Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 20:19 on 16-01-2014, Melanie
Or if not a shared experience, at least a shared mythology of ostracism. I can easily imagine that there’s something very appealing about claiming the benefits of victimhood. Just, you know, without having to undergo any genuine victimisation.

I'm also inclined to think this. "Nerd culture" from BBT to Fanboys often seems to involve this kind of Nietzschean ressentiment - the nerds are better than the jocks *because* they're victims and thus deserve the girl, even though this superiority is not shown to actually be grounded in any positive qualities.


I think this explains a lot of... martyr complex stuff. Victimhood = moral high ground from which one can make demands. Not getting whatever it is you demanded, however unreasonably = further victimization or at least evidence of such. Actually getting it can also be treated as evidence of victimhood (because if you got it you must have deserved it). It's a self-perpetrating mess.
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at 13:49 on 16-01-2014, Shimmin
I'm inclined to suspect a mixture of confirmation bias and the brain's tendency to labelling.

Everyone gets mocked at school on occasion on some pretext or other, be it hair colour, opinions, clothing, diet, TV preference, football team, weight, timing of puberty, deviation from acceptable norms of academic ability or having a name that lends itself to "amusing" alterations.

In the case of stuff deemed nerdy, there's an overlap between a class of pretexts and a vague subculture, such that Nerds are very likely to have been mocked, and in some cases genuinely bullied, on the pretext of things deemed Nerdy. As such, there's very likely to be a shared sense that Being Nerdy is a thing that gets you bullied. This isn't really the case with things like being an Everton fan: while there is something like an Evertonian subculture, football-preference mockery is likely to be distributed fairly evenly and there's probably not a sense of group persecution. Similarly, it's not quite like having unfortunate names or ginger hair because those aren't associated with a subculture, so individuals may have that feeling but it doesn't necessarily spread.

There is also some limited overlap between Nerds and other pretexts: people who are not good at sports seem more likely to gravitate towards nerd-classed activities and may be mocked for both, while there is some correlation between being bad at sports, focusing on (indoor, unathletic) academic and nerdy activities, and being overweight. This may result in people who are nerds also being people who get mocked more than usual.

The confirmation bias bit is, I suspect, that because it's widely held that nerdy people get bullied, and because everyone gets mocked sometimes for arbitrary reasons, it seems likely that people identified as nerdy will register mockery as being a result of nerdiness, and will attach greater significance to incidents of being mocked for liking D&D than being mocked for having a bad haircut.
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at 13:01 on 16-01-2014, Arthur B
Or if not a shared experience, at least a shared mythology of ostracism.

It occurs to me that nerds seem to claim that they were bullied because they were nerds about as often as they claim they were nerds because they were bullied - in other words, some will say that because they were bullied at school, they were attracted to insular hobbies shared by uncool kids and shunned by their persecutors.

This guy is an example, for instance, where he implies in the comic that he was only a geek into geek hobbies to begin with because it was "never an option" to be and do anything else.
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at 11:53 on 16-01-2014, Andy G
Or if not a shared experience, at least a shared mythology of ostracism. I can easily imagine that there’s something very appealing about claiming the benefits of victimhood. Just, you know, without having to undergo any genuine victimisation.

I'm also inclined to think this. "Nerd culture" from BBT to Fanboys often seems to involve this kind of Nietzschean ressentiment - the nerds are better than the jocks *because* they're victims and thus deserve the girl, even though this superiority is not shown to actually be grounded in any positive qualities. And there's a sneering contempt for "ordinary" girls especially - bit reminiscent of Wes Bentley in American Beauty (a film that hasn't dated well since my adolescence).

