If there’s one lesson that is easy to learn, it is this: nerds on the Internet are an angry and contentious lot; far more often than is good for us.
A big contributor to this problem is that the past decade and a half has seen a surge of members of our own ranks entering into the elite circles of the entertainment industry. When guys like Chris Nolan, Bryan Singer, Joss Whedon et al. started to hit the sweet spot of what works for nerds and what doesn’t alienate conventional audiences, Hollywood saw a huge spike in profits and praise. Nerd-approved properties have become a perennial market bonanza and Hollywood is continually doing its best to try and court our dollars. Sometimes it even seems that they’re doing too good a job of it – to their own detriment. To see what I mean about the forest being missed for the trees or even just the branches, let’s get onto the list proper.
10. We Are Too Stuck on Continuity.
A few years ago back in 2009, the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art on the University of Oregon campus held an event called Faster Than a Speeding Bullet: The Art of the Super Hero. Aside from having an awe-inspiring collection of original artwork from such seminal works as Batman: The Killing Joke and Steve Ditko’s run on The Amazing Spider-Man, there was also a writers panel which included Iron Man scribe Matt Fraction, who said one of the most important quotes I’ve ever heard a writer utter, “Continuity is the Devil. Consistency is the watchword.”
The best proof of the first half of that sentence is the incessant need of fandom to make sense out of fictional worlds which are not beholden to the same laws of causality and physics as our own universe. Take a look at any online forum devoted to fan theories and you will see people go to absurdly insane lengths to explain simple plot holes or errors in a story, so that what’s seen on screen or page can count as true and valid.
Take a look at how Han Solo’s scientifically inaccurate line about parsecs from the first Star Wars movie was shoehorned into a totally accurate line… as long as you don’t stop to consider that Solo was answering a question about how good his ship was, not about how good a pilot he was. The whole reason this botched line was even a big deal is because some people must find a way for no mistakes to exist in their favorite story, and when they can’t bend logic far enough things get tedious.
For an even more amusingly pointless struggle to make the world seem right, look for fan theories that try to explain continuity errors from The Simpsons.… sadly, I can assure you that they exist. One need only watch a few episodes of that show to see that the writers enjoy the idea of making fun of things not making sense. Showrunners, movie makers and novel writers spending time going back over minor errors like this is something that takes away from work hours that could be better spent on new content, instead of fixing old content that is barely broken.
A great example proving the second part of Fraction’s statement that “consistency is the watchword” would be the show Lost. While the plot itself is full of holes, there is a consistent tone and feel throughout the series. Characters like Jack Shepard and James “Sawyer” Ford are always behaving in ways that feel like believable people doing things in a predictable way, based on their personalities. Better yet, Doctor Who gets so wibbly wobbly with time that continuity is hardly ever stable, but the lighthearted tone that sometimes changes tempo to drastically tense before coming back to lightheartedness is consistent throughout the 7 seasons that have aired since the show was revived in 2005. (Jury’s still out on the 8th.)
The pitfall of getting caught up in an obsessive need for each little detail to fit together like a Lego monument too often results in nerds being unable to appreciate the bold successes of a movie or episode of something because of a minor flaw or two that took up less than 2% of the screen time. Saddest of all is the fact that getting worked up about that 2% of material doesn’t seem to have a shelf life…
If you’re a regular on this website (or if you noticed the above image) you already know which example I’m going to mention because it’s something that nerds have been pissing and moaning about for nearly two decades. I’m just gonna come right out and say it:
LIFE IS TOO LONG TO WASTE GIVING A RAT’S ASS WHETHER HAN OR GREEDO SHOT FIRST OR IF GREEDO EVEN SHOT AT ALL!
Harrison Ford recently gave the best and most appropriate answer to this long whined-about conundrum which, simply put, is “I don’t know and I don’t care.” The special edition of Star Wars came out in 1997 and by now, any children that were born when it premiered in theaters are old enough to get a drivers license. Whether we like it or not, George Lucas made that change and it’s there. He’s also made three more movies set in the same universe, which fans have spent over a decade yelling and wailing about.
Another thing while we’re on the subject of Harrison Ford and not letting things go: This need to hold onto the best parts of our childhood is what lead to the massive disappointment with Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. The movie itself isn’t bad. It’s on par for the Indiana Jones quartet standing on equal footing with Temple of Doom which is a rung below Raiders and Last Crusade. If someone put the reels from Crystal Skull into a time machine and screened it back in 1998, it would be far better received back then than it was in 2008.
