The Problem with “True Fans”

The Problem with “True Fans”

Lauren Fairweather did an awesome vlog on this same subject!
Check it out here.

Once, I wore a “Vulcan Girls Do It With Logic” shirt to the dining hall on campus and was subjected to a quiz on Star Trek: The Original Series minutiae by the woman swiping our IDs at the front counter. When she found out that I was a fan of the new movie but hadn’t seen much of the classic stuff, she looked satisfied and haughty. “I knew you weren’t a Trekkie,” she said as she ran my card.

My post explaining our choice to go with the movie’s blue and silver for Ravenclaw colors, rather than the books’ blue and bronze, was greeted with a lot of superior, snarky comments, including one in which I was told that I “wasn’t Ravenclaw enough” if I didn’t favor blue and bronze.

Our Game of Thrones parody comments are peppered with judgments passed on people who “claim” to be Game of Thrones fans, but don’t read the books. These kinds of comments are also common in fandoms like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Lord of the Rings, and dozens more book-turned-movie phenomena.

And if I dare to mention that I love Portal, I am often questioned about other games and ultimately determined to be “not a real gamer,” despite having never referred to myself as one.

What do all of these stories have in common? They’re all perfect examples of nerd-on-nerd elitism.For a long time, I was an elitist, too. It wasn’t until I put some serious thought into what I was doing and saying that I realized that I was being judgmental, unfair, and often downright mean.

Nerd Cred Quizzing
Most of the stories I hear about this are from women, who are a demographic that a lot of nerddom inexplicably rejects, but that’s a blog post for another day. Regardless, this can happen to anyone. Have you ever worn a referential shirt and been “tested” by a stranger on whether or not you know enough about the subject matter to be “allowed” to wear it? Have you ever mentioned being interested in something and received a barrage of questions to ensure that you’re interested enough? And God forbid you cosplay a character whose Wikipedia page you can’t recite from memory!

There are two big problems with Nerd Cred Quizzing. The first, and smaller, problem is this: people have different strengths and ways of expressing their love for media. I have a good memory for quotes and small facts, but my boyfriend loves Firefly and has seen it multiple times and still has trouble remembering character names. Does that make him less of a Firefly fan than me? Some people act as though you can’t be a comics fan unless you own every existing comic in a certain storyline, but not everyone can afford to buy that many comics, or even has easy access to a library. On top of that, not everyone grows up with Doctor Who on TV, or even knows that certain comics or book series or movies exist until they learn about them somehow. Is it so-and-so’s fault that they only learned about Doctor Who yesterday and haven’t had time to watch every episode of the longest running science fiction show in history yet?

But the biggest problem isn’t about how others’ judgment is incomplete; it’s about how they’re judging at all. It is none of their business how much a stranger does or doesn’t know about any given media. The decision of whether or not they are a “true fan” is not in their hands. Who made them the nerd police? Before you give a snarky answer: no one did. They have no power and they have no right to judge. If I say I love Star Wars and I’ve only seen the new movies and have never felt inclined to pick up a book or watch the first three, that is the way I am choosing to enjoy that media, and it does not affect you. How does it hurt you that I’m not watching Star Wars the same way you do? Why is your way the best way?

Next time you want to administer a Nerd Cred Quiz, check yourself. If you forget what language Wookiees speak, do you deserve to be rejected and told that you don’t really love Star Wars? Of course not. Then why do you hold others to the same standard?

And as for this “read the books!!” thing, don’t even get me started. There are a million and a half reasons someone might not want to read the books that accompany a show or movie that they like. Maybe they’re dyslexic and reading is hella difficult for them. Maybe they don’t like the writing style in the books (*cough* Game of Thrones *cough*). Maybe they work forty plus hours a week and have a family to take care of at home and don’t have time for hours of reading. Maybe they just don’t like reading at all. These people are under no obligation to satisfy anyone else’s criteria for “true fandom.”

