Wednesday, November 3, 2010

An obsession with unpopularity that is, frankly, a bit creepy

A few months ago, I picked up a copy of 2600. (Yes, an actual physical copy. Ironic, right?) I got it at Book People, if I recall correctly, and if you're ever in the Austin area looking for a cool bookstore, Book People is the place you want to be, I think. I could digress for paragraphs about why it is a cool place, but I think I will get to my point instead.

Anyway, it was a pretty neat issue, especially the article about hacking Bluetooth. There was another article, though, wherein the author just talked about how he was picked on in high school, and how now that he was a hacker, he was going to get back at all the people that had wronged him. And you know what? That article creeped me the hell out. Partly because the guy sounded like a total psychopath, but mostly because it crystallized my general unease with how easily geek culture has absorbed the Disneyfied high school narrative of geeks getting picked on. Hold up, that deserves some explanation.

An Aside on my Longstanding Objections to the Generic Disney Channel High School

Have you ever noticed how far divorced the Disney channel is from reality, when it comes to high school? I don't just mean the liberties that they've had to take to fit various shows into a TV format; I mean the fact that what they portray as high school is completely and tragically divorced from reality. I'm mostly referring to the concept of well-defined and insular cliques, and the social structure that implies - the rest of how they portray high school is equally messed-up, but tangential to my actual point. They've created this parallel universe that's sort of like high school, and they apply it so consistently to all their shows that I actually wonder sometimes if there's another country where school actually is like that, and all their writers just happen to be from that country. Then I realize that it's much more likely that all their writers grew up watching movies like Animal House and Revenge of the Nerds, and thought they were hilarious, and are unconsciously trying to emulate a parody. BUT WHATEVER.

So back on topic:

What is it with geeks and this particular kind of martyrdom?

Another example: various slashdot comments which have creeped me out in the same way. (Entirely too lazy to find links.) You will, with alarming frequency, find comments on "geeky" news sites where people assert that geeks are driven toward technology because they're picked on and unpopular with their peers. There are also plenty of creepy misogynistic comments about women only wanting "bad boys", at the expense of geeks, who are the "nice guys"; another narrative that falls more in line with the Disneyfied high school than any real one. I don't know where all this is coming from, but it worries me.

Another example: The second episode of the third season of Leverage, a show that I otherwise admire entirely too much. The plot: the team has to con a software executive, and the only way to get inside his head is through high school, because he's totally obsessed with high school! Because he was picked on in high school, and now fantasizes about showing off to everybody how successful he is now! Because he's a Geek!

(The worst part is, it was otherwise a good episode, but I couldn't enjoy it because of my all-consuming rage at the blatant stereotyping going on >_>)

So, stereotypes I can understand. They happen all the time, and it's not exactly mysterious why they happen. What I can't understand, though, is why geek culture has adopted this particular stereotype.

Attention, geeks everywhere! The "high school martyr" trope is a bad thing, and kind of creepy when you pair it with "but I'll show them all!" later on! It might even be worse than the "geeks = autism" trope, so let's stop perpetuating it, k?


Frank Church said...

Why should I try to impress people who don't like me, or "show them" (whatever that means)? They don't care. Generally, I'm mostly trying to impress *myself* - which is futile, because of course I view myself as the average, the baseline.

Unpopularity - I guess I never thought too much about it in high school, maybe in part because our high school was so *big* - I probably did not know the majority of our graduating class. Show me a popular (or unpopular) person in a large high school and I'll show you a person who many (most?) folks don't know.

Also, I think a Daria tangent is coming on, but it's lunch and I have class in 35 minutes XD

Kiriska said...

I think the sad fact of it is that fiction and stereotyping is generally based in some truth. It's definitely over the top to say that nerds were ostracized and terrorized, but there do exist people that feel they were outcast by their peers and who feel some desire to "show them," not realizing that no one gives a shit.

For the most part, the separation of geekdom from the rest of society is a self-made divide that other people latch on to. Same with geeks = autistic = Asperger's. Grains of truth to explosion of broad generalizations. Should it stop? Probably. Will it? Nah. CREATURES OF HABIT. And the habit is already made.

tort said...

First off, it's obvious that you aren't a true geek if you had the audacity to make friends and ENJOY high school. Seriously, how dare you.

Dude, I completely agree with the your take on Disney's parallel universe! And the creepiest thing about it is that kids watch these shows and learn social cues from the interactions they portray. PEOPLE GROW UP THINKING THAT IS REAL LIFE. *shudder*