There seems to be a threshold for how long a franchise can go between sequels before the next installment is guaranteed to be a let down for a majority of the audience. It’s hard to say where that line might fall. 7 years seems to be within range of the limit (The gap between Terminator 1 and 2) while 12 years is past it (the gap between Terminator 2 and 3), Crystal Skull was waaaay past the mark, (though not as far past it as Tron Legacy) and there’s pretty much no way any sequel could have satisfied most audiences.
The backlash against the film is probably one of the reasons why there hasn’t been a 5th installment yet… which is a shame because Indy seems to have better luck with odd numbered movies than even ones. He also has better luck with movies that deal with Judeo-Christian artifacts. So I’ll keep holding out hope for a fifth movie with Indy and Mutt searching for the Spear of Destiny that ends with Indy getting his right eye stabbed out by the Spear that stabbed Christ so that the eyepatch sported by Old Indy on the TV show can finally be explained and a 6th movie can be set up called “Mutt Jones and the [something or other]”… as the title of this article implies, I’m admitting that I’m part of the problem here, by the way.
Also, take note that I refer to the series as “the quartet” instead of “the trilogy” which I’ve heard people try to insist on. That whole half-jokey thing of pretending that disappointing installments in a movie don’t really exist is actually worse than holding a grudge against the cast and crew for making what you consider to be a bad movie. Saying “I think that movie was bad and you should feel bad” is not nearly as creepy as the warped thinking behind “I’m gonna joke around and pretend that the movie you made that I don’t like never really got made because on some deep inner level I can’t handle the idea of living in a world where my whims are not catered to in such a way as to make me constantly happy with everything I see and feel.” That might sound cruel and dismissive, but think about it for a second or two… the whole premise of someone joking that “The Matrix had no sequels” is saying “I refuse to acknowledge the existence of that movie because it displeases me.” If you have such a problem with your expectations being dashed, maybe it’s time to re-examine your life.
A common argument is that our expectations would likely not be so often dashed against the rocks of results if studios would stop making new iterations of the same stuff that’s already been done. The reason that won’t happen any time soon, though, is that fans love to revisit the past and can never let “The End” be acceptable words. I’ve had friends lament that there aren’t more installments of Preacher or Y The Last Man, even though those series ended exactly where they needed to. It’s this constant need for more of our favorite characters and worlds that keeps studios recycling or extending past franchises. For all the vehement complaints every time a sequel, remake, prequel, reboot, requel or preboot are announced, a certain amount of nerds end up seeing them anyway and contributing to a portion of the box office grosses. Speaking of which…
8. We Are Not the Box Office Force to Be Reckoned With That We Like to Think We Are
A clear milestone that can be seen coming up on the road of nostalgia based ventures is that despite all arguments against it, sooner or later there is a very real likelihood that someone is going to make Ghostbusters 3. If ever there were a movie franchise that should be remade from the ground up instead of being given another sequel, this is the one. The recent death of Harrold Ramis and the decades-long passionate disinterest expressed by Bill Murray in doing another installment should be enough to convince any studio or financial backer to pull out. The reason that won’t happen, though, is because if and when that movie gets made it will almost certainly make a goddamn fortune.
Despite all the nerds who will get up in arms over this and other unnecessary and reviled sequels and remakes, those movies generally seem to keep making money hand over fist over foot at movie theaters across the planet. No matter how much ranting and railing people did about the awfulness of Michael Bay’s revision of Transformers, those movies were an unqualified success. The argument that “making a lot of money doesn’t make them good movies” typically used as a counter is completely irrelevant here because the subject isn’t quality, it’s success. The fact of the matter is that blockbuster movies are a business venture first and foremost. One of my favorite Eddie Murphy movies of all time is Holy Man, but my praise for it would likely not have mattered one iota to someone who invested a few hundred thousand dollars into it that he or she never got back. The guys that raked in some serious dough-ray-mi on Transformers: Dark of the Moon have absolutely no reason to give a mummer’s fart about the bad reviews. For the bottom-line obsessed guys that are instrumental in getting a movie like that off the ground, all it has to do to earn its keep is to make fuck-loads of money.
