The purpose of this piece is to expand upon what we believe the nerd community can do to be better. Not just for nerds of color, not just for women, but for all of us. We are the status quo in pop culture and with that comes a responsibility to be progressive and change with the times. Strive to be better and stronger and more welcoming. These are my Anti-Nerd commandments. They’re based on my opinions and experiences in life. You can agree with them or hate them. That’s fine. As long you take the time to read them and just meditate on them a little. That’s all I ask. So let’s begin.
Anti-Nerd Commandment One: We are all nerds anyway.
Before G4 or Tech TV, whatever history of that train wreck you want to acknowledge happened, there already was a nerd network: ESPN. (Pauses for shock, curses, insults and overall anger) Yes, it’s a network that is about sports which I consider to be playground games. YES, I SAID IT! PROFESSIONAL PLAYGROUND GAMES! Do I watch sports? Heck yeah. I played them as a kid. I just didn’t make a living out of it.
Playing sports is like contact cosplay. I always pretend to be one of my sports idols while playing. These guys spend their day collecting stats and numbers. Like the percentage of shots Lebron James has made in fourth quarter situations with 30 seconds left on the clock. How the wind changes the projection of where a field goal kicker will kick the football is taken as serious discussion in sports. There is a network dedicated to this! The same way we sit down and try to calculate how much weight Superman can carry at his max and how long it would take Spider-Man to get from one part of the city to another. ESPN does this daily. Watch the movie MoneyBall and tell me there wasn’t any nerdiness in their baseball formula. People who have passion for topics and hobbies have existed for centuries. If you are purely a comics nerd, great, that doesn’t mean that’s all there is. We forget this. We live in an age of Whovians, Whedonites, Trekkies, Bronys (that last one frightens me but hey more power to ’em)! We have just as many sects as Christianity has if not more. Let’s embrace that.
Anti-Nerd Commandment Two: It doesn’t belong to you and nothing is sacred.
We are fans. So naturally we feel like the things we love belong to us. I love Star Wars as much as anybody, but even I’ll admit, I like the prequels. Blasphemy I know. I enjoy them because of the story. I think there are still some elements that are redeemable. I enjoy it more because George Lucas got to tell the story the way he wanted to. I can argue over the quality of the work, but the idea of telling George to stop making Star Wars films is insulting. This is the guy who made the universe many fell in love with. That was just a by-product of what was obviously a passionate project for him. You can disagree with him all you like, but if the prequels are the story he wanted to tell and that’s canon, fine by me. But also keep in mind that it doesn’t change anything for you. One of the most offensive things I see on social media is the term “raped my childhood”. I find it idiotic and insensitive. One is a crime that alters one’s life, the other is a film or product you didn’t like that you will forget about eventually. I hated Grant Morrison’s run on Batman, but I am not going to say he raped Batman for me. There will be other writers and other Batman comics I enjoy. Nothing is sacred because in a genre where one line of dialogue could unmake entire characters, or time periods existence, why am I going to lose my mind over such things? Why the stress? Why the negativity? A creator tells the story he thinks was best to tell at the time. I’ve come to enjoy things a lot more because I let it ride. When I don’t like something, I don’t have to read it, watch it or think about it. If I do, I just present my case for why I don’t like it and it ends there. Batman characters have been around for close to 70 years and will be around when we are all dead. Enjoy your limited time with them.
Anti-Nerd Commandment Three: Critique with love, not hate.
I have at times been critical of nerd product. I have been known to make fun of The Walking Dead, Doctor Who and other niche shows. I do so because they just don’t appeal to me. But I have received vitriol from fans of the aforementioned two shows. When I am critical, I point out what didn’t work for me personally as a consumer, which is quite alright. Does it mean no one should watch it? No. I watch Pro Wrestling and people think that is a foolish thing to do. I understand why they think that way. I don’t get up in arms and call them names and insult their mothers. I just explain to them this is why I like it. We all love something other people won’t agree with. That’s natural, that’s life. The problem with nerdom at times is that these discussions go way too far and passions get way too high for something that, like I said, doesn’t belong to us. We are simply just enjoying it. I recently encountered an event which is the reason I made this a commandment. Me and my fellow nerd Jamie were discussing what we didn’t like about the show Agents of Shield and what we hoped they would do better. We totally understood if people liked it. That’s on them but someone was so offended by what I was saying they un-followed me on Twitter and let me know about it. That is a douchebag move for two reasons: 1). Why not engage me about what you like about it? Try to change my mind, show me what you see. 2). Why even let me know you did that? Was that suppose to make me feel bad for my opinion? To hurt me for not enjoying it? Things like this happen often. So when I say critique with love, try to understand something before writing it off completely. Engage in a respectful manner and maybe you just might gain something more than a new show to watch, you may gain a friend.
