Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.
— Abraham Lincoln
Once upon a time, being a ‘geek’ or ‘nerd’ meant being a social outcast, poked, prodded, and insulted for the things you enjoyed. Comics, cartoons, shows, whatever. All of it was a license for someone to try to take you down a peg.
There are much worse things in the world to be attacked for (see: gender, race, sexuality, religion, etc), but on a personal level, that is difficult to deal with day-to-day. It’s a small, personal slice of adversity that geeks had to deal with for a long time. Like the Lincoln quote this piece opens with, we did indeed stand it, and endure it.
Fast forward to the current pop culture landscape. The things we were teased and made pariahs over in our childhood are now the biggest film franchises, the coolest merchandise, and the biggest events of the year. We won. We have the power now.
… and holy shit, have we failed the test of character.
We have proven to be very sore winners indeed. Instead of welcoming new fans with open arms, the way we expected/hoped to be welcomed once upon a time, we lament the fact that people might enjoy the same things we do.
Worse, when the general public thinks something we might enjoy isn’t very good, we freak out and throw temper tantrums like the children we were supposed to have grown out of being. I say ‘might enjoy’, because we’ve reached a point where it doesn’t even matter if we’ve had the experience ourselves before we begin forming an opinion of its quality.
Most recently, both Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Suicide Squad received pretty brutal reviews from critics, and instead of just enjoying those films if we liked them, or not enjoying them if we don’t, fans blasted critics, called them biased, and/or actually accused them of being paid off by Disney/Marvel. A couple days ago, over 18,000 people even went so far as to sign a petition to get popular review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes shut down over its perceived bias against Warner Bros/DC.
Never mind that Rotten Tomatoes doesn’t write reviews, or that Warner Bros has a 30% ownership of the site. Those things are inconsequential when it is time to unleash our immature, misguided rage.
We stomp around, name call, point fingers, and act like the jerks that pushed us around in our youth. It’s embarrassing. We’ve spent our entire lives being told the things we like are stupid, or that they suck. We took the criticism better as children than we do now at adults. When did we get so bloody thin skinned?
In the Captain America films, Steve Rogers’ world view is summed up pretty succinctly: “I don’t like bullies.” We sit in the theater and cheer, because many of us, if not most, were bullied. It feels good to think Captain America is on our side. With a little self awareness, though, I think many would sit in that theatre and realize he’s talking about us.
I wish geek fandom were a super hero film franchise. At least with those, when things get out of hand or general quality ends up in the toilet, we can just start over again and hope it doesn’t suck next time.
This piece originally appeared on Medium, and has been reprinted with permission.