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Dork Chops

Deep, Dork Secrets: A fondness for Jagermeister and Pee Wee Herman dolls is a warning sign of dorkiness, stand-up comic Howie Nave cautions.

Photographs by Christopher Gardner

Find out, in the privacy of your own home, if you belong to that ascendant class that's taking Hollywood and the Internet by storm.

By Timothy Gower

YOU'VE seen them. Yes, you know just who we mean. Maybe it was at a football game. Under the glare of spotlights, before a roaring crowd, a lone man burst free and charged across the gridiron. The 20, the 10, the 5, and with a last surge of energy he crossed the goal line and broke into a delirious end-zone dance.

Then they tackled him. The police, that is, huffing and puffing from chasing the poor slob ever since he stumbled out of the stands and dashed onto the field, carrying not a football but a half-empty beer cup. The actual players, huddled 50 yards away, looked on with amusement as the interloper was dragged off the muddy field, while the crowd acknowledged his pathetic grab for attention with hoots and catcalls. Amid the cacophony, a single voice from the stands rose above the din, summing up the common sentiment: "Get the hell off the field--you dork!"


For the curious, here's the Dork Hall of Fame and the Dork Aptitude Test.


DORKS--can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em. And you don't have to be a sports fan to know just who I'm talking about, either. How many times in your life--heck, how many times today, while driving to work or just trying to buy a cup of coffee--have you encountered someone who boldly imposed his bad judgment, poor taste and questionable body odor on you and everyone else in his path?

Dorks creep up on us when we least expect it. You're minding your own business, standing in a slow-moving checkout line at Kmart. Suddenly you realize that the source of the delay is some schmuck at the head of the queue who's trying to pay for a color TV with 700 rolls of pennies. You may try to be patient. You may even try to rationalize this ignorant, selfish act as a cry for help. But inside you're thinking: What a dork! Dorks are omnipresent.

When flight attendants request that all electronic devices be shut off, dorks refuse to put away their Game Boys. With "Do not feed the animals" signs in plain view at the zoo, dorks offer up their chili dogs to the llamas. Dorks fall out of trees trying to steal cable. Dorks hum show tunes at funerals. Dorks snap their gum. Loudly.

Dorks can't stop themselves from saying or doing the wrong thing at the absolute worst time--that is, when they happen to be seated next to you on the bus or at the movies. Virtually every day of the week a dork will commit some act that screams: "Look at me! I'm an idiot!" And the dork doesn't care!


Dorks have always walked the earth, but if popular culture is any indication, we are becoming increasingly aware of the dork presence. Dork awareness is ascendant. Consider the evidence. A memorable IKEA television commercial features a scowling lad saying, "Hi, I'm Zack, the new dork across the street." When the popular band No Doubt played an acoustic version of its hit "Spiderwebs" on the radio recently, lead singer Gwen Stefani punctuated the song by ending it with a resounding "You dork!" Last fall, while reflecting on the dreary 1996 campaign, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recalled Republican vice presidential nominee Jack Kemp "spewing a transcendentally dorky number of football metaphors." A quick scan of the Web turns up Dork home pages and at least two Dork of the Week sites.

Writers of TV sitcoms seem to have discovered the concept of dorkiness in a big way. In recent weeks I've heard the term spring from the lips of characters on News Radio and Friends, among other programs. But that should hardly be surprising. The narrative of sitcoms frequently hinges on the inconsiderate, dimwitted misdeeds of some dork. What would Seinfeld be without George Costanza, the dork nonpareil? So vital is the dork to American television programming that the 1996­97 season offered viewers a new show that's clearly a tribute to dorkiness.

NBC's Men Behaving Badly features a pair of roommates whose favorite pastime appears to be sitting around their filthy apartment, drinking beer and watching National Geographic TV specials for the hot parts. It competes, appropriately, with ABC's The Drew Carey Show, which centers on the sad-sack exploits of an overweight guy with a crewcut and safety glasses; Drew and his friends spend most of each program putting one another down for being chronic losers.

BACK in the real world, people want to know: Who is the dork? At this point in the essay, the unimaginative writer often turns to the dictionary for the standard definition--an option you might think isn't available to me with a colloquialism like "dork." But you'd be wrong, dork breath! My Random House Dictionary explains that a dork is a "stupid or ridiculous person; jerk; nerd." I'm with the folks at Random House right up until the final word. Nerds may be many things, but stupid is not one of them. Nerds, I don't need to remind any of you savvy readers, have exploited their lack of stupidity about things like baud rates and gigabytes to amass great fortunes. They use their wealth to do things like build gargantuan homes along Lake Washington, standing as monuments to nerdiness.

Don't go looking for any monuments to dorkiness. Dorkiness isn't something to be celebrated. Unlike the nerds of the world, dorks are stupid. The dork hasn't been born who can wear a nerd's pocket protector. Dorks are perennial "D" students who graduate into the real world and rise to the top only in the most extreme cases of nepotism, dumb luck or bribery. And when a dork is named CEO, a company is only days away from issuing public apologies and being sued by investors.


You've heard of Murphy's Law? This is the Dork Principle: Whatever can go wrong will, probably with a number of casualties, as long as a dork is in charge. An etymologist at Random House with time on his hands actually bothered to research the origins of the word dork. The thinking goes that it may be a marriage of two other mild four-letter epithets, dolt and jerk. You may wonder: Must a dork necessarily be a male dolt/jerk?

It's not an unreasonable question, especially since the second definition of dork is "vulgar, penis." Does that mean women are incapable of crass and lunkheaded moments? There is ample evidence to the contrary. Remember Farrah hairdos? Leg warmers? "Pleather" patchwork purses? All dorky fads calculated to exploit the dorkish tendencies that are all part of being human. But these unfortunate memories can be explained away as brief lapses of judgment. Women, for the most part, are too reserved to be true, full-time dorks.

There seems to be a strong whiff of testosterone in a genuine dork's every inept move and ill-timed utterance--a boldness, an in-your-face quality. Would a woman think it the height of comedy to walk into a McDonald's and order a Whopper? Would a woman build an anatomically correct snowman? Have you ever seen a woman wearing an "I'm with Stupid" T-shirt?

Don't get me wrong. Dorks are human, too. Just like everybody else, a dork puts his shoes on one foot at a time. There's just no guarantee they'll be from the same pair. Or that they won't be Earth shoes. True dorks, after all, are a bit behind the curve when it comes to trends. Which is why a dork will order Bud in a brew pub, Sanka at Starbucks, fish sticks in a sushi bar. If you happen to be a dork, I'll bet I could walk into Tower Records and find your entire record collection--in the cut-out bin. So you're the one who keeps buying those Styx albums.

Ooh. Did that one hit a little close to home? Are you beginning to wonder: Am I a dork? If you have your doubts, take the test. Don't bother keeping the results to yourself, though. After all, the world knows a dork when it sees one.

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From the March 27-April 2, 1997 issue of Metro

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