In recent days, the actor and comedian Leslie Jones has suffered a hateful media campaign in which constant racist threats and abuse were tossed at her. The campaign was, at least in part, tied to her role in the recent Ghostbusters reboot. These circumstances are new, but the story is familiar. Similar campaigns were run against Zoe Quinn, Anita Sarkeesian, Alison Rapp, and others. All were women who were working in media. All had words they said misconstrued to justify the hatred of those who abused them. They faced consequences that ranged from getting fired to having a swat team assault their home.
Is this what being a nerd means now?
Harassment, abuse, and rage? Are those actions that define a nerd? Is that what passion means? Does being a fan mean defending your narrow vision of your fandom at any cost? Do nerds not encourage conversation, but squelch it?
It was different for me. My nerdiness helped me face my problems and see goodness in myself. I have something like a learning disability. There is not a name for it and as time has gone on, it has gotten a lot easier to work with. However, my brain is, and probably always will be, a bit strange. The time I felt the most different was during middle school. While my friends and peers seemed to be doing fine, I struggled. My grades suffered. I felt alienated at school. I don’t say this to overemphasize my problems. All in all, I have lived a easy, happy, and fulfilling life. Currently, I am lucky to attend a great university with fantastic friends and peers. I will graduate debt-free through almost no action of my own. However in this time, I felt different. I felt alone.
Being a nerd gave me a place where I could be myself. It gave me a place where I was part of something bigger. I saw myself in heroes like Spider-man. A hero who was both a brave example and a total dweeb. He was always striving, but continually failing. In games like the Legend of Zelda, I found a space where I mattered. A space where even if I failed, I could get up and try again. As I grew up, I knew that I was not alone because of being a nerd. There were millions of people who loved the same things I did, who gathered to celebrate and discover them together. There were millions who felt the same way I did. There were millions who loved what they did and expressed that love. This sentiment is nicely summed up by John Green, “Nerds are allowed to love stuff, jump up and down in the chair, can’t control yourself, love it. When people call people nerds, mostly what they’re saying is ‘you like stuff.’ Which is just not a good insult at all. Like, ‘You are too enthusiastic about the miracle of human consciousness.'” By these words, being a nerd is defined by love.
The culture that I found in my teenage years doesn’t exist. It never did. It has been made more and more clear to me that nerd culture has never been tolerant. Problems of acceptance plague almost every facet of it. Many people have had to fight for inch of acceptance they gained. However, I can’t let go of my memories of the kid who was helped, uplifted, and empowered by not feeling alone.
In a our stupid world, in which so much is wrong, I want to believe that we can make our cultural conversation good for everyone. I want to believe that art can empower, embolden, and change us. I want to believe in criticism that starts conversations and leads to nuance and thought. I believe in a nerd culture that can be good for everyone in the way in was for me. I believe in a nerd culture where Leslie Jones, Anita Sarkeesian, Alison Rapp, Zoe Quinn, and the many others who have suffered harassment would be welcomed. I hope we have the courage to help make it happen.
Image Credits: Sony: http://www.ghostbusters.com/
MC Frontalot: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Op1i0B8-dJA