This review contains spoilers.
The musical Loserville, which opens on the West End this week, joins The Big Bang Theory and The IT Crowd in the list of pop culture representations of geeks. The question is: does it feature geeks to play geek stereotypes for laughs, or does it attempt to redeem the geeks’ reputation? The answer is neither, for in the end, Loserville does not deal with the geek community at all. Under the cover of geekdom, the musical works to undermine stereotypes in general.
It’s 1971 America, and young computer genius Michael Dork is on the verge of a great technological discovery. When he is banned from his high school computer room, Holly, the new girl who wants to be the first female astronaut, becomes the key to finishing his work and to finally having a love life. Unfortunately, Eddie, the resident jock, has plans of his own, to which Michael’s work might be the key.
Loserville debunks several clichés by presenting them in exaggerated form. It thus creates a world where geeks quote Star Trek compulsively and obsess over girls, where football players are evil, where cheerleaders only want to go shopping, and where foreign exchange students only seek to have sex with the locals, all in the already gimmicky setting of an American high school. Not satisfied with mocking popular culture clichés, Elliot Davis and James Bourne, writers of the show, move on to ridicule theatre conventions. Through the work of designer Francis O’Connor, they blow the importance of props out of proportion, using oversized notepads and pencils to set different scenes. They also address the cheesiness of musical theatre through overly dramatic dance moves and lyrics (“I’d never screw my life up because of how sick you are”). By pushing clichés to such an extreme, Loserville ridicules them. Its stereotypical representation of the geek figure therefore invalidates the cliché.
More importantly, in Loserville, being a geek stands for being different. As all characters reveal themselves to be geeks, the musical argues that we are all different in our own way. Samantha, for example, comes into her own by admitting her love for cosplay, and Leia finds herself through her enthusiasm for Lucas’ science fiction novel. In turn, as the characters all become “different”, difference becomes the norm, thus discrediting the “normal” and “different” categories. Put differently, the geek stereotype in Loserville is not an attempt to mock the geek lifestyle, but a synecdoche for all forms of difference. As the show blurs the line between normal and different, it indirectly promotes the acceptance of geeks.
In short, Loserville does not perpetuate a negative image of geeks, but indeed seeks to dispel many clichés, the geek one among them. It debunks stereotypes by exaggerating them, and, with the geek cliché as synecdoche, normalises all forms of difference. For our purposes, it is worth ignoring this synecdoche and examining Loserville’s surface message. As all characters reveal themselves as geeks, the geek category becomes the norm, and thus ceases to be a category. Perhaps, then, the best way for geeks to be normalised is to reject the idea of geekcom as a category.