It’s a common assumption among nerds that nerds are just a little more intellectually evolved than other types of people. This is to say nothing disparaging of jocks or fashionistas or cowboys, nor to insinuate that these titles can’t overlap, but when your hobbies all include diving into science fiction, which typically examines philosophy and society by creating parables involving theoretical physics and futuristic technology, it’s hard for nerds to not occasionally feel intellectually superior. This hauteur should immediately dissipate upon the reading of any internet Nerd-Bro comments. You are probably already familiar with the Dude-Bro and the Bernie-Bro. Similar to these close relations, Nerd-Bros are overwhelmingly, though not necessarily, white men, who find it incredibly hard to acknowledge the simple facts that white men, as a group of people, are disproportionately represented in the media and inequitably positioned in society. Even if you’re not ready to accept these basic truths of life in the modern-day United States of America, the following is a list of comments that you should just stop making to help you fake it until you get it, and stop making nerds look bad in the meantime.
1. “You’re just a fat, gay, retarded bitch!”
To go ahead and get the obvious entry out of the way, there are some words you just shouldn’t use to refer to other people. “But my freedom of speech!” you cry indignantly. Don’t worry; your first amendment rights are still intact. Federal officers aren’t going to burst through your windows and arrest you because you were being a callous jackass. You’re free to use those words, but the point of this article is to make you think better of it, to beseech you to stop contributing to the societal degradation of women and people of color and the LGBTQ community. Side note: stop complaining about your freedom of speech in everyday conversations. Nothing indicates that you’re completely ignorant of everything you’re talking about faster than whining that some other commenter is stepping on your freedom of speech.
Insulting someone isn’t necessarily problematic; it’s only when you use words that are already steeped in social stigma that you’re playing dirty. Really, you’re just cheating. Using words that are so loaded with societal resentment and rejection, especially when there are no equivalent words to be used against you, is bringing a nuke to a knife fight. Obviously, words like n***** and f***** are so widely accepted as harmful that it’s just assumed that you won’t see them in their full form on prime time television or in movies without an R rating or in a random internet article. Using such words as an insult reinforces the societal narrative that gay people and people of color are lesser than the rest of society, that they’re not as deserving of full, rich lives. Similarly, using any form of the word gay to disparage something is reinforcing that same societal narrative. The same goes for the word retard; using it as an insult belittles the lives of millions of living, feeling human beings with developmental disabilities.
There are many words that can be used against women in the same way. Bitch may be the most common example. The word bitch carries with it the sexist connotation that women should be smiley and happy and subservient at all times. It’s why you’re currently seeing women fighting back against things like being told to smile by strangers. What may seem like a little, inconsequential thing to you has a very profound meaning for people who have to deal with sexism or racism or xenophobia on a daily basis. The word bitch is almost always applied to women in any position of authority in a derogatory way when they exhibit the same leadership qualities that are revered in men. Even if a man is called a jerk or cocky or a prick, there’s a subtle undertone of approval for his ability to lead, even if it’s at the expense of being an enjoyable person. The word bitch may just be a word, but it is loaded with the same cultural view of women that causes them to be interrupted and dismissed in academic and professional settings way more often than men.
On their journey to “enlightenment,” many white men, typically in their adolescence, have the brilliant epiphany that words are just words, that words are just random sounds that everyone has agreed upon to mean certain things and that those groupings of sounds have no intrinsic meaning outside of societal conditioning. This realization leads “enlightened” Bros to completely shirk any responsibility for anything they say. If what they say offends someone, it’s not their problem; it’s obviously the problem of the overly-sensitive offended party who isn’t brilliant enough to realize that words are just sounds. While this no doubt seems like a deep, deep revelation, it completely ignores thousands of years of cultural evolution and the fact that the entire worldview and reality of any given individual is entirely created and governed by the stories they’ve been told and the reality they’ve had described to them since the day they were born. Words have weight. Words have meaning. As any good storyteller will tell you, words shape reality. The reality of a word like n***** or f***** or c*** is that it’s not just the sound of the word itself that’s hurtful, it’s the fact that it succinctly brings to mind how little society thinks of the recipient of the insult. Those words bring to mind all of the violence and sexual assaults and murders with impunity that the recipients of those insults have to bear. Being called a prick may not be pleasant. It even evokes some specificity of sex, but it doesn’t carry the weight of societal oppression with it. It doesn’t conjure centuries of abuse and belittlement. Imagine if being called a prick also brought everyone you’ve ever loved that died of cancer to the forefront of your mind. That’s still not quite getting it, because cancer, although it is somewhat of a universal cause of grief and suffering, it’s an indifferent illness and not the direct action of other people. If you or anyone you’ve loved has ever been attacked or assaulted in any way, imagine that being called a prick not only reminded you of that incident, but that no one cared that it happened, no one was punished or even condemned for it. If you can imagine that, you may be close to surpassing your “enlightenment” and achieving some empathy with people who don’t share your exact cultural experience.
