By Bobby Shortle
I have always been uncomfortable with labels. The act of calling, or being called, a geek, jock, nerd, bro, democrat or republican is the act of trying to pigeonhole a fellow human being into a easy-to-understand box. It’s a way to categorize those we don’t know so we can easily dismiss or embrace them. This behavior is common. I myself will not claim to be innocent of it, but something being common does not make it acceptable. Many of us suffered at the hands of this wide brush as children, being teased for our likes and dislikes because they did not match up with what the “cool” kids were doing.
Then something happened. Somewhere along the way, the things that we were once maligned for became popular. The fact is that Spider-Man, X-Men, Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Batman didn’t just become popular, they became the most commercially successful things in the world. For the first time, we had power and, with the aid of the internet, a voice. We turned into the trendsetters, the sought-after consumers and the culture people wanted to emulate. Doesn’t that sound like a happy place to be? I would think that a lifetime of being put down would lead to a group of people who were welcoming, and who would never wish upon anyone the feelings they were once forced to endure. I thought that, but I was dead wrong.
The internet, with its putrid ability to sour anything positive, soon went on the attack and revealed many of us for what we really were: jaded, angry, self conscious cowards who wished only to lay the same pain on others that was once visited upon us. No congregation of people ever got anywhere positive by trying to root out the “impostors” in their midsts, but that is just what we’ve begun to do. This behavior in all its forms is reprehensible but, on places like message boards, Twitter, Facebook or any manner of self-started blogs out there in the world, I can chalk it up to dumb people saying dumb things. However, when something pops up on an outlet like CNN, I take notice. CNN is, earned or not, a well-respected and storied news organization. Their name carries weight, adds validity and enhances the reach of any writing placed under its header. That includes its CNN Geek Out Column whose header is “It takes one to know one. When it comes to topics of interest to nerds, geeks, and superfans, we know how true that is. Geek Out! features stories from a nerd’s perspective that you can still share with your “normal” friends and family.”
Lets forget the fact that this strap line is insulting to both people in and out of this so called “nerd” culture and move onto the meat of the column this little editorial is in reaction to. The op-ed piece is called “Booth Babes Need Not Apply” and is written by a man named Joe Peacock. The ethos of the article, as I see it, is to call out the so called “fake geeks” and more specifically attractive females who he sees as faux nerds. But, don’t worry, he wants you to know he doesn’t dislike woman in general. He shows that by saying:
“And be it known that I am good friends with several stunningly beautiful women who cosplay as stunningly beautiful characters from comics, sci-fi, fantasy and other genres of fandom. They are, each of them, bone fide geeks. They belong with us. Being beautiful is not a crime. Flaunt it if you got it…”
So, with this missive out of the way, Mr. Peacock decides it’s time to take the gloves fully off.
“What I’m talking about is the girls who have no interest or history in gaming taking nearly naked photos of themselves with game controllers draped all over their body just to play at being a “model.”…I’m talking about an attention addict trying to satisfy her ego and feel pretty by infiltrating a community to seek the attention of guys she wouldn’t give the time of day on the street.I call these girls “6 of 9”. They have a superpower: In the real world, they’re beauty-obsessed, frustrated wannabe models who can’t get work….However, you “6 of 9s” out there? You’re just gross. There’s an entire contingent of guys in geekdom who absolutely love you, because inside, they’re 13 year old boys who like to objectify women and see them as nothing more than butts and a pair of boobs to be leered at. Have fun with them, and don’t be shocked when they send you XBox Live messages with ASCII penises.”
I have three responses to this. One, these are models who are using certain iconography in order to enhance what they are selling, their looks. Do you look at a picture of a woman in a french maid outfit and question whether or not she has any history in the cleaning industry? Two, The truth is that life is hard and making a living is even harder. These women, regardless of their dedication to a hobby, are just trying to make their way in the world. Third, and most important — who cares? You are putting down people, claiming they should be ready to have pictures of penises sent to them because they dress up in suggestive superhero clothes? Do you hear yourself? I hate to break this to anyone out there who believes otherwise, but the things we love are not sacred. This is a hobby, a distraction at its basest form and an appreciation of art at its highest.
Then Mr. Peacock goes on to compare the actions of filthy mouthed, chauvinists to these women trying to legally make a paycheck.
“Case in point: there is a website called Fat, Ugly Or Slutty that catalogs insults, harassment and verbal abuse from male gamers to females on Xbox Live. Reading through just one page of the site made me ill. The big brother in me wanted to go pound the crap out of the thirteen year olds who think it’s cool or funny to demean women for sport. Is this type of harassment is deserved? Not at all. Are guys acting this way toward women just as disgusting and base as women poaching attention from our culture, satisfying their egos by strutting around a group of guys dressed in clothing and costumes from a culture filled with men they see as beneath them? Absolutely.”
I don’t want to attack Mr. Peacock as a person. I don’t know him, and I would never berate someone personally on only their work. That, of course, is a level of decorum that he himself seems either oblivious to, or worse, has no interest in. This editorial is about dissecting and examining a piece of writing that was published on CNN.com and nothing more. You’ll notice I haven’t once used the word “journalism” or any of its forms to represent Mr. Peacock’s piece, because to do that would be insulting to anyone who has taken Journalism 101. A writer, especially a paid one, should always strive to attain the highest form of any argument, and this is base, click-bating and worthless.