Segmentation and Alienation
The traditional story of the nerd or geek is that of passion and excitement that others don’t understand or accept. Joe-Bob here loves this science fiction series, but the jocks at his school don’t think that’s cool enough, so they beat him up and vandalize his locker. And yet somehow, when we, as nerds, encounter other nerds, there are huge numbers of us who will immediately go on the defensive. Oh yeah, you’re a nerd? Really? I don’t trust you. I don’t like you. You’re not nerdy enough. You’re too nerdy. You’re nerdy in the wrong way.

We embody a group of people who have been alienated, victimized, and categorized by society as it is. Why on earth do we want to force that same fate onto others of our kind? If anything, we should band together and support each other more. We deserve a community.

Sometimes it can be hard to accept that other people don’t do things the same way you do. I love the Harry Potter books, and my natural inclination is to recommend that anyone who hasn’t read them gives them a try. And that’s fine. But the minute I start classifying “book fans” as better than “movie fans,” the minute I start insisting that someone read the books in order to qualify in my head as a real nerd, that’s when I’ve gone from a friendly geek with a book rec to a judgmental asshole with delusions of grandeur.

Never assume you know someone else’s life, or thoughts, or feelings. Never shame people for being passionate about something in whatever manner they choose to do it. Treat other geeks the way you’d want to be treated, and we can be a big, beautiful community and have a million friends and all be better for it and run hand-in-hand through a flowery meadow.

So say we all. (I’ve only seen two episodes of BSG.)

About Ginny

Ginny doesn't see the point of anything but cats. She hopes to someday become inflammable. She has a PhD in Horribleness. Her recently overused word is "WOWIE" (usually in caps).


  1. I agree with you in every word (even the part of the GoT books, I’ve found Martin’s writing to be somewhat tedious at many parts, and I realised I was reading the books -I stopped at the 2nd- because of the fandom).

    This issue is something I ponder once in a while, but never got to fully understand (about myself and others), and your entry puts into words many thoughts I couldn’t translate.

    I’ve been a massive Harry Potter fan (the only thing I feel safe enough to call myself a fan of) for the past 12 years, and have just today -thanks to LeakyCon- found about you guys! (you are awesome by the way).

  2. Kindness goes both ways. We can be kind to others who participate in Fandoms differently than we do, but we can also humor those who get snarky when people don’t live up to their level of nerdiness.

    Like you said, “Never assume you know someone else’s life, or thoughts, or feelings.” Maybe some people get reactive and rude because something like a silly book or TV show is sacred to them and they are afraid that it is being trivialized by someone to whom it means little or nothing (which, of course, isn’t true). Maybe they behave that way because they want you to sense that it’s not just a thing to them. It’s a life style…it’s almost like a religion to them (not everyone, but it seems that way to some).

    That is no excuse for anyone to be rude or snarky or to make someone feel bad, but like I said, compassion goes both ways. The smarter person must be the kind one. If you are the huge fan who is annoyed with someone who doesn’t seem to be taking your fandom seriously, Resist the urge to “quiz.” Have fun with the people who think like you, but be kind to the people who don’t.

    If you happened to get quizzed by a so-called “real” fan, and they judge you and claim you are unworthy to wear that t-shirt or whatever, be the smarter person and humor them. You’re not likely to change their minds anymore than they are likely to change yours. Be the bigger person and let them think that they are “superior” because maybe they need that. Maybe that fandom is all they have.

    True, some people are just jerks, but that’s their problem, not yours.

    It’s never personal. It is the universal need to be a part of something special. Special, by definition is exclusive. Fandoms will never harmonious…in fact, they probably won’t even agree to disagree. Why? Because fandoms are full of passionate, obsessive, crazy people who love their…THING with reckless abandon.

    There will be civil wars fought over the correct way to love the THING (mostly online, but still…WAR).
    It’s silly, ridiculous, and utterly pointless, but what fandom isn’t?

    I should note, however, that it should NEVER lead to personal attack and demeaning behavior. That is called bullying, and that is never okay.

    • I don’t know that I agree that “humoring” people who are being hurtful is the best idea. I understand where you’re coming from, but I’ve never been a “turn the other cheek” kind of person. I think reacting like that to cruelty is what allows some people to spend their whole lives being hurtful to people and never being stopped or questioned.

