Don’t Be That Guy: A PSA

Fandom, as a general rule, is a wonderful thing. It’s genuinely inspiring to see people united across lines of race, class, nationality, religion, politics, what have you in shared appreciation of a work. This isn’t to say that fandom will bring about world peace or that fen are some sort of super-race destined to rule over inferior mortals; fen are people, and like actuaries, lawyers, or forester, there are good fen and bad fen [1].

There is, for instance, a certain subclass of fan I will call That Guy. I’m not thinking of any one person when I talk about That Guy; rather, he’s a collection of bad fannish behaviors that I have ascribed to a fictitious character. Don’t take offence to any of this; we all need to work on this shit.
That Guy can be of any race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, class, or age. However, That Guy is usually white, male, cisgendered, heterosexual, upper-middle-class, and somewhere between his late ‘teens and mid-thirties. That Guy’s religion is more variable, but he’s usually an atheist, agnostic, or Christian. Politically, That Guy is like as not a Libertarian, conservative, or independent [2].

That Guy is a fan, really a fan. You may be a fan of Princess Knight Advanced, you may have seen all 1054 episodes and the OVA and the movies and played through all eight of the video games, even the one that never got released Stateside and ignored everything after Season 3 despite being produced after the anime ended so what the fuck, you may have cosplayed as Makoto and the Dimension Order with your friends, but you’ll never be as big a fan as That Guy. Have you seen the episodes in un-subtitled Japanese? Have you read the manga—which never got a legit English translation and is hard to come by even on the scanlation sites? Have you read this eight-year-old doujinshi you never even heard of before That Guy entered the conversation? Have you seen this unauthorized hentai? No? Then you’re not a real fan—unlike That Guy, who’s done all of the above, and so is a superior fan to you.

That Guy is always right—That Guy must always be right, about everything. Even if you’re arguing over a matter of opinion, even if you’re backed up by facts, That Guy is right. That Guy will never admit that he’s wrong, because That Guy is right. That Guy can never be wrong; That Guy is possessed of some magical property—it goes unspoken that this is a penis and/or a low melanin count[3]—that makes him correct in all discussions.

When you tell That Guy you want to get into comics, That Guy will immediately express interest. That Guy will provide you with a list of “comics you must read,” which will translate to comics That Guy likes. The majority of Frank Miller’s oeuvre will appear on That Guy’s list, as will The Killing Joke. These will be underlined, circled, highlighted, and have “MUST READ!!!” appended to their titles in emphatic red handwriting. The list will be somewhat deficient on female creators, creators of color, European creators, newspaper strips, and manga that doesn’t involve absurd amounts of fanservice. If you find yourself disliking the comics on the list and communicate this dislike to That Guy, That Guy will become petulant and fall into a deep sulk.

That Guy has an anime girl Twitter avatar or banner. That Guy will defend Game of Thrones‘ use of rape as a necessary element, because Game of Thrones is Gritty and Realistic and Historically Accurate, and Gritty, Historically-Accurate Realism demands that Women be Punished, because Medieval life was brutal, especially if you were a female [4].

That Guy has very definite opinions about Star Trek and Star Wars. That Guy disdains the reboots or the prequels. That Guy’s natural reaction to any change in the status quo of media which he grew up with is a defensive overreaction and petulant sulk.

That Guy’s favourite franchises are those he grew up with. That Guy feels a great attachment to these, and while it’s all well and good to feel so, That Guy’s attachment is proprietary, as if he and he alone has exclusive rights to these franchises. That Guy takes any changes as a personal insult.

That Guy has almost certainly said that JJ Abrams, Michael Bay, or George Lucas “ruined his childhood”. This may not be the case; he may have said that one of the above raped it.

That Guy has unironically used the word “SJW”.

Bringing up Robotech around That Guy will occasion a correction to “Macross” and a rant about how that money-grubbing bastich Carl Macek forever despoiled the purity of anime and Macross in particular by grafting two other shows and presenting that as a cohesive work. [5]

That Guy believes it really is about ethics in games journalism.