The whole reason that Hollywood is looking at nerds and trying to figure out what we want is because they like our money, and most of us highly nerdified children of the 1980s and ’90s are now old enough to have a lot more disposable income than we used to. That income, however, does not go as far as we’d like to think it does. For every success story like Captain America: The Winter Soldier not getting knocked off the number 1 spot on box office rankings until its 4th week and breaking the record for movies that open in April, we have to remember that a name brand with 50+ years of history behind it needs to be counted as a shared victory with the non-nerdy audience.
When it comes the truly nerdy stuff that doesn’t have as big a reputation, like Scott Pilgrim vs the World, the people pouring money into those properties don’t get nearly the huge returns that they do when they bet their money on the big dogs. Remember how excited people seemed to be about Pacific Rim? Well, it’s worth noting that it’s opening weekend performance was only marginally better than the floptastic Lone Ranger. They both also suffered second weekend drops of more than half the number of people attending. The only reason that Pacific Rim isn’t seen as being as big a failure as Lone Ranger and might have a decent shot at getting a sequel is because it made more than triple its domestic money in the foreign market.
So the next time you or someone you know is ranting about how Hollywood should stop making sequels, take a moment to ask yourself or that other person this: if you had to invest absolutely ever bit of money you have (including the money that you’ll need to pay your rent and bills next month and any assets like the title to your car and the deed to your house) on one of two movies and your choices were “A Stoner Comedy with Werewolves set in Eugene Oregon that’s based on an original screenplay that isn’t adapted from anything else” or “Ridley Scott’s follow up to Prometheus that will cross over with his sequel to Blade Runner with a screenplay by Damon Lindelof” what would you pick? I bring up Damon Lindelof because he’s a great guy to use for addressing another point…
7. Some of Our Most Hated Targets Are Brilliant Craftsmen
I’m going to indulge in a bit of nerdesy (heresy, but for nerds) here that is absolutely true. Michael Bay and Joel Schumacher are brilliant geniuses and the world of cinema is better for their presence. If you don’t believe me about Bay go watch The Rock or Armageddon. If you don’t believe me about Schumacher, go watch The Lost Boys or Falling Down. Those are all great movies that do their job well. If you can’t admit that, there is something fundamentally wrong with your tastes. Even if you don’t like them, it shouldn’t be that hard to admit that they are great examples of what they do. With the exception of Falling Down, those movies aren’t trying to be great art that will last the ages or speak to a deep truth about the human condition; they are there simply to be a bit of fun escapism that is enjoyed for a few hours and nothing more. As “no brainer, popcorn movies for the masses”, the works of Bay and Schumacher generally deliver what they promise.
I don’t recall when or how it happened, but somewhere along the way nerd culture decided that anything that was too popular or too well-liked by “the masses” couldn’t be very good. I got sucked into for a few years until my Uncle called me on my bullshit and pointed out how far my head had gone up my own ass. It wasn’t the first or last time he had to do that, but he came down on me for an obsession with negativity that I’d forgotten I even had. Nerds need this kind of wake up call in the form of Hollywood no longer pandering to them incessantly.
For a good lesson in how things can go wrong when a studio tries to stay true to the source material and please the fans, look at Green Lantern. WB and Martin Campbell spent so much of the screen time building the universe and setting up elements for future installments that they pushed some of the essential story elements like the connection between Hal Jordan and Hector Hammond out of the theatrical cut and onto the “Extended Cut” DVD. Bear in mind that this was the “Extended Cut”, not “The Directors Cut”, meaning that even the director felt okay with leaving elements of the personal connection between main characters off to the side so they could spend more time on Oa and the history of the Lantern Corps.
There was also that bit during the credits, where Sinestro dons the yellow power ring of fear, which was a set up for a sequel that we’ll likely never see. That placement of the horse behind the cart does not generally lead to a good movie. If Joel Schumacher had been put onto the film instead, it would likely have proved too campy for modern audiences, but Michael Bay could have rocked the hell out of that. Even if he’d wandered off the reservation of “faithfulness” to the source material, he would have made a much more visually appealing movie than what ended onscreen instead.
A lot of people have spent the last two years bashing on Prometheus and going on about how awful it is, with a heaping dose of blame laid at the feet of Damon Lindelof for his draft of the script that replaced one that was allegedly much better (I haven’t read any of the scripts, so I can’t really say). From what I know of the earlier draft(s), part of the plot involved the revelation that Jesus of Nazareth was one of the engineers or a creation of theirs, sent to lead humanity into its next phase of evolution, and the reason that the black goo weapons were being made to take out earth was because they were pissed off about the whole crucifixion thing… think about that for a second. Seriously, take a moment to contemplate what that movie would have been like and how it would have been received.
