Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Monday, June 24, 2013

This is Why We Can't Have Nerd Things

As you may have noticed, I've changed the name of the blog from "Notes from the Geek Show" to "Notes from New Sodom." Why? Because of shit like this. As of today, I'm officially done with geekdom, the entire notion of it and the way it enables cuntfuckers.

Harsh words? Maybe. Bear with me.

Truth be told, I was always playing more on the carnival sideshow sense of the term anyway, the geek as the guy who bites the heads off chickens and snakes; but as a writer in the field of strange fictions, obviously I'd expect readers to take it in the more common sense too, to see me as happily nailing my colours to the mast on the side of the kids who got picked last for sports. Readers taking it that way would not have been hugely in the wrong. Not any more though. I'm gone, man, solid gone. My Star Wars toys are a fond memory of yesteryear, I never gave a shit about gadgets, and if my pop-cultural tastes fit the bill, well so do fucking everyone's these days. And I'm not going to class myself as a geek if that sends a message--as sadly I think it does--that I'm proud to be seen as passionate in such interests to the extent of boorishness.

See, as far as I'm concerned the word geek has always meant a "socially inept" person, right? Specifically one whose ineptitude is linked to their being "a person with an eccentric devotion to a particular interest"? That's the dictionary definition on my laptop's inbuilt dictionary, and it seems fair to me. An online dictionary applies it to "a digital-technology expert or enthusiast," but it also specifies an "excessive enthusiasm"; it's not just enthusiasm that makes a geek, but the obsessive enthusiasm that renders one "peculiar or otherwise dislikable," the detail-fixated obliviousness to all else whereby one is "perceived to be overly intellectual."

I find that perfectly recogniseable, and I'm perfectly happy to say that I was a teenage geek, and that it sucked, and that I understand why some would seek to reclaim that label, wear it as a badge of honour. While many who've experienced this or that other form of prejudice might be inclined to roll their eyes at people who got bullied just for being dorks, actually I think the element of anti-intellectualism in teenage geekbaiting comes from heteronormativity, is essentially a mode of misogyny and homophobia, a peer group's punitive mechanism for enforcing conventional standards of femininity and masculinity. So I'm not out to dismiss the shit you went through in high school because you were obsessing over [insert heteronormatively non-sanctioned leisure activity here] instead of [insert heteronormatively sanctioned leisure activity here.]

And as one still prone to the odd hyper-enthused babble, I could theoretically still wear that geek label in a wry acknowledgement that I'm still passionate to a fault at times, as a mea culpa: yeah, when it comes to [insert domain of interest here], I'm a total geek. Meaning I'm liable to go off on an excited blather at any given opportunity. But this use of geek is actually the self-deprecating forewarning and standing apologia of the ex-geek. It's where you get to when you leave high school and you find yourself no longer among a bunch of adolescent wanks trying desperately to somehow simultaneously fit in with everyone else and look cooler than everyone else, but rather among... you know... adults.

College mates and work colleagues and others who actually tolerate your eccentricities--might even be charmed by your enthusiasms--whose nod-and-smile glazed eyes serve as a polite sign that though they're not shoving your head down the toilet maybe they're not wholly on the same page with you over the fucktardery of the Von Daniken hokum rendering Prometheus the worst movie ever. What I mean is, a whole bunch of geeks over the years have grown the fuck up and decided to own their tendency to rant and rave. And in the era of video games, and the Hollywood schlockbuster, and everything that Simon Pegg ever did, they've found that, golly gosh gee whizz, popular culture is actually popular (go figure!) so if they just exercise a modicum of social awareness, in part by acknowledging a tendency to excess, then they're not likely to get wedgied for talking about Game of Thrones at the water cooler.

Still, if these ex-geeks are achieving social fluency precisely by admitting their own quirks, that doesn't magically change the reality of what it is to be a geek in the core sense of the term: socially inept; excessively enthusiastic; eccentrically devoted to an interest; dislikeable on that basis; cerebral at the expense of social fluency. The ex-geeks are not geeks. They're cool kids, if not hipsters then at least hip. They're freaks in the counterculture sense, confident individualists with their own thing. They become bohos, or entrepeneurs, or just that person everybody likes because they're endearingly goofy in their childlike joy, capable of talking for hours on a pet subject but without being a know-it-all asshat or an oblivious boor about it. They make the best movies, indie or Hollywood. They make the best art or tech. They make the best stuff, period. And so, over the last few decades we've got to thinking, hey, those adorkable goofballs are actually way cooler than the posturing adolescents who were top of the pecking order in high school, or their pseudo-adult analogues on the celeb circuit.

