I’m going to do something now which totally surprises even me: I’m going to recommend an author whose work I’ve never read. Gasp! He’s on my List. I fully intend to read his stuff. Stay tuned. I’ll keep you posted. Fret not. Meanwhile, go read John Scalzi’s blog, Whatever. I kept seeing his name pop up in other writers’ blogs. And his book Redshirts was a giant meganerdy bestseller. So I checked him out and he is awesome. Mostly because he’s brutally honest about pretty much anything. His work, his friends, raising a teenage daughter, politics, religion, the business of writing, ukuleles, and probably most importantly, churros.
Unfortunately, in the world we live in, being honest about things that matter, out loud, on the interwebs, with a huge steady following, means that you’re going to have haters. Fact of life in the Digital Age, and something we’re going to have to deal with until the end of time. (Should I be capitalizing those words? Digital Age? I don’t know. Imma do it anyway.) And thus we arrive at the Scalzi-centric kerfluffle, which I find simply compelling. The opponents: in this corner, wearing the red shirt of brutally honest nerdy writerdom – John Scalzi. In the opposing corner, wearing the icky grey robes of hateful trolliness – the Racist Sexist Homophobic Dipshit (hereafter referred to as the RSHD).
A while ago, the RSHD and his gaggle of mindless followers started making trolly comments on Scalzi’s blog and on the RSHD’s own website. Busy as he is, Scalzi still moderates all his own blog comments. Admirable. (On a related note, why don’t y’all comment more on my blog? I know you’ve got shit to say. Quit keeping it all bottled up inside. It’s bad for your liver.) So he started using “the kitten setting” on those comments, a practice which I adore adore adore. Formerly known as the Mallet of Loving Correction, the kitten setting is when a troll’s comment is edited to reflect a more fuzzy unicorns and puppies and sparkly rainbows sort of outlook. All the hatey things directed at Scalzi are turned into heartfelt expressions of the RSHD’s schoolboy mancrush on him. Feels like a Lisa Frank Trapper Keeper. Lots of fluffy bunnies. Takes the teeth right out of those comments, takes away their power. It’s fucking awesome. But, understandably, it further agitates the trolls.
Finally reaching his breaking point, Scalzi decided to put his money where the RSHD’s mouth is. Every time the RSHD does his asshat thing in 2013, he (Scalzi) is going to put five bucks in a jar, up to $1,000, giving the RSHD two hundred opportunities this year to say something hateful. And at the end of the year he’s going to donate it all to RAINN, Emily’s List, the Human Rights Campaign, and the NAACP, in loving support of everything the RSHD hates.
But wait, there’s more. Scalzi’s fans started asking if they could get in on the action. Not wanting to take anyone’s money up front (in case the RSHD cools down and shuts up – unlikely), he set up a pledge system: the Counteract a Bigot Drive. At the end of the year, all the RSHD activity will be tallied and quantified into money dollar terms, and everyone sends their donations all at once. Here’s the breathtaking bit: the pledges rose to $60,000 in two days. That is a lot of anti-hater money. I don’t think I can say “fucking awesome” too often about this whole thing. It’s just…accurate.
Good on you, Scalzi and fans. Good. On. You. Many heartfelt hugs and thanks.
Besides being inarguably badass, here’s what interests me about this story. I’m wondering why it seems that nerds are, by and large, really, really nice. From my perspective, the occurrence of assholery appears to be generally lower among the geekier slices of the American cultural pie chart. For the purposes of this discussion, I will stipulate to the fact that I may have built myself a bubble of liberal, accepting, open-minded, lovely people. If I hadn’t I probably would’ve punched many a bigoted motherfucker in the mouth by now. Thanks, friends, for being decent humans. Also, I’m from an infected pocket of the world where people who appear otherwise normal throw around racist/sexist/homophobic terminology as readily as they do Nascar references. My nerdly homies who rescued me from high school suicidal tendencies were never like that, nor were the people that I later gravitated toward. All these people somehow or another reinforced in me the non-judgmental mindset that my parents engendered very early. Because they’re awesome friends and awesome parents. It’s really hard for me to be objective here, is all I’m saying.
Anyway, the easy answer is that nerds are nice because we got made fun of as kids or are lonely people or have the deck of mainstream media stacked against us. I take it for granted that that’s the case. However, I think the more interesting variable here might be the influence of science fiction and fantasy. For example, look at Star Trek. Gene Roddenberry populated the Original Series cast with people of every color and creed to make the point that in the future we’re all one. We’re all Terrans, and nothing else matters. In the mid-1960’s, that was a bold anti-racist statement, even if it was couched in such ridiculousness as Captain Kirk getting the hots for the green Orion slave girl. Hamfisted, perhaps, but important. Similarly, I recently heard Kevin Smith say that the X-Men comics are one big metaphor for homosexuality. I’d never made the connection myself, but it does make some degree of sense. You have this secret that could get you socially ostracized and you keep it quiet until you can’t anymore and then you come out of the mutant closet? Yep. That tracks. And while sexism is a hotly debated topic, still, among scifi/fantasy fans, I think there are more positive female role models in those pop culture areas than in others. I’ll take Princess Leia or Jean Grey or Trinity over Paris Hilton or Snooki any day of the fucking week (my burning hatred for reality tv obviously provides serious bias on this particular point).
There doesn’t seem to be a lot of room for prejudice in scifi or fantasy, though. It’s often in a futuristic setting where the social mores are so different from our own as to be unrecognizable (ie, The Handmaid’s Tale). Or, contrarily, there some sort of uber evil that must be defeated by disparate groups coming together against a common enemy (Hobbits and Elves and Dwarves vs the Orcs of Sauron). Consider, too, that our opinions of scifi and fantasy change drastically as we move along our own cultural timeline. I’m fine with Kirk boffing space tramps in every color of the rainbow, but I still get weirded out when Quark makes out with that Cardassian chick in DS9. Why is that weird? I don’t know. This whole thing might be a chicken-or-egg situation, though. Does scifi/fantasy make us nicer because it illustrates and exposes us to a prejudice-less worldview? Or are we nice because of environment and circumstance, and when we get a chance to make stuff we want to show the milieu that we would ideally create for ourselves?
I’d like to find a way to examine these questions with hard science, instead of just spewing my watered-down opinions at you. But it seems like there would be too many variables. Someone should at least try to do a study. Maybe I should take my anthropologist buddy to Comic-Con and set her loose.
No, that won’t work. Comic-Con tickets sold out last week. Also, bonus, she’d kill me dead. One can still dream.
Meanwhile, in the real world, we can all show the Racist Sexist Homophobic Dipshit how we roll, nerds and non-nerds alike, by pledging to the Counteract a Bigot Drive here. And if you’re a fan of scifi or social commentary, you should definitely check out Scalzi’s blog at whatever.scalzi.com.