Sure, it sounds cool as hell, but can you imagine the shitstorm and backlash there would have been against the film? While one might argue over the whole “censorship is bad” philosophy, self censorship and revision can sometimes produce better work. When Quentin Tarentino was making Pulp Fiction and decided against the briefcase being filled with diamonds because he’d just done that in Reservoir Dogs his decision to have it be an unanswered mystery resulted in one of the most iconic MacGuffins in crime noir history. Clearly the change in course for Prometheus was for different reasons, but it did save the studio from a lot of flak and controversy. It may have been braver to take that on and stand the ground, but at a loss of millions of dollars from offended moviegoers hearing from their friends about the film and deciding not to go see it. This isn’t something where a few people might complain about the movie either. This is a sci-fi movie that would likely not have been marketed around a plot reveal that says “Hey, that God of yours? The one you believe is real and devote your life to? He’s an alien! Isn’t that nifty?” We’re talking the rare kind of money draining, widespread boycott that would make Kevin Smith happy to have not been a part of that project at all. Speaking of Mr. Smith….
6. Some of Our Most Beloved Icons Are Often Overrated
At this point it might be a bit late to call Kevin Smith overrated as his star power has waned in recent years, but at the height of his career he was looked up to as the nerd living our dream and that did seem to cloud his perception by fans. In today’s nerdscape, he’s been replaced by guys like Joss Whedon and Chris Nolan who are just as capable as any other director of making a mistake, but are forgiven or ignored for doing it way more often. One of the truest criticisms against Inception is that its dream sequences are very un-dream-like (operating on far more logic and structure than dreams typically do). The Avengers can be cited as the best example of a movie that isn’t technically a sequel but doesn’t really stand on its own two feet (with so much of the plot having been set up in the movies it brings together). At the very least it should be admitted that the Chitauri aliens are a bland and boring set of disposable bad guys that aren’t all that memorable, and that Bane in The Dark Knight Rises feels closer to an entirely new character than a movie version of the guy from the comics.
Whedon and Nolan also have problems that they carry from one movie to another. Nolan writes boring female characters who don’t contribute much to the plot if they aren’t a femme fatale, and Whedon relies way too heavily on the “kill off the characters that the audience loves for shock value” crutch. While these aren’t deal breakers that ruin their movies, the fact that they aren’t being called out on it and encouraged to improve their game by the industry guys paying them huge sums of money is a bad thing.
Remember when George Lucas and Steven Spielberg were thought of as unstoppable film geniuses… now imagine Whedon and Nolan in 20 years if people keep stroking their egos.
The thing that gets lost in this battle of extremes where the biggest names in the game are either the best thing since toaster strudels or the worst thing since GoBots: Battle of the Rock Lords is that a director who falls into the “middle ground” can make great movies. Neill Blomkamp is a great example here. He’s got a great eye for gritty, realistic feeling sci-fi with teeth. Unfortunately his political metaphors can get heavy-handed enough to cause carpal-tunnel syndrome. He’s got some greatness in him, but hasn’t even begun to turn that potential into the master works that may lie ahead of him. If he can get a handle on subtext, it’s possible that he could write some Kubrick-level stuff that people spend decades decoding the “true meaning” of and manage to seem like they’re on the right track even if they’re chasing shadows.
Stepping back and getting some perspective on a filmmaker is a good way to avoid crushing disappointment down the road. I think a lot of Kevin Smith fans might not be so down on his recent efforts if they hadn’t elevated him so high in the first place. While I found Zack and Miri make a Porno to be alright and avoided Cop Out, Red State is arguably the best movie he’s made since Clerks, and the first movie that looks like a traditional movie with a moving camera that he’s ever made. Part of its strength is gained from not being so caught up in witty dialog and the need for characters to sound smart. It also draws strength from being his first movie since Jersey Girl to not be specifically focused on appealing to the nerdly masses. Speaking of those masses…
5. We Are Not Nearly as Inclusive or Exclusive as We Think We Are
In addition to overrating our heroes, we nerds also tend to overrate ourselves. We like to pretend that we’re an enclave of super-smart outcasts that offer a place for other outcasts to come in from the cold… and I know that this could make a good lead in to discussing things like the whole “fake nerd girls” thing, but that track’s been so well trodden by other writers that I can’t think of anything else to add. Meanwhile, I think there are some bigger gaps in nerd inclusiveness that need to be addressed.