And so we end up with Geek Pride, in which the term geek is not worn as a wry acknowledgement of one's foibles but as a badge of honour: yeah, I'm a True Believer in [insert domain of interest here] and that's cool now, so STFU. As I say, I'm not one to downplay the adolescent peer group pecking order's geekbaiting, and I'm all for telling motherfuckers to go fuck themselves. Here's me reaching out to the bullied, telling them to do just that, to hang on for fucking grim fucking life and use every ounce of defiance they've got. But you know what? Over the last few weeks I've seen a half dozen things that rammed it down my throat how that geek identity has become, as far as I'm concerned, a crock of shit.

That's to say, for all the ex-geeks who've achieved social fluency in recognising what it really means to be a geek and learning to rein that enthusiasm in here, unleash it there, who've learned how to apply it and actually gain a listener's interest rather than alienate it, who've won their way to a mature confidence where they don't need to over-compensate with factoid one-upmanship and snipewankery... for every one of those, it seems the culture is spawning a score of social fucktards for whom the identity is accepted precisely to justify the continuance of their maladjustment.

I'll remind you here, that's the meaning of the word: socially inept; excessively enthusiastic; eccentrically devoted to an interest; dislikeable on that basis; cerebral at the expense of social fluency. At the core of the geek is the socially inept dork; the dork is not by definition a dweeb, but can become a dweeb in so far as they become overly studious, devoted to cerebral interests; the dweeb is not by definition a geek, but can become a geek in so far as they achieve a confidence in knowledge (from being a dweeb) which overrides insecurity (from being a dork,) toggle inhibitions off (being a dork,) and hey presto, you have the dislikeable excess of enthusiasm--which is to say, you have a breach of Grice's Maxims of Quantity and Relation.

This is hardly a controversial characterisation of what it is to be a geek. It's the dictionary definition. You can identify as a geek solely on the basis that you jones over finding out via Twitter on your iPhone that the guy who played Sherlock is in the new Star Trek movie--don't let me stop you--but all that's doing is eliding the definitive attribute of inadvertently flouting Grice's Maxims. Or indeed concertedly flouting Grice's Maxims, as the logical reaction if one doesn't get that one has breached Grice's Maxims is to resent the animosity engendered as unfair and, in bitter hauteur, take it as sign of your correctitude being begrudged by the dumb know-nothing--which is how you end up with the geek doubled-down into arrant boor.

Logical is not automatic, to be clear; the geek need not project outwards, but the one who doesn't can only place the fault in themself and, by owning it, become an ex-geek; rather than learning social fluency, they may retreat back into the chronic interiority of the dweeb as a way to not risk a breach, but that's still a path out of geekdom. So to persist in geekdom, there's not much option but to spin the inevitable backlash when you flout Grice's Maxims as petty spite. Or perhaps to obliviate it entirely from your nous, which, in the lack of consideration, has the same end result of boorishness. All the more so if it's self-justified as manifesting correctitude.

As far as I'm concerned now, for those not owning their social obliviousness, geek as a badge of honour is about eliding that key trait precisely in order to maintain the superiority complex that puffs up a weak ego. As a mode of insecurity, it's something I'll cut the geek a fair bit of slack for. It's tedious, but I know what it is to be the social outcast with little else to cling to. Been there, done that, and it took a death in the family to sideswipe me out of the mindset with the demolition of all meaning. I'm a cold analyst with shit like this, in terms of cutting to the heart of how things work, but I'm not interested in blaming and shaming.

But in geekdom this self-justification also becomes fucking toxic as a means to a further end. Geeks engaging with each other have always already accepted a protocol of engagement in which flouting Grice's Maxims is par for the course, in which another's correctitude can't be dismissed as irrelevant without undermining one's own self worth. And that makes for subcultures in which the mechanism for status jockeying is as inbuilt as it is in sports, every interaction an opportunity to assert greater correctitude, every dweeb too considerate to stand up to your boorishness a weaker intellect to be trolled or pwned. And hey, there's those tools of misogyny, racism and homophobia, right there at hand to assist you in riding roughshod over respectful discourse, swaggering your correctitude over "fake geek girls" and those whose political "agendas" mislead them into "incorrect" criticism.

It's not a matter, I'm saying, of a natural proportion of douchebags emerging in these subcultures as one would expect in any social group. I'm saying the essence of what it is to be a geek makes for a propensity toward the strategic use of boorishness in order to snipe and outright bully. I'm saying the entire notion of geekdom born in the mutual affirmation that we, the poor downtrodden misfits, are actually just victims of envious persecution for being smarter is also a mutual obliviation of the limits of reasonable discourse. I'm saying it implicitly asserts unreasonable discourse to be reasonable, establishes it, in fact, as a legitimate mode of aggression, and thereby enables craven cuntfuckery of the worst order.

