This week in my Media English course, we’ve graduated beyond the critical discussion of advertisements to another set of categorization systems, namely, social hierarchies and stereotypes — both of which are completely inescapable in popular media, and both of which, I think, are universally present but interestingly different across lines of culture. We were supposed to have finished dealing with Chapter 10 of Derek Kirk Kim’s Same Difference, published as the bulk of his bookSame Difference and Other Stories.
I’m taking the “nerd” as a kind of emblem of cultural difference, as a kind of symbol of the figure within the social hierarchy, and also as an example of a media stereotype. Seeing Kim’s character outside of high school, years later, encountering people who considered him that back in the day, and seeing his reaction to how they no longer think that way, it’s all supposed to highlight something interesting about North American high school life, which is also, hopefully, something that will be illuminated by reading the first few sections of Paul Graham’s essay, “Why Nerds are Unpopular”. After all, from what I’ve gathered in conversations with Koreans, the “nerd” is not a completely alien concept… until you look at the social ecosystem surrounding it, until you look at the different values and devaluations that combine to create the idea of the “nerd”, and so on.
Here’s the thing: I need to find some useful media that’s available in Korea. I think I can get my hands on Rushmore, and I may be able to find something somewhere in Almost Famous in which the protagonist is kind of too honest and nice, but he’s not really a nerd. There’s always Napoleon Dynamite, which I have in non-DVD form, but it seems a little too much like overkill. (The bit when the brother “turns into a soul brother” but is still, deep down, a skinny little whitebread nerd, though, that’s something I really almost want to play for them.) And if I can get my hands on The Lord of the Flies, the character of Piggy, though he’s not a quite high school kid, is still a powerful example.
But I’m wondering if anyone else can recommend some possibly-legally available media that would be good for coming at this topic? I expect we’ll be on it — not just the figure of the nerd per se, but also the hierarchies and stereotypical roles that emerge in high school — for a while.