Why the fuck isn’t anyone angry about the “J.A.R.V.I.S. shouldn’t be an AI” controversy from the Iron Man movies anymore?… Oh wait, that’s because no one was really angry (that I know of) and it was never a controversial change in the first place. Yes, the “race bending” issue is also a well-trodden topic, but it’s something I can think of stuff to say about.
Michael B Jordan acknowledged in a recent interview that the controversy over his being cast as Johnny Storm wasn’t a surprise, stating “It was expected. You kinda know going into it that people are used to seeing something one way, it’s a continuity thing more than anything.” I agree with him on that. The people that get pissy about him getting the part are operating from the same mentality as the people that got pissed about the black leather jump suits from the X-Men movies and the organic web shooters over the mechanical ones in Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man.
Still, all things considered… there is a bit of a racist streak to some of the complaints. Whenever I see comments like “how would people feel if the Black Panther or Shaft were played by a white guy?” I want to slap something. Those characters are much more defined by their race than others. If you want to make an apples to apples comparison, why not go with Blade or Forge? Those guys are primarily defined by their function rather than their skin color. While it doesn’t apply to all or even a majority of nerds out there, a lot of the anger at changing the race of movie characters does feel like people getting mad that we’re expected to share our toys with others.
Then there’s the queer community and how it often feels like we’re a token badge of progressiveness for nerd culture, rather than an element of equal rank and standing. Comics in particular are full of characters like Northstar and Kevin Keller, who often feel more like they’re meant to tick off a “diversity bonus coffee punch card” than to be important members of a cast. Queer characters who have a deeper and more interesting identity on the page like Batwoman are fewer and farther between… but that’s a subject requiring enough detail to be left for another day.
The point here is that despite all the talk of being “The Outsider Rejects Club and Home” nerd-culture at least in North-America feels more like a “Straight White Alienated Boys Society” with a special lounge for “Other Freaky Folk Enjoying Rejection”. As long as nerds meet a few key criteria they are able to enter the club or the lounge. Things that won’t get a nerd kicked out of the club house include a moderate level of sexist, racist, homophobic jokes. Quite the contrary: making too big a deal out of them gets members branded as “overly sensitive pussies”… which is weird because one would think that nerdy guys would want to have as much overly sensitive pussy as they can get! That joke right there was crude and offensive (or at least intended to offend) but it would likely not get me nearly as much flack to deal with as saying “Michael Bay is a genius filmmaker.”
Speaking of Bay and also of his recent Turtle movie, it’s worth noting that there’s been some speculation that a recent race bending of Shredder might have been undone on the fly to appease fan anger over the casting of a white guy instead of an Asian guy. Sadly, that issue being addressed may have been a lower priority than appeasing fans by not having the Turtles be aliens instead of mutants. A group that gets that worked up over which method is used to explain how giant, talking turtles can exist in a movie, makes it hard to see why we’re so convinced that we’re “the smart kids.”
The image of nerds as “the smart kids” is especially depressing, because some of the dumbest of dumb fucks I’ve ever met have been really fucking nerdy, while I know a good deal of jocks and hicks that are amazingly brilliant guys. Here’s the funny thing, though, when it comes to the smartest of the smart people, hicks and jocks that I’ve known are generally a happier crowd than nerds. I can think of at least two reasons for that…
4. We Love Hating on Things More Than We Love Liking Things
Quick mental exercise time. Grab a pen and paper if it’ll help. Think of five movies that you liked, off the top of your head. Not five that you loved, five that you liked. Now name five movies that you hated off the top of your head.
Which list took longer to write? The answer was probably the second list. That’s because stuff that we love or hate leaves a lasting impression more than stuff that we like or dislike.
Ernest Hemingway once said “Critics are men who watch a battle from a high place then come down and shoot the survivors.” If this is true, then Internet commenters are like snipers who arrive at an even higher vantage point above the battlefield a couple of years before the battle is scheduled to take place and begin firing at one another. When the battle takes place and the critics go into the field to shoot the survivors, Internet commenters aim their sniper rifles at the critic and open fire. Once the critics have left the field, the commenters go back to shooting at each other. They don’t even fire real bullets, by the way, because all they have access to are paint balls.