Tracing it back to the first disjunction, it's all too possible to see the teenage geek as wholly a victim, their dorkishness a product of an initial rejection--for being fat or skinny or whatever--rather than vice versa. And again, I think heteronormativity plays a large part in singling out the "girly" boys and the "boyish" girls. But as one grows into adult identity, being queer--whether in terms of sexuality or simply gender-prescribed behaviour--doesn't mean being locked in that bitter victimhood. And it certainly doesn't mean buying into a sleight of hand where one claims one's identity is simply a mode of queerness (as in any argument that a geek need not be socially inept, that it's really just a matter of non-sanctioned interests,) but adopts the labelling for the dysfunction beaten into you as a way to piggyback a vindication of cuntfuckery on a vindication of queerness. Especially when the outcome of this affirmation of Geek Pride is to enable the even more concerted persecution of that very mode of queerness in your heteronormative misogyny at "fake geek girls."

Increasingly, even the idea that it's about non-sanctioned interests is, for the straight white males who most jump at the chance to claim a victim status otherwise denied them, increasingly bogus. The reshaping of pop culture by ex-geeks and the extension of adolescence by my generation establishes a neat situation where the most ubiquitous leisure activities don't remotely invoke the disdain of one's peers but nonetheless confer the geek status that excuses boorishness. So the lardass sofa jock can devote himself to Call of Duty and Twitter trolling from his iDoohickey, which is a whole lot easier than the physical exercise of sports and a whole lot safer than the face-to-face bullying of the schoolyard. So the petulant manchildren can game the legacy of the time before the shift and pretend that being a consumer of the most pervasive cultural products is some sort of problematic deviance rather than utterly normative, the actual problem being simply that they grew up in a culture where the easiest way to be a cuntfucker was to log onto a forum like everyone else.

If you think you qualify as (gender-prescribed-behavioural) queer, and you're blithely wearing the label that asserts the right to be not just a dork turned inward to dweeb, but one who justifies breach of Grice's Maxims by dint of intellectual superiority to the "mundanes," you're sorely mistaken. With all the dweebs and ex-geeks wearing the badge, and plenty of geeks whose boorishness is mild, I'm not damning all and sundry as cuntfuckers, note. I am however saying that you're expressing a solidarity that's actually consolidated around the big problem in all these communities of enthusiasts. And I'm not willing to give that solidarity, not any more, not in the face of shit like this.

I dare say the cuntfuckers are right in one respect, if one cleaves to the strict definition as I'm doing here. A lot of those "fake geek girls" may in fact be dweebs or ex-geeks, vastly more passionate about and knowledgeable of their interest than the geeks who fit the boor criteria are, but also, facing misogynist shit like theirs every day of their lives, vastly less armoured by the straight white male presumption of correctitude, forced to constantly assess their own impact on others because it gets rammed down their throats every minute of the day by cuntfuckers.

I can appreciate, in the intersection with dork and fan, why the dweebs and the ex-geeks would fight for the label of geek, because the cuntfuckers are, even as they insist on their own victimhood, dismissing all the shit suffered by others and actively seeking to exclude them from fan communities; and if you've swallowed the idea that geek is already shorn of its core sense of social dysfunction, or is at least moving that way in the discourse, then absolutely you're going to call the cuntfuckers on their bullshit that you can't be a true geek because you're patently not a whiny entitled tool, nursing your alienation on a diet of bitter self-valorisation. Sadly, I don't see that fight as winnable. From a brief flourishing over the last decade or so in which the ex-geek ownership of the term pushed it in the direction of adorkably enthusiastic, I reckon the ugliest aspect of geekdom has come surging forward to wear it as a craven excuse for the willful disregard of Grice's Maxims. And carried by the solidarity in this legitimising of boorishness, of full-on snipewank and bullying, the worst of the cuntfuckers are enabled ultimately to push that as far as it goes, into profoundly misogynistic creepery and outright sociopathic rape threats.

This is why we can't have nerd things. This is why I'm done with geekdom, am officially, from here on in, an ex-geek. I'm sure I'll be no less of a dork here, or dweeb there, and I'm disavowing neither the passions nor the communities associated with them. But I have zero interest in presenting myself as geek where I think that wry acknowledgement of foibles I know when the fuck to rein in is going to play to a culture in which a willful disregard of the need to man the fuck up is excused even as the petty boorishness escalates to arrant cuntfuckery.



Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Note: this may well mean changing the URL. If you come looking for the blog via a bookmark or whatnot at some point down the line, it will be moved to

10:02 pm  
Blogger James Veitch said...

I have friends involved with AKon and no one mentioned this to me. I'm looking for verification.

On the other hand, I'm not comfortable with people even joking this.

3:37 am  
Blogger James Veitch said...

And it happened.

2:07 pm  
Blogger Hal Duncan said...

Yup. To be honest, given the news coverage as linked and elsewhere, if would have had to be one hell of a hoax not to have happened. And it would have been a successful one which sold those news sites on a story of an organised rape threat gang harassing female con-goers. Which in and of itself would constitute a sexually predatorial intimidation tactic applied to female attendees at future cons. That hoax, I mean, would have been working to the exact same ends as the actual Twitter trolling; it would just be all future female congoers they'd be subjecting to the threat of their "gropecrew" rather than this year's Akon attendees.

7:13 pm  

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