Friday, March 4, 2011

On Nerd Rage



This is my favorite scene from "Ratatouille".  In it, restaurant critic Anton Ego has just eaten a life-changing meal that causes him to re-think some of his core beliefs about art, and specifically about art criticism.  He realizes that all of the negative criticism in the world is worth less than even a weak piece of art.  Basically, creation is more valuable than negativity.

This scene keeps popping back into my mind as I ponder the topic of nerd rage.

If you've never encountered nerd rage, I will direct you to where you can find it:

Step 1: Think of a nerdy topic (like comic books)
Step 2: Google that topic, and find a web site that focuses on it (for comics, newsarama.com and comicbookresources.com are good examples)
Step 3: Find that website's message board
Step 4: Read from a few topics on said message board.

Here is what you will find- the things that the nerds are posting are almost universally negative.  What's more, they aren't constructively critical, oh no.  They are vicious, cruel and sometimes, racist and homophobic critiques of a piece. You may think that that sort of Internet vitriol is reserved for 16 year olds who spend hours on end pwning newbs in games like "Call of Duty."  Au contraire. Internet nerd message boards are equally wretched hives of scum and villainy.

Where does this rage come from? Well despite the idea of "geek chic" wherein it is believed that nerds have gained unprecedented  levels of social acceptance, we're still pretty put-upon as a group.  People still tend to use the word "nerd" as an insult.  Most nerds grow up with at least a tiny chip on their shoulder from years of noogies and teasing.  I understand that.  I lived that.  I have that chip on my shoulder too.

I also think that there's an extent to which some nerds pick one thing (like the original Star Trek for example) and then decide on some subconscious level that nothing will ever be as good as that one thing.  They spend the rest of their lives loving that thing while putting down everything else that comes along.

Also, the Internet has allowed us all to be critics.  I can post all about things I love and hate all over the Internet.  And people will read it!  What's more, I can post something really vicious and face no repercussions because the Internet allows me to have a veil of anonymity.  This means that people can let the worst parts of their id run wild.

And finally, being a douche bag can make you feel really powerful.  When you dismiss a piece of art, belittle it, tease it, make fun of it's mom, you are saying "You are beneath me, piece of art." By demonstrating that you can tear something down, you are demonstrating that you have power over it.

It boggles my mind.  I call myself a nerd because I love nerd things.  I love Star Trek. I love a Song of Ice and Fire.  I love Firefly. I love improv.  There are certainly nerd things I hate (like Star Trek Voyager) but I'd rather spend my time and energy in a positive way- talking about the things I love rather than tearing down what I hate. Or even better? I'd rather spend my time building things.  I'm a performer, and (kind of) a writer, and I'd rather make my own nerd art than tear down someone else's.  I am strong not because of my anger, and biting tongue. I am strong because I make.  I am a participant in the fundamental act of creation.

So what am I getting at here? If you hate something? It's fine. Talk about it in a constructive, civil way.  But don't spend all of your time and energy being a critic.  Be positive as often as you can.  Even better?  Go make something.  Write, act, dance, film, cook, I don't care what you do to build, just do it.

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