The Sexist Nonsense of “Appropriating Nerd Culture”

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Image from NBC.

Cliff Bleszinski doesn’t like Olivia Munn, and he wants you to know that.

Munn, an actress who got her start on G4’s flagship geek focused programme Attack of the Show, made some claims that she did all her own stunts in the latest X Men movie. This wasn’t true but is hardly the crime of the century. Indeed, it’s a claim many actors make (the infamous example being Natalie Portman in Black Swan). However, Bleszinski used this moment as a launching pad for a rant against Munn and alleged attitudes she demonstrated towards friends of his and former colleagues. This wouldn’t have been of much interest beyond yet another dude with an overblown axe to grind against a successful woman if it weren’t for his claim that Munn was guilty of “appropriating nerd culture”.

The internet quickly responded with ridicule, which he didn’t seem to get. Unfortunately, for most women with even the vaguest interest in the poorly defined pool of nerd culture, this is a rodeo we’re all too familiar with.

To defend Munn first, a woman I really have little to no opinion on, let’s look back at her time on Attack of the Show. This was a show, ostensibly designed to appeal to men, which regularly had Munn suggestively sucking on objects, including hot dogs, had a segment entitled “Olivia’s Rack” (on magazine articles – oh the wit) and dressed her up in a variety of sexy outfits, including slave Leia and Sailor Moon. One segment, where she lost a bet, involved her dressing in a rubber maid’s outfit and jumping into a pie. Now, forgive my assumptions, but I’m going to guess Munn didn’t have a whole lot of editorial control over these things, which were explicitly designed to titillate the hollering men in the audience. She’s appropriating nothing. She’s doing her job and G4 are happy to profit.

The laughable notion of appropriating nerd culture seems to be the latest step in the continued denial of women’s place in pop culture. The original iteration of this was the overused trope of the “fake geek girl”: A tinhat level conspiracy that ensures your typical insecure misogynist that there are waves of women, most of whom are stunningly beautiful, who cloak themselves in the detailed façade of geekdom in order to lure unsuspecting gentlemen into bed.

First of all, if this was actually the case, why the hell would you complain? Go enjoy yourselves. Of course, the insidious subtext here is that hobbies such as comic books, science fiction and superhero stories are never the domain of women. I’ve yet to meet a woman who hasn’t been scrutinised over her hobbies by a man demanding she pass some kind of purity test to prove she’s a ‘real nerd’: You’re wearing a Batman t-shirt? Name every villain ever and if you don’t do it quickly enough, you’re clearly a liar.

The entitlement on display here is staggering yet entirely unsurprising. We’ve all had to face this nonsense, sometimes on a daily basis, and often with dangerous repercussions: The harassment several notable women have faced for speaking up about video games is a clear example of this, as well as the fallout from the Batgirl variant cover. The message is clear – stay out of our space and don’t you dare be critical of it. And no, the irony of such misogynists denying the necessity of social justice dialogue while appropriating the language for their own uses has not been lost on me.

Ultimately, we need to define what geek culture is. What does it really amount to? Playing video games, reading comics and watching Marvel movies? I do all of those things yet do not consider myself part of a culture. A community, maybe. A fandom, occasionally. What binds together fans: Shared interests, shared purchasing habits, shared enjoyment. How do you appropriate that? This is hardly comparable to decades of white people appropriating the music of African Americans, or the black and yellow-face rampant in film to this day. To suggest someone can appropriate nerd culture is to say only those born into it can be a part of it. The elitism of such a statement is hard to ignore, and laughable at best.

What is nerd culture? Capitalism. It’s buying things and enjoying them, and that’s fine. Enjoy it. I do. Just don’t claim some woman wearing a Star Wars t-shirt is akin to having your village burned down. Everyone’s a nerd now.

3 COMMENTS

  1. “What is nerd culture? Capitalism. It’s buying things and enjoying them, and that’s fine.”

    I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone put this so bluntly before, but it’s one of the big reasons I’ve never been much of one for conventions and such. They always seem to be largely about buying stuff.

  2. It is part and parcel of what happens when women invade an area that used to be a “boys club.”

    When I owned my boat – 37ft sailboat that I single-handed – I bought a tee-shirt: “Yes, I am the Captain.” Because guys wouldn’t even sell me fuel at the fuel dock.

    And it is one of the reasons I got out of Info Tech. It was just too damn annoying to deal with the “you can’t possibly know what is going on” crap.

  3. A brief addition from a fan of Olivia Munn: besides her work on “Attack of the Show,” Munn IS a big ole nerd, as evident from her social media, her writing and interviews on nerdy stuff, and her other work since AotS. All of which is neither here nor there, since as you say, this is not a culture that can be appropriated!

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