The Chilling Familiarity of Gamergate

(Trigger warnings for the Holocaust and sexual violence)

I don’t usually get recruited to join hate groups.

Being a Jewish guy, I’m out of consideration for the most of them. And on the other side, my secularism and interfaith marriage means that the extremist elements within Judaism don’t want anything to do with me.

So I’ve got a special kind of agita from Gamergate today. Because these guys don’t care about my bar mitzvah, but they could have looked at the geeky thirteen-year-old boy reading from the Torah and seen a potential recruit.

On some broad, unsettling level, these are guys like me. They’re men. They’re straight. They’re white. They’re about my age. They’re middle-class, educated, Americans. They like fantasy novels, comics, sci-fi, and Game of Thrones. They claim to speak for me. The hatred, rage, and violence espoused by Gamergate emerged out of my same world. Why is it them and not me?

This is going to sound like hyperbole, but to really answer that question, you have to walk back through the history of the Third Reich. I’ve heard of Godwin’s law—Internet arguments may all turn to Nazis eventually, but it doesn’t mean that it’s never warranted.

I don’t intend the comparison to be literal. You don’t have to tell me that Gamergate has yet to commit any genocides. But there’s a lot more to Nazi Germany than just our shorthand characterization of “the worst people ever”. They were, yes. But they had to get that way—a sophisticated, modern nation collapsed into Hell in just a decade. It happened for thoroughly human reasons, and there has never been a guarantee that it would never happen again. Much of the same psychology that turned Germans into Nazis turned geeks to Gamergate.

Gamergate is now a part of geek culture, and of our cultural legacy. We need to know that it is not unique, that it is working through a playbook that’s been handed down many times before. When we can follow those plays, we can keep ourselves—and our friends—from being sucked in.

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Anti-Bullying @ Comic Con

comic conSo one day shortly after San Diego Comic Con, I was reading CNN (what else is new) and loling at their failure to grasp the concept of cosplay when I found an article on an anti-bullying panel at the convention.

Many prominent sci-fi female voices were involved with the panel and the Girl Scouts was one of the sponsors. I personally think it’s great the women had such a presence at this panel. I know that the guys aren’t immune from being bullied by other people, but nowadays the girls are getting bullied by non-nerds for being nerds and the male nerds who don’t think the girls are actually nerds. We’ve had a plethora of posts on this blog (here’s one and here’s another one), so I’m really not going to go in depth into the issue.

The point is it’s something that needs to be addressed and talked about. The more people who pretend that bullying, both from non-nerds and nerds alike, isn’t happening, the more people are suffering. And unfortunately we have people killing themselves. A high school junior in my town just did so, and from what I’ve learned about her through mutual acquaintances she was just a bullied nerd. All it takes to save a life is the right person saying the right thing at the right time. I don’t know the correct who, what, or when, but if we all sit quietly and say nothing then no one is going to get the help they need. By creating a discussion, we can let people who face bullying know that they shouldn’t be ashamed to be who they are and that the way they are being treated is wrong.

Wow, I didn’t realize how deep I was going to get in that last paragraph. Anyway, if you’re interested in how the actual panel went, take a look at the video below!

Adventures in Geekdom or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Comics

xkcd knows what’s up.

In my fifteen or so years of participation in geekdom, I’ve learned that there are two universal truths.

1. There are infinite shades of nerdity on the geek spectrum.
2. There are many people out there who still don’t get it.

Being a nerd was always part of my core identity, though I took pride in calling myself a “nerd” over “geek.” Geeks were socially awkward, not smart, like me (doesn’t that sentence just radiate hypocrisy?). I prided myself on being some kind of upper echelon of social outcast, defining myself through criticizing others. It didn’t matter that I never actually envisioned who that social outcast was who sat on the lower rung of the social ladder. I wasn’t like “those” weirdos, whoever they were.

So it really wasn’t a surprise when similar feelings resurfaced when I was invited to go check out Free Comic Book Day.

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To This Day Project: Joining The Fight Against Bullying

Why else would we still be here?

Why else would we still be here?

Whoever coined the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” was both a liar and was giving bullies bad ideas. Bullying is a sad subject. But sometimes we must look at the sad things in order to improve our own outlook and to help improve others. Do you remember being bullied? I certainly do. Few people can say they were never teased or hurt by their peers, even if it was not extreme.

Nerds, geeks, freaks, LGBT, disabled, and so many others who are considered “abnormal” (by bullies whose opinions shouldn’t matter) are subject to cutting words and physical violence. Poet Shane Koyczan was subjected to such treatment in school, along with some of his friends. He wrote a spoken word poem called “To This Day” along with creating an animated art project in order to spread the word on the harm bullying causes to children and the adults they will become. Continue reading

Is There Such a Thing as a Fake Nerd?