The hate we hold onto for the movies that disappoint us is vastly disproportionate to the liking or loving of stuff that succeeds for us. That’s because hate seems to be its own inexhaustible reward. It’s the gift that keeps on giving when it shouldn’t. I’ve seen a lot of hate directed towards the newer batch of Spider-Man movies, which genuinely baffles me. That bafflement is increased by the fact that the number of people I know of or have been heard to say that they like the new ones are mostly people who hated the Raimi movies. From where I stand, the two sets of movies split the difference between doing some things better and other things worse than their respective counterparts.
Raimi has better looking villains, but Webb has better looking fight scenes. Raimi had the better Uncle Ben and Aunt May but Webb has the better Gwen Stacy and a vastly better Flash Thompson etc. etc. The burning need for some to declare one the inherently superior franchise over the other requires a necessary set of blinders that cover up flaws in one set of movies and successes in another. This is not a productive or healthy mindset to engage in for any appreciable length of time.
Time spent focusing on things hated is basically a way of letting them take up space in ones head without charging any rent. The amount of hate heaped at Transformers does a great deal of damage to the people that hate it… but none whatsoever to the people making the movies. People who think Michael Bay doesn’t know that he’s hated by a huge swath of fans online are out of their minds. Any fans who think Bay loses so much as a wink of sleep over his haters are deluding themselves.
If you don’t think the latest Transformers movie is worthwhile, here’s an idea… don’t devote any mental or physical energy to it than can be better spent. Life’s too long to waste on hating a movie. If you’re wondering why I say “life’s too long” instead of “life’s too short” it’s because life is the longest thing any of us will ever do. Wasting a little bit of that time hating something can easily lead to wasting years hating that thing. Any time you think about getting on a message board or talkback thread to discuss how bad a movie sucks, ask yourself if you might feel better doing a load of dishes or giving your parents or grandparents a call and asking how their day went. If you can’t find any better use of your time, go ahead and fire off that comment, but try to keep a 2 to 1 ratio of avoiding the urge to hate.
Until such a practice can become widespread, I really don’t think nerd culture will have earned the amount of consideration we ask for and often receive from Hollywood. It’s really high time that this hard-on for hating on things gets deflated, because it’s grown to encompass stuff that we aren’t even expected to like or spend our own money on…
3. We Get Too Pissed off When People Like Stuff That We Hate
Another quick mental exercise. How many anti-fans of Twilight do you personally know? How many fans of Twilight do you personally know? Which group is the bigger number and which group harps on more about it? Be honest here.
By the way, just so we’re clear, an anti-fan is someone who hates something the point of obsession. Chances are you know at least one or two people that hate Twilight so much they use every possible excuse to talk about it and you’ve hopefully gotten bored of their shit by now and are grateful that there won’t be anymore Twilight flicks so you don’t have to hear their rants so often (then again I may be speaking too soon). After spending a few years going to college, I’ve met a far greater number of people who go on and on about how much they hate Twilight, and I’d rather talk to a fan just because the conversation would be more likely to have some new dialog in it.
Back in the ’90s when the Reign of the Supermen story arc was going on, it was so awful I couldn’t believe it. I was talking about it to a friend and he asked me why I kept reading it, especially since I did my reading from the spin racks at Waldenbooks (whose employees were kind enough to let me read stuff in the store), and I didn’t know the answer. Eventually, I realized that in addition to wanting to see how it all ended… I was hooked. In some weird way I enjoyed reading those stories, even though I hated them with a passion.
For the record, being an anti-fan of something can be okay. As long as you’re at least able to admit when something you’re an anti-fan of gets a story or moment right and acknowledge that it’s not completely 100% unreadable/unwatchable/unhearable etc. The problem is when fans and anti-fans of the same intellectual property collide. Much like when the warp engines on Star Trek smash matter into anti-matter the reaction can be powerful and destructive.
If someone hates Twilight, I get why they do, but when they get rabidly angry about the fans who like it… just for liking it… well, there I’m lost. Just as it doesn’t phase me if someone says The Avengers movies aren’t their cup of tea or that they outright suck, I have no problem with someone getting super-excited at the idea of a sixth Twilight movie. Life’s too long to waste on being angry at other people’s happiness.
Stop. Take a deep breath. Reread the last sentence of the previous paragraph. Stop. Take another deep breath. Close your eyes and think about that sentence. Let it really soak in. Look over the course of your life in the past few years. Look at the lives of your friends. How much of your recent past has been wasted getting pissed off that some people love the things you hate? How about your friends? Has any of that time spent wallowing in hatred improved your life? Are you a better person for it? Are your friends?
