Note: In honor of the 28th of August being one year anniversary of the “Gamers Are Dead” fiasco, I present this new piece which focuses on the “nerd” subculture. It contains some very brief allusions to the HBB’s ongoing legal issues with CalgaryExpo and if this is a sensitive matter I shall remove any commentary about it from my post. In addition, if there are any factual inaccuracies regarding the alleged “nerd-ness” of any named persons within this article, I welcome any corrections.
Video gaming, comic book IPs, atheism, speculative fiction, the tech industry and similar domains have all been subject to what the commentator Mytheos Holt describes as a “#WarOnNerds” (http://dailycaller.com/2014/11/13/the-waronnerds-how-far-left-feminists-and-the-media-created-gamergate/) – a culture war waged almost exclusively by Progressives against the spaces and institutions of a specific subculture. Even though atheist-feminist Rebecca Watson argued that “in the land of the nerds, the double X chromosome is queen” where nerdy women are “held up as an ideal” (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-11-03/), a few years later Watson was one of many who had decided to describe this land as full of systemic misogyny.
Holt argues that the institutions most affiliated with Progressivism (the establishment press and MSM, academia, old entertainment industries like Hollywood and the record industry) have experienced a massive drop in their prestige, power and profits due to the internet, the rise of video gaming, and the economic usefulness of STEM degrees relative to most of the humanities. The #WarOnNerds thus represents a retaliation by the former gatekeepers of culture and shapers of opinion against the personality types/traits, institutions, ideologies and technologies associated with a group that has diminished the dominance of their establishment (http://thelibertarianrepublic.com/why-the-left-waged-the-waronnerds-losing-the-oppression-olympics/).
I am in general agreement with Holt’s hypothesis – it explains why Aaron Sorkin’s “The Social Network” was determined to portray Mark Zuckerberg as a creepy friendless loser (i.e. a nerd to be pitied), and Napster founder Sean Parker as a nihilist driven by the desire to destroy established cultural institutions like record companies. Peter Thiel – a nerdy man who speaks of the advantages of Asperger’s syndrome who is also a Silicon Valley venture capitalist – is portrayed in the film and hardly given a positive portrayal.
But this article isn’t about the #WarOnNerds. Rather, it is about a proper response to it and how to prevent it from happening again.
My argument is that a specific trait of nerd culture – specifically, its internalized self-loathing – enabled a bunch of cultural outsiders to come in and hijack the institutions of a culture they did not belong to. It is only be confronting and rejecting this internalized self-loathing that nerd culture can fully reclaim, replace or reform its institutions and prevent another external hijacking from taking place.
A THOUGHT EXPERIMENT
In a previous article of mine (http://honeybadgerbrigade.com/2014/02/13/complaining-about-fake-geek-girls-is-not-misogyny/), I used the goth subculture as an example of a marginalized subculture that expels perceived fakes (or “poseurs” to use the typical goth term for a faker). This subculture is relatively gender-balanced, and is acting precisely how one would expect a marginalized subculture to act.
To continue the goth metaphor, let us imagine that we are all goths and going to a goth club. We go out to the club and enjoy the evening, but then a group of non-goths come into the club. They’re dressed normally, but they don’t ask the DJ to play Top 40. Perhaps they even enjoy some of the music that the club is playing.
Let us repeat this thought experiment, but the non-goths come in and pester the DJ to play Top 40. The regulars would not like this and the DJ would probably deny the request or simply not have the songs.
But if the DJ starts playing Top 40? The regulars would get more hostile.
Now let us go into full paranoia territory. What if a bunch of non-goths dressed like goths and claimed to be goths, pestered the DJ to play Top 40, and when the DJ denied their request they threatened to tell everyone in the outside world that this club was filled with sexually-deviant loser-loners who needed to “grow up” and start being “more inclusive”?
The goths would, probably politely, tell the fakers that they were “poseurs” who needed to fuck off. Why? Goths don’t care about what the “normies” think. They consider themselves to be better than the mainstream, of a more independent mindset, and as more individualistic. Goths are proud of their cultural identity.
This cultural pride functions as an immune system within the subculture. It makes the subculture expel those who aren’t part of it. It keeps the subculture a “safe space” for the members of that subculture (i.e. it keeps the space’s culture in line with the norms and values of the individuals who constitute the subculture).