I absolutely agree about separating offence from oppression, but as a fairly geeky person I don't even really find BBT offensive or hurtful, just a bit hackneyed and off-the-mark, which also mars my enjoyment of it.
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at 11:08 on 16-01-2014, Daniel F
The strong focus of nerd culture on being persecuted, and particularly on being bullied at school is something that’s both really fascinating and really alien to me, because I never had that experience at all. Surely I qualify as a nerd or geek in most other respects – I’m writing this message on this site, for a start – but I never had that sense of being an outsider just because I spent every lunch break on the stairs reading fantasy novels. But I read about people being systematically bullied for playing D&D at school in the 80s or whatever, and it explains a lot about why nerd culture is so defensive today.

Er, where ‘nerd culture’ means people who play RPGs or are obsessed with video games or read lots of genre fiction or what have you. The more I go on in life the more it seems to me like these are just normal hobbies, and I can’t see why, say, LARPing is nerdy whereas being in a bikie gang is not. Still, some hobbies are still perceived as nerdy, and I wonder how much of that label has to do with this shared experience of ostracism.

Or if not a shared experience, at least a shared mythology of ostracism. I can easily imagine that there’s something very appealing about claiming the benefits of victimhood. Just, you know, without having to undergo any genuine victimisation.

(Disclaimer: I’ve never seen so much as a trailer or an ad for The Big Bang Theory, so I’m not jumping into that.)
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at 08:27 on 16-01-2014, Arthur B
Actually, I think the tendency of geek culture to dwell on being teased at school is sort of revealing. People are bullied for all sorts of reasons in school - often, indeed, for reasons which don't make a lick of sense - and more or less any form of prejudice which is common in the wider world is present in school bullying. There's a lot that's been done and a lot still to do to counteract racist and homophobic bullying in schools, which is of course a huge problem, but equally I don't see discussions of racism and homophobia going to the "bullying in school" well nearly as consistently as discussions of prejudice against nerds do, mostly because people dealing with racism or homophobia can cite much more recent examples whereas for nerds "It Gets Better" kicks in more or less as soon as you leave school.

Indeed, in my experience if people were actually committed to bullying you they'd escalate to racism or homophobia fairly quickly rather than harping on your hobbies. Nerds at my school tended to be hit with "You're perceived as being good at academic subjects, therefore you are totally gay and therefore fair game for bullying", an attitude which is really more homophobic than it is nerd-hating. A popular enough kid at my school could get away with unfashionable hobbies, but I honestly don't think they'd have gotten away with being openly gay.

And yet nerds like to claim they were at the bottom of the school pecking order anyway.
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at 01:38 on 16-01-2014, James D
I think to some extent nerds can also be sensitive to ridicule as a result of being bullied in school for being nerds - getting even the faintest whiff of bullying as an adult probably dredges up all sorts of unpleasant memories. Bullying is definitely a real problem in school, but at the same time, I haven't really seen or heard of nerd bullying carrying over into the adult world to any significant degree, and I've certainly never heard of, say, a landlord not wanting to rent a nerd an apartment because their name or voice sounds "too nerdy".
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at 01:13 on 16-01-2014, Arthur B
Yeah, I think it's important to decouple "being offended" from "being oppressed". You don't automatically get to join the latter category just because you happened to slip into the first one, and something could very, very deeply offend you but at the same time either not constitute a long-standing pattern of oppression against you and people like you, or not represent remotely the same magnitude of oppression that other people have suffered/are suffering.

That's the offensive part of the nerdface thing: it implies that having your hobbies and their participants laughed at is remotely on the same magnitude as minstrel shows and Jim Crow laws.
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at 00:35 on 16-01-2014, James D
Sure, there's nothing wrong with not liking TBBT for the reasons you outlined. I don't like it either. What bothers me is when people start making sweeping generalizations about how oppressed nerds are using TBBT as "evidence". Huge swaths of mainstream media still cater specifically to male nerds, probably now more than ever.
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at 23:39 on 15-01-2014, Dan H
@James D

I'm in kind of two minds about this, because I think it is one of those situations where it's easy to condemn the wrong thing.

