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The Nerd Persecution Complex

It would probably take somebody five seconds to look over this blog and see that I'm a stone-cold geek. The rants about video games or anime are a dead giveaway, I'd say. As a geek, I predictably pal around with a lot of like-minded individuals, and engage in a lot of online discussions revolving around all the stuff I tend to care about. It's that last one, though, that's made me a bit jaded. There's a trend I've noticed that pollutes all sorts of online discussion about comics and gaming, and to a far lesser extent, anime.

You've probably noticed it too, if you're an observant individual. I'm talking about what I'm dubbing a "Nerd Persecution Complex," or a false sense of oppression based entirely on... the type of media somebody consumes. Yep.

Before anybody gets wind of this and comments that I'm not a "real nerd" (which in and of itself is part of this discussion,) I'll list my "qualifications." An anime fan for a decade and a half. A comic reader for about that long. A video game enthusiast who probably puts 20-odd hours into the things a week across consoles that date back to the late 80's. And, above all of that, somebody who was picked on a lot in high school because of all that stuff... on top of the fact that I was a socially awkward trainwreck for most of those four years. I'm coming at this from the perspective of a dyed-in-the-wool nerd, not some outsider taking jabs at a subculture they're not personally invested in.

That's why it's important to talk about this. As a nerd, I get being picked on for stuff you like. I've been there. I've also grown up and realized that being personally defined by media makes you just as shallow as people who would pick on you for it. If your life and wellbeing hinges upon fictional types of media that you have no creative input into, well... that sort of makes you a shallow person, doesn't it?

But back to the point. I've noticed, online, a sort of sense of entitlement bubbling up in varying geek communities. You could see it happening in a certain "movement" in gaming last year, you could see it happening when Marvel made Thor (gasp!) a woman, and lately, you can see it happen whenever a major comic movie gets popular. Maybe "entitlement" isn't the operative word, although that's certainly part of it. What I'm talking about here is a false sense of oppression, a feeling of resentment towards "outsiders" to whatever niche thing you're into.

Let's use that last example I made: comic book movies. When Guardians of the Galaxy got huge last year, out of nowhere, a very vocal minority of the comic book community came flooding in. They came in, pitchforks and 9.9 NM comics in hand, and started systematically shouting down anybody who dared to enjoy a movie without "getting" all of the references, or who called themselves a "geek" for liking GotG and all of the other MCU movies. Apparently, there's a Litmus Test to pass when it comes to calling yourself a geek. If you don't pass it, you're subhuman scum who doesn't deserve to even utter the word "comic," or even live in a world where comic books exist.

"March in the name of Earth-616!"
But then, these very same people would have you believe that they're actually the oppressed ones. That these "fake geeks" would shove them in lockers and beat them up in high school, and are now "stealing" nerd "culture" from them. I've actually gotten in conversations with these people, and they've made those exact points. They've told me that these "posers" don't deserve to enjoy these movies, because they haven't "earned" it. And, by proxy, when the "fake" geeks get to enjoy the glorious privilege of liking something, the "real" geeks, the ones who "deserve" to bask in the eternal light of a fucking movie, get their very existence devalued, because they've always liked it, and these new people are just starting to like it, but they're also liking it in the "wrong" way. Yeah, no, that makes perfect sense.

Except it doesn't. Are you seeing the problem here? It's the same problem as "gamers" who yell about the "social justice warriors" who "censor" video games, or comic readers who yell at comic companies about being too "politically correct" because they created Miles Morales (an argument also made by that lovable scamp Glenn Beck) or didn't use a variant cover because the actual artist said it made him uncomfortable. These people claim they're being censored, like victims of an oppressive dictatorship, and that this a culture war. The "real nerds" vs the "fake nerds," the "gamers" vs the "feminazi social justice warrior political correctness censorship blah blah."

But you know something? It's not about that. This isn't a war. If you're a gamer/geek/comic reader/miscellaneous nerdy niche lover, you're probably not oppressed at all, at least not based on your interests. The more likely scenario is that, like Glenn Beck or Rush Limbaugh, you're probably just used to the way things are. You're used to a preexisting power structure, a power structure where most games are about white guys, where comics have women wearing basically nothing, where being a "nerd" is an obscure, embittered world where "normal" people dare not tread. Any shift in this power structure makes you feel insecure and angry.

The funny thing is that, by crying oppression, by lashing out at "normal" people who are too "politically correct" or not "real nerds," you're actually the perpetrator of anything that could be construed as censorship. Big-budget movies that appeal to the broadest demographics possible and comics that change heroines' costumes and game developers that make women more realistically proportioned aren't trying to actively silence anybody. But the same can't be said of these reactionary individuals. They'll harass, threaten, and pitch a hissy fit on the internet, all in the name of "protecting" that which has no business being protected. In other words, they're implementing silencing tactics towards people who they claim are implementing silencing tactics. Sound logic, there.

Realistically, though, these people do have a point. They are "oppressed"... in the sense that they're a minority in the grand scheme of it all. Look at all of the great progress traditionally "nerdy" mediums have made in the past decade or so, bringing in new, diverse audiences and taking bold risks that don't revolve around making things more "dark" or "edgy." We've got a mixed-race Spider-Man. We've got a Mortal Kombat where women's boobs aren't the size of a gallon jug of milk. We've got an all-lady Avengers team coming up. Hell, we have a Muslim-American Ms Marvel. The nerd community, as a whole, as a business, has grown to accommodate a changing social landscape. Whether the old guards who can't let go of the past like it or not, things have changed, and will keep changing.

These old guards, some of whom are unfortunately very young, will hopefully learn they aren't really oppressed. That they aren't being censored. What's really happening is that people who have been oppressed or shunned are finally getting a voice. They're getting some of the limelight shone on them, and from a business perspective, it makes sense to try and bring those audiences in... on top of just being a fucking decent thing to do.

If the fringes of the nerd community want people to treating them like exclusionary jerks, they need to start practicing behavior that can deflect that... and to stop pretending like they're some sort of second-class citizen. "Nerd" isn't a race, or even a lifestyle, and as soon as people begin treating it like one, they conflate their imaginary struggle with the struggles of actual people, people who they ironically shout down when they call them on their bullshit. And by doing that, they not only make themselves look bad, but make a bad name for every nerd out there.

Don't bring us down with you. Grow up.


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