But what happened in nerd culture goes even beyond the thought experiments above; after the Top-40-fans-dressed-as-goths issued their threat, the DJ bent over backwards to accomodate them. And said that any of the club regulars who disliked the new music were immature pathetic losers with no friends. And then the DJ eventually included the Top-40-Fans as additional DJs. And eventually the fakers-playing-Top-40 became the only DJs, whilst telling the regulars that if they dare ask for Sisters of Mercy then they’ll be kicked out of the club because Goths Are Dead (perhaps even deader than Bela Lugosi). And only then did the goths start retaliating on a wider scale.
NIETZSCHE AND CULTURAL VALUES
The philosopher Frederich Nietzsche is well-known for his essay “On the Genealogy of Morality.” In this essay, Nietzsche argues that groups of people are effectively morally narcissistic – they construct codes of morality which cast the traits they believe themselves to embody as “the good,” and thus define the bad or evil as that which is unlike themselves (or unlike how they imagine themselves to be). Any culture’s version of “the good” is little more than a flattering self-portrait.
This filters down into art – a culture will generally express its beliefs, worldview and values through the means of allegory and narrative. Ergo, one can expect a culture to craft narratives which glorify that which embodies this culture’s image of “the good” and villainizes that which embodies this culture’s idea of “the bad” or “the evil.”
As such, humans have a startling tendency to create their “Gods” in their own image, albiet an idealized version thereof. A culture which values X, Y and Z will typically create stories and narratives that glorify X, Y and Z. The heroic characters will embody X, Y and/or Z, whilst the villains will lack such traits and/or embody the exact opposite ones. A culture’s mythology will display that culture’s values, and a proud culture will value what it embodies. As Nietzsche said, “the noble soul has reverence for itself” – presumably, this is true of the soul which sees itself as noble.
Again, let us look at goth culture – goths see themselves as more independent-minded than mainstream society. They embrace their outsider-ness proudly, and wear it on their sleeve (as well as their bodies generally). They have reverence for themselves (or what they see themselves as).
But nerd culture defies the pattern laid out by Nietzsche.
NERD CULTURE’S CENTRAL CORE
It must be emphasized that a mere collection of several hobbies is not a culture, and it is an error to equate nerd culture with “comics + video games + playing D&D + liking technology.” Cultures are ultimately built around shared values and shared experiences which give rise to shared narratives about what it means to be part of that culture. These shared narratives form the basis for that culture’s art, which embodies and reinforces and communicates and perpetuates that culture’s worldview.
So what is the shared narrative of nerd culture? What core experience forms the basis of nerdness as a subculture?
Put briefly, nerd culture is based around the experience of being a social misfit due to having a temperament which is atypically thoughtful, logical, introverted, and often obsessive (this overlaps with many traits considered to be symptomatic of Asperger’s Syndrome). As the substantial majority of human beings incline towards extroversion, emotionalism and a less cerebral mindset, the “nerd temperament” is enough to make one socially alienated by default.
Due to this social alienation, nerds are typically persecuted and bullied. They’re seen as weird and peculiar for not “fitting in.”
More importantly, nerds (particularly male nerds) are gender-nonconformist. The preference for solitary and cerebral pasttimes distracts from gender-normative, social and active pasttimes like athletics. It is well-known that traditional masculinity is embodied far more by the jock rather than the nerd. In addition, female nerds are often seen as “too smart” for boys to find them attractive, however due to the fact society tends to see femininity as innate and masculinity as performed this doesn’t “defeminize” a woman in the way that male nerds are socially emasculated.
This experience is repeatedly portrayed within the artworks of or related to nerd culture; there’s a reason that Steve Rogers was frail, unathletic and skinny when young. There’s a reason Peter Parker is a socially-awkward science-loving kid with few friends, thick glasses and substantial intellect. The lyrics to Felicia Day’s song “Now I’m The One That’s Cool” only make sense in the context of being bullied for not fitting in (with “asshat jocks who beat me up at school” featuring prominently). The “Revenge of the Nerds” films only make sense if one understands that nerds, as a group, endure a particular pattern of injuries which justify retaliation. Even those who hate nerd culture clearly acknowledge this, as Sam Biddle most infamously did when tweeting that “we’ve known to be true for decades” that “nerds should be constantly shamed and degraded into submission” (http://www.cjr.org/the_kicker/gawker_bullying.php).
Social outcasthood, social persecution, and (for male nerds) inability to live up to society’s gender expectations are the centerpieces of Nerd culture. The culture is built upon these shared experiences and creates artworks which allude to these experiences.
If nerd culture were like any other culture (particularly other marginalized cultures), how would it react? It would construct stories and narratives where heroism and greatness were defined by intelligence, social outcasthood, a rejection of social expectations, and a refusal to let the bullies degrade us. It would cast the persecutors, and the beliefs of the persectors, as unfathomably evil and devalue the traits of the persecutors as morally worthless rather than virtuous. In effect, it would say to nerds that “the normal people are wrong to hate you, and you are right to hold them in contempt.”
NERDS AND SELF-HATRED
But nerd culture does not do this. Instead, nerd culture fails to reject many tenets of mainstream society.
Let us remember that nerd is a subculture – it exists within a particular culture and is at least in part defined by its relationship to that parent culture. Whereas goth proudly rejects and scoffs at the values of the parent culture (mainstream society) and embraces alienation from it, nerdness has always been at best conflicted. Nerds, for a long time, have often craved to be accepted, have fantasized about fitting in, have wanted to be normal. Male nerds, in particular, have been greatly affected by the social emasculation which accompanies being a nerd, and so their fantasies of acceptance, fitting in and being approved of are heavily intertwined with fantasies of masculinization or of becoming a “real man.”
Returning to Felicia Day’s song “Now I’m The One That’s Cool,” we may ask ourselves what “cool” means. “Coolness” is effectively being approved of by what we might describe as the institutions and groups which drive popular culture; it is about being embraced by the pop-cultural mainstream. Goths would view the concept of being considered “cool” with, at the very least, significant distaste, but “Now I’m The One That’s Cool” is a gleeful celebration of finally being considered “cool,” i.e. finally being accepted and embraced and considered “one of the normal people.” Being relieved that one has stopped being victimized or bullied is understandable, but why would one want to be accepted and embraced by one’s bullies and victimizers?
Superhero fiction can be thought of as the mythology of nerd culture, and as I stated above there is a reason that Steve Rogers was born frail, weak and unathletic. But Rogers becomes Captain America – a universally-admired hero considered the perfect leader of men – and his body is biotechnologically augmented from that skinny figure into an highly-masculine “Golden Boy” appearance. Peter Parker remains nerdy in many respects, yet he is stigmatized by the press, almost never gets revenge against high-school bullies (at least in works where he is still in high school), and even had his marriage erased from history because, according to Marvel’s Editor In Chief at the time, the audience could not relate to Peter if Peter experienced romantic success. Peter is thus rendered a romantic loser by editorial mandate. The nerd is denied success, esteem, and even self-respect.
This certainly is not confined to the comics either, as was made clear in the short-lived cartoon series “Wolverine and the X-Men,” where the character of Forge (typically portrayed as a rather tall and muscular Cheyenne mystic who also happens to be a brilliant inventor) was portrayed as an extraordinarily slender, nervous and insecure young man with a pasty-white complexion and goggles constantly perched atop his head (clearly a surrogate for glasses – a common symbol of nerdness) who frequently gets bullied by the immensely-gruff-and-manly Wolverine (and Wolverine is portrayed, unsurprisingly given the title of the show, as the flawless perfect leader and the coolest person ever). An incident where Wolverine defaces a jet maintained by Forge is seen as comedy, rather than cruelty; apparently its funny when the coolest person ever defaces something which a nerd takes pride in.
Probably the most obvious example, however, is Thor and Loki, particularly as portrayed in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Thor is the embodiment of everything his culture deems proper in a “Real Man” – he is strong, muscular, a warrior, lacking in exceptional intelligence, popular and accepted by his peer group. He is, in effect, an analogous jock, although typically not a bully. Loki, on the other hand, is exceptionally intelligent, slender, shorter than his brother, a sorcerer (something frowned upon when practiced by men), and a loner who is ostracized by Thor’s friends; Loki is the nerd to Thor’s jock.
And of course, Loki is jealous of Thor. He wishes he had Thor’s body, Thor’s skills, the respect Thor receives (both from society and their father in particular), etcetera. Indeed, the first “Thor” film climaxes in a situation where Loki tries to prove himself a “real man” through attempted genocide – i.e. living up to his society’s Proud Warrior Race standards. Of course, Loki is the villain in the story and Thor is the hero; nerd culture casts the embodiment of itself as evil and the embodiment of its opposite as good, with the embodiment of itself suffering from a crippling case of self-loathing due to the surrounding culture’s standards. This is rather telling.
