“Andre Meadows and the steady rise of Black Nerd Culture”
How often do you encounter, or even hear about a Black male entrepreneur turning their childhood passion and sense of fun and joy, into a full-fledged career? It’s rare, too rare, especially when you’re talking about academically gifted and talented Black kids, who are so often out of an abundance of caution and love, pushed hard into “practical” professions.
Andre Meadows, known online as @BlackNerdComedy was on that exact path, studying computer science at university, but he was also a funny guy who was also into sci-fi, Saturday morning cartoons, comic books, video games, and pop culture. Andre bet on himself and decided to give stand-up comedy a try. What happened on the way to that dream is where the story gets good. Andre was invited to make an audition video for a reality show for a fledgling network. After successfully navigating several rounds of call backs, this looked like the big break he was looking for. Unfortunately, Hollywood wasn’t ready, but Andre was undaunted. (*Sidenote* Call it serendipity or faith, but in 2006, Google bought an interesting user generated video application called, YouTube.) By 2012, when Andre made and uploaded his audition video, the app was reaching a level of critical mass that would allow for the creation of a whole new industry, social media personalities, and influencer marketing. Just like that, Andre stumbled into a whole new world, of which he would become a pioneer.
Ok, so it wasn’t that simple or that easy, but it’s a great origin story, a must have for every hero. Like every hero centered in their own story, Andre didn’t have a crystal ball that foretold his hero’s journey, but he did discover his super-power, his encyclopedic knowledge of subjects as varied as pop culture, comics, and sci-fi, and his infectious enthusiasm and passion. His first video would wind up being the perfect trailer for his brand, an introduction to the adventure on which he was about to embark and take his fans.
Andre, like Spiderman, inadvertently and organically became part of the first wave of something totally new. At first, his channel was an endeavor all about sharing his opinion on his favorite childhood cartoons and history and state of superhero movies, which Marvel and DC were elevating to high art. The ability to “discover”, have passionate options and break news in the world of nerdom, along with the ability to connect directly with equally passionate and opinionated like-minded individuals, through comments. Andre came along just as YouTube’s business model evolved and matured. He did the really hard work of authoring content that was on-brand, authentic, and on a dependable schedule. For those uninitiated into the world of the influencer, it may look easy, even puerile, but the truth is, it’s harder than it looks. It takes a lot of work, planning, imagination, passion, and persistence.
Even though Andre isn’t a mega-YouTuber like PewDiePie, he does occupy a very important, but not always well-supported backbone tier of the platform, sort of like Luke Cage or Jessica Jones in the MCU. But more important than carving out this space, is his presence within it. For a long time the mainstream narrative has always crafted nerd culture in a specific way. ”It’s [Black nerd culture] always been here, but we’ve had so many years of [mainstream] media representation of nerds being kind of like, you know the classic style geeky white guy with the pocket protector …When you see that in media for so long, it starts to feel like that’s the only way a nerd can be or look.” As an influencer and arguably nerd cultural impacts have grown on the mainstream, visibility and representation within the context of social media have real-world ramifications in terms of how marketing dollars are spent, who gets these dollars and what kind of marketing campaigns and programming gets funded. Marketing is the tail that wags the dog.
Andre sees a lot of promise in the growth of Black representation online ”That is what is so fascinating about YouTube, Twitch and TikTok. Now you don’t need another person to put it [nerd content] out there for you. You can be that person. So if you’re into nerdy stuff, you can put it out there in the way you want to. That’s what’s so great about it. You’re in control.” Even as Black visibility has increased in a space which has been overwhelmingly white, Black influencers still face obstacles to increasing their audiences. “It’s no different from the complications we see in other types of media. I know I go through it from time to time, whether it’s issues with everything from dealing with the algorithm on the platform when people are deciding things based on click-through rates and thumbnails, or people who for whatever reason are not going to click on a Black person…You have situations where brands who look for a certain market type when doing in-brand advertising with individuals and they may think that a Black person may not be the right type… or they only reach out to Black influencers to reach Black audiences, even if they have other types of audiences.”
But thanks to the growth in social media and influencers like Andre, Black nerd culture has experienced exponential growth. That presence is important, as Black voices need to be normalized in all spaces, so platforms, consumer brands, retailers, studios, the gaming industry and agencies recognize the powerful polarity of all aspects of Black tastemaking and consumption. “What’s different about the way people create on YouTube, Twitch, and TikTok is there’s no one lane, so you can find your niche and find your way to work, that works for you. That can grow to a point where no one can question it.”
By Wenona Wynn | Twitter: @Wynnwen