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So, as a general rule I don’t pay attention to song lyrics. I first noticed this only moments after my partner pointed it out to me. Seems I was making my partner mix tapes/cds with really sad lyrics. I thought I was making a tape with songs that really affected me and thought the same would happen when they listened to those songs. This is also the same time that I realized I like depressing music. They thought I was trying to communicate something I wasn’t trying to communicate. Anyway, sometimes I do pay attention to song lyrics. For instance, I pay attention when I am watching RoN commercially uninterrupted for the first time in my life. Actually, the music in the movie is pretty good. The film’s theme song lyrics are actually, at times, astute. Remember, this film was released in 1984, a time when Apple Computers was just raising their public profile with Ridley Scott’s amazing 1984 commercial. No one was on the internet, videogames were just a “fad,” and nerds were still in the closet.[i] The rise of the nerd had yet to happen. One phrase,One of these days we will turn it around. Won’t be long, mark my words. Time has come for revenge of the nerds!” succinctly describes contemporary culture. Below are the lyrics in full:
Okay nerds. Let’s go!

Mom packs us a lunch and we’re off to the school,
They call us nerds ’cause we’re so uncool.
They laugh at our clothes, they laugh at our hair
The girls walk by with the nose in the air.

So go ahead, put us down
One of these days we will turn it around
Won’t be long, mark my words
Time has come for revenge of the nerds!

Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds

We wear horn-rimmed glasses with a heavy duty lens
Button down shirts and a pocket full of pens
Straight A students, teachers’ pets
They call us nerds but with no regrets

So go ahead, put us down
One of these days we will turn it around
Won’t be long, mark my words
Time has come for revenge of the nerds!

Revenge of the nerds

Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds

While the jocks work out with the football team
We’re trying to score with the girl of our dream
You know we ain’t good looking but here’s a surprise:
Nerds are great lovers in disguise

So go ahead, put us down
One of these days we will turn it around
Won’t be long, mark my words
Time has come for revenge of the nerds!

Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds
So if they call you a dork, a spazz or a geek
Stand up and be proud, don’t be meek
Hey! Beautiful people, haven’t you heard?
The joke’s on you, it’s revenge of the nerds

So go ahead, put us down
One of these days we will turn it around
Won’t be long, mark my words
Time has come for revenge of the nerds!

Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds

Who, me?
Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds
Revenge of the nerds

Also, amazingly, the song’s writers predicted the fashion trend of button down shirts and horn-rimmed glasses over 25 years before it actually happened. Even before the birth of some of the hipsters wearing button down shirts and horn-rimmed glasses.

Watching the film I noticed that it shares many cast members with the television show The West Wing. Actors who appear both in The West Wing and RoN include: James Cromwell, Timothy Busfield, John Goodman and Ted McGinley. As well, RoN II: Nerds in Paradise features Bradley Whitfield and James Wong. Also, coincidently, during the credits of RoN II, when you see associate producers Richard Chew and Paul Schiff listed, it first looks like Richard Schiff—also on The West Wing. I can only assume that before he was writing The Social Network, the most highly-acclaimed nerd movie, Aaron Sorkin was avidly watching Revenge of the Nerds, the first nerd movie.[ii]

Beyond the films’ strange stature as screen-test for a show about Martin Sheen running a country, the cast of the movie has some strange pedigrees which bear mentioning. The movie stars Anthony Edwards[iii] as Gilbert Lowe and Robert Carradine as Lewis Slotnick. [iv] Although RoN is the first and only time Edwards stars as Gilbert, he does return in the second film as an Obi-Wan-like figment. This must have been a favor to Carradine or something because Edwards did this after Top Gun. Edwards has had a respectable career on both TV and film including David Fincher’s Zodiac. Digression: this has led me to suspect that Aaron Sorkin and David Fincher met back in, maybe, 2000, and they talked and talked about Revenge of the Nerds and bonded over how it was a formative influence in both of their careers. It was during that same conversation, where not only did they agree to make their own movie about nerds and the internet once mainstream audiences started to like Fincher and Sorkin had some free time after he was fired from the show he created, that Sorkin pointed out to Fincher just how great Anthony Edwards really is, with Sorkin at one point exclaiming that Edwards is “awesome, especially in Revenge of the Nerds.”Anway, the film’s lead, Lewis, is played by Robert Carradine who is part of the Carradine acting dynasty that includes his father John, brothers Keith and David and niece Martha (Plimpton). The film also stars J.D. Salinger’s kid. And yes, that is actually true. So, in the movie you have Kwai Chang Caine’s brother and Maverick’s wingman teaming up with that red-haired guy from Thirtysomething to defeat J.D. Salinger’s kid and the guy who gave Marcy D’Arcy her name.