Thor and Loki also embody an aspect of traditional masculinity which often goes unnoticed – the role of the father and/or father-figures in conferring “real manhood.” Unlike femininity, which our society generally treats as biologically innate, masculinity is defined by agency and thus is treated as an ideal to live up to through one’s actions. A female merely has to begin mensturating to “become a woman” according to traditional standards, but males face a gauntlet of trials to prove their worthiness, to their peers, to their romantic interests, and also to elder males. Failure means one is a “boy” rather than a “real man” (note the juvenile language – the equation between maturity and gender-compliance).
The first “Thor” movie focuses on Thor’s character arc, which starts with Thor receiving his hammer from his father. This is cast as a “coming of age” or “now you’re a man, son” moment, akin to the father handing the son the car keys (it doesn’t help that the hammer’s shape is rather phallic). Thor then does something rather rash and stupid, and so his father then symbolically emasculates him by revoking the hammer and calling him a “boy” in the process. Thor’s father, Odin, casts a spell on the hammer, and renders Thor a mortal human being until Thor can prove himself worthy of wielding the hammer again. The hammer is Thor’s “man card,” and Thor is not a “real man” until Thor demonstrates “worthiness” and lives up to his father’s standards, through action. Finally Thor succeeds, proving himself a “real man” through meeting his father’s standards, and at the end of the film he earn’s Odin’s explicit “I’m proud of you.”
The message here is as subtle as a hammer to the face. Maturity, gender-conformity and pleasing one’s father are fused together in the heroic character’s plotline. The embodiment of jockishness fulfills everything society demands and receives approval, whilst the embodiment of nerdishness fails and eventually commits suicide owing to a huge case of internalized self-loathing and a failure to live up to society’s standards. Some literary critics have argued that Superhero narratives are really an allegory about growing up and becoming an adult (hence why so many Superheroes have parental death in their background and why themes of responsibility and duty (traits typically associated with maturity) are so often part of these stories), but why would someone enjoy a fantasy of growing up unless they didn’t feel like they weren’t grown-up already (remember how often nerds are described as “man-children”?)? This entire coming-of-age allegory is dependent on the idea that maturity is validated by actions (the masculine gender role) rather than something which just happens to you over time (the feminine gender role).
Speaking of “jockishness” one can also look at e-Sports. Nerds are typically not particularly good at physical sports, yet according to popular gender norms “sport” is considered manly and a good thing. Sportsmen, particularly competent ones, are seen as “real men” and admirable. Males who are bad at sport or disinterested in it are commonly bullied, humiliated and shamed, and considered “not real men.” In trying to turn video gaming (an often-stigmatized pasttime associated with a socially-emasculated group) into a “sport,” it becomes hard to avoid the suspicion that at least part of the motivation for e-Sports is to socially validate and masculinize an aspect of nerd culture. “Sport,” like “art,” is a term loaded with cultural prestige after all.
The self-hatred of nerd culture is unfortunately substantial. If we make our gods in the image of our values, nerds seem to value what they don’t embody. Our heroic figures either lose much of their nerdishness to become accepted and admired, were not nerdy in the first place, or stay nerdy but wallow in misery and rejection. Our villains often embody that which we are – intelligent, socially rejected loners and misfits. We feast on stories which celebrate the idea of becoming a “real man” through finally pleasing Daddy, serving society, becoming hot enough to finally be considered attractive by the opposite sex, finally fitting in and becoming “cool,” etcetera.
In short, nerd culture has accepted mainstream ideals about what a person (a male person in particular) should be. As such nerd culture frequently (although not exclusively) creates stories about achieving or living up to those ideals. Nietzsche argued that cultures create gods as flattering self-portraits, but Nerd culture’s gods often embody everything that nerds wish they were but aren’t.
Yes, there are many exceptions to this and I don’t think that nerds are universally self-loathing, but at the very least it is fair to acknowledge an extremely strong streak of self-loathing within nerd culture driven by an acceptance of mainstream society’s values (particularly gender roles for males). This subculture composed mostly of gender-nonconformist men often sincerely longs to be gender-conforming. This subculture of misfits often sincerely wishes to fit in and be popular. Many nerds still deeply crave the approval of mainstream society. Too often, nerds long for the day when they are the ones who are cool.