Stop. Take two more deep breaths. We have one more layer of hatred to explore…
2. We Despise Our Own if They Haven’t Suffered Enough
There is a great and unrelenting poison in the ground waters of our culture, my fellow nerds. That poison resides in what has been said of the generation of nerds that have come after Generation X. Those who were once called Generation Y, or Generation Next and are now known as the Millennials.
The elder nerds have not to my knowledge spoken much – if at all – about the nerd status or lack thereof in regard to the “Millennial” generation. Those of the “Boomer” generation and older have much to say of this new generation, to be sure, but I’ve heard none of them claim, as some of my brother and sisters of the X have claimed, that these Millennials can not be validated in their claim to nerdhood because it is no longer “uncool” or “ostracizing” to be a nerd. The cries of “they don’t get made fun of for it like I did” come from a generation that is angry at their youngers for having it easier than they did “back in the day”. One of the many complaints about The Amazing Spider-Man movies is that Andrew Garfield’s version of Peter Parker isn’t really a nerd because he’s “too cool.” It seems that among nerds the new great sin is being cool.
This ideology is a poison that will rot our culture into ruin, my brothers and sisters. The venom spat from the faces of thirtysomethings into the eyes of teenagers will not heal the mental scars of the spitter; they will only serve to cause new scars. The insistence that our youngers cannot call themselves nerds because they are denied a rite of passage that gave us a valid claim is a path that leads to naught but extinction.
Being persecuted is not and was never an essential part of nerddom. The lack of being shunned for our interests, hobbies and passions is something to be celebrated rather than mourned. If we must insist that being ostracized was a rite of passage at all, then in its absence we need to find a new rite. Can such a rite not be constructive rather than destructive? Positive instead of negative? Perhaps it could be required to spend a minimum amount of time donating work hours to a library or making infographics and putting them up in public places. Perhaps it could be said “until you have improved the life of someone else through the gift of knowledge, you may not call yourself a nerd.”
Our youngers need some way to be recognized as being among our numbers, lest we risk having no numbers to replace us. We as a culture have only existed for a scant four or five decades and we have come so far in such a short time, my nerdy siblings. Let us not drink from the poison well of “back in my day”ism. Let us put the bile to rest so that we can build a better world. If we truly are the smart and gifted ones that our lore and legends tell us we are, it is time to prove it to the world.
In order to prove our true value to the world by improving it, however, we will be required to face our greatest tragedy. We must admit our darkest secret. We as a culture must acknowledge and face the worst thing that ever happened to us…
1. We Refuse to Admit Victory
We won. Accept it. Get over it. Move on from it.
We won… and we’ll have to live it with it.
We won and we can’t unwin that victory.
We won, and we have to admit it.
Sometimes, there is something harder and more stinging than admitting defeat, and that is admitting victory. Society loves an underdog… and we are no longer the underdog. Not when studios are pouring millions of dollars into making things we love that earn them billions in return.
Four years ago Patton Oswalt wrote an essay for the magazine Wired about how much it sucks that the Internet makes being a nerd so easy. Let that sink in for a moment: we’ve gotten to the point where nerds are complaining about science improving their lives. A few months ago some guy on some other site wrote a long whiny rant about how much it sucks that kids who are younger than him won’t have to deal with inferior technology like portable CD players and cassette tapes… and apparently that kids who are younger than him are not as old as he is and that sucks too, for some damn reason.
The idea of nostalgizing inconvenience is so much pettier than a first world problem, it may be the first “0th World Problem.” This is a level of mistaking the method for the medium that gets so far into the spectrum of ridiculous that it comes out the other end and becomes something else. If ridiculous means “worthy of ridicule” then being upset that life is easier and technology is better is “scorn worthy.” I love Oswalt; he’s a brilliant comedian and one of the highlights of the first season for Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., but that doesn’t make what he wrote any less worthy of scorn.
The big complaint in his essay is that the ease of acquisition makes the thing acquired less valuable. I’d argue that is the opposite. The speed at which the thing acquired is absorbed marks its value. If I go to the library and check out 15 to 25 graphic novels (which is a common enough occurrence that I don’t get funny looks from the staff anymore) I think most people would assume that whatever I put at the top of my reading stack and prioritize over the other books is of greater value to me. By the same logic, some kid in the Bramble Wood township outside the city limits of Nowheresville in Podunk County, Any State who downloads a terabyte of movies, music, comics, games and TV shows over the course of a month designates what is of greatest value by which files get watched, read, played and listened to soonest after being downloaded. Even if he deletes it once done to make room for new stuff, the files that stay on his hard drive for 3 months before he gets around to watching them because he’s bored and the weather sucks are still of a lesser value.
