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The Historical Reasons behind the Popularity Curve

The Historical Reasons behind the Popularity Curve

The Historical Reasons Behind the Popularity Curve – Why Jocks are Popular and Intellectuals are Outcasted.

I’ll say at the very outset of this article that in some areas of influence, things are changing. But they are changing for a very specific reason and I will cover that at the end of this article.

A lot of people think about this subject every day. It impacts their very lives on a daily basis. Starting from an early age in school, they are left to wonder why some kids pick on them when they have done nothing wrong. If you’re “in” the popular clique, you have your own set of issues as well. It’s a constant battle to stay “in” and there are tight rules and social etiquette to follow as well. I’m not here to get into the differences of which is better or worse or who bullies whom.

I want to talk about how we got here. I want to delve into how this collective consciousness was embedded into our society. It has some old roots and I think that everyone could benefit from learning a little history.

First, I’ve never heard anyone talk about this. Everyone is so entrenched in this idea already, for generations upon generations, that no one even ponders how far back it goes and from whence it came, but I want to know so I went delving deeper.

Let’s give a cursory examination to the terms I’m going to use. A Jock is basically someone who is involved in sports above all other pursuits. There are many currently coined terms for the intellectual outcast but let us use the one most often used in common parlance, Nerd. A Nerd is someone who follows intellectual pursuits above all others. Very simple and generalized definitions but I want to cover a broad range. Let’s all agree that there are obviously a wide variety of types. We don’t need to talk endlessly about all the varied exceptions to these rules. In the end, I’m not defining these terms. I’m talking about how they even came to be.


As far back as we can recall, in recorded history, we’ve had a ruling elite class. The aristocracy. This is in particular the case for England and its progeny, America. (For those of you who want to balk at the idea of an American aristocracy I will remind you gently of the industrial boom after the Civil War and how millionaires were made every day and they went flocking to New York to try and get into “society” there, not to mention the reigning “400” of Alva Astor and her iron grip on the New England elite.) 

In this English aristocracy going back hundreds of years, the peerage was full of people who did not work. It was considered exceptionally low brow to work and they instead managed great Estates that were passed down from father to son due to the laws of Primogeniture. That was a form of work in itself actually. They were responsible for everyone on the Estate and the village nearby. They often were great philanthropists of their local area and because of the deep associations with class in England, the aristocratic class was looked up to quite a bit.

This highest class of people, because they had no occupation, had to fill up their time in some way, and by the end of the 19th century, this was largely entertainments. They spent a great deal of time on their country seat estates, usually six months of the year or more, and had to figure out something to do. So, they entertained guests.

This is where it really comes to the forefront. It was considered boorish to be intellectual. You were no fun if you knew too much. You had nothing to add to the shooting and riding if you spent your time reading a book. If you talked about anything intellectual at all at table, for instance, you would be ignored and shunned. It was not to be tolerated. In fact it was considered rude and impolite to force a superior intelligence on someone, it might embarrass them. Talk should be lively and fun.

I should guess because all this aristocracy has trickled down from the medieval age when Barons and Earls (the meat and heart of England’s Peerage) used to owe the monarchy military service - they didn’t have time to spend reading. They needed to learn to ride horse, use a sword and when at table with the King, amuse him. 

It’s such a subtle thing. But there it is. 

It’s hard to admit it - that we’re still being bamboozled by an aristocracy ideal. Even us commoners like the idea so much that we practice it in ourselves in microcosm. We have been influenced so much in the actions and thoughts of the elite that their very prejudices have trickled down into our own.

Just ponder it, commoners worked on the Estates. They served at table. They tilled the fields. Their very livelihoods, for centuries, depended on this elite class. Whole villages depended on their local Lord. It’s no wonder they were lauded and worshipped. And so, we developed the habit of mimicking their behaviors.

In America, it happened so recently and so obviously that we have books that talk directly of it. Edith Wharton delves deliciously into New York Society in precisely this way. This “new rich” elite of New York wanted desperately to be approved of, in England and Europe. We didn’t have titles here. We don’t have the law of Primogeniture, sure, but we wanted the gloss of aristocracy all the same. We copied everything English. Over half a century this happened, starting about 1870. Admittedly only the very rich in America did. But the same thing happened here as happened there. The working man still worked for the elite here. We didn’t have the clear cut class boundaries that England did, but it was still in our memory. The prejudices that the elite here carried with regards to anti-intellectualism still worked its way down the social ladder.

We do after all want so much to be rich and famous. So we mimic. 

In England during the reign of Victoria when upper class boys were sent to Eton (a very posh Private Boarding School) they were expected to play Rugby and Cricket and cause a ruckus. Studying was considered dull and uninteresting. But even attending this school was the privilege of the upper class. Laborers did not go to school. They had to work from a young age. They didn’t get to play Sports at all, but they did get to witness those elite upper class boys do nothing but Sports. Look how rich they were and how much fun they were having, they don't have to work they just do sports. That is the way to be.

American Society in New York was so exclusive and rigid that new millionaires, in lieu of making it into the “400” of upper crust New York elite, ended up carting their dowry-rich daughters over to England. And by the hundreds, American heiresses married right into the English peerage. And voila, the ways of the English peers made its way right over here.

The Vanderbilts and Rockefellers and Astors were all extremely rich American families who took to the English way of aristocracy with delight. There were dozens more families of course but those are the recognizable names. But it went the same way; be rich. In America it was alright that you worked, that was different at least, but by all means, don’t be a bore at the table. Engage in ‘Country Sports’ and be a vivacious and entertaining host and guest. Don't embarrass anyone with your intellect.

Generations upon generations of elites who knew nothing and had little to no education perpetuated their prejudice on the world. They were what were special and desired - they were the “in crowd” and it was wonderful to be rich and to do nothing but sports. And we bought it hook, line and sinker.

In America there is now another different agenda. We worship money. The more you have the more we worship at its altar. You don’t need any redeeming qualities if you have money.

The benefit here is that now, the intellectual outcast, or Nerd, has finally come into its own in the 21st century. They have the ability with their cleverness to make money. We have now started to overlook their “dullness” and “intelligence” because they have loads of cash.  Just look at how we now embrace Mark Zuckerburg and Elon Musk.


If this brings an end to the rampant bullying and outcasting of such people, I won’t mind in the least. Let us usher in this new era of the Nerd with all the pomp and circumstance it deserves.

A Memory of Light cover by Michael Whelan

A Memory of Light cover by Michael Whelan

West Kennet Long Barrow; The Barrow Downs

West Kennet Long Barrow; The Barrow Downs