Pop culture is fragmenting. Even as the Internet pulls us together, unites us with millions of others who love Battlestar Galactica or Lost, our tastes and interests are fragmenting. It used to be that a small town nerd had only the other nerds in his small town. Nerds would huddle in bathroom stalls and trade nerdery generously. Sci-fi, fantasy, metal, stuff with ninjas on it, all this was nerd currency. One had tastes, but one wasn’t picky. Even if you wanted nothing more in life than to be the wax in Legolas’s pointy ears, you still hung out with people who spoke Klingon, or wore Iron Maiden t-shirts. You didn’t have a choice. The nerds, you stuck together.
As the comedian Patton Oswalt argues here, then the Internet happened. Suddenly, millions of bathroom stalls were connected by a series of tubes. Suddenly, everyone loved Star Wars. Suddenly, there were too many nerds.
So, nerdery fragmented. It formed subcultures within subcultures. Now if you go to a Renaissance Faire, you won’t just see geeks in medieval armor, or pimply dorks in pantaloons. No, now there will be Steampunk kids, too, wearing goggles and carrying large wrenches.
It can be confusing. Which is why I’m here to help. I will be the Geek Virgil to your Dork Dante as we traverse the darkest pits of the Nerdferno.
Now, you probably know the major nerd subcultures. There are the Trekkies, the Trons, the Tolkienites, the X-Philes, the Otaku, the Star Warsians, the Batmen.
What you may not know are the historical-era/technology aesthetic subcultures that are currently blooming all over the nerd landscape. I mentioned the largest above, Steampunk. Steampunk is a sci-fi/fantasy aesthetic movement based on the idea that wearing goggles is neat and that the spaceships would be cooler if they were powered by steam. It is, in other words, the grafting of Victorian Era fashion and technology onto futuristic themes and stories.
The name “Steampunk” itself is spin on the oldest, most venerable of the oldtechpunks, Cyberpunk, which was invented by Williams Gibson, and is characterized by cyberspace technology, noir plots, grim urbanscapes, neon, and unrealistic amounts of rain. Think Blade Runner, think The Matrix (but try not to think about the Matrix sequels, as that will hurt your brain and you have more learning to do before this post is done).
But as nerd culture simultaneously congeals and fragments even further, new oldtechpunk genres and subcultures are forming. It’s overwhelming. Which, again, is why you have me. Below you’ll find a convenient breakdown of the oldtechpunk sub-cultures. After reading it, you will be fully prepared to mock your local nerds with greater insight, knowledge, and effectiveness. I mean, “hey dork!” is hurtful, but “hey dork, Steampunk is lame!” will land like a quaint, steam-powered nuclear bomb in their soul.
Historical Era of Inspiration: Neolithic Era
Characterized by: Spaceships made of rocks
Iconic Clothing: Sabre-tooth tiger tooth necklace
Object of Lust: Raquel Welch poster that serves as plot device in The Shawshank Redemption; Betty Rubble
Foundational Text: The Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas
Historical Era of Inspiration: Whenever it is that the Amish wish they lived
Characterized by: Spaceships made of yarn
Iconic Clothing: Sweaters
Object of Lust: Betsy Ross
Foundational Text: Martha Stewart and the Conquest of Crobolo VII
Historical Era of Inspiration: 19th Century
Characterized by: Steam-powered spaceships; goggles
Iconic Clothing: Goggles
Object of Lust: Queen Victoria in her later years
Foundational Text: Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind
Historical Era of Inspiration: Great Depression
Characterized by: Oil-powered spaceships
Iconic Clothing: Fedoras
Object of (Secret, Unspoken) Lust: Don Draper
Foundational Text: There Will Be Blood on Mars
Historical Era of Inspiration: Now
Characterized by: Rocket fuel-powered spaceships
Iconic Clothing: Jeans
Object of Lust: Taylor Swift
Foundational Text: Justin Bieber YouTube Videos
Historical Era of Inspiration: The 1920’s; The 1980’s; The Future
Characterized by: Rain, poor lighting
Iconic Clothing: Black trench coats
Object of Lust: Trinity
Foundational Text: William Gibson’s Neuromancer
Historical Era of Inspiration: 23rd Century
Characterized by: Dilithium Crystal-powered spaceships
Iconic Clothing: Colorful unitards
Object of Lust (Spoken): Uhura; Object of Lust (Unspoken): Spock
Foundational Text: The Empire Strikes Back
Historical Era of Inspiration: The Apocalypse
Characterized by: Divine Radiance-powered spaceships
Iconic Clothing: Togas
Object of Lust: Whore of Babylon
Foundational Text: The Bible v. 2.1