A reader writes, “I’m surprised no one has recommended the film Zero Charisma to the discussion – here’s the trailer”:
Yet another reader responds to this nerd’s cri de coeur:
I am nerdy, but not a nerd. Let me explain. I am nerdy because I have a Joker bobble heads on my desk, I have Final Fantasy VI on my phone and a Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man keychain. But I’m also an attorney, a theater major, a lover of F. Scott Fitzgerald and a Dish Subscriber. I am nerdy because I am fluent in Batman and love video games. But I am not a nerd, because if you are not interested in those things, I am capable (nay, enjoy) discussing other things. Current events, dramas, poetry, even baseball. In short, I am more than the things I love. nerdy things does not make one a nerd. A nerd is a person who can only view life through the things they are obsessed over. It doesn’t matter how they got there, what matters is their inability to see their own tunnel-vision. Therefore, yes, there are sports nerds, political junkie nerds, historical accuracy nerds. They’re everywhere, and they want what they want on their own terms. Alas. Here’s a guy who said it better – Robert Ebert on Revenge of the Nerds II:
These aren’t nerds. They’re a bunch of interesting guys, and that’s the problem with “Revenge of the Nerds II.” The movie doesn’t have the nerve to be about real nerds. It hedges its bets. A nerd is not a nerd because he understands computers and wears a plastic pen protector in his shirt pocket. A nerd is a nerd because he brings a special lack of elegance to life. An absence of style. An inability to notice the feelings of other people. A nerd is a nerd from the inside out, which is something the nerds who made this movie will never understand.
Holy shit. As problematic as the actual content of what this reader wrote is, I find it absolutely spot on as an explanation for why I drifted away from all those stereotypical subcultural things that nerds are into: comic books, video games, sci-fi/fantasy, etc. Loved them as a shy and awkward kid. Learned how to deal with others, be sociable, talk to girls, and get laid when I was about 16. And it wasn’t like I didn’t still enjoy those things. No, it was that it seemed everyone else who enjoyed them was, as your reader writes, in some various stage of arrested development, and pretty insufferable to be around (e.g. “because we’re smarter than the idiots who wouldn’t let us in”). This was two decades ago: I kind of wish the mainstreaming of the things I like had happened back then, because then I could have continued to enjoy them without having to deal with the basement dwellers.
Several, less churlish readers sound off:
Hi Chris, Andrew, and team! I’ve been reading the Dish on and off for more than 10 years, and this is the first topic I’ve ever felt inspired to write in about. Forgive me if this is long, but I feel that a lot of people have been led astray by Gamergate.
First, thank you for posting Jesse Singal’s Reddit letter. It clarified a lot of things for me. Another truly excellent article that clarifies the fog that is GamerGate is by Katherine Cross. Second, I have a response to your reader who wrote:
I went home and played videogames because I couldn’t play sports and didn’t have the competitive instinct, but eventually the jocks followed me home, demanding sports games and fighting games and soon the market shifted to cater to them, leaving me to find another thing. Then it was comics, and then the dopes followed me home again and demanded lowest common denominator action nonsense with the names of the things I liked slapped onto them. This is the plight of the nerds; we have to listen to media morons talk about how mainstream being a nerd is as what we love, what we devote our lives to, is co-opted by the very people who we sought escape from through our eclectic obsessions.