      Where you draw the line on what is and isn’t bullying is an important aspect of this, because you seem to think that “nerd cred quizzing” *isn’t* a personal attack or demeaning behavior, and I think it’s both.

  3. There are two related things that I have frankly never understood.

    First, the idea that you have to have a certain amount of “cred” to be a real geek. That concept is frankly bizarre.

    And the second is the idea that anybody would ever look down on someone who shared a love of the same things they did. If someone is new to something…come, let me corrupt you. If someone is more dedicated than I am…I applaud their passion, even if I don’t have the inclination or time to get that involved.

    And honestly…everybody has different passions. I’ve seen virtually every Doctor Who that can be seen, going back to “Unearthly Child” and I’ve never watched a single episode of “Game of Thrones;” I’ve watched every episode of the original Star Trek multiple times, and have never seen Star Trek DS9 or Enterprise; I’ve watched the Original Star Wars at least 30 times, and have never seen Clone Wars. Do I have “cred?”

    As a final comment…I do want to give a shout-out to those who clearly have “cred” especially:
    – Felicia Day, for tweeting about how the ending of “The Last of Us” was still haunting her two days later. (It was a ~20 hour game, that had come out 3 days earlier.)
    – The cast of “Red Dwarf” for coming one question away from beating their fans in a trivia contest.
    – Any random people who make a popular Youtube channel with Dr. Who and Harry Potter song parodies.

  4. I think part of the problem is differing ideas of what makes a “true” fan or a “true” nerd.

    I started reading before I started walking, so if I read the book of something first, that is usually what I’ll go with. If a movie/TV series is my first encounter with the fandom that started with a comic or a book, I will look at the original material as well, and go with whichever one(s) I ultimately like the most, even if that is not the original.

    Unfortunately, this attitude is enough to get me labeled as not being a “true” fan of the media by some extremists, who seem to think that the only REAL nerds/fans are the ones who can quote every aspect of the fandom forward, backward and sideways.

    There is a similar issue with the Harry Potter fans, where I can tell you every detail of the first five books and most of the Sixth, but thought that book 7 was rushed and a bit disjointed at times, and I paid little to no attention to the interviews, and wish that we had seen a bit more development in the ‘Canon’ relationships, though the romance was never a big thing for me.
    I made the mistake of voicing these opinions in a discussion group.

    Two of the other participants shrugged and said it was cool to have different opinions to keep debates going.
    The rest started muttering about disgruntled shippers, even though I had said that I had no problem with the relationships other than their development, and ignored me with varying degrees of politeness for the rest of the night.

    On a different note, perceived rejection can sometimes come in the form of misunderstanding.
    I enjoy debating literature a lot, and can usually go into a lot of detail. Newcomers to the fandom can find that intimidating, or feel insecure if I mention something they don’t know about. (Perils of reading the Silmarillion at 13)
    This is in no way intentional on my part, merely the result of enthusiasm, but I can see how others might see it as elitism

    Perhaps we should all just try to practice tolerance?

  5. How have I only found this now?

    I get your point about people who have read the books thinking they are better but have you considered the flip side?

    I love reading, I’ll happily read for hours. Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, LOTR etc and I love reading about the trivia. So guess where I’m not geeky enough. I seriously can’t watch TV or films!

    I have tried but it’s like asking a dog to sing opera, impossible! I love the concept of Doctor Who but I can only watch it once every so often. I love Star wars but I haven’t seen any of the films since 3 came out.

    I can compare trivia with the best of them but just because I haven’t seen the show I am ridiculed. So it works both ways really.

    But you know what, I am not going to let anyone put me down for the way I enjoy doing things! Geek and proud and if it isn’t good enough for someone else, they know where the door is as far as I’m concerned!

    Rant over. Over and out!

    • Oh yes, I didn’t mean to imply that it only worked one direction. It’s just FAR more rare for “true fan” elitists to trash non-viewers than non-readers.