It is wrong to try to claim that your oppression, whatever it is, gives you standing to talk about other people's oppression as if it happened to you, or to claim that you have a special insight into other people's oppression, or to belittle or dismiss that oppression. Certainly the kind of crap you get from a lot of people - about how it is *only* heterosexual white men who are *really* oppressed any more - is offensive silencing bullshit.

*But* that doesn't mean that it is wrong to be upset about something that upsets you. Obviously calling TBBT "nerdface" is a tacky choice of analogy which is very likely to leave a lot of people feeling justifiably offended. But there is nothing wrong with a nerd saying that the reason that they don't like The Big Bang Theory is that they feel that it perpetuates offensive stereotypes about them. Hell, *I* don't like the Big Bang Theory for exactly that reason.

Being asked to laugh at somebody like you, specifically *because* they are like you, is offensive and hurtful, and there is nothing wrong with *saying* that it is offensive and hurtful. It only becomes problematic if you assume that because you find something offensive and hurtful, this absolves you of all responsibility to avoid being offensive and hurtful to others.
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at 11:22 on 15-01-2014, James D
While I fit fairly comfortably into the "nerd" category in many respects, I really, really hate it when other nerds talk about us like we're some sort of marginalized ethnic or religious group. It's like they want to blame their own social awkwardness on nerd prejudice or something.
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at 10:57 on 15-01-2014, Andy G
Yeah, it's a lazy and unimaginative portrayal for a very general audience, which is why I only watch it when I feel like something really undemanding, but it's other features of the show which occasionally make it actually uncomfortable to watch.
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at 09:48 on 15-01-2014, Dan H
Oh dear. A friend of a friend on Facebook actually said today: "An apt comparison I've seen for the Big Bang Theory is that it's a lot like a minstrel show. Except instead of blackface, the actors are wearing nerdface."


Oh dear.

The annoying thing is I *do* really dislike BBT and I *do* find its portrayal of nerd culture stereotypical and annoying. To be hyper-hyper charitable to your friend-of-a-friend the analogy makes sense in the very literalistic (and ironically, very nerdviewy) sense that it is people who are not members of [GROUP X] portraying an exaggerated stereotype of [GROUP X], primarily for the entertainment of people who are not part of [GROUP X]. It's just also an appropriative and distasteful comparison.
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at 09:38 on 15-01-2014, Adrienne
For any interested parties: Foz Meadows just posted a REALLY FANTASTIC post about gender in gaming spaces.
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at 08:07 on 15-01-2014, Arthur B
Guys, maybe you don't get it because of your mundane privilege, but society is so biased against geeks, nerds and gamers. It's a problem almost on the same scale as misandry - in fact, it's a type of misandry because as we all know "real" geek girls don't exist - and we have to fight it the best way we know how: posting weepy diatribes about our dating failures and ignorant rants about how stupid religious people are to Reddit whilst wearing fedoras.

For serious though, shoot all people who use "nerdface" like it's some equivalent to blackface into the Sun (they'll consent if you tell them it's for science).
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at 04:01 on 15-01-2014, Melanie
Eugh. It's only "apt" if you think hobbies/interests are like race in some fashion.
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at 01:44 on 15-01-2014, Michal
I fucking hate that comparison and I hear it constantly.
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at 23:48 on 14-01-2014, Andy G
Oh dear. A friend of a friend on Facebook actually said today: "An apt comparison I've seen for the Big Bang Theory is that it's a lot like a minstrel show. Except instead of blackface, the actors are wearing nerdface." During a discussion of this article. Which I think has mostly got the problem with the show the whole wrong way round: the show is far more malicious towards Penny (the "dumb blonde" stereotype) than the main characters, and constantly invites us to root for them and identify them even when (or especially when) they're being creepy Nice Guys.
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at 15:24 on 14-01-2014, Arthur B
I am fascinated to see how they make this work. Do you buy sight-unseen a pack of tickets which get you access to specific scenes from the movie, and you need to trade or buy packs until you get access to the complete film?
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at 17:02 on 13-01-2014, Arthur B
EA, months after everyone had written off the latest Sim City as a horrible wreck, has finally decided to let people play it offline.

