Embracing Awkward: Pop Culture Has Made It Cool To Be Uncool

Fox/New Girl

Weirdos are making a comeback.

Remember when everybody wanted to be cool and pretty, like characters in movies like “Clueless” and “Legally Blonde,” or shows like “Beverly Hills 90210” and “Melrose Place?” Today, these kinds of films and shows don’t seem to have nearly as much screen time. Instead of attractive, popular, and generally “too cool for school” protagonists, our film and TV entertainment today highlights the school misfits, the ones who used to play second fiddle to the Cher Horowitz’s and Elle Wood’s of the world.

There’s Fat Amy in “Pitch Perfect,” who undeniably steals the film and has some of the best one-liners. There’s the entire cast of “Glee,” which, like “Pitch Perfect” and “Pitch Perfect 2,” embraces an entire team of “freaks and geeks” whose quirkiness comes across as charming and endearing. These are the kids we may have needlessly felt sorry for in high school and college (if we weren’t among them), but these days, there’s no need to feel pity. Because the kids (and adults) are all right; they have a lot of pride in themselves.

There’s something incredibly refreshing about the way film and television have taken on the conventional definition of “cool.” The protagonist of the popular Fox show “New Girl,” Jessica Day, wears big glasses, has bangs, and confesses in one episode, “I like being weird!” No character in the show “Modern Family” adheres to archetypes of having it together, being “normal,” or being poised, cool, and collected. Claire and Phil Dunphy are the kind of parents who, in one episode, come home, see their kids, and say, “Thank God no one’s dead.” Their daughter Alex is a nerd who’s proud of being smarter than her family; the kids’ uncles are a gay couple — Mitch a neurotic lawyer, and Cam a goofy and overly optimistic music teacher. Even the “cool” child, Hayley, may be pretty, but she’s also extremely vulnerable and normal. When her sister, Alex, says to her, “What kind of stuff do you have? Too many boys chasing after you? Too many parties?” Haley has a decidedly uncool response: “I’m flunking biology, and now I have to take summer school. And all my friends are talking about going to college, while I don’t think I’ll even be able to go to college. Is that enough stuff for you?”

In shows like “Modern Family,” “Glee,” and more, being cool and entertaining doesn’t mean being heterosexual, pretty, skinny, laid back, or successful. Our favorite characters come in all shapes, sizes, personality types, intelligence levels, and sexual orientations. And for once, they’re actually relatable because they don’t necessarily have their sh*t together.

What Does It Mean to Embrace “Uncool?”

This refreshing change in storytelling is exciting for a variety of reasons. It means young people may start to see that it’s okay to be the way they are. It’s okay to have glasses and braces, and think you’re attractive; it’s okay to be the kid who doesn’t like sports and would rather sing. You can have a great group of friends and be heavy set, the only minority in your school, or the kid in class who just can’t keep up with everyone else. High school doesn’t need to be awful because you’re different.

This kind of entertainment can also help the young people who are the perfect kids: the pretty ones who get good grades, are athletic, and seem to have lots of friends. Recent news has made it clear that even the ones who try to have it all together struggle tremendously. We’ve read stories about numerous high school and college students struggling with depression, resulting not only from being bullied, but also from being successful. For every girl who’s bullied, there’s also a Madison Holleran, who was pretty, popular, and by all accounts a high achiever.

Nevertheless, she battled depression and a desire to “have it all” that culminated in her suicide. Maybe more flawed protagonists and women who aren’t blonde bombshells with boyfriends and a Harvard degree will help young women and men embrace being flawed.

Seeing A Difference

We’re also seeing social media turn “uncool” into something cool again. Twitter accounts with hundreds of thousands of followers, like Common White Girl, embrace being quirky. Typical tweets from Common White Girl include a screenshot of a text message conversation where a guy writes, “Your friend’s gorgeous.” The header on this tweet reads, “Story of my life.” Another popular Twitter account, Sincerely Tumblr, recently posted a picture of a plethora of junk food and simply wrote, “Mood.” These kinds of relatable posts that embrace feeling rejected, down on yourself, or simply not that great, remind us that other people feel crummy too; we’re okay, we’re normal, and there’s humor to be found in our situations.

Other social media devices like Snapchat and Instagram also embrace being silly, awkward, or just plain different. Snapchat stories, let’s just speak frankly here, are usually weird and involve making funny drawings, singing in the car, dancing on your bed, or something else goofy and candid. Dubsmash has recently become popular, and has made it fun and popular to lip synch and look ridiculous. Instagram, in spite of its filters, has become a forum for seemingly “perfect” celebrities like Taylor Swift to post candid moments. Swift recently posted a video of herself getting burned during a cooking class, and notoriously posts photos of herself surrounded by cats, calling herself a “cat lady.”

It was never a bad thing to be uncool. But it seems like pop culture is finally starting to see it that way: Showing men and women of all ages something that we already know, but could always use a reminder of — everyone’s far from perfect. It’s normal to be baffled by your ability to keep your kids (or dogs, or even plants) alive; there’s nothing wrong with preferring pizza and Netflix to a sexy date night; and you can still have friends even if you wear thick glasses and get hit in the face every time you “play” basketball. So let your freak flag fly, everyone. It doesn’t make you weird anymore.