  6. Fantastic article and I agree in every way… though I admit I’m a bit of a book snob and probably always will be. I don’t think TV/Movie fans are inferior but I think so much gets lost from book to TV/Movie that I’ll always push books. It;s interesting because I’m young enough to have never really worried about geek being BAD, it was weird as I was growing up. But by the time I really settled myself it was fairly ok, I’m not much younger than you Ginny so I’m sure you’ve seen the shift too. I mean I still get weird looks and confused questions but hey, there are millions like me. So I shouldn’t logically feel the need to protect my interests from former bullies but I do get the righteous fury when it comes to conventions, PAX specifically. I’ve been at PAX and actually heard people sneer “look at all these nerds” while they were on the CON FLOOR and it’s a major buzz kill. I get pissed and start thinking “how can we make it so that only true geeks come to these things?”. But then I sit down in line and meet a million awesome people and have to remind myself that the assholes are the minority.

  7. I think a big reason this happens actually comes from the fact that we are outcasts and being a nerd is starting to become mainstream. We’re starting to get defensive because we’re seeing the people who mocked us for our likes are starting to like those things too. It’s putting us on guard about who is a real nerd because we don’t want to have to include those who didn’t want to include us. But it’s now become so bad that we’re excluding our own. And it’s worst for girls since this group tends to be more male dominated and so they are even more wary. And if you’re uncommonly good looking you’re completely screwed because than many girls won’t defend you. My bff is gorgeous. And a complete nerd. The treatment she gets can be completely disgusting.

    • I think you’ve got a lot of this spot on. Not only do we have problems with geek girls for no reason but we’re a community that used to be fairly small and easy to identify. Geeks/Nerds were the persecuted kind who, if you were wearing a Starfleet-related shirt the odds were a safe bet you knew it all because you were marking yourself for bullies. Nowadays? Everything and anyone is capable of being a geek and not be in danger… at least not from traditional targeting. We’re a community who has no way of readily identifying its members, I mean the guy with the mass effect shirt on may still sneer at you and walk away for being too nerdy or he may be exactly as “much a nerd” as you want. I think the loud parts of our community are trying to defend themselves from that loss of perceived cohesion. Not that I think it’s remotely acceptable

  8. Thank you!

  9. Very well said. Trying to exclude anyone because they don’t pass some nerd test is a pointless and destructive exercise. For me at least, half the fun of loving something nerdy is sharing it with other people.

    I’ve been introducing a friend to Doctor Who, amongst other things, and at Calgary Expo she was bouncing off the walls because she got to meet John Barrowman while volunteering. I came very close to saying “Hey now, I’ve been a Barrowman fan for seven years, you’ve only known who he is for a month,” but caught myself in time and stopped, because why the hell should that matter? The point is she’s a fan of his NOW, and it’s not my place to quantify that.

    Because not only is it wrong and bullying to hold people up to some sort of imaginary fandom standard, but it’s self-destructive as well. It’s way less satisfying to say “You haven’t seen Genesis of the Daleks? You’re not a real fan” than it is to say “You haven’t seen Genesis of the Daleks? Do you want to? It’s great! I’ve got it on DVD, come over!” And if they say no, hey, that’s cool too.

  10. Can you post this on tumblr again? I want to reblog (help spread NL + share this) but the link was broken on the one from before :)

  11. Thank you! Thank you! Thank you thank you thank you thank you!

  12. Your line about Doctor Who got me thinking about the rush of defensiveness I feel sometimes, now that the show is so popular, since I remember watching it as a kid. (Ironically, I’ve been considering myself “old school” and awesome for having watched starting at Doctor #6, when that’s missing massive amounts of Who history.) It made me think about that feeling – where does it come from? What gives rise to the “need” to quickly let everyone in the conversation know that I’ve been watching longer than they have?

    It made me realize that it’s not about getting them to measure up; it’s about making sure that they don’t. :( It’s this ugly feeling that wants to tell them, “I’m different-er than you are.” There’s this weird thing about being nerdy: I have always felt like a bit of an outsider, and I’ve wanted to fit in with others when it comes to things that are already popular and mainstream. But when it comes to the things that I got teased for in childhood, or sometimes just nerdy things that seem to fall into the same category, I ended up clamping my fingers around them really tight, deciding that they were what made me unique and special. When they get popular, I stop feeling special, and I scramble to reassert myself.

