Geeks, Punks and You

This week we take a look at geek/nerd culture as counterculture:

Your “Anarchy in the D&D” article got me thinking about the relationship between nerd culture and punk rock.  My two favorite things are nerd culture and punk music.  I’m convinced that punk rockers are just closet nerds.  What’s your take on this?  Just a coincidence or is there an inherent connection?

Jason Anarchy
Drinking Quest

If you’ve ever seen the movie SLC Punk, you might remember the flashback scene at the end of the movie when Bob interrupts their regular D&D session to insult Rush and roleplaying, and introduce Stevo to punk rock by putting on a Generation X tape.  This is basically what happened to me, except They Might Be Giants was getting turned off to put on a Dead Kennedys album.

The one thing nearly all of my friends had in common growing up was that we played D&D and listened to punk rock.  The similarities between my experience and Jason’s (as well as the writer’s of SLC Punk), seem like enough reason to say there is no coincidence here.    There is a clear connection between geeks and punks, so the more significant question is why?  Why is there a connection, and what does it all mean?

Punk rock has a controversial and convoluted history, but the one thing that most people can agree upon is that real punk rock was, and still is, fueled by social, economic and political dissatisfaction.  At the heart of the music is a yearning for change.  People that violently oppose the status quo are usually the people who have been shafted by it.  They’re the people on the outside looking in, wondering why the hell everything is so fucked up.

Iggy being a stooge.

On a much smaller scale, this is exactly what unfolds inside the walls of Middle and High Schools across the country.  There is the status quo, and those who embrace it, and then there are those who actively reject it, or else are rejected by it (there are also those that tread the line).  Life inevitably creates dissatisfaction for those of us who either don’t quite fit the mold, or don’t want to.  Everyone knows the stereotypes of the bullied nerd, and the friendless geek.  They exist as stereotypes, because they’re often true.

The quintessential nerd.

The main idea here is the concept of the Outsider; someone on the fringes of what’s socially and culturally acceptable.  Punks and geeks are both outsiders, sometimes for different reasons, and sometimes for similar reasons, but both have probably faced rejection by their own community at some point.

The main difference between a geek and a punk are how they internalize and express their rejection and dissatisfaction.  I was first and foremost a geek, and later embraced punk rock culture, mostly because I was pissed off and wanted to punch things.  Only in recent years have I really gotten back in touch with my inner geek and taken Luke’s advice to let go of my hate.  When I was younger, being a punk rocker felt empowering, while being a geek made me feel only more rejected and powerless.

If I remain in the Star Wars train of thought, I think there’s an important metaphor here.  If our social dissatisfaction is the Force, punk rock is the Dark Side.  I wouldn’t say geeks and nerds are the Light though, they’re more of some hazy neutral ground that avoids good and evil by mostly staying in their basements and not getting involved with the outside world.  The Light Side, unfortunately, would have to be hippies.  As much as hippies get on my nerves, they still serve some kind of purpose by nonviolently opposing things.

Punk: hates everyone and likes black leather

Geek: wants everyone to leave him alone in his cave

Hippie: would rather die than kill Darth Vader

(I feel that it’s important at this point to mention that hipsters don’t fall into any of these categories, and are just annoying fashion statements, and not actually real people.)

These days though, I think all three of these groups are merging together.  Identifying as a “punk” today is very different from what it meant when I was a kid.  Punks are more of an amalgamation of hippie/nerd/punk.  Punks in my day wouldn’t have camped out on the government’s lawn to make a statement, they would have vandalized the courthouse and spray-painted some cop cars.  For good or ill, it’s how the subculture has evolved.  They are a new breed of people, that more than anything, are realizing they have one thing in common: they’re mad as hell, and they’re not going to take it anymore.

So embrace your fellow rejects, and go try something new, like listening to Rush, or flailing about in a mosh pit.  We are all united in our rejection, so let’s not reject one another.  Even the hippies.

Keep the questions coming!

If you wish to submit a question to the Dungeon Master, please e-mail them to, or you can Tweet me a question @AskthedDM. And make sure to review the disclaimer.

You can also see me in action in One Die Short.

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15 Responses to Geeks, Punks and You

  1. Punk plus D&D if your really in to both you should check out @3d6band on Twitter and follow their bio links to hear more of them.

  2. evil. says:

    I feel like I have always borrowed from both of these counter-cultures without taking any one of them on fully. In middle school I identified with the nerdy kids and was in the Science Club, but I always thought “the rockers” were super cool and I bought Jnco pants and studded bracelets. I never felt fully embraced by any one of the groups and floated between them freely, even today I don’t really know where I lie in the scheme of things. I think the main aspect that I identify with is that elusive “otherness” that deviates from the mainstream. Thinking about it more deeply now, I think that part of the reason I never felt fully anything was because there were certain unspoken rules to the counter culture that I would not necessarily feel compelled to prescribe to. There are so many factors that influence identity. I feel much happier now because I don’t try to pin it into any one sub-category.

    “I yam what I yam and tha’s all what I yam.”


    • Yeah, I feel like this applied to me much more when I was younger. Now that I’m among older Geeks, Nerds, Punks, etc., I’ve found that they’re infinitely more accepting of pretty much everything. It makes it much more comfortable to label myself, and somewhat comforting as well. There is a sense of empowerment that comes along with belonging to a community that spans the globe and takes pride in who they are.

  3. partynoparty says:

    jar jar binks: the hipster of the star wars universe?

  4. Pingback: Further Evidence | Answers to Life, the Universe and Roleplaying

  5. Awesome, as usual. And I know that the first time I really listened to Rush (when I saw them perform on “The Colbert Report”), it changed my life. So I particularly appreciate that mention (but you probably already knew that).

    I read something somewhere (I know, I know; citation needed) that there’s starting to be a “nerd culture” backlash. The fact that “nerd culture” was “hot” at all makes me ragingly furious, even more furious than “Mad Men” made me (it’s a depressing show that has made my favorite vintage wardrobe pieces trendy and out-of-fashion in a couple of years). I used to work with a mean little idiot of a girl who was always talking about how she’s “such a nerd.” NO YOU ARE NOT, I wanted to yell at her. Preferring Macs to PCs does not make you a nerd. You were a cheerleader. You were in a sorority. You were mean to me at work, and you were mean to girls like me in high school. Stop trying to claim what is not yours — a word you used to hurl spitefully at girls like me, leaving bruises that never stopped hurting yet made us proud to be what we are — because it’s cool!

    Sorry for the rant. Maybe that’s the punk side of me flaring up.

    • Yeah, nerd culture is definitely being co-opted, but only on the surface, which is to say, more hipsters ruining things for the rest of us. But I’m okay with it honestly. They’ll never really be a nerd. They can say what they want and wear what they want, but actions always speak louder, and all their actions say to me is: “I’m an unthinking, horribly insecure human being, that will latch on to anything I possibly can to gain acceptance by the people around me, but will never actually possess any real individuality and might not even have a soul.”

      So yeah. I can give the sad miserable people their time to pretend to be nerds, because it will fade away soon enough, and us real nerds will still be there nerding it up with the best of them.

  6. dexdynamo says:

    So… what They Might Be Giants album was it? And did you finish it?

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