In this world filled with offended people making life miserable for the rest of us, I want to take a moment or two here just to point out something that we’re not talking a lot about. People keep picking on geeks on TV…
I’ve seen people on reality television shows fairly openly mocked for their very real geekiness. For example, on quiz shows you’ll frequently see the hosts talking to the contestants about their lives and interests, I happened to catch an episode of Family Fortunes in which Vernon Kay was mocking a clearly uncomfortable man for being a fan of comics. Why? Is this still secondary school and you feel uncomfortable for being 6’7″ and have to pick on someone else to make life easier?
At my first convention I went to a panel that was split in two, I remember next to nothing about the first half (no offence to the woman but the second half was more memorable) but the second half revolved around retelling this article, for those of you too wrapped up in the ordeals of life to click the link, it was a fashion show hosted by Gok Wan that took this incredibly geeky woman who was suffering with depression, and raised her spirits and gave her both a new look, and a new outlook. Then on the final edit she was made out to be indoorsy because she was a geek, and not because she was dealing with hardship.
The Big Bang Theory very rapidly became insulting. The first few seasons were great, understanding full well that we are people with our strengths and our foibles as much as any other, and while the foibles they picked on were stereotypical – shy, awkward, anxious and even a little socially backwards – we were offered a comedy opposite, Penny, who was strong, sociable and confident but utterly dimwitted.
All very well and good to begin with, and there was plenty of humour that reached out to nerds, jokes that we enjoyed more than most would have done. As the series rolled by however, there began a shift, and it came with an analogue in Amy Farrah-Fowler. Oddly I like Amy, she was an excellent character, almost a perfect mirror to Sheldon but suitably different that she was distinctly her, and her character development showed a natural development from socially awkward to a slow increase in enjoyment for life of social engagement and time spent in the company of friends.
What I found most unpleasant was the idea that she seemed somehow “fixed”. As she began to normalise, Sheldon’s abnormalities deepened, she took to social drinking and nights out, and despaired as her boyfriend grew more inflexible, antisocial and aloof, despite the fact that she was the one who had changed. Worse still, in later seasons she seemed to be “fixing” him in some romanticised way that made the steps towards societal normality seem the ideal scenario.
Ok, coming down a second, let me compare that to something like the I.T. Crowd. I’m not big into the I.T. Crowd, but the comedy throughout the series remains a smooth combination of mockery and affection, with Moss especially serving as the caricature of geeks, then counterposed by the utter ridiculousness of the people upstairs, made more surreal and less human than the awkward tech-wizzes from the basement.
A quick nod as well to How I Met Your Mother, which commonly reflected the nerdier aspects of its cast of characters, obsessed with Star Wars, overjoyed by the most geeky things, and each with their own singular obsession. And I can’t finish this section without commenting on Community. Just watch it, it flies the flag for every kind of geek there is.
So What Do We Do?
I’m just going to get down from the soapbox and put it away for a bit, because it’s not the answer. We can’t demand that people stop making jokes because frankly offensive jokes are funny, it’d be hypocritical to enjoy them if we’re just going to ban them, and it’s joyless idiocy to just ban them for everyone because we’re annoyed.
I took a quote attributed to Gandhi to heart many years ago: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Let’s face it, if we were out to be taken seriously we wouldn’t wear t-shirts emblazoned with cartoons, comic book heroes and jokes that only we get, so getting serious is not an option. We can only be as we are, fun, awesome, and happier to be alive than most people, and that’s what we should strive towards and continue to be. I’m offended by nerd shaming, but rather than write to the people who do it and tell them they’re wrong, it’s up to us to prove them such.
Shoulder the burden on this one folks, it’s on us to be the better people because frankly we already are. Yes I’m riding the geek superiority train on this one, most of us are smart and talented people with an excellent ethic for life and work that has helped create the technological wonders that mark the age, why would I not feel proud to call myself a geek?
The century belongs to us my friends (oh the cliché), and one day this mockery will be considered satirical. Let them laugh for now, while we seize the world from under them with a smile on our faces and a latex sword in our hand.