The Yankovic Singularity

So I actually had no idea that Weird Al Yankovic was still doing his, er, particular brand of music. (Singular, one might say.) I actually thought it stopped a long while ago, not long after the Thriller parodies. Well, not long ago he did a video/song called “White and Nerdy”. I looked at it*, and so can you, on Myspace video (wow, I had no idea they had a video service). Here is the link.

weird Al white and nerdy video

Among the things featured in the video’s visuals are Schrodinger’s equation, Stephen Hawking’s BHOT, M C Escher (It’s a rap video, so…) Here are some stills (click for larger):

weird Al white and nerdy videoweird Al white and nerdy videoweird Al white and nerdy video

I laughed, I’ll admit. I find his fresh-faced and cheerful style quite funny at times. But then I got thinking. I can’t decide whether I should be depressed at the potency of the stereotypes he is playing with, or just carry on giggling. For example, why did the guys who were representing the complete opposite of being nerdy (and into science, reading, and the like) have to be cast as black? Worse than that (or at least equally as bad) is that fact that not one of his friends (on the chess team, or at the Renaissance fair, or other apparently nerdy activities, is black). In fact, the only thing that the white people and the black people in the video have in common is bowling, apparently. This really does not help at all, but he’s not to shoulder the whole blame of course – he’s merely reflecting the prevailing biases of the culture at large. Images all around implicitly and sometimes explicitly tell young black kids that science is not for them. Either because they supposedly can’t do it very well, or because it is not part of their “culture”, or because it is just not “cool” (I’ve blogged about this before. See here and here for example, and the discussion threads that followed). So Al and his people toed the line in trying to make a funny video. Nobody is going to laugh as much if the main “cool” guys were white, or if the principal “nerd” was black. They’d just think it was unrealistic. But did it have to be so completely polarized? Could there not be one “cool” guy who was white, and one “nerd” who was black? Just in the background somewhere? Would it really have reduced the impact of the joke so much? Sigh.

Anyway, putting my access-to-science-for-all part of my brain aside for a bit (actually, it is impossible to do), it does raise a few good giggles…


[Update: There’s also a copy on YouTube (of course), and currently 2436 comments on it – a lot from self-confessed nerds of course. (Among my favourites: “What codec is this?? its such good quality..”)]

(* Thanks Nick!)

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30 Responses to The Yankovic Singularity

  1. Jude says:

    I’m a true Weird Al fanatic (he calls us CPFOAs–Close Personal Friends of Al). I saw him in concert a few years ago. In this video, the blacks are cool and he isn’t. He’s Donny Osmond/Happy Days/geekiness while they are cool. I don’t think it’s a science distinction. He includes some things from his own life. For example, he posed for an ALA Read Poster with a copy of Stephen Hawking’s book. Celebrities who pose for Read posters choose their favorite books. It’s completely feasible to think that he’s actually read Stephen Hawking since he’s a smart (weird) guy (e.g., he was his high school’s valedictorian).

    The video parody works on several levels. There’s the rap song he’s making fun of, a variety of different stereotypically “white” or nerdy things, some strangeness thrown in (e.g. bubble wrap? What’s nerdy about that?), and lots of inside jokes for different sections of the audience (maybe that’s why I don’t get the thing about bubble wrap–except that I guess he’s too nerdy to have a real girl–now there’s a stereotype for you).

    It seems that all the stereotypes (and the entire parody consists of stereotypes) are turned against the white guy, who will never be cool. I can see your point, though. Maybe, as a CPFOA, I’ve watched too many of his videos and DVDs, so I look at them a little differently. Or maybe I’m too white and nerdy.

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  3. pedant says:

    Might it not be that this amusing conceit is intended to satirise the very attitudes that you find offensive? As the ditty is entitled ‘White and Nerdy’, it is only to be expected that all nerds shown are, well, white. You should lighten up – whatever that might mean in your paranoid/PC world

  4. Clifford says:

    “Might it not be that this amusing conceit is intended to satirise the very attitudes that you find offensive?”

    Yes, it might. But it also might not. Hence an attempt to have a discussion. Perhaps we can have one without name-calling.

    “As the ditty is entitled ‘White and Nerdy’, it is only to be expected that all nerds shown are, well, white.”

    If you’d slow down and think a little bit, you’d see that does not neccessarily follow. It could have applied to the main character only, as I suggested, without diluting the joke.


  5. CS Guy says:

    I had exactly the reaction Clifford, even though I have to admit it is kind of funny and I can kind of appreciate it as a “nerd” myself.

    One of the main reason this song works so well is because of the great hip-hop beat by Chamillionare.

    So it is a bit sad/ironic that a song that draws so heavily from “black culture” is used to perpetuate stereotypes arguably harmful to blacks.(i.e interest in science/math is a “white thing”).

