of Zeus’s escapades were the gossip for the public to discuss (and maybe an excuse for philandering wives and unchaste young women who could presumably blame their lost virginity or infidelity on Zeus?).
Without further ado, here’s my list, designed not to be authoritative:
Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) – Star Wars
he was a dweeby moisture farmer on stuck on his home desert planet of Tatoine, in one of his first scenes he’s depicted as still flying model airplanes with his hand despite being, presumably, in his late teens. It’s one of my favorite anachronisms from the “futuristic” Star Wars franchise, where society’s technology kicks our asses despite the presumable handicap of events happening “a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away.” It’s a shame George Lucas didn’t foresee the internet porn revolution which would allow hormone-high teenagers to stream unlimited
And if you haven’t seen Star Wars, come on! Real Nerds Quote Yoda!
Froto Baggins (Elijah Wood in the most recent screen adaptation of J.R. Tolkien’s famous novels) – Lord of the Rings
He embodies many of the physical stereotypes the media has foisted upon us nerds, small, frail and bespectacled. Fortunately, he has the companionship of his best friend and loyal, trusty sidekick Samwise Gangee, who carries a dash of Rudy’s heart with Mikey Walsh’s bravery (the joke here is both of these characters were played by Sean Astin, in Rudy and Goonies, respectively; he played Sam in Lord of the Rings).
Sherlock Holmes (as told by Arthur Conan Doyle) – The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
If he’d have lived during the 1980’s in sunny Miami, instead of the 1880’s in foggy London, his coke habit might have gotten him in with the linen suit/open-collar-so-a-tuft-of-chest-hair-was-visible/white boat shoes crowd. He’d probably spend a lot of his free time trying to be ‘hip’, even though twenty-five years had passed since’ hip’ stopped being ‘cool’. He’d also probably be forced to pay for a good portion of his sex. This, of course, is all speculation.
But, for our purposes, we need only consider the other more important, intrinsic characteristics to the Sherlock Holmes character to confirm that, indeed, it was a nerd kicking criminal arse across olde London town. He was portrayed by his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as only having one true friend, an archetypical loyal sidekick, Dr. Watson. For all his clarity in thought and precision in craft, Holmes kept his personal effects in constant disorder; an incurable packrat, he piled documents and other items in space not kept up by other shit he’d collected and mentally cataloged (as often demonstrated when he’d dive for an item in a stack a casual observer probably would have thought assembled at random, only to emerge with it, another step toward solving his mystery). The final piece of scotch tape around his proverbial glasses was the complete lack of sexual identity in his character, other than the fact that he and Dr. Watson are considered to be straight, we knew nothing of Holmes the lover; he’s the anti-James Bond.
Neo (Keanu Reeves) – The Matrix Trilogy
The film industry exists because every once in a while you walk out of a movie theater, take that first breath of fresh-ish outside air and say, “Wow.” In various forms, humanity has treated itself to an evening of theater entertainment since before the Greeks built their first amphitheaters, four thousand years ago. Think about it, screen or stage, silicon or stone age, we as humans have taken an evening of visual entertainment with us everywhere we’ve been, as if, as conscious beings we have an evolutionary itch being scratched by a night spent contemplating a story unfolding and resolving itself in a couple of hours. Every civilization has had some form of this style and structure of mass entertainment.
The Matrix appeared in theaters during an interesting little niche in history. In 1999, people’s grandparents weren’t on Facebook, they still paid for their music and movies, unless, of course, they had a CD player with a tape deck and two VCR’s. And we certainly didn’t foresee a time where that previous sentence would be an inside joke. Most of us shrugged off the Y2K threat as overblown, but we were still curious what would happen that coming New Years’ Eve. The debate wandered into entertainment media, so ripe was it for both satire and dramatization, remember the Y2K Family Guy episode and all those cheesy made-for-tv movies?
The Matrix didn’t delve into Y2K specifically, but it enjoyed a bit of fortune in its timing, fairly proximate to the mysterious deadline was its release. This was a period where the interrelationship of human and machine weighed on the popular conscience. Depending on your beliefs, anything from God to nothing created the universe for some to no reason; we know we created machines to service our needs and wants. But The Matrix went beyond a homicidal machine rebelling against its maker, a la HAL from 1968’s Stanley Kubrick classic 2001: A Space Odyssey; there was also a bit more nuance then a Terminator-style humans-versus-machines motif. It invited the audience to contemplate the “real” in reality. Rather than the enemy ending our existence, they controlled it, placating us with a fictional reality as they farmed us like dairy cows. It was clearly meant to be a metaphor for the middle and lower classes who are controlled and manipulated by the entrenched elite, placated with imaginary universes to immerse themselves in and media (like movies, like The Matrix) to entertain and distract us.
