The Year of the Nerd

By RYAN STEWART  |  December 24, 2008

M.I.A. was not the only world-music success story. Fans of the genre — usually preferred by committed music geeks who want to impress us all with their eclecticism or sensitivity — also got excited over Vampire Weekend. By year's end, the band was headlining amphitheaters in support of an album that was lauded for the way it incorporated African music influences into American indie rock. And if their docksiders-and-khakis getup doesn't qualify as nerdy, then I don't know what does anymore.

Freak love
Speaking of Pineapple Express, its stars, Seth Rogen and James Franco, first worked together nine years ago on a Judd Apatow–produced NBC show called Freaks and Geeks — they were two-thirds of the show's male "freaks," along with Jason Segel. Appropriately for the Year of the Nerd, all three had a pretty good 2008. Franco re-established himself as a comic actor with Pineapple Express, and might come away with an Oscar nomination for Milk. Segel had some success with his writing debut, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and will now actually get to make that Muppet vampire movie — which should be awesome. And Rogen, the frizzy-haired, chubby comic-book nerd that he is, not only co-wrote and co-starred in Pineapple Express, but with his comedy golden touch also established himself as the poster boy for Nerd Chic. How much juice has he got? This past year he also starred in the first mainstream movie with the word "porno" in its title that wasn't, um, actual porno.

Worst to first
Going into the 2008 season, few baseball observers were expecting much out of the Tampa Bay Rays. They had removed the "Devil" from their name, but other than that, it was the same group of anonymous young players who had little chance to compete against the Red Sox and the Yankees, those perennial overspending glamour-pusses of salary-cap-free Major League Baseball. When the Rays finished ahead of both Boston and New York in the standings and made the playoffs, skeptics continued to scoff, and expected the World Series would feature a heaven-sent ratings match-up between the wild-card Red Sox and the new squad of their departed slugger Manny Ramirez, the Los Angeles Dodgers.

But the Rays shrugged off the shackles of underdog-dom — and stuck it to all of us, giving us the lowest-rated World Series of all time. Still, watching the Rays on the national stage was the feel-good sports moment of the year (okay, second-most, after watching the Celtics raise another banner). After all, this was a team that, for its entire existence, has seemed like the kid continually getting waterboarded by swirlies in the middle-school locker room.

Also consider this: the Rays' manager, Joe Maddon, wears Elvis Costello–style glasses, uses statistical reports to help him in his strategy, and quotes Camus to motivate his players. He's an embedded nerd in professional sports!

The ultimate mash-up
Not everything nerdy was so well-received in 2008. In September, the world was on edge with anticipation as the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) prepared to launch experiments on the Large Hadron Collider (or LHC), the Holy Grail of nerd-dom, the device that could tell us how, exactly, the universe was created.

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