2. “I’m okay with (Select Group), as long as they don’t cram it in my face!”
This is a comment you’ll often see on stories about women or gay people or black people being cast in prominent roles in major nerd franchises. Most people who participate in modern society with any frequency know it’s not okay to be racist or sexist or homophobic or display any other kind of group-based hatefulness. This is why most of the time when someone is being racist, sexist, etc., it’s not overt or even intentional. It’s subconscious, subtle, accidental. It’s the same reason why people who aren’t actively looking for those things don’t see them. Similar comments cropped up when the Russo Brothers said that they would love to see an LGBT character in the MCU and again when the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story dropped with *gasp!* a woman in the lead role.
The reason these comments can be presented as being within the bounds of social acceptability is because the authors of these comments have no problem with “women” or “gays” “per se,” they just don’t want to see femininity or homosexuality “crammed down their throats.” What this translates to in real life is that these commenters don’t want prolific, accurate representations of a large portion of the actual population depicted in the media. The people who cry about two Star Wars movies in a row having a strong female lead are completely ignoring the fact that almost every other big budget blockbuster features a straight, white dude in the lead role. Not to mention that so many guys having such a big problem with a woman in one of the lead roles in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, a movie in which 78% of the dialogue is spoken by male characters, is a perfect microcosmic analogy of the whole of nerd movie fandom. The ability to see Hollywood as catering to the Politically Correct, while ignoring the overwhelming evidence of the dominance of straight, white males is the clearest example of confirmation bias you could ever ask for.
The thing these commenters don’t realize is that the fact that they see the default setting of humanity as heterosexual white male is racist, sexist, and homophobic as f***. They never once complain about how heterosexuality, whiteness, or masculinity is crammed down audiences’ throats, despite the fact that a vast majority of media is created by straight, white men representing straight, white men. If anything is being crammed down anyone’s throat, it’s straight white maleness. Most lead characters in Hollywood (especially big budget movies) are straight, white men. Most directors in Hollywood are straight, white men. This is why Steven Spielberg alone has more Academy Awards for best director than every woman in the world combined. So does Clint Eastwood, Ang Lee, Alejandro Inarritu, Oliver Stone, and over a dozen other men.
“But Mexicans won that award the last three years and before that it was a Chinese guy!” you cry indignantly. First off, Ang Lee is from Taiwan. Secondly, no one is saying that women or people of color aren’t represented at all. What is being said is that the rate of their representation in the media falls far below their prevalence in the actual population. Sure, a black man is currently president of the United States of America, but that anecdotal observation doesn’t disprove the empirical evidence that statistically it’s more likely for a white man to obtain that office than a black man. This is a big deal, because people can only aspire to what they believe they can achieve. The fewer people like them that a young person sees represented in a certain field, the less likely they’re going to pursue a career in that given field. It’s also less likely that they’ll be encouraged to move in that direction and that others in society will be able to envision them in those positions. This is another thing that causes privilege-deniers to be oblivious to their own privilege. The mechanism that excludes women and people of color and people in the LGBTQ community isn’t always an overt bigot refusing to give them a chance. It’s often a combination of societal assumptions of them that are present in perfectly lovely and otherwise benevolent deans of admission, hiring managers, and casting directors. Ultimately, whether it’s industry insiders intentionally limiting their participation or the result of social conditioning and environmental factors is irrelevant; the lack of representation of women and people of color in mass media is very real and it is a problem.
Until women, people of color, members of the LGBTQ community, and any other underrepresented group are represented at a rate more closely related to their actual contribution to the overall population, there is work to be done. Anything less is a disservice to humanity. There is strength in being able to see things from multiple points of view. This breeds empathy, understanding, and wisdom. The more points of view that can be woven into the fabric of America, the stronger the country will be. There is strength in diversity. From the beginning of time, matter and life has tended toward diversity. You are the result of diversity, the tendency of the first atoms of hydrogen and helium to come together and create larger, more complex atoms, which gave birth to the variety of matter extant today. Life on earth has thrived because of its ability to evolve from single celled organisms into wonderfully complex, diverse species. Diversity is what has created beautiful order from the eternal winter of entropy.
3. “I’m okay with this as long as it’s a true artistic choice, and not to appease the PC crowd!”
This comment often appears when the canonical race or gender of a beloved white male character has been swapped out and the commenter needs to find a way to complain about it without straight up saying, “It’s harder for me to empathize with someone who’s not a straight white man.” The first problem with this kind of comment is that the commenter always seems presumptuous, implying without any supporting information that a swap from a white man could not possibly be a valid artistic choice and must have come from the out-of-touch PC corporate drones paying for the movie. This assumption is more than absurd. Historically, big movie studios are not known for their willingness to take risks on high dollar investments and movie studios definitely see anything other than a white man as risky. That’s why in a vast majority of movies a vast majority of the lead roles and lines go to white men. In fact, Hollywood’s unwillingness to deviate from formula and give fans something truly new and exciting is probably the number one complaint hurled in their direction. If a character has been swapped from a white man, it’s a much safer assumption that it was an artistic choice and not some corporate edict.