That Guy loves Darker and Edgier takes on things, especially if those things are things he grew up watching and loving. If you don’t love Darker and Edgier takes on things, you’re not a real fan.

That Guy prefers Batman to Superman, because Superman is lame and only works if he’s grim and morally ambiguous.

That Guy’s favourite comics writer is Mark Millar.

That Guy is obsessed with who is and is not a “real fan” to the point of absurdity. [6]

“Well, actually…” is That Guy’s catchphrase.

That Guy has described The Big Bang Theory as “blackface for nerds”.

That Guy is trapped in the friendzone. That Guy is obsessed with getting out of the friendzone.

That Guy is a plague on nerd culture. I welcome the day when he is a minority of a minority, when he realizes that he’s a minority of a minority.

Yet even I can’t deny the appeal of being That Guy. It feels really good to be right about something, to be so utterly convinced of the rectitude of your opinions as to be unimpeachable. It feels really good to be right when others are wrong. And, now that “nerd culture”—whatever that means—is “mainstream”—whatever that means—it seems like more and more people have the opportunity to be wrong.

That, I think, sums up That Guy’s raison d’etre: Nerdy things are mainstream now; the San Diego Comic-Con is entertainment journalism’s biggest week, video games are a forty-billion-dollar industry, superhero movies lead the box offices in summer, comics are literature and art, and everyone’s on the Internet. Scientists and engineers are our heroes; our new captains of industry are programmers. If I say I’m a fan of the Avengers, I’m not identifying myself as a devotee of some obscure comic book or British TV series but rather one of the most successful movies on the planet. Rocket Raccoon and Groot are household names. The President of the United States is a nerd. Everyone is a nerd. We won.

So why can’t we realize that? What is keeping the Those Guys of the world from magnanimity in victory—from realising that this is in fact a victory? Something’s holding us back from acceptance; what is it?

Maybe this reticence expressed as belligerence is just a natural consequence of nerd identity as it’s come to be here and now. To be a nerd, we tell ourselves, is to be an outcast, a Brainiac, more concerned with academic performance and popular culture than with social gatherings—to keep hold on childish things and latch onto adulthood, while skipping out on adolescence. Adolescence seems to be where nerds become, well, nerds, or rather where nerds differentiate ourselves from “mundanes”. Before about late elementary or middle school, kids don’t divide themselves based upon interests. Everyone watches cartoons; everyone plays Pokemon and Yu-Gi-Oh. It’s not like grade school is some egalitarian Wonderland where everyone is absolutely equal and judged on the content of their character and everyone skips around holding hands and this sentence is getting out of control. The nature of capitalism means that there are haves and have-nots, and this trickles down to children, however hard we may try to fight and conceal it. The sad truth is that some parents are better equipped to bend to their spawn’s will and eat at the same time. And kids are bound to notice this; that’s how advertising works—that’s how peer pressure works. And kids are inevitably going to differ physically and mentally: taller, shorter, larger, smaller, brighter, better-adjusted. And inevitably there’ll be that one weirdo who doesn’t fit in at all and was homeschooled from kindergarten through fourth grade and is just coasting on culture shock and who’s too tall and heavy and socially maladjusted or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway! The lower grades aren’t without their divisions and cliques, but it tends not to involve the harsh segregation by interest that crops up in adolescence. But when it does crop up, and it does, it’s as though the guardians of the secondary-education hierarchy are midwifing nerds and nerd culture. All of a sudden, it’s uncool to like comic books or play video games that aren’t brown-and-grey cover-based military shooters—and to be uncool is the kiss of death for a teenager. The centre of nerd identity is a rebellion against the things our peers and elders consider uncool; nerds are bad at sports, so it becomes imperative to dislike and disdain sports and scorn those who play sports—and since those who do play sports well hold a position akin to godhead in the secondary-education hierarchy, disliking sports turns from a matter of personal taste to the nucleus of a rebellion against the established order, something close to a revolutionary ideology. It’s uncool to be smart or to give a shit about your grades; nerds aren’t just smart, we often fetishize intellect, advanced degrees, Ivy League (or Public Ivy) educations, Knowledge Bowl first prizes, the trivia and ephemera of popular culture. To be a nerd in high school is to be part of an elite federation of underdogs, outcasts and square pegs who have turned that squareness into a badge of honour. Those who don’t fit in can form a clique just as tight-knit as the football team or cheer squad, just as deep a bond as any Fellowship of Athletes for Christ. We nerds—geeks, dorks, pencilnecks, dweebs—take pride in that federation, in being other, marked for some greater destiny.