So while I was looking for fake nerdy curse words for a different (hopefully forthcoming) post, I stumbled upon fake nerds. According to Urban Dictionary, this is a fake nerd:

A Fake-Ass person who has seen shows like “Big Bang Theory” (or to a lesser extent “Twilight”) and have mixed in the Modern Hipster culture and styles of wearing Fake “Ray-Bans” and 80’s style clothes. They have played some kind of Popular video game such as “Call of Duty, Madden/Fifa or a singing/music game” and think that they are also “Gamers” They claim they are nerdy because they they do these things or Hang out with similarly minded individuals. They are completely fake because they have no real sense of what a nerd is. They are also the same people who make fun of people for playing Xbox or PS3 too much, or play World Of Warcraft in their spare time. Real Nerds are disgusted by the way posers, pretend to be like them.

Here are my feels on the above sentiment. I don’t feel it’s my place to judge how big of a nerd someone is. You put me next to certain people and I’m sure that I come across as completely un-nerdy. Put me next to others and I’m the biggest nerd on the planet. It’s all relative and it’s all subjective.

And the other thing. I don’t think you reach some certain, exact, precise point that makes you a nerd. It’s not like gaining a level in a video game. There is no specific rite of passage to becoming a nerd; no line between total nerd and not-a-total-nerd. That’s mainly because there are so many aspects of being a nerd that you can never master them all.

But the thing is, even according to the above definition, there is appreciation for being a nerd. And personally, that’s all I’m looking for in a friend. And I will never ever call someone out for being a “fake nerd.”

Where does nerd-dom become “main stream”?

Before I can describe the story that led me to write this post, I need to explain one of my friends (who is my inspiration today). When I say she is the farthest thing from nerd one has ever seen, I am not joking. She wants to go into marketing to sell fragrances and is a “fashionista” of sorts. She is very much like Rarity from My Little Pony, and I’m being quite serious. So when I say she is not a nerd, she is not a nerd.

So here is our Lady Bacula story:

The other day, she sends me a text: “have you seen the Avengers yet?” I laugh, saying “Yes, but I’ll see it again with you.” So a couple days later, we meet up to go see MIB3 and we start talking about The Avengers movie. She explains that she wants to see it because she is a huge Joss Whedon fan (aren’t we all). And my other friend suggests she should watch Firefly. She gets excited, saying it was on her list of things to watch. Later in the conversation, we get into a heated debate about who is hotter: Sam or Dean from Supernatural. And then it hits me: The Avengers, Firefly, and Supernatural are all nerd things, yet my farthest-thing-from-nerd friend is a fan of/interested in all three. So have these nerd things become main stream or can a person be fan of all three and not be a nerd?

Let’s be realistic, The Avengers and Harry Potter movies are some of the largest grossing movies of all time at this point. The Lord of the Rings too; and even my parents watch Game of Thrones (although they refer to it as LoTR with porn). Nerds love these things, but so did/does everyone else. But is that because everyone is secretly a nerd or the things we consider nerdy aren’t actually nerdy. So I don’t know.

Maybe the thing that makes nerds into nerds and other people just other people who occasionally like nerd things is that we nerds have our own unique culture. We spend insane amounts of time on the Internet watching, reading, and learning about things we the nerds classify as nerdy. We interact with one another, but through computers, Facebook, and other blogs like this one. We aren’t sitting down together on national holidays for a nice dinner. We don’t all get together and celebrate nerd holidays (or maybe you do. In that case, you should invite me so this point can be proven moot). There is no national holiday for nerds. I guess the point I’m trying to make (and I took the long way, sorry) is that I don’t know if nerd-dom is a culture. Wikipedia defines culture as the distinct ways that people living in different parts of the world classified and represented their experiences, and acted creatively. My point is that we are still all on different paths. So how many paths can one be on at once?

I think my main point of this article is what makes a nerd a nerd? There are different kinds of nerds, you got your video game nerds, your scifi nerds, your superwholockians, your Harry Potter fans, your MLP fans, and I’m probably missing a lot. But where do we cross the line? Are fashonistas just fashion nerds with a fancy name? Probably. A wonk is just a different fancy name for political nerds. But fashion and politics aren’t nerdy, yet they have their nerds. So what makes something nerdy? Clearly, nerd interests are just for nerds anymore either. So to conclude, I’m more confused now.