    Thank you for helping me to think through this. While it’s a sad, insecure place to be, hopefully recognizing it is the first step?

    • All I can say is your post was painful and true, and spot-on. Especially the comments about deciding to make those things we cared about but were teased about as children, core parts of our identity.

    • Everything you said was insightful and thoughtful, and it is a journey that I myself went on (and in some ways am still on.) There are a lot of things I say and do that I still have to force myself to stop and reconsider why I feel the way I feel, whether or not it’s fair to treat other people the way I’m treating them, etc. It requires constant thought and care to be the kindest person you can be, and it’s RIDICULOUSLY hard. No wonder nobody does it!

  13. Spot on, Ms Ginny.

    I will confess to a certain abount of geeky nerdiness… but I decline to participate in displays of dick-waving-nerd-up-manship. It’s unseemly. And it’s REALLY dickish to pull on novices.

    And Artists, Actors, Publishers, and most especially WRITERS really really HATE THIS BULLS**T. They want their work to be exposed to the largest delighted audience possible. When self-appointed “True Nerds” (assholes) chase off eager, but nervous novices, out of fandom, they are LITERALLY TAKING MONEY FROM CREATORS’ POCKETS. They’d MUCH rather NOT have you frak with their livelihood.

    Wanna help, you dicks? DON’T RUTTIN’ HELP.

    DAMN STRAIGHT the Force is strong with This One. Now where the gorram hell’s my Spice coffee? I need to fold space and peek into the timey-wimey.

  14. Thank you sooo much for writing this!!! :D

  15. Yes finally I’m dixlex and if I ever say I didn’t read the books or can’t remember a small fact people just gove me a look and say I’m not a real fan but it’s not true it’s just hard to remember sometimes

  16. Interesting article. You’re completely right; there’s no excuse for making someone feel bad about themselves or their ideas. We’ve all done it by accident at some point, but it takes a real hypocrite not to recognize that and apologize. At the end of the day it’s the person with the prejudice who ends up looking like an idiot. Long story short: I agree, and kudos for saying it.

  17. I think your article was fantastic!I admit I’ve used Nerd Quizzing in the past, although it was always to find out what the other person hasn’t seen so I could introduce them to it. I’ll keep this in mind when talking to others to watch myself so that I never get down on someone else just because their not into something the way I am. I look forward to reading more from you and I love your videos!

  18. Preach it, Ginny!

    While you’re fessing up to not having watched much BSG or older Trek, here’s my truth…

    I’m not shipper. When I read stories or watch shows/movies, I always accept the pairings that the authors give me and never give any thoughts to alternate couples. Heck, I never even cared if Mulder and Scully got together or if Xena and Gabrielle were a couple, I was content to enjoy the story as presented. But you know what, that hasn’t stopped me from enjoying your “I Ship It” video one bit. And the reason for that is simple…

    I love anyone who feels passionately about fiction.

    It doesn’t even matter to me if I’m familiar with the characters that someone else ships. I love it anytime someone loves a story so much that they become invested in the lives of their favorite characters. So when I hear stories about some elitist schmuck shaming someone because they don’t measure up to some arbitrary standard of fandom, I just want to smack that idiot upside the head with a bag of hammers.

    A person’s fandom is whatever they want it to be and anyone who believes otherwise is betraying the ideals that our fiction teaches us to strive for. Would Kirk or Spock be disrespectful to someone who wasn’t familiar with Starfleet? Would Harry, Ron, or Hermione be rude to a Muggle? Would Sherlock be a jerk to…. well ok, he would, but that’s not the point.


  19. *clap**clap*

    • It’s all about having fun some people forget that, So what if your tie is the wrong colour or you are wearing the wrong insignia – If you had fun, had a good day – its good.

      (PS. I am from the UK that is how we spell colour ;-) )

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