Tuesday, November 13, 2012

carrion, surrounding, picking on leaves (part I)

Near as I can figure, all the drama started here, with author Dirk Manning's afterthought of a Facebook meme post:

(from the media album; the teddy that roared)

Okay. On the face of it, purely as a rational notation: humor is variable. Some folks are offended by the same things that others find funny. I personally can't stand the "Scary Movie" style of cinema, in all its infinite, over-the-top parodying-the-parodies splendor; there are others who think they're the height of comedy, and joyfully lay down stacks of cash to own the DVDs and associated merchandise. There is cruel, biting humor out there. There are racist and sexist jokes clad in the thin veneer of 'hey, don't be so sensitive, we're just kidding'.

I get all that. It was a meme, he found it funny, he posted it, people got offended...I get how it worked, a to b to c.

That's not my issue.

My issue was in the comments, afterwards. In Mariah Huehner's open letter to Manning, she had this to say:
I'm disappointed to see you perpetuating the "Fake Geek/Nerd Girl" meme. Sure, it's a repost, but what we choose to share on our social platforms matters. You've endorsed the underlying sentiment of the meme, to the degree that you feel that women who aren't "real" nerds by your definition are "objectifying themselves", pandering to a lowest common denominator, and therefore it's okay to imply, based on how objectionable you find the word "whore" to be in this context, less-than for the sake of humor.
Now, in that entire article, she was disappointed; she was offering her (constructive) understanding of the situation; and she was pointing out the dangers inherent in holding to that position. To wit:
I'm sure it seems harmless and "fun" on the surface, but memes like this are indicative of a much larger and much more problematic attitude within geek culture. Namely: if we don't like how (specifically) a woman/girl identifies as a nerd, or displays their nerdery, based on rather arbitrary & subjective definitions of what being a "real nerd" is, we can label them a whore/slut/fake.
This is a real danger. While I do think much of our society has gone too far over the politically correct cliff, to avoid these potential problems by neutering all dialogue (thereby removing even polite possibilities to debate and dissent), at the same time we need to remain aware of what we're saying.

Another point from her response I want to raise:
What, exactly, is dressing "slutty"? Who defines that, you? Me? How does being a fashion model exclude someone from also being nerdy? Why is it different when a girl poses in a costume then when a guy does? How much cleavage is "too much"? Is being conventionally attractive enough to justify people being suspicious? How are these things mutually exclusive to being a nerd? What criteria must we meet to be a considered a "real" nerd? What are the parameters? Do I go by your definition of "slutty" and "pandering" or some other random internet poster? What about my own definition, does that not count? How long do I have to be a nerd in order to be a "real" one? What nerd activities must I participate in? Can I like Lord of the Rings and not Superman?
These are really, really good questions. I'm thinking that a debate based around these questions alone, let alone everything else she said, would have real merit for geek culture and understanding.

So what were the ragtag crew of geek men saying after Ms. Huehner's letter?

From "Anonymous" (AKA, coward who wasn't going to sign his real name):
Damn bitch, get over yourself you pretentious twat!
Gosh, how insightful.

From "Anonymous" again:
A couple months ago I was at a party where a very attractive (alternative) girl my friend just started dating noticed my Marvel shirt and said "Hey I like comics. I know more about comics than you". I didn't really respond, but a few minutes later she repeated her love for comics so I tried to start a conversation. It went nowhere. The girl didn't know much and rather was more interested in challenging my knowledge than having a discussion. The most intelligible thing she said was "I like Dark Horse" which actually doesn't even make sense since DH has no real brand identity. I brought up many titles across the spectrum of comics and the only she had any clue about was "The Goon" (which admittedly, I've never read).
This one still slays me. Breaking down exactly what he's saying:
  • He went to a party with an attractive girl his friend was dating.
  • She started to talk comics, and he got offended because she started to talk comics.
  • He questioned her for a short time and determined--based on her mentions of a) comics he'd never read and b) Dark Horse as a publisher--that she was stupid, and thus could be sneeringly dismissed.
I have to wonder if he went into the conversation to start with prepared to dismiss anything she knew because she was female, and thus, "not a geek".

From "Anonymous" again:
We're extremely protective of our territory, and yes, we do lash out at outsiders who want to assimilate, but that's because of the rise of nerd culture of the last decade. Is a problem? Sure. Is it sexist? Probably not.
Who declares who's an outsider? What are the rules? And he's saying this is "probably not" sexist? Really?

Maybe if he's speaking purely as a male, he might see this entire debate as not sexist...but then he's artificially restricting yourself to just men, like him, who identify themselves as geeks, with the same general subset of culturalization and skills, and deliberately excluding anyone who's not like him--which would include women, plus anyone who doesn't match his race, his religion, your sexuality, your personal likes and dislikes...How consummately boring that would be.

From yet another "Anonymous":
Again, noble you're standing up for women in comics, but really, you should be on "our" side defending the citadel from the barbarians that simply want to share in our glory.
And now we're barbarians. Well, I suppose it's a step up from "whores", but still.
(Now continued in part II.)

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