Let’s also be clear, just cause something comes out of nerd culture doesn’t mean we have to like it. We don’t have to settle for just anything anymore. We are pop culture now. We deserve Breaking Bad level shows. So let’s ask for the best from the creators of products we love.
Anti-Nerd Commandment Four: Unless it’s key to a characters origin, it’s okay if his race is changed.
This is sure to be a popular one. I spoke earlier about my little brother and our feeling that there weren’t enough representations of us in nerdom. I was reminded of this when the rumor had surfaced about Michael B. Jordan being considered for the role of the Human Torch (aka Johnny Storm) in the new Fantastic Four movie. I was excited. It was outside the box. It was different! I was in the nerdom minority who felt this way. Apparently being white is a big deal for Johnny Storm which I have never seen to be the case, where with Black Panther and Luke Cage, it is a huge deal that they are men of color. It’s a part of their origin and who they are. With a character like Human Torch, a character who is known for really just being a dick, I can’t see how being white is that important. There are jerks of all colors out there. So in the forums I looked through, I saw people bring up an obvious point, “If they are going to make Sue white, then why is Johnny Black”? Valid point. Here was my response: “You take Johnny Storm, a character regarded for being a complete dick and no matter how hard you argue it…one dimensional. You give him a change. Here he would be a young African American male adopted and raised by a loving white family with a step sister who loves him. He even hits the jack pot they are wealthy. But imagine his upbringing, being reminded that he was there on someone else’s charity. Feeling he didn’t belong. His sister doing her best to stand by him. For the first time, we actually care about the bond between Johnny Storm and his sister Sue. Finally, there are stakes. Dealing with this as a child has affected him. It has made him over compensate to fit in. Now you have a reason for him being a jerk. We root for Johnny to let the team in and when he does, it’s a moment that pays off so beautifully story wise. A reason that makes his personal journey with the team interesting. Marvel’s first family is finally reflective of the modern day 21st century family.”
The response to that was divided. Some thought it was cool, some hated it. That’s fine. All I really hope is that we try to stay open to interpretations of these characters who, like I said, aren’t going anywhere. They are here to stay even if we aren’t. Those of us in nerd culture, no matter what color you are need to fight to get more characters of color on screen and in films. We have the power to be a progressive culture that could very well change how society views itself. At their best, comics deal with issues of race, drugs, poverty and corporate corruption. That tradition should continue through us.
Anti-Nerd Commandment Five: We need to respect our nerdy women.
I wish I could just leave that up there and assume it would be common sense but common sense isn’t common. I think the issue goes far beyond just nerds and goes to the ideas put forward through nerd products. Let’s take a look at some of comics biggest creators and their attitudes that seem to be reflective of our culture. The act of rape is truly a horrible crime that is beyond words . So to see Mark Millar compare it to decapitation is truly troubling:
“The ultimate act would be the taboo, to show how bad some villain is, was to have somebody get raped you know? I don’t really think it matters. It’s the same as, like, a decapitation. It’s just a horrible act to show that somebody is a bad guy.”
What? Those two are clearly not the same. One ends in death, the other ends in a daily struggle to move past being violated in a way that effects your interactions with people for the rest of your life. We have witnessed victims be told it was their fault, keep quiet and “you shouldn’t have been dressed that way”. This statement is hugely insensitive. As someone who was raised in a house full of women, I find this outlook of the use of rape for what I can only imagine is to give the protagonist a reason to fight the villain horrendous. If you need to resort to rape for your story, you probably shouldn’t write the story.
