Leslie A. Rill

Date of Award

Summer 1-1-2012

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Communication



Physical Description

1 online resource (vii, 160 p.) : ill. (chiefly col.)


Geeks (Computer enthusiasts) -- Longitudinal studies, Technology in popular culture -- Longitudinal studies, Characters and characteristics on television -- Longitudinal studies




This study explores the representation of nerds and geeks in popular broadcast television programs over the course of the past twenty years. A content analysis of the five most popular scripted broadcast television programs for each year was conducted in order to assess the frequency of nerd characters, as well as the social competence, physical attractiveness, and demographic information of each such character. In addition, a supplemental survey design study was employed in order to collect public opinion data regarding perceptions of nerds in general and on television. The results of these studies indicated that while the per-year frequency of nerd portrayals has not varied significantly, nerds have been consistently portrayed as overwhelmingly white and male. Nerd characters in popular television programs have grown more physically attractive over the past twenty years. Furthermore, while technological or computer-related expertise remain significant predictors for the identification of television characters as nerds by audience members, the same is true for unattractiveness and low social competence. Considered through the theoretical framework provided by past mass media scholars, these findings suggest that nerds represent a group of individuals consistently portrayed as possessing technical aptitudes which are highly desirable in the current social context, but that such roles are portrayed as accessible only to white males.

Persistent Identifier