    So yeah, call me PC or whatever, but I did immediately detect a disturbing undertone (more so in the video more than the lyrics).

  6. CS Guy says:

    One guy did a response and called it “Brown and Nerdy”.


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  8. Jude says:

    To put Weird Al in perspective, maybe you could watch “Don’t Download This Song,” which has also been uploaded to MySpace. On his last CD, Poodle Hat, he provided us with home videos as a reward for not acquiring the CD illegally, “like some hooligan!” In Don’t Download This Song, he equates illegal downloaders with criminals who will follow the path to heroin addiction–in fact, ultimately, they will burn in hell. But he also pokes fun at himself when he says that artists like me “won’t be able to afford another solid gold Humvee” and that “diamond-studded swimming pools don’t grow on trees.” To be truly effective, parody requires exaggeration, and Weird Al is an equal-opportunity exaggerator. Many of his videos are carefully staged replications of the original video they parody. Amish Paradise, for example, has sections which are duplicates of Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise. I haven’t seen the original video for the song parodied by White and Nerdy, but some of the scenes included in this video are probably included for parody purposes.

  9. nc says:

    Not funny at all, and should be outlawed. I not nerdy at all, but I still feel empathy with people who are ridiculed just for being themselves. With this sort of sh*t dressed up as humour, all weaklings will be coerced into pumping iron at the gym seven times a week, which is unhealthy. 🙁

  10. Haelfix says:

    He’s poking fun of the whole situation, thats what he does. The lesson to learn from Weird Al is that stereotypes are funny, not that x member of such and such a video is being portrayed unfairly (thats the point).

  11. SadMan says:

    So it is a bit sad/ironic that a song that draws so heavily from “black culture” is used to perpetuate stereotypes arguably harmful to blacks.(i.e interest in science/math is a “white thing”).

    The problem extends from the overall culture. The song he was spoofing was biased and stereotyped from the start. Ridin’ Dirty is about being a gangsta and being persecuted by the police. Most popular videos in the “black culture” promote the negative image of “You’ll never be more than a dumb thug, live with it.” and that saddens me. Black people have just as much potential when they are born as any others, yet the upbringing and cultural walls force them to lives that are sub par,unless they struggle against it. Bill Cosby for example, spoke out against the Gansgta rap culture (but was shunned for it) because he had spent his life advocating something better for youth, only to see the big record companies fostor a culture of ignorance.

    I personally believe that the record companies probably wouldn’t have LET Al use a black nerd or a white ‘gangsta’ because that would hurt thier bottom line. Selling what is popular, not what is ethical.

  12. Adam says:

    I thought that it was funny, myself. I am, however, not renowned for my sensitivity to racial undertones, as you can see, for example, my comments in the cv thread recently.

    Sadman #9; Bill Cosby wasn’t really ‘shunned’, so far as I am aware. Some people objected to what he said, but a lot of people didn’t. The particular things that he was talking about weren’t enormously contentious, either; he was picking specifically on certain behaviours. The idea that he was ‘shunned’ is, it seems to me, something that certain sorts of sanctimonious white people want to believe. I don’t think that there is enough homogeneity amongst the reaction from the black community to say that he was ‘shunned’ anyhow.

  13. Tyler says:

    Not meant as a direct attack, but um… have you been living under a rock?!

    “So I actually had no idea that Weird Al Yankovic was still doing his, er, particular brand of music. (Singular, one might say.) I actually thought it stopped a long while ago, not long after the Thriller parodies.”

    Have you never heard Jurassic Park or Bedrock Anthem from his Alapalooza album (1993), Everything You Know Is Wrong, Gump Song, Since You’ve Been Gone, Alternative Polka, AMISH PARADISE from Bad Hair Day (obviously my favorite album, 1996), Couch Potato and the eBay song from Poodle Hat (2003)!!! And that isn’t even near all of them! Perhaps I just missed a subtle bit of sarcasm, but I just couldn’t believe I was actually reading that someone thought weird al had not been around for the last 20 or so years. He has even been in the media, in movies and even had his own show. Here is his bio. Anyway…

    While obviously some black people are nerdy and maybe a few white people are cool, lol, the fact that this was not portrayed in the video I do not believe was to imply that only specific groups of people can fit into such categorizations. The video’s title is White and Nerdy after all. Even in a group of all white people some will joke that another is “too white.” I definitely don’t think it is reinforcing any stereotypes such as science isn’t for black people or that they can not excel in it. The “Gangstas” portrayed in this video were nothing more than a reflection of those “Ridin’ Dirty” in the original video, and I must say, Weird Al’s video did a lot less to reinforce racial stereotypes than did Chamillionaire’s…

    This video should not be taken for anything more than it is, which is simply a wonderfully kick ass parody playing on actual and exaggerated subcultural traits.

