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How a Girl Growing up in Mississippi in the 1980’s Became a Nerd

by The Nerd Habit 3 months ago in pop culture
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Origin Story of a Nerd

By Whitney Thompson

A radioactive spider bit Peter Parker. Melvin Junko fell into a barrel of toxic waste. Gollum found a ring. All great stories start with the origin of the hero, villain, or anti-hero. So how does a girl growing up in Mississippi during the 1980s become a nerd? I will revisit the things I enjoyed in the past to try to answer that question. Spoiler alert: there is no radioactivity involved, though my cousin and I did try to dig a hole in a hill for shelter to protect us from the Cold War.

Jump in the Wayback Machine with me, and let's revisit the days of wood-paneled walls and teased hair.

Growing up, we only had three TV channels. Four if the antenna was working well. For the most part, I watched what my parents wanted to watch: the news, sitcoms, and movies on the VCR that had about 50 buttons. But Saturday mornings belonged to my brother and me. So we would sit on our bean bags, eating Kudos bars or bowls of Twix, and watch all the cartoons that the tv had to offer.

I need someone to bring these back.

She-Ra and He-Man were my favorites. My brother and I had the toys we played with all the time. We named our dad's old truck Battlecat. The only other cartoon that had such an impact on me was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I was obsessed with the cartoon, spent hours drawing pictures of Michelangelo, and playing with the toys. Muppet Babies introduced me to adventure, fantasy, and romance. It also taught me what Orion's Belt is, something I reflect on every time I look at the night sky. Honorable mentions are The Real Ghostbusters (the one with Slimer), Toxic Crusaders (seriously, who greenlit a cartoon based on a Troma movie?), Captain Planet, DuckTales, Rainbow Brite and The Smurfs.

We didn't get cable TV until I was 11 years old. Mysteriously, the day after we got cable, I was sick and had to miss school. So I spent the day on the couch watching everything it had to offer. My world suddenly expanded beyond the three channels. I found music videos, movie channels, and entire networks for young people.

One of my first discoveries via Disney Channel was Eerie, Indiana. The rest of the world might remember Omri Katz as the male lead in Hocus Pocus, but he will always be Marshall from Eerie, Indiana, to me. This show had a weird mystery to solve each week with a slightly wacky, paranormal twist. I can still see the first episode's ending, with the twins tucked into their Foreverware containers. Eerie, Indiana was the first show I remember seeing that had an episode where reality slipped. The main character found out they were filming a TV show, a trope repeated in Growing Pains, Xena, Warrior Princess, and Supernatural.

Nickelodeon quickly became my favorite channel. I watched shows like Fifteen (starring an infant Ryan Reynolds), You Can't Do That On Television, Hey Dude, and the two shows that made my nerd heart beat faster: Are You Afraid of the Dark and The Tomorrow People.

Are You Afraid of the Dark was inventive and excellent at building suspense during each episode. It was creepy enough to send tingles down my back but not frightening enough that my scaredy-cat self had to turn it off.

The Tomorrow People was a massive jump into sci-fi for me. The show revolved around four teenagers who could teleport, use telepathy, etc., and depicted them coming to terms with their powers and trying to stay away from people who wanted to exploit them. It was the perfect leap into sci-fi because, unlike some of the other sci-fi shows I had watched, the characters were my age. In 1994, our area experienced an ice storm that knocked the power out for a week. One of my biggest concerns was that I wouldn't be able to watch that week's episode of The Tomorrow People. Fun fact, The Tomorrow People was a remake of another show that aired in the '70s. Then the show was remade in the '90s and again in 2013 for the CW. I guess it’s proof that we are always looking for the people of tomorrow.

This is the first in a multi-part series exploring television shows, movies, video games, and books that influenced my tastes and set me on the path to nerdiness. I will focus on things I watched, played, or read within the first 20 years of my life, 1980-2000. That's it for the first round of TV shows that put me on my nerdy path. Next week, I'll explore a few more shows with more adult themes.

Proof that I grew up in the 80’s

pop culture

About the author

The Nerd Habit

The Nerd Habit is a collaborative group of writers who love all things nerd. We write about the latest happenings in nerd/geek culture as well as short fiction.

Our 2022 Team:

Christopher D. Horton, Hani Masry, Jerah Rose, Whitney Thompson

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