Computer geeks can no longer be shoved into a locker and left to plead hopelessly through sixth period. They hold the keys. They are the masters of the deadly arts of the Internet. And often, they can buy you and sell you, and even create the Web site for your auction.
In fact, they're becoming altogether hip.
The revolution may not have been televised -- or even noticed -- but geek chic is on the rise. Witness the current fashion of exposed underwear. It's the triumph of the wedgie, complete with a defiant "I meant to do that" slouch.
In the film "Napoleon Dynamite," a hit at the recent Sundance Film Festival, the title character is unapologetically nerdy. He has trouble distinguishing reality from fantasies of ninja powers and hunting wolverines in Alaska; he speaks in an inarticulate, defensive monotone; he embodies the almost gruesome clumsiness of high school; and by the end of the movie, audiences are rooting out loud for him.
"I think people can say, 'I was either as awkward or more awkward than him,' " director and co-writer Jared Hess says. "Everyone has their Napoleon moments -- even the cool people aren't really cool."
And now the once-derided have their unofficial hero: GeekMan.
A new action figure available online and in a few toy stores, GeekMan is here to save the data with his pencil-thin arms, overbite and Dan Dare hairdo.
When asked what his hero's superpowers are, Kris Schantz, founder of Happy Worker toys and creator of GeekMan, listed "opposite-sex repulsion, analytical reasoning, the ability to create technical acronyms, and less-than-ideal personal hygiene."
One member of the opposite sex not exactly repulsed by GeekMan is Cathy Valadez, general manager of Things From Another World, a Los Angeles toy store. Says Valadez: "I think it's definitely funny. I can't believe they actually did a figure like this -- but when you think about it, he's the typical guy who comes in our store." She says that her customers tend to do double takes and laugh when they see the figure. The Free Online Dictionary of Computing defines "computer geek" as "an asocial, malodorous, pasty-faced monomaniac with all the personality of a cheese grater." But that view may be going the way of the dial-up connection.
"I have never experienced a negative stereotype with respect to social perceptions of my job," real-life rocket scientist Wayne Lee says. "It's not just recently, it's been for a long time now."
Today's geeks take umbrage at being lumped in with what they term "nerds." They see nerds as the ones with poor social skills who perpetuate the worst perceptions of geeks, who are perhaps better defined as serious, even expert devotees to their chosen areas.
"My opinion . . . the stereotype comes from the gigantic pool of 'geek'-like engineers working in the defense sector," says Lee, who works for NASA. "I used to look at those people when I was in high school and think, God help me if I become one of that crowd."
So when did brainiacs become downright suave?
"We've had a number of e-mails from women saying they want to date GeekMan, even marry him," Schantz says. "Geeks are intelligent, usually. I think women find that attractive."
It used to be Hollywood's police stations that were full of the coolest people; now it's the IT departments that have the "It" girls. In the recent-but-already-forgotten movie "AntiTrust," painfully pretty Ryan Phillippe was a programmer; Sandra Bullock had her spin in 1995 in "The Net"; and "Hackers," also 1995, found Jonny Lee Miller and Angelina Jolie crashing each other's hard drives. Sexy librarian types Tina Fey and Lisa Loeb launched a thousand ships from behind their glasses.
But it is perhaps Keanu Reeves's cyber-savior Neo in "The Matrix" who represents the ultimate nerd fantasy: Even the most atrophied of musculatures can plug in and learn kung fu with the speed of a T3 download. And end up with Carrie-Anne Moss to boot.
As to the realism of GeekMan's appearance, Schantz says, "We've had people want to sue us because we've 'stolen their likeness.' "
GeekMan is a decidedly old-school nerd, with pocket protector and impossibly thick glasses. Yet there's a whiff of sex appeal, with steely blue eyes and the tantalizing hint of an alter ego (the glasses are removable). There is also a magnetized calculator that is irresistibly drawn to his belt.
"Our first design was a hipper geek," says Schantz, who thinks of himself as an old-style geek. "We sent it out to geeks to test it and they wanted the retro style."
There's a devil-may-care insouciance about this GeekMan. Perhaps it comes from wearing jeans and sneakers on the job while the rest of the wage slaves are clapped into suits and ties. He scoffs at you, you and your "critical error" message. You need him. And he needs you -- to get out of the way so he can fix your mess while G.I. Joe and Ken stand by helplessly.
"He'd never say he's better," Schantz says, "but he thinks he's smarter. He's cooler -- or he thinks he's cooler."
Rather than ridicule the geek set, Schantz says he hopes the toy will encourage people to celebrate their inner dweeb: "We hope that he lets people laugh at themselves. He's for geeks and their friends."
According to "Dynamite" director Hess, that's a very wide target audience.
"People realize that everyone's a geek in some way or other," he says. "Everyone's an outsider."