The real hypocrisy of this comment comes out when you realize that the people making this kind of comment are typically the same ones who will defend movie studios’ decisions to not cast women in more leading roles, because they think it’s not a sound investment. Look at any comment section on an article arguing for a Black Widow movie for an infinite number of examples. This means that in the mind of the commenter, if the decision to swap out a white male is a corporate edict (which it’s almost certainly not) to please the widest audience possible, it’s a reprehensible crime against art; but, if a corporate edict is handed down to swap out a woman (as was done in Iron Man 3, for instance), that’s completely understandable, because no one wants to watch women do stuff, and the movie business is a business after all, don’tchaknow. Here’s a basic description of cognitive dissonance.
The second problem with this comment is that it completely dismisses the wishes of anyone who thinks that people should treat their fellow humans with as much dignity and respect as possible. Why should people who care about political correctness (respecting the wishes of others) be ignored? They buy movie tickets, too. They’re paying customers. There’s a bit of cognitive dissonance here, too, because the people complaining about catering to the PC crowd are often the same ones demanding official apologies from filmmakers for not making characters look exactly like they pictured them in their heads. Why should people who complain in internet comment sections that things are getting just a little bit TOO equal in this country matter more to movie studios than people who are concerned with political correctness (being respectful to everyone)? To keep from coming off like an entitled, self-absorbed wanker, it’s best to avoid this kind of comment.
4. “So it’s okay to gender/race swap to anything else, but it’s not okay to swap to a white man!?!?!?!?!?!”
Yes. Yeah, sorry. No, really, that’s how it is. Inevitably, comments like this will crop up whenever people of lesser represented groups point out that a role that should have gone to someone in their group went to a white person or a man. The practice of putting a white person in a role that would make more sense for a person of color to play is called whitewashing. A couple recent examples of this are the controversy over the casting of Tilda Swinton in Doctor Strange and Scarlett Johansson in Ghost in the Shell. Hollywood seems to go out of its way to justify having white people in roles that make far more sense for someone else. Look at the samurai movies The Last Samurai or 47 Ronin for good examples.
The reason that it’s okay to change a character into a person of color, as is the case with Heimdall and Nick Fury in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Deadshot in the DC Extended Universe, Roland in The Dark Tower, Baron Mordo in Doctor Strange, and Johnny Storm in Fant4stic, among others, is that it’s including representation of an underrepresented group. When a white person is cast as a traditionally nonwhite character, it’s taking a role from a person of color in an already white dominated field. When women and people of color are more accurately represented in the media and in life, then this won’t be as big of a deal, but the world is the way it is, so this is the way it is. The more a group is represented, the less each individual representative matters as a representative. It wouldn’t be a big deal if a few out of many gay characters were killed on TV shows, but when there are only a handful to begin with and they all seem to get killed off, it causes a very skewed version of representation.
A perfect example of how limited representation raises the stakes for a character is Laverne Cox’s portrayal of Sophia Burset on Orange is the New Black. Cox is one of very few transgender actors (maybe the only) playing a transgender person on TV (Jeffrey Tambor has received acclaim for Transparent, but he himself is not transgender). If Cox’s character is killed off or handled poorly, than that means that nearly 100% of transgender characters on television are killed off or handled poorly, perpetuating disrespectful views or stereotypes of transgender people. Conversely, if ABC messes up Clark Gregg’s character on Agents of SHIELD, for example, it’s really not going to have much of an effect on the cultural perception of white men, because there are droves of white men representing white men on almost every other show on television.
With this seeming “double standard,” it could be understandable for white men who didn’t want to think about it too hard to develop a persecution complex. The truth is that with the playing field being very different for white men and everyone else to begin with, it would be incredibly naive to think that it would be acceptable for people with different societal handicaps to be considered with the same expectations. Maybe it’s unfair that white men have to be aware and open about their privilege or risk being called out for it. They’ll just have to comfort themselves with the fact that they are much less likely to be stopped, searched, abused, arrested, incarcerated, and killed by police and the criminal justice system, have a much better chance at attaining a college degree and a good job with higher wages, have an easier time voting and finding adequate housing, and are far better represented in mass media. For those too dense to take this at face value, who are already constructing straw man arguments, no one is saying that white people automatically have life easy, but no white person in America is having a difficult time in life BECAUSE they are white.
Please step outside of yourself and consider the experience of other people before you make comments like the ones presented in this article. They make nerds look bad. Don’t make nerds look bad.