The Only Way Is Essex recently aired its first live episode, to a reception that was mixed at best. The experimental broadcast got me thinking about the phenomenon that is reality TV, and the "stars" it spawns.
I'll freely admit, I'm a sucker for the spoiled bitchiness of Made In Chelsea and the gutter-mouthed, drunken antics of the Geordie Shore cast. But who would ever in a million years aspire to be anything like any of these people? Seriously; they're lazy, entitled, and often downright malicious. (Francis Boulle is a huge exception. I frickin' love that guy.)
Kim Kardashian is perhaps the biggest reality star on the planet, whose self-perpetuating celebrity is both the most fascinating thing about her and also her biggest source of criticism. "She's only famous for being famous," her detractors are only too happy to point out.
However, a new offshoot of reality TV might be about to buck that trend. Start-Ups: Silicon Valley is a Bravo docu-soap following the trials and tribulations faced by a gang of young entrepreneurs in America's technology capital. Produced and packaged with the same gloss and glamour as The Hills, some of its cast members are already well known in their industry. This includes journalist Hermione Way, who cheerfully gives the show its tagline in the trailer: "geeks are definitely the new rock stars."
And you know what? She might just be onto something. Once derogatory terms like "nerd" and "geek" have become celebratory in recent years. Even science fiction, the geekiest of genre terrain, has more mainstream appeal than ever - Prometheus was one of the most talked about films of 2012, and the entire nation is on tenterhooks ahead of this year's Doctor Who Christmas special. While sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory still rely on dweeby stereotypes for cheap laughs, I remain optimistic that new programmes like Start-Ups and Objective-Sea (a Survivor-style game show for app developers) will motivate younger audiences to aspire to something other than a career as a glamour model or club promoter when they grow up.
In that spirit, here are some hand-picked inspirational guys and girls from the worlds of entertainment, science and technology - all of whom might be deemed nerds, and are all the more loveable for it.
Good news, ladies – not all NASA boffins look like Howard Wolowitz. Bobak Ferdowsi made aerospace groupies go weak in the knees back in September with his dreamy looks, cheeky mohawk, and the fact that he successfully landed a freakin’ vehicle on Mars. In addition to sparking memes and melting hearts, Bobak has a passion for science and education, and gives talks as a TEDYouth speaker.
As if starring in the second best Star Wars trilogy isn’t geek credential enough, it might also interest you to know that Natalie Portman is something of a science prodigy. Or at least she was, before she got so busy winning Oscars. In high school, Portman reached the semi-finals of the Intel Science Talent Search, a renowned research contest which has produced Nobel Prize winners. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology.
The CEO of Mashable.com is essentially the Brad Pitt of the tech world. After founding Mashable at the tender age of 19, Cashmore’s career has gone from strength to strength, and he was named one of Time Magazine’s 100 most influential people this year.
She’s a favourite of the girl geek blog The Mary Sue, and with good reason. Cartoonist Kate Beaton gained wildfire-like popularity with her webcomic Hark! A Vagrant, and has taken a few well-aimed jabs at sexist double standards in the comics industry with her spoof comic strip Strong Female Characters.
If you can get over his chiselled good looks (which earned him the title of Salon’s Sexiest Man Alive 2012), there is much more to this NFL superstar. He’s an avid supporter of marriage equality, and identifies wholeheartedly as a geek. In his Salon interview he paints a pretty picture of his early years: “I was the kid with the two-inch-thick Coke bottle glasses, always reading books and hanging out with my geek friends and we’d talk video games. I was definitely not the popular jock.”
Follow Philip Ellis on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Philip_Ellis