PSYCHOLOGICAL WOUNDS OPEN TO INFECTION
And this was how the SJW-hipster-types managed to entrench themselves so deep within the institutions of nerd culture before any backlash began. They knew that nerd spaces were anything but exclusive. Nerds, due to isolation and years of misfithood, long to find others with common interests. Nerdy males with opposite-sex attraction often greatly yearn for a girlfriend who shares their hobbies. Decades of stigmatization and moral panics ranging from Frederic Wertham to Jack Chick to Hillary Clinton and Joe Lieberman (on Comics, D&D and Video Games respectively) have only made nerds dream even harder about a world where all of these things would be regarded as pasttimes worthy of tolerance and even serious analysis.
So when hipsters – the vanguard of coolness who see themselves as the cultural elite – come along and display interest? When the academy – the embodiment of “serious business within hallowed establishments” – started treating comics as literature and subjected them to the kind of study usually reserved for accepted artforms like theatre and film and music? Every instance where the cultural elite has taken an interest in nerdy things, and even in some instances where a member of that elite has criticized nerdy things (such as when Roger Ebert argued that a video game could never be art)?
The reaction from nerd culture can be summarized as follows: “OMG! Senpai Noticed Me!”
For those unfamiliar with Japanese, “Senpai” means social superior. And after years (and, historically speaking, decades) of persecution, moral panics and censorship, bullying, insecurity, social emasculation, and continually having it drilled into nerds that they were inferior freaks who deserved to be last in the pecking order, it is no surprise that nerds in general developed a sense of inferiority. This led nerds to have severe validation cravings, and whilst some nerds certainly managed to overcome that, a massive number did not (at least to a significant degree).
This meant nerd culture went out of its way to be welcoming. As Rebecca Watson said about the atheist community (which, as stated above, she described as “the land of the nerds”), there was a “distinct willingness” on the part of “men to embrace (sometimes literally) skeptical women” (http://www.skeptic.com/eskeptic/05-11-03/). Other nerd spaces were similarly open, and the willingness of nerds to welcome “normal people” was great. This meant a disproportionate number of the “commanding heights” of nerd culture’s institutions became colonized by outsiders, since they brought with them the tantalizing promise of mainstream acceptance and of nerds finally becoming the ones that were cool.
Once the outsiders were entrenched, the attacks began. Speculative fiction, comics, tabletop gaming, atheism, all of them became infested, and whilst many members of the atheist movement fought back the atheist movement fractured and prominent SJWs still hold an unsettling amount of power and influence within important atheist movement bodies. It was not until GamerGate that some genuine success accompanied the pushback.
Nerd culture ceded far too much institutional power to outsiders because it desired popular acceptance and validation. The outsiders/hipsters/SJWs/fake-geeks infected nerd culture through the socially-inflicted psychological wounds most nerds have. This explains why when nerds push back, the typical response of the SJWs is to use emasculating/nerd-shaming insults to rip open those wounds again.
So the question becomes – how can nerd culture reclaim its institutions and reassert itself? I offer the following suggestions as to a course of action.
1. Properly Define The Culture and Police Its Boundaries
One problem nerd culture has had is how it got equated not with its essential characteristics, but rather with its particular hobbies. Because of this, the culture has been particularly vulnerable to being akin to a purchasable costume. This is compounded by nerd culture’s self-loathing – rarely do people proudly assert and declare traits that they are ashamed of possessing.
This isn’t merely about purging SJWs but also about safeguarding aspects of nerd culture from the mainstreaming effects of mass-market commerce.
Nerd culture needs to be understood not as a set of hobbies but rather as the outcome of a specific set of personality traits which result in social misfithood which in turn results in (within our society) particular kinds of experiences which in turn form the shared experience at the base of the subculture.
This means that Wil Wheaton’s proclaimation that “everyone can be a geek” must be rejected. Nerd culture is about a specific set of experiences that result from possessing a particular set of traits within a society which often devalues those traits; merely playing D&D isn’t enough to “make someone” into a geek.
This in turn implies that nerd culture must police its borders.