Back to the plot. The nerds are told they need a national sponsor if they want to become a fraternity so they decide to become Lambda Lambda Lambda’s (Tri-Lambs)—an all black fraternity.  Now, this is where a tentative positive reading of the film is possible. Not to ignore or forgive all the terrible things in the film, it is just that RoN, like most things, is inconsistent. Now, why they decide to pledge an all-black fraternity is never made clear. Only one of the nerds, Lamar, is black and other than the guy who says “hair pie” all the time, the rest of the nerds are white. It is possible that their desire to be in an all-black fraternity was included because it is supposed to be a joke. If that is the case I don’t see the joke. But, keep in mind, that the “humor” of the film relies on devices like the sexual abuse of women, the existence of queer people, etc. so it is often very unclear exactly what in the film the makers thought was funny. Let me be clear: this is not a funny film. Anyway, the nerds have a meeting with two adult men who represent the Tri-Lambs. Gilbert says that their chapter won’t discriminate—the chapter will be open to people of all races and creeds[v] and Lamar adds “and sexual orientations.” Now despite what comes before and after this scene, when Gilbert and Lamar state their desire to create a positive space, they actually seem sincere. And so does their desire to be part of the Tri-Lambs. Now, I don’t know if the actors, embarrassed at what they are willing to do for money, saw this as their one opportunity to sincerely say something positive let alone not offensive. Maybe the writers of the film actually thought this was the message their film was communicating. Surprisingly, this is sometimes the case.

On one hand we are supposed to laugh at the nerds for being losers. In order to qualify as one of the title’s “nerds” you don’t actually have to be a nerd—or at least as I understand the word nerd. The nerds introduced in the third film, dubbed “the next generation,” are really just losers. Now, Gilbert, Lewis, Lewis’ dad and Poindexter conform to/created the definition of 80s nerd. A nerd was/is a heterosexual male who is intimidated by heterosexual females, isn’t good at sports, wears glasses, ugly clothes and likes computers. At the same time, the movie caricatures nerds as having some qualities I found surprising. For instance, in RoN II Poindexter takes a lot of medication (I think this is also supposed to be funny). Nerds also tend to have allergies.[vi] As I’ve already intimated, Lamar is a nerd by virtue of his sexual preference. One of the most confusing inclusions might be Toyota, played by Tennessee native and standup comedian Henry Cho. Toyota, a Korean-American half-naked Elvis impersonator, is treated as the one cool nerd in RoN III. Anyway, at the same time we are supposed to be rooting for the nerds and thinking they are not losers and have every right to be included as much as the guys in the other fraternities. If this material were handled differently, there are some positive messages which may not have been lost. At the same time that you have so much hate in this film, aimed at getting a laugh, the film is about a group of people, the nerds, not belonging, and how that is wrong. The nerds are the film’s heroes. As much as we are expected to laugh at Lamar just because he is gay he is also one of the film’s protagonists and I think we are expected to want him to be as accepted as the other nerds. When Lamar enters the javelin contest and throws the javelin specifically designed to accommodate his queer, “limp-wristed throwing style” I really do want him to win. Spoiler: He Does.

Some random things about the movie:

They somehow got the license to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” which plays after Booger distributes joints to every guest at a crappy party that instantly turns awesome.

They also got the license to Talking Heads. “Burning Down the House” plays when a house burns down.

Throughout the whole film series the Lambs seems to have mastered robot technology. But, this was the 1980s (the first two films anyway) and even Wall Street features a robot-butler.

The movie does have some interesting moments. In one scene, the nerds rap for a talent show as part of the fraternity competition they are forced to compete in. This was just two years after “The Message” was recorded and a time when many people might not have heard a rap song. This same scene is basically repeated in RoN II except in that movie the scene feels like it was just included to capitalize on the growing popularity of rap music which, by 1986, was difficult to ignore. By the time it’s repeated, yet again, in RoN III, the scene is terrible (and cut short).


[i] I remember a minor turning point in my life was when I started publicly admitting I pretend to be an elf, wizard or vampire from time to time.

[ii] I think Sorkin identifies with Poindexter.

[iii] Goooooooooooose.

[iv] Gilbert Newton Lewis was a famous American chemist. Get it, Gilbert N. Lewis…Gilbert n’ Lewis. Clever, huh.

[v] Even if the movie is not.

[vi] I have really bad allergies so they might be right about this one.

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