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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.)