As I have said previously, I don’t read PvP regularly any more, mostly because I don’t find it particularly entertaining, and I’ve talked about that before. Other people do, and that’s fine. We all like different things. But this week somebody emailed me and said “you have to check out the current guest story by Dylan Meconis because it will make you flip your shit“, and this person generally knows what makes me flip my shit, so I said “oh, all right” and went and read it. And my shit, while not quite flipped, was certainly bestirred.
To be fair to Meconis: the art is generally good and she clearly knows how to construct a strip properly (and so many people don’t). But the story elements harp on one of my major pet peeves that has emerged out of nerddom over the last decade or so.
Quick summary of the plot: There are two characters named Marcie and Francis, who recently got married. Marcie is a relatively normal person who likes a lot of “nerd things.” Francis – as anybody who reads PvP knows – is one of the worst examples of a stupidly common trope in nerdesque literature, e.g. the ubernerd who is basically an amoral sociopath but who periodically “redeems” himself by recognizing that he is a dickhole and making a grand gesture to apologize. (Every nerd comic strip seems to have at least one of these. Some of them have multiples, because nerd comic strip makers seem to think that these people are, in some way, quixotically admirable. SPOILER: They never are.)
Anyway, prior to getting married, Marcie took off elsewhere and was single for a while, and the premise of this particular story is that during that time she dated a dude named Arjun Khan (who from the moment of his introduction telegraphs the eventual “KHAAAAN” joke, of course) who was an architecture grad student there. It rapidly becomes clear that Arjun is a cool guy in all respects: he’s polite, friendly, good-looking, charming, smart, lots of other good things. His one flaw is that he does not know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek: he is not a nerd!
(I just want to pause the plot here for a second. Putting aside, for a second, the fact that anybody who makes it to grad school is going to be at least slightly nerdy in some way – it doesn’t happen otherwise, folks – is anybody else really sick of the “oh he can’t tell the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek” shorthand for “mainstream”? Fucking everybody knows the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. My sixty-five-year-old mother, who does not follow science fiction in the least – she really likes Downton Abbey, though – knows that Star Wars is lightsabers and Jedi and Darth Vader and the Rebel Alliance, and Star Trek is Kirk and Spock and the Enterprise and the Prime Directive. Which is to say: this bit of storytelling shorthand is stupid and needs to go away forever.)
Francis, because he is a dickhole, flies into a jealous rage, and then he makes his Grand Gesture, which is to play Skyrim for so long that he can get all of the cheese wheels in the game together. Putting aside the fact that a video gamer playing a video game for a long time is a pretty weak-ass Grand Gesture, I really want to comment on Francis’ sullen, angry-looking “will you just look at the shit I do for you” expression here, because it is fucking creepy. If somebody glared at me like that while they were supposedly apologizing, I would not be inclined to take their apology seriously. I am just saying. But anyway, Marcie breaks down crying because somehow this is now her fault for not telling Francis about her ex-boyfriend when she knew perfectly well he would freak out like a stupid asshole.
Anyway, the two of them make up, essentially, and Francis asks Marcie why she picked him over Arjun, who is so clearly better a person than Francis it is not even funny, and her explanation is that Arjun is not a nerd – he doesn’t like comics or video games or going to cons. And this is the part that drives me nuts, because this isn’t just questionable story writing – this is something I hear people say in real life all the time, especially from nerds, and it’s always silly.
Look, I have had my share of relationships. Some of them liked some of the weird stuff I liked. Some of them did not. (None of them liked professional wrestling, despite my pointing out that it was homoerotic as all hell, honestly, and come on, babe, you love slash fiction… but I digress.) Certainly none of them liked all of the stuff I liked, which is fine, because that is called “being an adult” and recognizing that while shared interests can certainly strengthen a relationship, they are arguably the least important part of one. Being considerate of your partner’s emotional needs, for example. Helping them with their daily logistics. Being something that generally makes their life better rather than being an emotional trial. Or, and I am just throwing this out here, not being a massive dickhole all the goddamn time.
“Liking the same stuff” is so far down the list as to be negligible, especially when “showing interest when your partner tells you stuff they are excited about” will do just as well ninety-five percent of the time (and if you genuinely like the person, then it’s never hard to be actually interested because they’re interested, even if afterwards you won’t bother following up with your own independent research on the topic) and when, if we’re being honest, “liking the same stuff” can be as basic as “sports,” “movies,” “eating out” or “doin’ it.” But Jebus, telling this to nerds is only slightly more difficult than… I am running dry on analogies here, so you can just pretend I mentioned Doctor Who or something, but my general point is that “nerd subculture” – which, really, is a thing that should not exist, because there is no logical reason that people who like comic books should also like video games except for the fact that they are intensely marketed to the same demographics – places too high a priority on its gewgaws of nerdformation.
This is, when you get down to it, another facet of the mindset that created the “fake geek girl” brouhaha last year – the belief that somehow, knowing what THAC0 is or being able to hum the Doomy Doom song from Invader Zim is in and of itself precious, rather than the fun-but-meaningless-crap that it clearly is. It’s all about the same gatekeeper mentality, that conflation of “nerd identity” to something akin to race (which, while also an entirely social construct, at least provides clear visual identifiers when the people being identified aren’t cosplaying), but in the PVP story, Meconis has actually gender-reversed it – which is, I suppose, sort of a blow for geek girls? Except it means that geek girls have to settle for horrible Francises rather than decent and good Arjuns, so actually never mind, that’s not a blow for geek girls at all when you think about it. Someone more talented than me should write a sociological essay or something about that.
(And, of course, the denouement to the story shows us that Arjun, all along, was willing to try and learn about Marcie’s interests anyway, because even as he is being cast as a potential future villain, he’s still basically a decent guy. Also, the gag line in that particular strip is very good.)
EDIT TO ADD: Discussion in the comments is going astray from what I was trying to talk about as people defend the necessity of shared interests in a relationship – and yes, shared interests are important, of course, but that wasn’t my point so I’m going to expound a little more.
The issue here is, as I said, about the gatekeeper mentality that envelops nerdity. It’s the nerds-as-tribe dynamic (and, in another aside, when nerd parents do their best to get their kids into the nerd stuff they like, that’s part of it too). Shared interests are important, yes, but your average nerd presumably also likes things that are not-nerdy! You can share those interests, which is my point: in the strips, Arjun and Marcie clearly have lots of stuff in common that they like. It’s just not the nerd stuff, and the statement being made is that the nerd stuff is more important somehow. Which: everybody values their own obsessions differently, of course. But choosing borderline-sociopath over decent-human-being because of those obsessions – because the decent human being, while decent, is not one of us per se – has all sorts of wrongness attached to it. And that’s what bugs me about the strip and the larger thought process it represents – because even if you really, really like playing XBox, we are all more than our individual Xboxen.