This is interesting since this op-ed seems to be in reaction to another instance of internet wrong-headedness. If you haven’t heard about the comments made by Ryan Perez in regards to Felicia Day, then you are better off, because they were idiotic and Peacock addresses them in his story.
“You’ve no doubt heard about a young journalist named Ryan Perez who did something stupid. Really, really stupid. He “called out” Felicia Day on Twitter…Felicia Day is not a poacher. She’s a celebrity, sure. She’s a pretty girl, absolutely. The fact that she chooses geeky avenues to focus those interests? That makes her a geek….Ryan Perez is a shoddy journalist and failed to do any research.”
So, Mr. Peacock stands up for Ms. Day, citing several of her credentials and using his official stamp of geek approval to let you know it’s okay to like her. But, that small sliver of positivity quickly washes away when he turns his judgmental pen from the broad term of “poacher” onto more specific targets.
“But then, you have these models-cum-geeks like Olivia Munn and practically every FragDoll. These chicks? Not geeks….”
It is in this moment that Mr. Peackock, regardless of my personal opinion, really hoists himself on his own petard. He has the gaul to call out Mr. Perez for being a “shoddy journalist” who “failed to do any research” and then actually goes out of his way to name specific people in his attack. Okay, did you do your research? Did you spend months, weeks, or even a few hours researching Olivia Munn or visiting the Frag Dolls website? Or did you just decide to bring up some popular geek punching bags to prove a point? From what I can see the Frag Dolls hold weekly gaming sessions, constantly have a presence at conventions and seem to not feature any revealing pictures of themselves on their website. Their only crime it seems, is that they don’t fit into Mr. Peacock’s designation of a “real geek.” As for Ms. Munn, she’s a television host and actress (and it turns out a pretty solid one) who is good at her job. End of story. Do you care if Conan O’Brien really likes the latest Tom Cruise film that is being promoted on his show? I know I don’t, I’m happy just being entertained by charming people.
Don’t worry though ladies, despite all his words to the contrary the writer says he’s got your back.
“He [Perez] knee-jerked his way into temporary internet infamy. I think he was an idiot. But I can see why he bubbled over. There’s no doubt about it – girls in geek culture have it hard, and it’s probably going to be that way for a long time. At least until men stop lusting after women (so, like, never). But that doesn’t mean that women aren’t welcomed and accepted in geek culture. Women elevate the culture, and thus, the content. And, I’ll admit, you ladies are much nicer to be around.”
Which women are welcome exactly? The ones who provide detailed credentials about their time spent researching the atmospheric density on Bespin, or the ones who can play the Final Fantasy victory chime on the piano? Or should they provide you with a printout of their Netflix Queue, XBOX 360 recently played list, and childhood drawings of Batgirl? The previously maligned Frag Girls have been doing their thing since 2004 and that doesn’t seem to pass muster in this particular situation. While I was in high school I played football, did theater and was decently popular, so does this disqualify me from geek culture? The point is, no one gets to decide who is genuine and who is not, and to think differently is a level of hubris I don’t even want to comprehend.
Then Mr. Peacock ends his his little rant with perhaps his most infuriating of statements.
“Those of us who actually like substance? We’ll be over here celebrating great comics, great games, great art, great movies and great television, because we’re actually attracted to a completely different body part: the brain.”
This is one of those smug, cheap moves that writers use to try and quell any dissent with their arguments. It’s essentially saying that if you disagree with the article you are not a person of substance. He may have not meant it that way, but when you wield words for a living it is your job to be aware of their power. His last statement is particularly funny, because while I haven’t done my research, I’m sure Mr. Peacock, like all of us, hasn’t always acted solely on his attraction to someone’s brain. The only positive thing about this closing remark is that it’s so obviously clever, for clevernesses sake, that it shows fully how full of it the writer really is.
I don’t want to end this on a negative note, however. This editorial is not about squelching Mr. Peacock’s opinion, because he is entitled to it just like we all are. No, the purpose of this is just to shine a light on a piece of angry, hateful writing that passes itself off as protective of a certain culture. Mr. Peacock calls for a exile of these so called “poachers” from his exclusive club, but I have a different mission statement. Live and let live. Love the things that you love and revel in the fact that we exist in a world with more content and access than most people would have ever thought possible. It has never been a better time to have the interest that we do and we should be encouraging everyone we can to take a look at these pieces of art that have shaped us as human beings. No one is forcing you to watch G4, or go to the Frag Dolls website and there is no model, actress, corporation or institution that can take away your memories and experiences. They are yours forever, and if you can’t be confident in that, if you still feel the need to lash out and attack those you perceive as “fakes” well then I’m not angry with you, I just feel bad. Life is too short to be angry, to be scared and to have such vitriol over something that is supposed to give you joy. I encourage you all to follow the link to the story and read it yourself and let me know if you think I’m being unfair.