Nerd-rage. Let’s face it, it happens. One minute, you’re talking with someone about something you’re both passionate about, and suddenly, BOOM, war breaks out. How could this guy think Jedi was better than Empire? And he likes Star Trek V? SERIOUSLY? Who DOES that? I’ve seen strangers go on to Facebook pages of folks they don’t even know and completely trash them because they’ve never seen a Doctor Who episode prior to 2005, and I’ve seen the best of friends not speak for a month because of an argument over Firefly. On the latest episode of the Once and Future Podcast, Anton Strout and Ryan Britt discussed this phenomenon a bit, and it seems to be fairly prevalent.
Where does it come from? A unique form of geek entitlement? A need to compete for nerdy survival? Because let’s face it, we’ve all experienced it. I mean, I consider myself a fairly accepting and positive person. Yet every now and then, I’ll see something like a person, who I know hated Star Wars two months before, start posting about it and I’ll start feeling kind of judgey. Are they being fakes? Are they just trying to fit in? Why doesn’t it put them to sleep anymore? Who are they trying to impress? But then my brain kicks in, and I say, “Who cares?” The more popular something I love gets, the better chances there are that even more awesome things will happen with it. Of course, there’s also a greater chance someone will screw it up, but that’s another post. Another thing that hits me now and then are people who only watch the shows of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones (you know, the series more accurately known as "A Song of Ice and Fire"?). Those guys are FAKES, right? I mean, how many hours, days of my life have I spent reading comics and novels, and these people just watch a few episodes and think they are real fans?
Well…yeah. Who the hell am I, or any of us, really, to judge who gets to be a fan of what? If something makes someone happy, why piss in their Cheerios? Are we really that miserable in the nerd community?
It seems that some of us are. Every day I see people on social media trashing others for their beliefs and their passions. Someone always has to one-up someone else, or prove they are better, or prove that their fandom is better. It’s really easy to get caught up in the cloud of negativity if you aren’t careful. I’m not talking about those of us who might slip into a wave of maybe too much passion for a subject we love. I’m talking outright bullying, people who get off on power trips, and who, in the end, are simply insecure idiots trying to make themselves feel important. Does this qualify as nerd-rage? In part, I think we all have to accept some responsibility for these people because it’s happening in our community. It’s something that we have to own, and in the end, hopefully take care of.
Matt Forbeck, author of the Marvel Encyclopedia, the Magic: The Gathering comic books, and award-winning game designer and novel writer, had this to say on the subject: “While it’s easy to get swept up in the latest wave of nerd-rage in which we often seem as a collective to be feeding on our most rotten parts, I never forget that the one thing that binds us together is the passion we have for the things that move us. For every outraged Gamergater, there are thousands if not millions of happy geeks who just want to share the love for their favorite things with their fellow geeks. Those awful bits are just a few grains of grit in a mighty hero sandwich. No one wants them there — and it’s best to remove them straight away — but they’re too damn small to ruin everything. Not if you don’t let them.”
Chuck Wendig, author of the recent technothriller, Zeroes, is no stranger to rage within the geek world. His Star Wars novel, Aftermath, was the target of contempt from many so-called fans of the franchise because, they claimed, he dared to make Star Wars characters…well, go where no Star Wars characters have gone before (Ha! Take that, haters! I’ve crossed the streams!). Even so, he maintains a positive outlook on the issue. After all, most fans loved his book, and it spent several weeks on the New York Times bestseller list. He says, “For me, fandom is about being positive. At its core, you enter fandom because you Love A Thing very much, but that love can become protective, even obsessive. Then you go to the Dark Side. Be a fountain, not a drain! Share the love instead of spreading hate. Remember why you got into it in the first place!”
This is something I agree with completely. Remember when you had a hard time finding like-minded people to hang out with? Remember that time you and your best friend got your asses kicked for acting out scenes from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom on the playground? Were times really better back then? Do you really think everyone should be berated for liking things, or are you just jealous people can have a good time now in relative peace?
Of course, just because we love something doesn’t mean it’s without faults, nor does it mean we shouldn’t give some constructive criticism to perhaps make it better. But the key here is constructive criticism. I’ve seen people get the very thing they ask for, say, a television show featuring a female protagonist superhero, and completely shred it. Rather than seeing it as the first step in a process of society making progress, they will treat it as an all or nothing situation. The show must be PERFECT in order for them to approve. What happens then? Well, since the show was groundbreaking to begin with, many people didn’t approve of it to begin with. When even the people who begged for a show shred it, the station cancels it and leaves us with nothing. This could be avoided by people controlling their rage and instead, communicating with the creators, working together to perfect their vision, and maybe coming to an understanding of WHY perhaps the creators made certain decisions. We can critique things with a level head without the rage.
“For me, being a geek/nerd is about passion and enthusiasm, it's being so excited by a story that you can't help but share that passion,” says Michael R. Underwood, author of geeky speculative fiction including the recent Genrenauts series. “And while it's important to critique works (especially parts that are sexist, racist, homophobic, and so on), I think that the most useful artistic critique comes from a desire for works to improve, so they can better encourage, entertain, and inspire. And that puts that critique into a greater effort of shared enthusiasm, of building up more than tearing down.”
If you feel the need to comment on someone’s project, love, or nerdery, ask yourself where it’s coming from. Are you wanting to berate someone, or are you trying to help? Pay attention to the words you use, too. I mean, sure, your five year old nephew has Darth Vader wielding a six-shooter. You want to tell him (and perhaps his parents) off, but what can you do to help the poor soul rather than tearing him down? I mean, maybe he has a good reason for this…heresy. Talk to the kid, find out where he’s coming from. Maybe he’s exploring a new side of something, and a really cool thing will come from it. Do the same with adults. If someone makes a mistake, don’t jump on their case. Remember that time you asked your niece if she was into Mind Craft? No, me neither. Let’s say no more. We all screw up. We don’t have to be dicks about it.
Delilah S. Dawson is the author of speculative fiction for both teens and adults (including the very recent Star Wars novella, The Perfect Weapon. Her thoughts sum up the topic perfectly. “When you get down to it, nerd-rage springs from the same place as nerd-love. We get so passionate about the things we geek out over that characters become real people, and when we feel they aren't being respected, we get mad. It's important to remember that no one can take your fandoms from you and that new episodes or storylines can't change your existing relationship with a world or character. If you didn't care so much, you wouldn't get so mad. So if you're online and about to unleash hell in the comments, try turning off the computer and picking up your old comic books or turning on your favorite movie. Focus on what you love, not what you hate. No one can take away what you love. Except Joss Whedon, who thrives on taking away what you love.”
DAMN YOU, WHEDON!!!!
About Melanie R. Meadors:
A writer of speculative fiction and lover of geeky things, Melanie R. Meadors lives in a one hundred-year-old house in central Massachusetts full of quirks and surprises. She's been known to befriend wandering garden gnomes, do battle with metal-eating squirrels, and has been called a superhero on more than one occasion.
Her short fiction has been published in Circle Magazine, The Wheel, and Prick of the Spindle, and was a finalist in the 2014 Jim Baen Memorial Science Fiction Contest. She is a freelance publicist, publicity coordinator for Ragnarok Publications, and the Marketing and Publicity Specialist at Mechanical Muse.