Comment sections are usually terrible but this time I am heartened to note the chorus of people pointing out that EA had previously said that providing an offline mode would be impossible. Unfortunately, making larger cities will still be impossible due to the heavy graphical load, thanks to EA designing the game with the assumption that what the audience for a laid-back city management simulation game really wants is flashy, cutting-edge graphics and a multiplayer mode.
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at 22:39 on 10-01-2014, Alice
@Alice: Except what could possibly be worth the sort of publicity that convinces the entire world you're an arrogant, juvenile fuckwit?

Oh, if only I knew... Possibly he's heard "no such thing as bad publicity" a few too many times. Though then again he's never struck me as the sharpest tool in the box, which doesn't exactly lend credence to the notion that there's a method to his madness.

I think it's my touchingly naïve faith in human nature that makes me want to believe that he's not being a tool without some underlying reason or plan, but I suspect I will become rapidly disabused of this notion. ;-)
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at 21:31 on 10-01-2014, Arthur B
Similarly, while I can see how you *could* make an IP infringement case on the basis of copying story elements, I think it would probably be quite hard to make stick. Look at the trouble White Wolf had when they tried to sue the makers of /Underworld/.

Bad example, given that White Wolf basically won that exchange. (Well, at any rate there was a confidential settlement which avoided the need to take the matter to trial. Generally confidential settlements like that usually involve the complainant getting at least part of what they wanted - because if they didn't, the complainants wouldn't settle - and in my books if you're able to meet some of your goals and avoid the expense of going to trial you've come out ahead.)

You will note that White Wolf lawyers' game plan included compiling a massive document listing loads and loads of story parallels between the White Wolf novel that Underworld supposedly ripped off, which ties in to precisely what I was saying earlier about the key thing not being examining each one atomistically and saying "well, that isn't close enough, and that isn't close enough, and that isn't close enough", it's about looking at the whole assembly and saying "is it really coincidence that these two stories have this many story elements in common?".

I can't see any situation in which you could meaningfully plagiarise a premise.

Sure, but I've not argued that copying a premise by itself amounts to plagiarism, and I don't think that's what Straub is saying either when he notes that you've got the premise in conjunction with the dialogue and the story beats and so on. His actual note isn't that clear on it, but then again I don't expect high legal precision from an off-hand comment on a webcomic news post.
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at 21:07 on 10-01-2014, Dan H
@Dan: Typically online discussion of intellectual property is entirely orthogonal to the truth, so you can't just assume the opposite and end up correct - you just end up equally wrong but in a different way. ;)


Fair point. I think it's partially that my understanding of plagiarism is very academically focused, and as far as I can tell in academia (at least up to undergraduate level) it really is mostly about words rather than anything else. After all, if 2000 A-level students write an essay about the causes of the First World War, they're likely to be very similar in premise and structure, what matters is that they're written in the student's own words - there's no requirement to contribute anything new to scholarship.

Similarly, while I can see how you *could* make an IP infringement case on the basis of copying story elements, I think it would probably be quite hard to make stick. Look at the trouble White Wolf had when they tried to sue the makers of /Underworld/. And I can't see any situation in which you could meaningfully plagiarise a premise. It's not like every novel in which a teenage girl arrives at a new school and finds herself attracted to a boy who turns out to be something mysterious and supernatural is plagiarising /Twilight/.
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at 17:25 on 10-01-2014, Arthur B
@Alice: Except what could possibly be worth the sort of publicity that convinces the entire world you're an arrogant, juvenile fuckwit?

@Dan: Typically online discussion of intellectual property is entirely orthogonal to the truth, so you can't just assume the opposite and end up correct - you just end up equally wrong but in a different way. ;)
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