I’ve liked “nerdy things” since I was a kid who collected comics, played D&D, read fantasy and sci-fi, had encyclopedic knowledge of the Star Trek and Star Wars universes. I don’t know if that makes me a nerd. I know I definitely had my moments of feeling socially outcast when I was a kid who liked to make manga drawings in class. Regardless, I disagree with your reader’s chronology of the special worlds that belonged to nerds only. Some of these things have never been nerd only. I’m definitely not a hardcore gamer. But even what little I know of games shows your previous letter-writer is wrong about jocks forcing the industry to cater to them by producing “sports and fighting games”. Wikipedia clearly shows that video games have been featured sports in some form or other since the very beginning. (Um, what is Pong?? or Atari Olympics (1977)?) American football was all the rage on NES starting in 1989 with Tecmo Bowl. Street Fighter II is one of the most popular games of all time (fighting or otherwise). It came out in 1991. Did the jock takeover happen then? No. The majority of nerds I knew loved Street Fighter. And the ones who didn’t were partisans of other fighting games like Mortal Kombat. Now let’s talk comics. I’ve been buying comics for decades. I can tell you from both personal experience and some reading about the history of the industry, comics have always been a mass medium. For a long time, it was decidedly not a niche for nerds only. From the 1930s to the 1960s, they were read by boys and girls, nerds, jocks, and everyone in-between. That’s just in the US. Obviously, comics are still popular across all demographics today in Japan. Sure, comics became less of a universal medium in the US as other forms of popular entertainment became important (esp. TV and rock music in the 1950s and 60s), but it’s wrong to think that somehow the jocks decided to only invade comics sometime in the ’80s or ’90s or 2000s. It was the adult and teenage male nerds in the 1980s who celebrated the rise of the grim, dark, revisionist comics of the 80s (exemplified by The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen and almost everything by Frank Miller in this period). Jocks didn’t do this. Nerds did. And we loved it (except when we are arguing about it ;) ). And we kept collecting – before, during, and after the comics bubble burst in the early ’90s. This desire to keep the world of comics, games, or other nerd-dom free of politics shows no sense of history and a lack of self-awareness.
Another points to more history:
Here is a very interesting factoid that should enliven the debate: while in the late ’60s role-playing games and D&D were the province of males, Star Trek fandom was essentially a female endeavor. All the early fanzines, the fan fiction, the early conventions and the devotion to the universe were driven by female fans. It is well known in the world of fandom that ladies are those who make their own gear and costumes. Very few guys do (except Adam Savage, of course). Guys buy stuff. That is also why most of the advertising is directed at boys – it is well known that “girls don’t buy the fuckin’ toys” and therefore nerd programming for women is of little use to the entertainment industry. A recent Star Trek fan survey done by an anthropologist showed that 57% of fans are female. On the role of female fans, I recommend reading Prof. Henry Jenkins’ Textual Poachers. If you set aside the usual comp-lit/de Certeau/post-structuralist blah blah, it’s a fascinating book that destroys the myth of the nerd as a young man (with Spock ears). Early fandom was female and queer.
Speaking of the gays, another reader:
Like nerd culture, gay culture has recently seen a great deal of upheaval, going from an ostracized and marginalized fringe to a wide acceptance from the mainstream that happened in a relatively short period of time. I’ve long felt these two groups shared some similarities in their shunting from normal society, and now they are in similar positions in their cultural evolution. There are some parallels beyond the sudden co-opting by the masses. Take the comic-book/gaming shop as an analog for a gay bar. Pre-internet, the back rooms of comic shops were the first place that many nerds first found their like-minded compatriots after a lifetime of ridicule and ostracism from the mainstream. Also, the importance of these places are being diminished by both the Internet becoming the de facto hangout for these groups, their acceptance in less specialized areas of society, and less persecution in general, which made the need for strength-in-numbers support less of an issue. The “self-identified” nerd you posted rings just the same as the “gay kids today have no idea how hard it was” types. I also self-identify as a nerd, and have done so for 30-plus years, so I know all about the dark days. However, I choose to embrace this influx of interest rather than try to maintain an air of purity that is as artificial as calling someone a “fake” geek. Genuinity of someone’s “Geek Cred” is an arbitrary and pointless exercise that will differ radically from person to person based on whatever they consider to be a “real nerd” and is a fallacy both old and well known to many as “No True Scotsman”. Young, old; man, woman; newbie, vet. Everyone brings something to the nerd table. Those who are constantly trying to keep the gates closed are having trouble adapting. They aren’t trying to contribute or preserve the culture, they are trying to devolve it. The environment just isn’t the same, and it is not going to go back. Thank God.
Follow the whole discussion on Gamergate and nerdom more generally here.