If being told rape isn’t a big deal not enough, we also have others who say comics simply aren’t for women. Comic writer Gerry Conway believes readers aren’t interested in female characters. Todd McFarlane has stated, “I’ve got two daughters, and if I wanted to do something that I thought was emboldened to a female, I probably wouldn’t choose superhero comic books to get that message across”. Why is that? Are girls not fans of sci-fi and super powers? Who are those little girls who dress up as fantasy characters on Halloween then? Wait, are those daughters of his at Comic-Con pretending to like comics?! Conway adds that his daughter “doesn’t like guy stories”. The little girl’s favorite writer? Erin Hicks, which theobservationdeck.com reveals is about “the adventures of superhero girl”, a comic book. And what about Gail Simone’s sold out Red Sonja and Batgirl books? Let us not forget her legendary run with Birds of Prey, an all girl team book. The truth is, if they tried writing female characters as interesting as they wrote their males maybe more women would be interested in them. If they were given the same care and attention, maybe Conway and McFarlane just might break out into their own books.
Cosplay has become another hot button issue within the nerd community that needs to be addressed. In particular, our plus sized cosplay sisters have been the target for offensive language and acts in person or on social media. These are women who work just as hard to make costumes and become the character as anyone else. I am open with my view on cosplay. I never saw the big deal in doing it but people I care about do it. They love to do it, it allows them to be whoever they want to be and express their love for nerdom. It emboldens them to be confident about who they are. When they go to Comic- Con, they should be happy to be there. Not worried about idiots insulting them or making fun of them. As well as cosplayers of color. Why are they being insulted for not being the same color as the character? Isn’t cosplay about the costumes? The hard work one puts into making it accurate? This is what I mean when I talk about how nerd culture fought so hard to be taken seriously and to be free to be geek but we practice the same evil on our own people that we’ve suffered for years. Also, the harassment issue bothers me. I am the first to admit, if there is an attractive woman cosplaying, I am going to check her out. Once a man starts to harass and grab a woman is when it crosses the line. You want a picture with her? Ask. Don’t be a pervy douche bag. A majority of people are nice at Comic-Con and will take pictures because it lets them show off their skills.
Gentlemen, we cannot turn a blind eye or push these sexist acts forward. We need to support our nerdy sisters and make them feel comfortable to be themselves. The sexiest woman is a woman who is confident and unafraid to be herself. Why wouldn’t we want that for our culture? Why not be a part of it? Let’s be honest fellas, how many of us put on costumes and clearly aren’t the correct body type for the character? So cut the BS and let these amazingly talented cosplayers do their thing. We need to demand more female creators and more female oriented product. The male gender has had it pretty good all this time. Time to actually be MEN and do what’s right for our sisters in nerdom.
Anti-Nerd Commandment Six: Blerds are here to stay. Be proud to be one.
This last one appeals to the very sect I belong too. Even if you aren’t a nerd of color, please read this because you can help. One of the biggest things I wish had happened when I first became a nerd was to be told, it’s okay to actually be one. The comfort in being told I belonged and I was a part of this bigger community that would support me and embrace me. So my non-nerds of color, find it in your heart to be accepting. I’m not saying it’s all of you, but for the some of you out there, embrace us. We just may surprise you. We just may change the way you view the things you love for the better.
To my Blerds, the ones who haven’t embraced the term yet, the ones who haven’t found a place in this culture, you do have a place. It’s here. Your fandom is just as justified. Your nerdom is just as legit. We are growing. The vision of a nerd is changing every day. The dogmatic views and beliefs of this culture are being challenged. The walls are breaking down. The light at the end of the tunnel is going to blind us soon enough. Walk with your head held up high at comic book stores, comic conventions and in the streets. You are a Blerd and you should be damn proud to be one. Make your voices heard. Whether it’s through a podcast, Twitter, a Facebook group, Tumblr, anything! Be loud and be proud.
Will I always be the Anti-Nerd? I don’t know. I hope not. I want things to change. I want a better nerd community. It won’t happen overnight, but I’m willing to fight as long as it takes to get these changes. Until then, I’ll be raising my fist calling for a revolution. Feel free to join me. And if you can, bring some pizza and beer. It’s going to be a long fight.
(Presses play on my ipod to Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gonna Come”)