  14. Tyler says:

    Oh. Also, the math and science that is referred to in this video even most whites think that the people who are successful at them are nerdy b/c it is largly those who would be classified as nerdy who are willing to take up such courses of study. Not a commentary on blacks’ ability to tackle the subjects at all…

    (and just in case anyone is thinking of going there, if you feel my wording is offensive I assure you it is not meant to be. I am not racist and I use the same terms for white and black so don’t accuse me of anything I have not said/done. Thank you.)

  15. Clifford says:

    Not meant as a direct attack, but um… have you been living under a rock?!

    Perhaps….or at least a different rock from those of others.

    No, Tyler, your wording is not offensive, and I welcome your comments. No, I don’t think you’re racist – just somewhat naive about the extent of the problem we have with the images of science and race in the mainstream media. This suggests to me that you’re living under an even larger and more opaque rock than I am.



  16. Kelly says:

    well.. i think you’ve made a strong point..
    but he does make the film clip look as if nerds are cool.
    I mean, Al was a nerd himself when he was kid.
    Because it’s a weird Al Yankovic song, i don’t think he would put a strong point across of the fact that only white people can be nerdy. If it was really that noticble then they wouldn’t of let him release the song.

    Anyway, thats my suggestion.

  17. ds says:

    i like weird al and this is made for me im gonna where braces but not grills and im gonna walk up to gangstas in dark alleys and give them 100 bucks for a star wars movie just to see how it feels to be white and nerdy

  18. JYates says:

    I agree with “Tyler”…the song is “WHITE and Nerdy”, hence the need for the nerdy characters to be white. The whole video is a parody of stereotypes meant to make us laugh at how we view our culture. Do you honestly think Weird Al Yankovic was trying to undermine an African American’s right to “be nerdy” through this video, or could it be that the same guy who offered us “Eat It” is again trying to introduce a little humor in parody form.

    The problem with “having a discussion”, as you put it, is that this is clearly a case of someone trying to make something out of nothing. With all the racial injustice in the world, do you really think this is something that would or even could adversely affect African Anerican youth in this country?

    You want to have a discusion? Why not discuss the fact that the most vocal leader of the African American community is Al Sharpton? You know…Al “Whenever a black man with or without a rap sheet 42 miles long is shot by a white cop, there must have been a racial conspiracy!” Sharpton. Why not cover that? Perhaps Al Yankovic is a much easier target than Al Sharpton.

    Oh, and one more thing…it isn’t “society” in general that tells African American youth that science is nerdy, it’s BLACK CULTURE that glorifies street violence. Don’t believe me? Then check the justice department statistics and tell me why 13% of the population is responsible for 80 plus percent of the violent crime in this country? There are plenty of poor people who don’t steal from, rape or assault others. Being poor is no more an excuse for poor behavior than it is a crime.

    Not all, but many segments of white society are apathetic to science and have an attitude that is disgustingly proud of being dumb on the subject. That’s a problem in and of itself, but I don’t think African American kids are terribly influenced by white people living in white neighborhoods who would be hard pressed to master their kids 10th grade geometry book and couldn’t be happier about it.

    I know it’s really popular to blame “our culture” and “our society” on the ills of the African American community, but at what point do the people in that community start taking some responsibility? Furthermore, our society’s culture is disproportionately influenced by African American culture (for better or worse, I have no opinion on that), yet somehow it’s “our” fault? I suppose P Diddy calls you to get approval before releasign his next video, but he sure doesn’t call me. In other words, I refuse to take the blame for the popularity of a cultural stereotype that perpetuates violence and was created by the very people decrying its existence.

    As far as “White and Nerdy” being the same type of dangerous cultural stereotype from a different cultural background, how many people have been shot over the years at a Weird Al concert? You saying young African Americans are likely to avoid science as a result of this video is as frankly dumb as the poster above who suggested nerds everywhere will pump iron to avoid the stereotype. I’ve known a lot of nerds (yes, I’m in the union), and most could care less what society thinks which is why they are nerds in the first place.

    Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of issues our “great American society” is guilty of as a whole. Our country’s divorce rate is over 50%, many people feel that adultery is perfectly acceptable, we place the value of money over almost everything and personal responsibility is practically non-existent (thanks in large part to the baby boomer generation whose self glorifying smugness makes me want to vomit). Those are societal failings that were championed from Wall street to Compton, from the Hamptons to the ghetto. THOSE are issues where the blame falls squarely on our society as whole, but if you want to know why African American kids don’t particularly find any value or appeal with science, ask African American parents, not Weird Al Yankovic.

  19. JYates says:

    P.S., Sorry for the grammatical, spelling and punctuation errors in the previous post. I didn’t proofread as is evident. I also need to clarify that when I said “from Wall Street to Compton, from the Hamptons to the Ghetto”, I’m referring to stereotypically white and black extremes, but more importantly, all points in between, which is where the majority of people live (black, white or purple).