This is not to be construed as suggesting that certain hobbies be restricted to nerds, or that non-nerds are bad or inferior people. As the legion of “CoD Bros” and Candy Crush players make clear, one need not be a nerd in order to play video games. Graphic novels are certainly not an inherently nerd-centric medium either; before the Comics Code Authority, horror comics/weird fiction and also crime stories were commonplace and there is no reason that graphic novels cannot become a mainstream form of fiction (like they are in Japan). In addition, just because someone hasn’t shared the nerd experience does not imply they are any worse of a person – they’re simply a different type of person.
But subcultures exist so that similar people with similar interests can bond with each other over those similarities. Unless borders are policed, the subculture cannot serve this function.
2. Reclaim And/Or Replace The Culture’s Institutions
A common complaint made by GamerGate supporters is that most gaming journalists are “not hardcore gamers” (“hardcore gamer” meaning “hobbyist gamer” (as opposed to either the “casual gamer” or the “blockbuster/bro gamer”) in turn meaning “nerd”), and that these journalists are really “San Francisco hipsters.” In short, the gaming press are not nerds, hold nerds in contempt, and therefore do not write from the perspective of their nerd audience nor represent that audience’s interest.
A similar complaint is made by the Sad Puppies proponents, who argue that the Hugo Awards is dominated by a politically-homogenized clique that is part of the “New York publishing establishment” and writes (and votes to give Hugo Awards to) works of speculative fiction primarily to spread their preferred political messages rather than to entertain SF’s audience; rather than broadening SF’s appeal to new audiences (as members of this alleged clique claim their work does), the Sad Puppies argue that it constitutes nothing more than writings by and for a small group of establishment Progressives who are more interested in “progressive literary metafictions” than in entertainment. The Sad Puppies have argued this trend is responsible for the fall in SF’s sales, due to how these works often don’t appeal to much of SF’s traditional audience. SF’s traditional audience? Nerds, for the most part.
The incident which happened at the Calgary Expo (in which the esteemed Alison ‘Typhonblue’ Tieman, nerd and comic creator, alongside her fellow Honey Badgers including Karen ‘GirlWritesWhat’ Straughan, were removed from the expo due to what is suspected to be retaliation for Alison’s criticism of feminist orthodoxy during a panel focusing on women in comics) shows just how much nerds can lack power within what is obstensibly a nerd space (like a comic convention). The ladies of the Honey Badger Brigade are clearly in possession of rational temperaments, are gender-nontraditional in character and sometimes appearance. Alison is a comic creator, and Karen is an author of queer erotica. The headline of the Honey Badger Brigade website proclaims “Nerds bite back!” – the HBB is clearly mostly-or-entirely nerd, yet CalEx decided to kick the HBB out of a nerd space. If nerds can be kicked out of their own subculture’s institutions, what does that say about who dominates these institutions?
GamerGate and Sad Puppies represent campaigns to reclaim nerd culture’s institutions from external forces (and hopefully the upcoming legal action being taken by the Honey Badger Brigade shall represent something similar for comic conventions), and this is a promising trend which should be encouraged. However, there are some institutions which cannot be reclaimed and must be replaced instead.
Gaming press publications clearly fall under this principle – Polygon, Kotaku and co. are in the process of being replaced. However, some historically nerd-centric institutions may be unsalvagable too – mainstream comic companies are these days driven more by blockbuster films (which by necessity target the mass market) and are owned by relatively conventional entertainment companies (such as Disney owning Marvel). Given the simultaneous pressures of the mainstream market and the vocal demands of social justice advocates, it is quite likely that mainstream comic IPs will be more likely to cater to non-nerdy markets than they ever were. This leads me to suggest that replacements for Marvel and DC, such as fanfictions or developing new intellectual properties, should be developed. Another possibility is that Marvel and DC create a larger number of smaller product lines which would allow even a mainstream company to continue making stories reflective of the nerd experience, but replacements for their products (either through reformatting/repurposing existing texts or the creation of new texts) should always be on the cards.
3. Reject Nerd Self-Loathing Through Rejecting Gender-Traditionalism
As explained above, a prime reason for nerd culture being so easily infiltrated is due to nerd culture having a huge streak of self-loathing and a strong desire for the acceptance and approval of the mainstream (note: there are clearly other factors at work here, particularly with respect to the atheist movement (which, whilst being disproportionately nerdy, is not defined by its nerdiness but rather by its lack of theism), but that is a digression). Nerds eagerly invited outsiders into nerd spaces and institutions because on some level, nerds craved to become “normal.”
