What Happens When Society Decides That Nerds Are Dangerous?

Nerd 11Nerds. Dangerous. Same sentence? Yes, in Vanity Fair:

In Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 movie Straw Dogs, Dustin Hoffman plays an ineffectual intellectual, a mathematician, indeed, a nerd, who moves with his alluring wife to her hometown, in England. Local rowdies continually harass them, until Hoffman’s character executes a violent revenge.

The words “nerd” and “violent” do not usually go hand in hand, but the harmlessness of nerds is hardly a settled formula. Along with severe emotional disturbance, likely psychosis, and a slowly festering decision to carry out the rampage that ended in the deaths of six students, as well as his own on May 23 in Isla Vista, California, Elliot Rodger, for most of his life, fit the mold of a “nerd.” In his manifesto, “My Twisted World,” he noted that video games were his only refuge growing up: “I immersed myself entirely into my online games like World of Warcraft. I felt safe there.”

Among recent murderers and would-be murderers, Rodger wasn’t alone in his nerdish pastimes. The Newtown Connecticut school shooter, Adam Lanza, even more of a loner than Rodger, was addicted to video games, including one creepy offering called School Shooting. Two 12-year-old Wisconsin girls who, a week after the Isla Vista shootings, stabbed a friend 19 times to invoke the imaginary character Slender Man acquired their ideas from an online game, as well as the horror urban-legend forum creepypasta.com.

After the Isla Vista killings, commentators quickly linked Rodger’s worldview to his lifelong embrace of nerd-culture offerings such as Pokémon, Halo, Star Wars, World of Warcraft, andGame of Thrones. Arthur Chu, a former Jeopardy quiz-show champion, judged the mass murderer’s autobiography as “a standard frustrated angry geeky guy manifesto, except for the part about mass murder.” Chu posited that the sexist trappings of the video-game world abetted both Rodger’s belief that he was entitled to a “hot chick” and his vengeful ruminations when he continually failed to connect. Indeed, according to Chu, video-game graphics and storylines encourage a more general “rape culture.” He concluded it was time for fellow geeks to “grow up” and throw aside the sense of entitlement nerd culture engenders.

This is hardly the first time nerdiness has become associated with aberrant behavior. History, however, suggests that nerd panics generally say less about geek communities than they do about the people doing the panicking—and the uncertainty of the times…

[continues at Vanity Fair]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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15 Comments on "What Happens When Society Decides That Nerds Are Dangerous?"

  1. Apathesis | Jun 18, 2014 at 7:15 pm |

    Except the bad guys in Straw Dogs deserved what Dustin Hoffman meted out.

    • That was some punishment, too. I’m still haunted by that bear trap thing that had been hanging on the wall, and I saw it decades ago.

    • Yeah and it wasn’t exactly revenge. More like self defense. I mean he got worked up over the course of the movie but he certainly wouldn’t have let the hammer fall as hard as he did if his household had not be in immediate and certain danger. I think it seriously misrepresents the movie to say he’s a nerd who sought revenge.

      • Apathesis | Jun 19, 2014 at 6:48 am |

        Very true. I’m still not sure he was even aware of what they did to his wife.

  2. Chaos_Dynamics | Jun 18, 2014 at 7:43 pm |

    “And then, just to show them, I’ll sail to Ka-Troo
    And Bring Back an It-Kutch, a Preep, and a Proo,
    A Nerkle, a Nerd, and a Seersucker too!”

    Thank you Theodor.

  3. BuzzCoastin | Jun 18, 2014 at 8:41 pm |

    Dangerous Nerds:
    Steve Jobs
    Larry Page
    Mark Zukerberg
    Keith Alexander
    Kim Dotcom
    Jeff Bezos
    military drone piglets

    • CherriMattinsontyy | Jun 19, 2014 at 4:19 am |

      just before I
      looked at the receipt ov $8130 , I didn’t believe that my sister woz like
      actualy bringing in money part-time from there pretty old laptop. . there aunts
      neighbour has been doing this 4 only about 22 months and at present repayed the
      mortgage on their appartment and bought themselves a Chrysler . see here M­o­n­e­y­d­u­t­i­e­s­.­C­O­M­

  4. Anarchy Pony | Jun 18, 2014 at 10:06 pm |

    Are you kidding? There’s a whole movie where nerds get revenge!

    • Funny you mention that film, as I’ve been thinking about it recently. It’s a bit odd to watch now, if you haven’t seen it for a while (e.g. if like me, you haven’t seen it since it was first released).

      The underlying message of broad tolerance, etc. is still there, of course, and the big speech at the end still rocks my world, but that stands in stark contrast to some of the revenge acts our heroic “nerds” undertake, which leave a weird aftertaste now, for me anyway, that clouds the nostalgic feel-goodery I used to feel for the movie.

      It’s very much a casual racism (Japanese people talk like MIckey Rooney in Breakfast From Tiffany’s, black people are all scary, potentially violent motherfuckers whose very pores seemingly ooze funk music wherever they go) and sexism fest, but as much by the titular nerds as the jocks.

      Fitting surveillance cameras in girls’ showers to get topless pics to distribute to the entire college is dodgy ground, but the scene where Lewis (Robert Carradine) finally gets to shag cheerleader Betty is several kinds of wrong. It’s seduction by fraud at best, rape at worst, but instead of freaking out when he reveals his identity (she thinks she’s shagging her boyfriend while he wears a mask) she falls in love with him.

      Cos the sex is that good, apparently…

      I must have first seen this film in my early to mid-teens, but I swear that scene did not raise an eyebrow or indeed a question, not from myself or any of my peers (or indeed my family, including my mother or sister) that watched it then or at subsequent times.

      Yeah, I know, it’s a cartoon-ish 1980s low-rent comedy, waddya expect? I suppose I only mention all of this because I am fascinated (and a little horrified) that the above scene did not register as at all wrong back then.

      The 1980s were a different time, for better or worse.

  5. kowalityjesus | Jun 19, 2014 at 2:06 am |

    newtown was a bad fake, look at a shot of Adam Lanza’s supposed room, NO DUST ON THE GAME SYSTEMS. That just ain’t natural.

    • Apathesis | Jun 19, 2014 at 5:34 pm |

      Yeah, and there were bags over the windows, too. Real natural, right? I wouldn’t read too much into that, but there was certainly a lot of strange things about that day, like the shotgun being found in the trunk–at night hours after the shooting!. How did the media report on the shotgun being involved before it was even found?

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