Why do nerds bully nerds?

With flame suit intact, Simon wants to have a little rant...

I don’t usually do this on this site, but it seems to have become a growing problem, or at least one I’ve seen more evidence of. So I’m going to step onto my soapbox for a minute. There are lots of other things on the site to read if this isn’t for you, so no hard feelings either way.

Everyone else? Let me step into my flame suit, while you grab yourself a coffee.

Basically, then, I read a Tweet last month. A simple Tweet that has been festering in my head ever since. I don’t want to quote the source directly, lest I bring more scorn on the person who said it. But the key quote is this: “some of the nerds have turned into the bullies they used to despise”.

Why is that?

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Appreciating that the definition of nerd, or geek, has generally broadened over the years, there’s always nonetheless been ridicule from a select few who don’t share the passion of something. Certainly in my school playground, you were allowed to talk about Star Wars, but woe betide you if you enthused about Doctor Who or Star Trek, or anything of that ilk. If you were lucky, you were just laughed at. If you were unlucky? Worse.

The thing is, most people who are geeky about things have encountered some kind of resistance. A horrible number have been bullied for it. Just for having the temerity to like something, and care about it, and be able to go on about it in some depth. To have a passion for something that’s just to the side of mainstream. Something that’s entirely legal, but just not might be to the taste of most.

When did that become a bad thing? Why is that fuel for someone to make someone’s life a misery?

Fortunately, geeks have always had geeks. We’ve been able to nerd out with people, to share our enthusiasms and passions, and to be unified by subjects that we actually cared about. I’ve always loved that. I’m no Star Trek addict, but I’ve always loved that conventions have brought people together, to share in their love of the show. I love that the culture is such that these gatherings are far more commonplace and accessible than ever before. That people can actually celebrate and enthuse in public about what they like, without fear of taking shit for it.

But in recent times, there’s an edge of nastiness creeping into geekdom. It might always have been there, to be fair. Fortunately, it’s still very much on the fringes, but I suspect that the Internet, and perhaps sites like this, haven’t really helped.

We’re lucky at Den Of Geek that the people who comment on our articles are a mix of constructive, funny, interesting or supportive people. That accounts for 99.99% of the feedback we get, whether you love what we do, or think we’re blathering incompetents.

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Yet there’s still the odd person here, as there are on pretty much every other site, who go personal. At times, really personal. Who sneer at one person liking a show that they don’t. Who go beyond a gentle pulling of a leg over someone’s love of Twilight, and turn it into a nasty crusade. They try and lessen someone as a human being for daring to like something they don’t.

To be clear: I’m not advocating a molly-coddled world. If you want to give someone shit for liking Doctor Who, Twilight, Star Trek or whatever, do it. Of course you should do it. But do it with a sense of fun, rather than turning it into a personal crusade against someone who likes something that doesn’t do it for you. Heck, I don’t like soap operas (used to, just got bored), but that doesn’t mean I think everyone who does deserves abuse.

What’s more, I’d hate for comments sections of websites like this to not have sparks, debate and wild disagreements. Isn’t that part of the fun? If there’s a flaw in an argument, or you think someone has lost their mind, then join in. But again, there’s a clear, common sense line: when people are picked on, on a personal level, that’s really something else. Saying “I think you haven’t got a clue what you’re talking about?” and giving your opinion, that’s fine and dandy. Hurling nasty abuse because you disagree with an article? Please. Come on. Enough now.

The worst recent example, of course, was the first reviewer on Rotten Tomatoes who happened to not love The Avengers (again, I’m not putting a direct link in by choice, for the same reason as above). She liked it, but didn’t go head over heels for it.

And what happened? The vitriol aimed at her was shameful. Just shameful. The amount of debate about her review? Minimal. The personal, nasty, bullying comments, for daring not to like a film as much as anyone else? Plentiful, sadly. A disgrace. A hateful, nasty disgrace.

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This isn’t, for me, what geekdom should be about. Heck, it’s not what human beings should be about, but that’s a fight well out of our hands. But I’d wager that the vast bulk of nerds and geeks, particularly of an older vintage before, have been on the receiving end of nastiness for their views about films, TV shows, comics and such like. That some of them should then be dishing it out, having gone through it, should make them hang their heads in shame.

I spent too many of my years being bullied, and convincing myself that I was a lesser person, just because I didn’t listen to the same music as everyone else, watch the same films, and had to wear glasses. And it’s taken a long, long time to get myself to a point where I can brush most of it off. Nobody ever gets perfect at that, I’ve learned.

It’s a horrible place to be, not thinking that you fit in, and feeling that you can’t honestly talk about the things you like, because you’ll get sneered at for them. It’s lonely, and it hurts. I don’t want to go back there, and the emergence of geek culture into the mainstream has meant things really have moved on. Thank goodness for that.

But still: human beings have a horrible habit of being able to physically and verbally kick the shit out of each other, and the usually welcoming world of geekdom has some people who, it seems, take pleasure in that.

I say shame on them.

I appreciate nobody’s perfect – I’m certainly not – and I appreciate that some things come across in unintended ways (I’m certain I’ve pissed people off in the past, but I can at least say I never went out of my way to be hurtful). There are grey areas. But those who deliberately go out of their way to attack people based on their entirely legal likes? They make me sick to my stomach. And I don’t think any of us should tolerate it, geeks or not.

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I’ll go back to writing about Batman now, if it’s all the same. Thansk for indulging me. Feel free to tear me to bits in the comments. It’s a good flame suit I’m wearing.