Neo represents an ordinary person succeeding in extraordinary circumstances, responding the way many of us think or hope we could if the situation arose. We watch over his shoulder, discovering plot elements and twists as he does, bonding with his unassuming computer geek-nobody, and, yet, everybody, character. Little of his background is offered so my case for classifying him as a nerd is slim: drab corporate job, drab apartment, weird friends and a keen interest in computers; although, having had broadband in your home in 1999 is sufficient reason to at least bring up the “are you possibly a nerd” discussion, and Neo wasn’t hacking the Matrix with a dial-up connection with his AOL account (jeez, remember AOL? It’s been that long, huh?). But he is vulnerable, unsure of himself in the beginning of the movie; people have been making snide remarks about the dumb look on Keanu Reeves face for years, but with all the mind-warping stimuli thrown at him, and us, perhaps Hollywood found the perfect vehicle for that dumbfounded look he always carries around with him.
I remember walking out of the theater with my mind racing from thought to thought, “Is real, real?” “Can I become one with the matrix such that I can float up in the air and kick that guy walking next to me 45 feet into the parking lot?” “What does my existence mean?” I’ve been enjoying a trip to the movies my entire life, perhaps my DNA has enjoyed theater entertainment quite a bit longer and I know I do it because everyone once in a while you walk out of a film feeling invincible, like there are no limits to reach and your imagination is endless.
The Unnamed Narrator – Fight Club
He worked all these waking years, coming home to catalog shop, collecting stuff with which he tried to fill the empty spaces in his life with his own perfect little world, designed and put together just the way he wanted it. But, it was only after narcolepsy kicked in that his subconscious was truly freed and he unleashed Tyler Durden on the world. When our mild-mannered hero snapped into one of his narcoleptic spells, an vengeful, anarchist alter ego emerged who lashed out at the corporate world which had enabled his previous, docile life and character, attacking symbols of the establishment, like blowing up credit card companies’ headquarters.
We are first introduced to a quiet, reserved pushover, and are left with an oddly admirable mass murder, who finally seems to achieve some semblance of long-missing fulfillment at the end. It’s quite a twist on the familiar theme of begun when David slew Goliath, but I enjoyed it.
Dr. Spock (Leonard Nimoy) – Star Trek
His species allegedly runs the most logical society in the galaxy, so, would they ever be able to enjoy Star Trek or would they just be too busy pointing out the plot holes? Spock makes this list because his ears could poke out my eye.
Mikey Walsh (Sean Astin) – Goonies
Sean Astin was involved in several of the movies mentioned here and this is probably my favorite character out of all of them. He was the heart and soul of one of the most re-watchable films of my childhood.
Everyone’s favorite 80’s adventure story featured frail, asthmatic little Mikey and his nerdy friends, except, of course, his smooth-talkin’ buddy Mouth, saving the neighborhood, cuz Goonies are good enough for you, good enough for me, good enough, aye-ya-ya. Mikey’s bravery and adventurous spirit brought us one of the most quotable, cheesy, and awesome coming-of-age adventure stories ever.
Doc Brown (Christopher Lloyd) – Back to the Future
“You’ve got to come back.”
You knew it was coming and you loved it anyway.
“Back… to the Future!”
Doc’s own imagination was opened up with the books of Jules Verne, whose works have inspired countless references and created science fiction as a viable and enduring element of pop culture. These movies just wouldn’t have been the same without this “wild-eyed scientist” and his eccentric methods to his considerable madness. Christopher Lloyd’s considerable character-acting range and skill were on full display in the mid-to-late 80’s in the BTTF Trilogy
Rudy (Sean Astin) – Rudy
I know, Sean Astin keeps popping up. In this film, he’s” five-foot-nothin’, one hundred and nothin’,” but he’s all heart and determination. Usually, I hate these kinds of flicks, but it helped that it was an actual true story and from what was reported, fairly true to life, for Hollywood.
It’s interesting how this movie put all its eggs in Rudy’s basket, developing no other characters and only a few cliché’d relationships we’ve seen a million times over (the skeptical father, the janitor played by Roc (now that’s an obscure 90’s TV reference for ya!) who is randomly the only person who believes Rudy should believe in himself, besides the audience, that is.
As I compiled this list, I tried to think, why do we love these flawed characters, Hollywood heroes are supposed to be either hunks or hulks, with almost superhuman powers; but each of these characters use varying combinations of inner-strength and intellect to solve problems and bond themselves to the audience. These are “powers” each one of us comes equipped with and Hollywood could do a much better job of remembering that.