    Anyway, don’t be offended, I just feel that there are far more relevant issues that are hurting society and especially our youth that deserve your attention besides “White and Nerdy”, many of which are directly related to science and our country’s growing apathy toward the subject across all cultures, for whatever reason.

  20. Clifford says:

    I’m not offended.. I just profoundly disagree with you that the images and stereotypes that pervade our media and invade the minds of our kids (and adults) are not relevant issues. They are in fact more relevant than most. I think it is interesting to take a look at even then things we consider harmless humour. It is often interesting in itself to see what is considered all part of “harmless fun”.

    And the discussions that get going by some of us taking a second look and pointing at something also help to make it all the more worthwhile.



  21. spindle says:

    Where are all the black nerds?

    Get real Cliff. The song is called “White and Nerdy” and your asking for Black nerds.

    Maybe you should petition Al to write a new song called “Multiracial and nerdy”.

  22. dmar says:

    Better yet…

    “Multiracial and socially disfunctional”

    We don’t want to offend anyone. Can’t call anyone a nerd can we?

  23. Clifford says:

    19, 20 – Thanks for your insightful remarks. You might want to try reading what I *actually said*, and then engage your brains and think about it just a tiny bit before saying rather silly things.



  24. vampares says:

    Your videos. I think the humor lies in the disparaging culture between greasy, pizza faced dorks (who still listen to Weird Al) and, well, white women (you’ve got to sing or something to get some pussy). Weird Al is almost an Icon of the MTV anti-christian (read Jewish please) mind control. And you will note the visible although sometimes subtle differences between the attitude and disposition between the Jews and Gentiles.

    The stereotypes he has emulated are a result of younger babyboomer Americans, their naive of WW2, and the Popular Science notion that they absorbed. There was little understanding of Communism, so the JFK assassination having been committed by a Communist trained in Russia went over their heads. Notice it is not White and GOP. The deep of history and the fact that the disease had already begun to set in come WW2 makes it very difficult to explain McCarthyism to a group of potential Jews (or even half Jews, as they have been half assimilated).

    Weird Al is funny, so funny that videos like “James Brown – Living in America” were eclipsed by Weird Al’s “Living with a hernia”. This is one of the dangers of parody.

  25. vampares says:

    I apologize if the mention of Jewish as something other than strictly religion offends anyone. Sometimes people say this is the {insert overbroad topic} Bible. Doesn’t mean there is a religion behind it.

    I *want* Judeaism to be a religion. Therefore I create the notion that it a Religion. I can not deal with this because I am not a Jew. Israel can deal with this.

    Is it prejudice to be cautious? Is it prejudice to support someone because they are and only IF they are: White, Black, Jewish? In a nationalist situation? In a multicultural situation?

    What if a religion is tied to criminal conspiracy? How that make it any less prejudice?

  26. dmar says:

    I read your what you said.

    In fact, you wrote:
    “why did the guys who were representing the complete opposite of being nerdy (and into science, reading, and the like) have to be cast as black?”

    Maybe because he is doing a parody of a hip hop song whose videos features an all african american cast.

    You also went on to say:
    “Worse than that (or at least equally as bad) is that fact that not one of his friends (on the chess team, or at the Renaissance fair, or other apparently nerdy activities, is black).”

    That’s because the song is called WHITE and nerdy. The fact that you can’t gt that says that it is not us who need to engage our brains… it is you.

  27. Clifford says:

    Right. Ok. You got me. Pick out a few of the sentences I wrote and leave the others… an excellent way to argue. Brilliant. You’ve proven your point, I imagine.


  28. Joyce says:

    I agree with Clifford that the imagery of a group of white, “nerdy” people unable to relate to a group of black, “cool” people serves, on some level, to reinforce racial stereotypes. I am a white nerd living with a brown nerd, and our child is a “mixed” nerd, and we all get along just fine! I can’t relate to this video at all!

  29. Nixon Lee says:

    I thought the video was funny. I have only watched it once. The guy is obviously very gifted to keep this act up for so long. As for all the posts about being offended that there were no black nerds on his video. The song is called White and Nerdy so that’s probably the reason why. I wasn’t offended because to be quite honest none of the images in the video represent me as a person. I just see stereotypes.

    Chat Later, Nixon Lee

  30. rjschwarz says:

    I think something is missing here. He wants to roll with the gangstas but they wont’ let him. If it was every stereotype he’d be a bit terrified to roll with the gangstas. If he was black and nerdy the gangstas might tolerate him around. If he was white and not nerdy, again, they might tolerate him. But white and nerdy and also clingy and begging for attention? Does anybody really want to be around that who isn’t already white and nerdy and clingy?