And that, Charlie Brown, is the Fundamental Truth of Nerd Culture. We’ve gotten so used to seeing ourselves as the losers and outcasts—Clark Kent, Peter Parker, the X-Men, Casper Milquetoast—that when we become the winners, the kings of the hill, it throws our carefully constructed nerd shells out of whack. It’s almost as though we’re sore winners, overcompensating for a lifetime of perceived humiliation by elaborately denying our victories and at the same time vocally defending all aspects of the lifestyle we created as a defence mechanism or strategy, however ill-equipped they may be for any society that isn’t high school.

I was about to start this paragraph with something along the lines of “just because nerds have won,” and then stopped myself. Nerds have won, and it’s high time we started acting like it. This doesn’t mean that we should stop correcting wrong people or loving what we love—some That Guy-like behaviour is tolerable on the one hand, while the other would be to give up on nerd nature as we know it. I think, though, that nerd culture could stand to lose a lot of the bullshit that it’s built up over the years. Less gatekeeping would be nice. So would the assumption that any woman who’s a) more than moderately conventionally attractive and b) into anything in the remit of “nerd culture” is a poseur, only doing it for the nookie. More than anything else, though, I’d like this whole antagonistic attitude to disappear or at least to diminish.

I love nerds. I love comics. I love science fiction. I love fantasy. I love science. I love politics, hard as that can be. I love Star Trek. I love Star Wars. And yet I don’t love the sum total of these things—that vast and contradictory beast we call “nerd culture.” I think I would like it a bit more if it weren’t so negative, so fractious. At the very least, I think that we would all be better off if the Those Guys of the world went the way of the dodo.

[1] “Fen” is an uncommon plural of fan.
[2] Broadly speaking, and it goes without saying that many share these traits and aren’t That Guy. Equally, I imagine that there some Those Guys/Gals who are people of color, or LGBT, or older, or liberals—or, y’know, women.
[3] (See above)
[4] That Guy uses “female” as a noun. No-one has pointed out to That Guy that this makes him sound like a Ferengi.
[5] I always wonder how fans of Genesis Climber MOESPADA and Superdimensional Cavalry Southern Cross feel about Robotech, since so much of the conversation surrounding Robotech and its component shows seems to revolve around Macross.
[6] This is something I Do Not Get. If you’re a fan, you’re a fan, and nobody can tell you any differently. Why do people insist that there’s a litmus test for fandom, some universal standard for determining who’s a True Fan? Inevitably there will be people who maybe like a few parts of a work but don’t have the time or resources—or don’t care enough—to take a deep dive into the morass of continuity and backstory. Getting entirely “caught up” on serial works of art can mean reading through as much as seventy or eighty years of story, some of which is legally or economically inaccessible, and not all of it matters. Reboots exacerbate the latter problem—hell, they create it. Which isn’t to say that the deep dives and those who take them shouldn’t be recognized. Rather, they shouldn’t be considered the norm or the expectation for “real fans”; instead, they’re one end of a spectrum.

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About docmagnus

I write things and draw things. Sometimes I do both at the same time. Sometimes I put what I wrote and drew on the Internet for people to see.

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