The root of this internalized self-loathing is gender norms, and in particular masculine gender norms (males both being subject to their gender being treated as an earned social status, and also making up the majority of nerd subculture and thus constituting the typical nerd experience). Nerds, by definition, fail to achieve “real manhood” in the eyes of society and are therefore subject to social emasculation and the attendant ridicule and humiliation. Because nerds often (to at least some degree) accept the traditional gender norms, they do not view their own traits and temperament as valuable and worthy of respect.
This means that to fully reject nerd self-loathing, traditional masculinity must be critiqued, and both modified and rejected where necessary. The set of standards which condemn nerdiness as inferior must be thrown out the window if nerds wish to stop seeing themselves as inferior.
This certainly does not imply that nerds should redefine “real manhood” in their own image – rather, it implies that nerds should stop caring about or believing in “real manhood” in the first place.
Contemporary Feminism has gleefully waged the #WarOnNerds, calling nerds things like “manbaby virgins living in their mother’s basement” and “losers who can’t get laid.” Contemporary Feminism has no desire to help nerds. Only the Men’s Human Rights Movement genuinely cares about liberating males from traditional gender roles. In brief, nerd culture needs to accept certain MHRM ideas in order to reject self-loathing and therefore gain self-respect.
4. Remake Nerd Culture’s Narratives
Classical nerd culture craved to belong, craved to fit in and craved to live up to normal expectations. As such, when society shamed nerds, they felt a deep hurt which drove them to craft narratives in which they could fit in and live up to society’s demands.
A new nerd culture which rejects fitting in and does not aspire to normalcy or acceptance would wear its social ostracism as a badge of honor. This new outlook, this new set of values, would in turn result in new narratives (and thus stories and art) which enshrine nerdness as good.
In many respects, this remaking of the narratives of nerd culture would be a consequence of the previous three courses of subcultural antibiotics, rather than the cause of anything. However, allegories and fables are always used to convey ideas and worldviews (mythology and religion, in particular, do this). Stories have an incredible power to persuade, and since persuasion occurs at an individual level the dissemination of more pro-nerd stories would help spread the new nerd culture’s mindset. Step 4 can help enable step 3, just like step 3 can help enable step 4. In addition, remaking nerd culture’s narratives would happen alongside step 2 (given that many of nerd culture’s institutions are responsible for creating and producing stories).
The new nerd culture would thus become theraputic; it would heal the wounded self-esteem of nerds and encourage self-respect over self-loathing. Through defining, embracing and culturally enshrining nerdy traits, the vulnerabilities which were exploited to infiltrate and commandeer nerd culture and its institutions would cease to exist. The outsiders would have no way in.
Cultures typically see the traits they consider emblematic of themselves as “good,” and as a consequence create cultural artefacts which celebrate these traits. Nerd culture, on the other hand, has often enshrined itself as either evil or pathetic whilst heaping adulation upon its antitheses. This is symptomatic of at least some degree of self-loathing, which mainstream society has inculcated into nerds primarily through masculine gender norms.
This self-loathing caused nerds to desire acceptance and to fit in and to one day be normal – to become “cool.” As such, nerd culture rolled out the welcome mat to outsiders, hoping the outsiders would help make nerd-ness accepted by the mainstream. The exact opposite happened when ideologically-driven non-nerds managed to achieve prime positions at the commanding heights of nerd culture, and the ideologically-driven non-nerds proceeded to turn on their own audience, and tell the mainstream that nerds were evil misogynist terrorist racists (amongst other epithets).
To prevent this from happening again, nerd culture needs to excise the self-loathing which made it willing to roll out the welcome mat in the first place. Because this self-loathing is mostly a product of masculine gender norms, nerd culture must learn to interrogate and question these gender norms (female nerds of course have similar issues to deal with, but I shall leave that topic for female nerds to discuss). The MHRM is the only gender-based movement with the willingness or ability to successfully and consistently critique traditional masculine norms, and as such the self-esteem of nerds would benefit from certain MHRM ideas.
By re-evaluting their culture as an admirable one, nerds will gain a pride which will encourage them to properly define and police the borders of their subculture. This in turn will allow them to (in the future) prevent the commanding heights of their subculture from being colonized and hijacked by outsiders.
They will be able to construct a new nerd culture; one where they will be able to cast themselves and their characteristics not as villainous or worthy of ridicule, but rather as heroic.
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