Content Warning for mention of racism, rape, and misogyny.
When I look at the various hate groups that have arisen over the past couple of years in geekdom, the harassment movements that so obviously lie about wanting quality story telling but instead work to drive out any and all voices of diversity that don’t fall in lie with their fascist ways, I feel as though I can trace it all back to a single source of media.
From Gamergate to Sad Puppies, from Comicsgate to Angry Puppies (yes, Angry and Sad puppies are indeed separate hate groups and harassment movements), they all share a loathing of women, and men, who they feel have betrayed them, and it’s a loathing and hatred that I feel was cemented in one abhorrent piece of cinematic trash:
Revenge of the Nerds.
Now, to be fair it has indeed been a long time since I last watched this movie, so like any good former university student who has written many a 2000 word essay, I decided to do my research, starting with the trailer.
And hoo boy, even from the trailer alone I’m reminded very much of the problematic nature of the raunchy 80s comedy genre.
Women not wanting to kiss nerds, jocks beating them up and humiliating them, it’s all part and parcel of the basic plot where a bunch of underdogs fight back against a big baddie and his group of thugs. The plot of the movie could best be summed up by a friend of mine, Urbanbohemian, when we were discussing the film in the discord we’re a part of:
“What if we made ‘Animal House’ but it was the mid 80s and not the late 70s, so we use nerds vs jocks instead of freaks vs preps?”
I’m sure there are whole articles out there, about the casual racism (a jock asks Takashi if he knows karate before jamming used underwear on his head) and sexism of movies like this (in the movie, the nerds enact revenge upon the women who spurred them via panty raid and installing spy cameras in their rooms to view them in various states of undress), but it’s the film’s idea of using nerds as the hapless underdogs that I feel added to the general idea believed by some nerds and geeks that they’re as marginalized as trangender and black people.
After all, being a virgin who likes computers and is rejected by women? Totally on par with what Marsha P Johnson went through. Eyeroll.gif insert here.
It certainly does not help that in America, such fictional depictions of how nerds and geeks were treated was, in the eyes of such people, backed up by the very real Satanic D&D scare of the 80s, the crusade against video games spearheaded by Democratic Senator Joe Lieberman in the 90s, the Catholic Church’s views of ban Harry Potter books as promoting witchcraft, and just the general use of video games as a scapegoat whenever there was a mass shooting.
(This article by the New York Times is a great summary of video games being scrutinized time and time again in general and Mortal Kombat in particular.)
What Revenge of the Nerds represents is toxic masculinity draped in underdog clothing, where the horrible actions of the nerds against women is seen as justified for not dating them. In one scene, a nerd character has sex with a woman by deceiving her, an action that would categorized as rape by fraud in reality (depending upon what country you live in), but seen as an accomplishment for the nerd.
So is it any wonder that the ends justify the means for hate groups like Gamergate and Comicsgate in their tactics against not only women, but anyone who they feel are ruining their precious hobbies?
Now, obviously this article started out with a bit of hyperbole, as Revenge of the Nerds is but a drop in the bucket of the raunchy comedy genre, and such films are an extension of the racism, sexism, and misogyny in our media. There’s also how much gaming companies have pandered to hardcore gamers for a long while or just how gatekeeping in nature the geek community has been before, during, and after the release of Revenge of the Nerds.
However, when I think of the film it’s not with any sort of fond nostalgia, but an upsetting sort of revulsion that it was a film I watched and laughed at, much like Ace Ventura Pet Detective. I genuinely feel empathy for the nerds because I was once a fat geek who was bullied and picked on for being fat and reading comic books and Star Wars Extended Universe novels before class. I never went on dates or had a girlfriend, and what movies like Revenge of the Nerds say to me is that it’s okay to get angry and take out that anger on others that violate their privacy and personal boundaries.
I honestly don’t want to be that kind of person, and I can see how I could have become such a person considering my own Nice Guy(tm) phase in high school and early university. At one point, the words “Stupid girls don’t want to date a nice guy like me” fell out of my mouth without an ounce of the awareness I have now and had the Internet and Gamergate, or some other geek-centric hate group, existed back then, I could have become a part of it.
(Tangentially related, I’m still to this day embarrassed by my own, however minor, participation in the fan campaign to have Mass Effect 3’s ending rewritten. While not centered in hate, it was still centered in fan entitlement, much like Gamergate and Comicsgate.)
So to have a piece of media reinforce such ugly views is frustrating and infuriating because geekdom is so much more than a bunch of straight white dudes wearing glasses and pocket protectors. I see this every year I go to Dragon Con and the Calgary Expo, and in my own collection of friends online who come from all walks of life.
And to have people clutch their precious geekdom tightly to their chest like a white woman clutching their purse when a black man boards the bus, knashing at the teeth over criticisms being levied at their hobbies and engaging in such horrible behaviour, I’m torn between sighing dramatically aloud and resisting the urge to smack them upside the head.
Then I’m grateful of the reminder about how NOT to act. I’ve been bullied enough in my life to not want to become one.
Also, Revenge of the Nerds is the worst movie ever. Good night!