It’s the ease and function of technology that are making this such an exciting time to be a nerd. Here’s a great example: you’ve probably heard of the following things, but if not take a look at these three youtube channels devoted to making fun of movies and showing where they went wrong. There’s a hierarchy there. Cinema Sins make longer videos that focus more on nitpicking minutiae, while Honest Trailers are funnier and quicker by highlighting the biggest blunders and leaving the little stuff alone. How It Should Have Ended strides far above its contemporaries by focusing on a small handful of errors but making original animation that is a brilliant bit of work in its own right. It’s also notable that HISHE (as the creators behind the series like to shorten it) take a lot longer to make their videos than the other guys. Cinema Sins has a quicker turnaround, but also the poorest reputation among movie buffs.
These three channels clearly aren’t to everyone’s tastes, but they only exist at all because technology has improved the life of nerds. The great and awful “everything that ever was available forever” that Patton Oswalt bemoans has lead to stuff like those Youtube channels and this very website being what they are. Completely fresh and innovative content online that isn’t just a remixing of current pop culture darlings is also abundant. The stuff that really rises to the top and gets well known enough to be recognized is the cream of a crop grown from a fertile soil of intuitive, inexpensive and robust software that has enable a generation to have the smallest hurdle to content creation in human history. Even a minor, niche web-toon can have a wide spreading impact.
Here’s an example. A few years ago I would supplement my meager student income from financial aid, by working crowd services at football games for U of O through a temp agency. At one game, the competing team from UC Berkeley had cartoon characters painted on their horns. Guys like Krusty the Klown, Hypnotoad and Strong Bad. That last one is noteworthy in itself. Strong Bad for those not familiar, is the antagonist of a once popular (though mostly defunct) Web based cartoon site called Homestar Runner.The reason that not much of anything has been done on the site in over 3 years is that the creators got work for a Nickelodeon show called Yo Gabba Gabba that you’ve probably heard of even if you’ve never seen it. That right there is what the power of technology has done for nerddom. Two brothers were able to take their goofy cartoon characters and show them to the whole freaking world, and it go them a job working for Nickelodeon.
Amusingly, those cartoon characters aren’t even the nerdiest thing I’ve seen at a football game. Guys walking around in Stormtrooper Armor and Iron Man suits done in green and yellow (the UO Ducks team colors) are such a common sight as to be a bit banal sometimes. Football games have become one of the nerdiest things I’ve ever seen. I repeat, football games have become one of the nerdiest things I’ve ever seen! Sure there’s always been the classic argument that jocks are just nerds obsessed with sports, but the line between “sports nerd” and “comics nerd” have blurred so much as to barely even exist anymore.
The fact that some people get pissed off about this is the most ludicrous nonsense I’ve ever heard. Douglas Rushkoff once gave a speech about liberal/progressive/gen-x/nerd types refusing to relinquish the mantle of “counter culture” and the fear of being “mainstream”. He talked about how counterproductive and backwards this thinking is, and the problems it would create. This speech was made in 1999 at Disinfo.Con, and it’s truer today than it ever was. The important lesson, above all others, that nerds need to learn is that being on the losing end is not and never was an essential part of our identity. The only thing worse than a persecution complex is a lament for the lack of persecution. Growing and thriving as a culture necessarily requires that nerds embrace our victories and build on them.
We won. Accept it. Get over it. Move on from it.
It feels weird to even say that, but the fact is that a large part of nerd culture seems stuck between denying that we’ve stepped up in the world or being angry that we’re no longer downtrodden. Life is too long and too precious to waste being nostalgic about a miserable past that we hated when it was the present. Our lifespan may only be a blink of the eye to the rest of the universe, but it’s everything we’ll ever have, and there’s so much to enjoy and be enriched by, that that wasting even a moment of it being bummed out that all the cool kids like the stuff that we’ve liked longer than they have is absolutely ridiculous.
If we can’t come to terms with enjoying our status as winners of the pop-culture wars, maybe it’s time for Hollywood to move onto an audience that appreciates being catered to.
Previous Topless Robot Articles by Greggory Basore Include: