I remember a time when admitting to the world that you were a nerd or that you had passions and interests outside the mainstream cultural sensibility would brand you with a scarlet letter. I grew up during an age when playing video games and reading comic books and watching anime would get you made fun of or even beat up by the more advantageous bullies out there. While my friends were watching Baywatch and listening to shit like Limp Bizkit and obsessing over girls, I and my compatriots were spending the weekends sitting in the basement playing Super Nintendo, talking about wrestling and anime and discussing who would win in a fight between Batman and Wolverine. That was the kind of stuff that interested me when I was growing up. Yes, I still liked girls and wanted more than anything to meet a lady who liked the same things that I liked but that was never something I focused on at least until the back half of my senior year in high school when prom was approaching.
All this to say that I’ve always had left of center interests and I will always be a nerd well into my twilight years. People to this day still make fun of me for the music I listen to, the books I read or the movies I watch. I take that as just being a byproduct of people who live and die on a healthy diet of curated interests fed to them by mainstream popular culture and so called “influencers.” Everything that I am into I have discovered for myself or have been introduced to by likeminded friends and family and so it means that much more to me. Even if I wasn’t always at the ground floor of a particular fandom, I came to it on my own and in my own way and that’s infinitely more important to me than being told what to have interests in.
In recent years, especially with the boon of the massive success of the MCU, nerd and geek culture has taken an impressive stranglehold on the public conscious in a very big bad way. The things that were once quantified as being niche and sub or counter culture are now the things that everyone claims to love or have always loved. What was once derided and chastised by the majority is now being embraced and not being into this stuff has turned into the subset. The bullies that were shoving us into lockers and making fun of us are now the ones fully decked out in all-encompassing cosplay and are fixtures at every convention in sight. So that’s a good thing, right? The adventures of the X-Men and Goku and Luke Skywalker are uniting everyone together in their awesomeness and those same basement dwelling nerds who played Nintendo games can now come out of the basement and have those nerdy conversations with just about everyone they meet. This is absolutely the scenario as a lifer in this community I have dreamed about since day one. So why don’t I feel any better about it in the long run?
In simple terms… the bullied have become the bullies and are now these fanatical gatekeepers who think they’re the vanguard to the community. Yes, nerd culture is now mainstream culture but people are just as shitty about it if not more so. Pockets of toxic fandom have popped up all over the place and at the end of the day have always been there, it’s just harder to ignore now with everything being on a much wider stage these days. Whether we’re referencing the infamous GamerGate controversy, fanboys losing their minds over the all-female Ghostbusters movie or even more recently the controversy surrounding Kelly Marie Tran’s role in The Last Jedi and her subsequent getting run out off Twitter, it all sucks and quite frankly it makes me embarrassed to be a card carrying geek.
What I liked most about this community is the inclusive nature of it. Whether you were a fan of Attack on Titan or the Fantastic Four or even Doctor Who, everybody loved what they love and we all loved each other’s passion for those things. It was a strong series of links and chains that provided for a very strong support structure.
Somewhere along the way I really believe we lost a lot of the ideals and the soul that propped us up. Now that our culture was the one that was most accepted, those that were bullied and made fun of had turned around and become the bullies and the mean-spirited ones. They became the so called “keepers of the culture” and were judge jury and executioner when it came to what and who was accepted and liked. I think it’s ironic that the people who were judged for being geeks and nerds are now the ones who are doing the judging and that just seems like a fundamental betrayal of what the nerd culture stands for. It’s not about liking Batman and Spiderman and Star Trek. It’s not enough that we are into these things, we now have to justify why it is we like these things. It’s now important how long we’ve been fans and how much of an encyclopedic knowledge we have of said passions and fandoms. It’s not enough anymore to just like something or be a fan of it. People are being made to feel like they have to justify why they like something or they’re not viewed as being real fans. That really sucks and that’s the thing that makes me most angry or at the least irritated.
Comic conventions used to be a gathering place for the disenfranchised and the disillusioned. It was a way for us to escape mainstream cultures grasp and come together and celebrate the geeky little things that have taken up permanent residence in our hearts and meet the creators and producers of said fandom. Lately it’s become a platform for those particular “vanguards” to trumpet their bullshit and espouse their narrow-minded rhetoric. Con has become less about the coming together of fans to celebrate fandom and more about commercialization and the monetizing of fandom. It’s a giant money suck that becomes less and less fun every year.
So, what do we do? What is it that we can do to reclaim the inclusiveness of being a geek while not losing the foothold in the mainstream it took us forever to gain? Is it even something we need to worry about? I mean… I do and I don’t. I do because I like that the stuff, I’m into has become more widely accepted and as such accessible. Without geek culture’s insurgency into the wider zeitgeist, we wouldn’t have the access to these things we on some level take advantage of. So, I do worry because the more imbalanced these toxicity levels grow the less people will feel invited to partake. The more that these assholes are allowed to dictate who’s a nerd or what constitutes geek culture the less likely people will feel to get involved. So yes, this is something I think we need to worry about or at the very least there is a conversation that needs to be had. On the flip side of the coin, it’s ultimately not something that worries me. Nobody dictates what I like or my knowledge and love of my passions. There’s not a single person or entity that defines me as a person or as a geek. I am going to continue to quote Twin Peaks in my daily life. I’m going to continue to wear X-Files t shirts to work. I’m going to continue to write essays and articles on stuff like One Punch Man and horror movie trailers and things of the like.
People don’t dictate who we are or what we love, we are the vanguards and gatekeepers of our own interests. If you don’t like what I like that’s cool, I’m nobody to shame you for that. As a nerd my job is to just spread the love and do my best to introduce my friends and family to the things I love in the hopes that maybe they’ll find that next great passion of their own. That’s all I want at the end of the day. These things deserve to be seen and read by the widest possible audience available. So maybe it’s time to put down the pitchforks and the acidic opinions and thoughts and just accept that people like the things they like without making them justify why they do.