In Britain, Geeks Make Good and QI Just Works

After watching back-to-back episodes of Glee tonight I got to thinking. High school is basically the same archetypal setting in England as far as the clicques go. There are jocks, nerds, music kids, drama kids, and sometimes even cheerleaders from what I hear.

But what doesn’t make sense to me is why it seems like nerdiness, geekdom and fannishness are more celebrated in England. Of course, we could sit and argue that this is because all of the best boyhood geek culture stems from science fiction which itself finds some of its origins in works by Swift or Shelley, but then there’s this sinking feeling that England just likes geeks more than we do.

Sure, in the United States it seems like we have had resounding success in recent years as Silicon Valley and Alley have catapulted geeks-cum-entrepeneurs into worldwide celebrities and new media evangelists, but that’s super recently in the grand scheme of things. Britain has been celebrating their geeks for way longer: in television, in film, in culture and in picking their icons.

Take a show like QI for instance. A show like this would NEVER succeed in the US. It’s highly satirical, highly evolved, completely arbitrary and distinctively hilarious. Perhaps all of these qualities are what make it so particularly….British, for lack of a better word. Now maybe, if it were made a bit more low-brow and not taped in front of a studio audience, then forced onto a channel like Science or History it could be adapted to suit American audiences. Even then, would it be flashy enough to attract US audiences while still coming across as witty yet educational the way QI does over there? I think the death of VH1’s attempt at a Marc Maron-hosted Never Mind The Buzzcocks can answer that question.

Let’s get back to the point I was trying to make. It all seems to start with the secondary school experience. The standard for achievement at most schools are set really high, and not just in a “blue-ribbon suburban American school district” (cough cough) kind of high, but in a “do you want to go to Oxford or Cambridge” kind of high.

Yes, I know there are other universities in England.

Honestly, in a school system where many children wear uniforms throughout their formative years, it seems like the focus is on the ability to achieve. It doesn’t hurt to mention that the government makes that post-secondary education affordable which makes higher learning a real possibility. Imagine growing up knowing that if you wanted to go to a university that as long as you applied yourself, there’s no telling what you could do, including going to the school of your choice.

I understand that similar rules apply here in the US and I’m not denying that it’s as ridiculously competitive there as it is here. I’m also not saying that the US should adopt a similar system of partially funding tuition fees up to a certain point, but doesn’t it make sense to put the focus not on “what you want to be” and but rather to celebrate what you’re capable of?

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that intellectuals are national treasures and pop culture icons in the UK. Their successes and personas seem to give young people in the country direction and point the focus toward achieving, whereas in the US the youth seem to want after fame and fortune over substance. The desire for substance, on the whole, seems to come much later in life and only for the lucky few who have not become their very own episode of Teen Moms or I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant.

It’s not like there’s something in the water (that’s only here…and it’s fluoride) but I feel like there’s a different standard that’s set in the United Kingdom for the appreciation of the nerd in everyone. Call me idealistic, call me a hopeless nerdmantic, but don’t say you haven’t thought about it.

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