Geek Pride Blooms Into a Real-World Subculture

Rapper MC Chris performs at the Passout Record Shop in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood.
Rapper MC Chris performs at the Passout Record Shop in Brooklyn's Williamsburg neighborhood. (By Travis Fox -- Washington
By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 15, 2007

NEW YORK -- The nerds are in the hoouusse!

On a steaming Saturday, a horn-rimmed posse of software engineers, computer programmers and support technicians was grooving at a most unlikely spot -- a fierce underground music venue here. The act: MC Chris -- king of the burgeoning world of "nerdcore rap" -- who dropped rhymes like Jay-Z with a pocket protector, Eminem with complexion issues.

"Sometimes I rhyme fast, sometimes I drink Quik.

If this was a gym class, I'd be the last picked."

In a world where iPhones are more coveted than muscle cars and where the robotic toy film "Transformers" is breaking box-office records, perhaps it is no surprise that nerdcore rap has sprung up as part of an emerging geek social scene that observers say is changing what it means to be a modern nerd.

The Internet already has succeeded in turning groups including the devoutly religious and singles on the make into online communities through niche Web sites, forums and blogs. But for so-called nerds, widely seen as the first group to coalesce online, the Internet has taken its power one step further. It is transforming them from an alienated and virtual community into a thriving, real-world fraternity -- and, to a lesser extent, a sorority -- whose members are physically interacting as never before at concerts, comedy clubs, even "nerd expos."

"You can come here and listen to the music, referencing the Internet and video games, all the stuff you go through in life for being a nerd, and you know you're not the only one," said Doug Rodgers, a doughy 26-year-old who bused four hours from Worcester, Mass., for the recent MC Chris concert. "How cool is that?"

To be sure, geek culture, from two buddies video-gaming on the couch to roundtables of Dungeons & Dragons paper warriors, has been around for years. But it is not just about "Star Trek" conventions anymore. Take, for instance, the Penny Arcade Web comic that, with its hard-core gamer and science-fiction references, brought hundreds of thousands of socially challenged and electronically gifted netizens together online in the late 1990s. In 2000, a few fans who met via the Internet gathered at the food court near the Space Needle in Seattle for a first meet-and-greet. Since then, the Penny Arcade Expo (PAX) has exploded into one of the nation's largest annual social events.

Next month, PAX 2007 is set to draw a record 30,000 self-described "geeks" to Seattle -- almost double last year's attendance, with many people traveling cross-country via road trips and tailgate parties to immerse themselves in a world of video-game competitions, after-hours parties, discussion panels and geeksta rap bands including Freezepop, the Minibosses and MC Frontalot -- the pale white rapper who coined the term "nerdcore" in 2000.

This September, the first Nerdapalooza concert kicks off in Eureka, Calif., with two days of "geek music" from more than 30 nerdcore, nerdmetal, geekpop and video-game rock bands. Last month, New York saw the birth of Wiimbledon -- a simulated tennis championship in which players of the hugely popular Nintendo Wii game system dolled up in character costumes and tennis outfits for a shot at the title.

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