An Open Letter To Nerds, Geeks, And Assorted Science Fiction-Loving Outcasts

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 8.442% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

My Dearest Nerds, et al:
When I was a young lad of nine, my uncle took me to my first science fiction convention – a Star Trek convention, to be precise.  It was held in a dirty basement of a hotel, a seedy thing hidden away from sight, because nerdy conventions a) weren’t terribly popular, so they couldn’t afford better spaces, and b) nerdy things were, in general, best hidden from sight.  And Star Trek Fandom was a tattered, desperate thing – the show had been cancelled seven years ago, and the movie that would bring Kirk and Spock back to life hadn’t been made yet, so the convention was a bunch of die-hards, warming their hands at the dying embers of an old TV show.
It was largely considered pathetic.
Yet upon the folding tables of the con, I found wonderment and brightness.  I could mention “The Horta” and have everyone understand that I meant an acid-secreting monster… And no one would make fun of me for that.  We made bad Star Trek puns, and people got them.  I bought two Star Trek scripts – cheap mimeographs of typewritten pages held together with a binder clip – and my Uncle Tommy bought peeling rubber Spock ears.  These were things I had always dearly wanted to own, yet didn’t think anyone else shared our interest.
This whole convention was proof that there were others like me.
I was not alone.
Thirty years later, I still carry that amazement in my bones.  That wonder that my crazy desires were shared.  And so, my friends, as one of you, I’m here to bring you an important message about fandom:
You fucking won.
It is time to stop pretending you’re a minority.
Whenever I see someone proud of geek culture, they speak as though we’re still that tatty Star Trek convention stuffed in a bad hotel’s basement – something shameful and shunned.  But seriously, guys.  Look at the movies.  What’s the top 10 movies of the year?  The Avengers, Dark Knight Rises, Hunger Games, Amazing Spider-Man.  Those are all major box-office draws, bringing millions of like-minded folks together.
And what’s bigger than movies these days?  Videogames.  Oh, there was a time when maybe your Atari or Nintendo was mocked by others, but these days?  Videogames rake in billions of dollars, are played by rock stars and sports stars alike in the back of vans; the Halo series, a science fiction saga, is so big it doesn’t need to have a movie to be iconic.
You look around, and the Internet has made computers cool, even a little bit de rigeur.  Online dating is not only acceptable, but becoming a default.  Your silly cat macros have become a part of the culture.  Cartoons are okay for adults to watch, now.  People used to mock people for carrying around a pocket calculator, but now you’d damn well better have an iPhone in your hand.
You have become the dominant culture.
Sure, there are a couple of things that never caught on – tabletop roleplaying never became cool, but that’s largely because networked videogames did a better job of bringing people together.  And sure, maybe Firefly never became the massive hit – but the point is that these days, you can admit in public that you like a show about spaceships and laser-guns, and most people find that normal.   World of Warcraft and Modern Warfare raids have become as normal as Fantasy Football.
Yet for all of that, fandom tends to have this cringing attitude that fundamentalist Christians have – the concept that because there are still people left who disagree with us, we must still be an embattled minority.  And if nerdy culture knows anything, it’s that the embattled minorities are in the right – it’s always the little guys with the moral rightness, fighting against the Big Culture of Evil!
You’re the big culture, guys.  And you’re a little evil.
Because as Greyweirdo puts it so wonderfully correctly:

Someone posted a quote on Facebook recently, that said something like “Geekery is about being enthusiastic about things we love, not decrying, not belittling.” and the very first comment to that quote that I saw was “Bullshit! I’ve never seen a geek like anything, they’re like hipsters, only they think they’re better because they pretend to be feminist or liberal sometimes.” and I found that to be just plain tragic. Because the geeks were supposed to be the good guys. But no, give them some time and they’ll be racist, slut shaming, misogynists, just as bad or even worse than any asshole you’d gleefully run down with your car. In fact, they’re far worse because they have the ingrained belief that no matter what transpires, they’re actually the victim here.
So there’s going to be some pumpkin-flavored things. Maybe that’s not to your liking, but a lot of people do like it. It’s not hurting you, no one is taking away the asiago bagel. The salmon spread is still there. Likewise, no one is taking Dr. Who off the shelf and replacing it with Twilight. No one is burning your Harry Potter set and forcing you at gun point to read 50 Shades of Gray. Get over yourselves anyway, you are in no way the monitors for what is and isn’t good. Some of you people liked the Star Trek reboot for Fancy’s sake. There’s nothing wrong with liking it, but it does rather negate you from being ANY KIND of final arbiter. Not so much because of the Star Trek thing, but because there is no final arbiter. There might be some critics who are better than others, some who have a more informed opinion, but no one has the final say.

