Scalzi vs The Bigots: Round One

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.

Brilliant!

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.

11 thoughts on “Scalzi vs The Bigots: Round One

  1. First off, great post (great subject). Second – stop what you’re doing and GO READ REDSHIRTS. Really, you’ll love it. Then read Old Man’s War. Then Fuzzy Nation. You know what, just read them all, they’re all good. Or listen to the dulcet tones of one Mr Wil Wheaton audibilize them for your ears. Also awesome (particularly for Redshirts).

    I do think nerds are, as a general rule, fairly accepting/non-prejudiced. The recent ‘Fake Geek Girl’ shit is probably the first thing that springs to mind where I thought, ‘damn, aren’t we past this shit?’. Before my first convention, I was actually WARNED by my male friends that I might have a hard time fitting in. That cute girls (ahem) at conventions get judged, etc. So for me, there’s still a lot of work to do in terms of getting stupid, old ideas out people’s head regarding fandom. However, awesome people like John Scalzi, Wil Wheaton, Chris Hardwick, and many others do a great job of encouraging inclusiveness, which is very heartening indeed.

    1. As far as the “fake geek girl” bullshit goes, I would also like to give mad props to people like Felicia Day, Veronica Belmont, and everyone who’s ever put on a Slave Leia costume.

  2. Someone beat you to the anthropology (ethnography?) of trolls on the Internet:

    http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2012/10/what-someone-who-wrote-her-dissertation-on-trolls-thinks-of-violentacrez/263631/#

    By the same person: http://ethnographymatters.net/2013/01/08/ethnography-and-the-troll-space-workarounds-discipline-jumping-and-ethical-pitfalls-1-of-3/

    (I haven’t read the second link.)

    Also, is it a bit silly to argue that “nerds are, by and large, really, really nice”? Especially since you immediately follow that up with a subjective, “from my perspective.” Maybe you just have a better judge of character than most? Or you’re less quick to judge others than, say, me.

    Also also, not to nitpick (okay, you got me: to gleefully nitpick), but anthropology is hardly hard science.

    Also also also, I comment less frequently than I might otherwise b/c I have an inordinately difficult time correctly telling WordPress to let me know when someone has followed up on a previous comment. I am a regular user of IT and social media, I swear. You just can’t figure it out by looking at my interaction on this blog.

    1. I agree that my assertion that nerds are nice is probably a product of most of my friends being both nerds and nice. I would also agree that anthropology (and therefore ethnography) is not hard science in and of itself, but it does rely heavily on data, statistics, etc, which would be the difficult part in this case. Where to start? What questions to ask? And to whom?

  3. I’ve never read much sci-fi/fantasy, but I have read Old Man’s War by John Scalzi and I really enjoyed it, so as someone else has already said go and read some Scalzi NOW! I intend to read some more of his work as and when, but there are so many books in the world and the clock is ticking for all of us which makes me wonder if I will ever find the time. Worth a try though. Strangely enough (or maybe not) I started reading your blog and John Scalzi’s blog at about the same time which may well have spurred me on to dip my toe in the water as far as sci-fi is concerned. By and large I’m not too keen on those fantasy books which have muscly men or women brandishing elaborate swords on their cover, but you never know, one day. As for nerds being nice, well, why not? Nice people crop up in all sorts of strange places.

    1. I’m not nearly as in to fantasy as I am scifi, so don’t feel bad about that. I think I liked fantasy more when I was really young and didn’t realize that a lot of them are pretty much the same. Same with good cop/bad guy mystery thriller type books. And books on religion. And computer manuals. I think I like scifi more than fantasy now because there’s more room for variation, fewer conventions of the genre. And way more shit blowing up, which I appreciate. I’ll move Scalzi to the top of the list, for sure. If I enjoy his blog this much his fiction’s got to be good. Maybe that’s not sound logic, but it’s what I’m going with for the moment.

  4. I have been meaning to comment on this post for a few weeks, sorry for the tardy response. I have so many things to say that I hardly know where to start and I probably won’t get to everything point I thought was interesting, so I’ll just try to hit some highlights. 1) All four of the sub-fields of anthropology utilize information generated by the ‘hard’ sciences, not all rely upon it though- but I’m pretty sure that Biological Anthropologist and many Archaeologists would take significant offense to the assertion that ‘anthropology is hardly hard science’. Anthropology, as a whole, is a holistic practice, studying humans in all of their cultural, biological, psychological, social (etc.) capacities. Cultural Anthropology is, of course, more subjective or qualitative, as are its ethnographic methods. In many ways, I would say that this is a strength, not a weakness. I would argue that the existential/personal/cultural truths that it reveals are no less profound or meaningful than the discoveries of the hard sciences. Ethnography is all about meaning, we are collect stories to demonstrate the dynamic complexities of human life,. Ethnography gives context and elucidates powerful narratives, showing that there is more to life than that which can be verified and quantified. This does not mean, however, that Cultural Anthropology does not make many important practical contributions; for instance, helping biomedical professional gain cultural competency, enabling them to more effectively treat their patients. Anthropologists are interested in the emic perspective. How does a topic look from within a specific culture? (ie. how does a patient understand their health?) Hard science and largely other social sciences are interested in the etic perspective. (How does a doctor understand a patient’s health?).
    2) I absolutely disagree that “nerds” are generally kinder people. I would argue that that is a hard generalization to defend. I think that the group that you are referring to has as much diversity in this respect as every other group on the planet. There are nice people, there are mean people…and there is a lot of gray there in the middle. Not to mention that nice and mean are totally subjective, culturally mediated terms. In my personal experience, I have found many people that self-identify as nerds to be a bit self-righteous or seeking some level of martyrdom. Being a martyr for how you were treated in high school 15 years later strikes me as a bit pathetic and self-serving. Yes, extreme bullying is one thing…but many of us were treated badly in middle and high school. Learn from it and move on, stop punishing those in your life who have learned to do just that and have found a little happiness. Many of the ‘nerds’ who I love and respect have embraced who they are and were, these are the people that I think you are talking about. These are the kind, compassionate ‘nerds’. But I think that this idea extends far beyond the context of the ‘nerd'[ this may be humans as a whole. This is only an opinion, not a topic for which I have a strong argument.
    3) I read the second ethnography of trolling article that was provided in an earlier reply. I love it! I think that it is an excellent demonstration of the dynamic nature of ethnography. Hard science would never address this topic in this way because the subjects are not easily verified and the ephemeral nature essentially makes duplication impossible. But the flexibility of ethnographic research provides a scope wide enough for the adequate study of a slippery topic’s cultural significance. Also, she is brilliant in the way that she navigates such a complex and frustrating project. And the ‘trolls’ themselves are fascinating. I mean, seriously, who the hell are these people? I would love to know what makes them tick.
    I have more to say but this is getting long and I am getting sleepy. So, there are some thoughts…

      1. So did “infected pocket of the world”:) Ha! Even though I know it is true in many respects. But you are right, pathetic is really much harsher than I meant to be. Also, I would like to say that I would totally go to ComiCon, if only for the unforgettable experience…but I probably wouldn’t want to stay for the whole thing. Haha!

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