Writing about Torchwood made me think of a conversation I had with a colleague about the show. She is your classic role-playing nerd, computer geek and all round otaku. When I mentioned – somewhat breathlessly – to her that I had watched 5 episodes of amazing Torchwoody goodness, she immediately launched into a tirade on how the first 3 episodes were great and then it turned shit[1].  She then revealed that she had watched all 3 seasons, and gave a blistering critique of the homophobia in the show. I checked with a friend, and it turns out the show’s writer is gay. So homophobia, probably not so much[2]. Now, I didn’t get a hint of this and aside from one small section of episode 4 which I thought was a bit kooky, I thought the last 2 episodes of this arc held together very well and, even if not satisfying everyone’s definition of perfect, could hardly be called shit.

I also recently had a big argument with a friend about the Lord of the Rings Movies[3], and was reminded (just coincidentally) of an old role-player in Australia who was so hell-bent on believing that these movies wrecked the books that he was 100% sure that Gandalf said “Run you fools!” in the movie, i.e. that his famous phrase had been corrupted “for the sheeple”. I had to force him to watch the movie to point out to him that he was wrong.

And I realised – I think nerds have a quite antagonistic relationship with their cinematic and literary idols, in which we are happy to lap up their good work but are really critical of  even the smallest failings, failings of course which occur in a very complex and difficult medium beset by forces beyond the creator’s control [i.e. producers]. I think nerds go out of their way to find fault with their idols, with the creators of new work, and with re-imaginings of old work. I think this is part of the grognard movement – which seems to hold that, the more people D&D tries to attract, the worse it must become – and is also linked to a strong tendency to reject any work which attempts to popularise any aspect of our sub-culture, and any creative figure who wants to be approved of by the mainstream.

I think this is the product of years of being abused by the cool kids, and in many of us it has led to a “Nerdier than thou” attitude which refuses to allow for the kind of compromises which any artist or creative person has to make to get their work liked by more than 3 guys in a room (who aren’t going to pay anyway, because they can use bittorrent). We’re like the Metallica fans who didn’t like the Black album because we found this band first, don’t you know, and who are all these middle class 14 year old girls who like that song and how dare Metallica try to become popular? It’s okay for us to sell out and get a windows certification so we can keep working [4], but how dare Joss Whedon consider doing the same!!? He’s the standard bearer for our paaaaiiin…[5]

… and as a consequence I think quite often nerds criticise otherwise good works, which may not have been perfect but deserve some respect anyway. And this leads to an attitude of refusing to share our life’s interests with people who don’t “get” something as plainly “obvious” as rolling 4d6 for strength, keep the best 3. Which just keeps us separated from the rest of the world, wondering why they don’t want to understand the fat kids who’re sneering at them…

fn1: Which, can I mention, is a really common English thing – you mention to your interlocutor that you like something and, even though they may never have even met you before, they immediately launch in with “what you like is shit”. I have had this sooooo many times since I came to London and it is sooooo thoroughly offensive.

fn2: yes yes, I know, gay people can be latent homophobes, but I prefer to have solid evidence of this before I make such accusations, because they’re really mean-spirited.

fn3: I will be coming back to this, because the claim they spoilt the books really gives me the shits

fn4: I haven’t done this, btw, but I would if I had to

fn5: which, incidentally, shows pretty clearly how our relationship with our idols is coloured by this history of social rejection – why should we even care if our feelings and worldview have a standard bearer? Except that when we were kids our weird and somewhat off-kilter interests were sneered at…

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