The problem is, because you think you’re still in that Star Trek basement, heavily bullied, you have to defend this fragile culture – because if someone assaults it, even us, especially us, it will collapse like a house of cards. There just aren’t enough of us to get by, is the thinking, so we must accept everyone who wants to step into our tent.  We’re the culture of refuge – when people are feeling battered by the outside world, they come into our sheltering arms, where we never judge.
The problem is, we never judge.  And there are a lot of people standing underneath our tent, the kind of people who call people “faggots” while playing those videogames you love, slurring women…. and we tolerate it because hey, we’re just this tiny bunch of people, it doesn’t matter, we have no power and even if we did who is this affecting? Are women being objectified in gaming culture, women heroes often being presented as huge-titted rape victims or co-dependents?  Well, we don’t like that, but what does that matter?  We’re small potatoes, man…
My point, my friends, is that now that you’ve won, it’s time to decide who you are.
Are you going to be the good guys, strong enough to eject the troublemakers?  Are you willing to look hard at the troublesome aspects of how fandom often deals with women, and homosexuality, and minorities, and not just knee-jerk defend it because you like it?  (One can love something and still acknowledge the problems therein – Lord knows I love me some Kirk, who was considered progressive at the time, but hoo boy is old Star Trek saturated with various flavors of ugliness.)
Are you going to slowly slide into becoming just another judgmental group of exclusionary pricks, blind to your problems?  Are you going to quiver, powerless, and let the worst of you define you?
You did an amazing thing.  You reshaped the face of American culture.  You took marginalized hobbies and made them cool.
Now, flush with victory, can you acknowledge you did all that?  And can you do something even better? Can you stop pretending that anyone who likes Justin Bieber is a soulless jerk?  Can you look a little deeper at the midriff-baring armor that your heroines are wearing for your pleasure?  Can you transform the culture you have now into a culture that provides role models for all sexes, races, sexual preferences?
It can be done.  But doing that starts with one very critical idea: you won.
Now do something awesome with that power.

7 Comments

  1. Carl Szalich
    Sep 14, 2012

    Great article! I can remember being bullied and harassed throughout public / high school because of my love of Magic Cards, Comic Books and D&D. I’m sure those same people have totally forgotten about how they used to treat us “poor geeks” and are happily enjoying everything we made mainstream today. It just goes to show that ignorance and misunderstanding can really bar you from trying something that you may end up discovering you really like. Now to take this epiphany a step farther and start looking at all those other issues we have ingrained “fear” of and realize that hey, if the Avengers weren’t all that bad, maybe this isn’t either… :). Cheers, Carl

  2. JFargo
    Sep 14, 2012

    I absolutely love this, Ferrett. I don’t often comment just to say that; I try to actually add something to the conversation. Along those lines I will ask you: How do we go about doing this?
    Is it the all-mighty dollar? Do I not buy things that promote the objectification of women and that’ll help turn things around? Do I chastise people on XBox for using slurs and remove myself from their servers if it continues?
    What are the MOST helpful steps, in your eyes, that can turn our culture into one of acceptance, getting rid of the chaff?
    More importantly, has any majority actually accomplished this?

  3. NC Narrator
    Sep 14, 2012

    I agree, and I would add that I think we won quite some time ago! I attended my first Star Trek convention in 1990. It was in Denver, and the hotel (and surrounding hotels) were packed. Starcon wasn’t limited to Star Trek, of course–it included all manner of science fiction and fantasy–and we had a blast! A few years later my husband and I took our newborn son to Starcon (in costume, of course).
    I think there’s a certain cachet that comes from claiming association with a group that’s seen as marginalized, and people don’t want to let go of that. Unfortunately, that also lets a wide variety of inappropriate behavior get written off as, “you just don’t understand/like/appreciate us.”
    It was fun being that not-so-little group of weirdos running around in costumes twenty (god-help-me) years ago. How much more fun would it be to use the power we have found to create the kind of world we profess to aspire to?
    Can we really consider ourselves true Star Trek fans, for example, if we perpetuate or condone the kind of behavior that is the antithesis of that show’s concept? Do the bullied really need to become the bullies, or are we strong enough to break that cycle? We can be better than we are.

  4. alexander
    Sep 14, 2012

    (One can love something and still acknowledge the problems therein – Lord knows I love me some Kirk, who was considered progressive at the time, but hoo boy is old Star Trek saturated with various flavors of ugliness.)
    On the other hand, how much of how culture HAS progressed in the last few decades is because of shows like that bringing such ugliness to the forefront? (TNG perhaps even more so than the OG.)
    But yeah, we did. We won, all the secret geeks are coming out of the closet, wonder and imagination are again becoming an in thing. And we should, we should use it and keep it marching!

  5. Jimbo
    Sep 15, 2012

    This times 1 million. Even if being a Geek/Nerd was a small sub-culture, the reality is that it’s never okay to minimize someone because they’re different from you.
    Thanks so much for posting this!

  6. Kath
    Sep 15, 2012

    I’d like to take this to the people on Imgur who think of themselves as a supportive community but respond to every single picture of a female with a reveiw of how fuckable she is.
    And if you try and call them out it’s like “BAW YOU FEMBOTS RUINING OUR FUN GET A SENSE OF HUMOR”
    Actually guys, you’re making me feel dehumanised and unsafe in this “supportive community”, and you’re silencing my voice to boot.

  7. Rodrigo Martins
    Sep 15, 2012

    I really can’t call it a “win” yet. As far as I can see, the wheel just turned. A more instructed society is rising, but fragmentation still continues.
    I usually see “nerds” and “geeks” arguing and competing with each other. “Underground geeks” fighting with “Mainstream geeks”, at the same time “Old school Nerds” laugh and look down at them.
    Just the same way fisically built people used to bully others on old days, now people want to bully each other intellectually.
    Aggression is now verbal, and we’re not civilized yet.
    That’s NOT a step forward. It’s just the same story with different actors.
    Victory is intention of equality, not superiority.

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