Reflecting on Nerd Culture
Friday, May 30, 2014
Is discussing a persistent global horror, violence against women, appropriate in the wake of one angry lunatic's rampage? Absolutely wrote actor, writer, and former Jeopardy champion Arthur Chu, in the Daily Beast. Yes, Roger was mentally ill, but his illness expressed itself in a particular way against a particular group. Brooke talks with Chu about what’s revealed by the subculture in which he was active and the wider culture in which we all live.
Arthur Chu: Elliot Rodger was a regular poster on a forum called PUAHate. PUA stands for pick up artist. It's a service like teaching you how to make money from home, teaching you how to sell cars. But they apply principles like that to how to get women - ranging from common sense stuff like dress better and work out and look better to creepy stuff. How to manipulate women, how to pressure women or bully women, isolating women from their friends. And PUAHate is another level of this where there's guys who have paid lots and lots of money for the seminars and the books and it still doesn't work. And now they're left with even more resentment. Elliott Rodger was part of a subculture, and he didn't make up any of the things he said in that video. He was quoting, almost verbatim, concepts repeated again and again. As a guy who was introverted and isolated a lot in school, who’s had a lot of the same issues that Rodger complains about, I've found myself thinking the same way. I've heard guys saying similar things. They don't take it as far as mass murder, but this sense of resentment and entitlement towards women is everywhere.
Brooke Gladstone: Let's move from this particularly virulent subculture, and talk about how broader cultural tropes actually resonate with this. You reference Saved by the Bell and Steve Urkel, along with The Big Bang Theory, Niles on Fraiser and so on.
Arthur Chu: Steve Urkel’s whole character was developed because he's the guy who has this hopeless crush on a girl. The Big Bang Theory, to its credit, is better than that. Leonard and Penny are not like Steve and Laura on Family Matters, but if Steve Urkel were real, he would be a criminal. Breaking into someone's house, harassing someone, standing outside their window, and these are sorts of things that all actually happen to real people. If you follow #YesAllWomen on Twitter, you hear all these stories from women about guys who literally do these things. They don't see themselves as the bad guy because, to themselves, they're the victim. That's why I singled out "nerds." I'm not talking about liking science fiction or liking comic books. I'm talking about the sense of I'm the victim. And anyone who contributes to that sense of loneliness and exclusion is a victimizer.
Brooke Gladstone: You mention, in particular, Revenge of the Nerds.
Arthur Chu: Revenge of the Nerds is an old movie. The 1980's, its long enough ago that we can see there was some messed up stuff. These films that, at the time, were considered hilarious, entertaining, fun movies. Revenge of the Nerds uses the bed trick which involves a guy sleeping with another guy's girlfriend in disguise, which meets the definition of rape. You know, this idea that I can have sex with a woman so well without her consent that she'll retroactively consent. That's not a cool message. I'm not saying I have no sympathy. I was one of those guys. Being a lonely guy sucks. Being lonely sucks. But the real problem isn't that we have stories from a perspective of a lonely guy that wants love and affection, but that men and women mostly see stories about how hard it is to be a man and looking for love, and the woman's role is to provide that. So that's just a conversation that we need to have. I don't want it to be about me and these assertions that I made. People say, What's your evidence? I don't have the evidence. I'm telling you what these women have been sharing for days since Memorial Day weekend on Twitter, and in blog posts, and articles, and you can go read them. If another man needs to be the one to tell you to read them for you to feel like you need to hear these stories, that's kind of messed up, but I'll do it, if that's what it takes.
Brooke Gladstone: But as you mentioned, Revenge of the Nerds was 30 years ago. Is there anything to suggest that these attitudes are current in the same way?
Arthur Chu: A lot of it is couched in satire and irony. I'm not saying we have to take all satire literally. But “Get me a sandwich” is a meme on the internet that's a joke that people say dismissively. When a woman says something, “Shut up, go get me a sandwich.” Because you think, well no one's really in an abusive relationship like that anymore. I can joke about it. It's not a big deal. On Gawker, Adrianne Chen recently unleashed this tornado of controversy because he outed the anonymity of the guy who founded CreepShots, which is a subreddit about surreptitiously taking pictures of women without their consent. And then people saying no, actually these guys are the underdogs. These guys are introverts who are scared to approach women so this is how they appreciate women. Over and over again, men painting themselves as the ones who are being wronged here. Louis C.K., a while ago when there was this controversy about Daniel Tosh defending the idea that rape jokes are okay and that they shouldn't be censored, Louis C.K. listens to people, and his routine changes as a result. He did a routine about how scary it is for women to date men. Margaret Atwood said, “Men are afraid women will laugh at them. Women are afraid men will kill them.”
Brooke Gladstone: One of the commenters on your article pointed out that what you're really saying isn't just about nerd culture but also jock culture. So is this narrative that you describe really indicative of how society defines masculinity more broadly?
Arthur Chu: Oh, absolutely. I'm not singling out nerd culture because I think that we're worse than other guys. I'm singling it out because I am in that culture. If anything is worse it's the fact that we're not all self aware about it. It would be one thing if Elliot Rodger just said I just hate women and I want to kill them, but that he had this cloak of self pity over all of it, and yeah he was crazy, but when a crazy person shoots up a synagogue, we don't say he was just crazy and there's no reason to implicate anti-semitism in it. He found the target that he did because of the culture that he was in. Most guys aren't going to take a gun and shoot a bunch of random strangers, but there's a lot of guys out there who commit sexual assault, there's a lot of guys out there who commit rape. It happens a lot. When you paint him as a monster and an anomaly and you say his madness has nothing to do with any of the rest of us -- and I've literally had guys say, misogyny is not an ideology, misogyny is not a specific thing, what Elliot Rodger did has absolutely nothing to do with any of the other bad things that happen to women in the world -- then you destroy the point of even talking about it in the first place. The only reason to talk about tragedy, unless you are someone who knows someone who died and you are mourning them, the only reason for you and me to be talking about it is to try and prevent bad things from happening in the future.
Arthur Chu is an actor and writer. His piece in The Daily Beast is called "Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds.