urkel

"I totally relate to the systemic societal bigotry you've faced and likely will continue to face your entire life because I got picked on for being really into Star Trek" might be an endearingly-naïve sentiment from a 10 year-old, but from a grown man (or a "movement" of grown men) it's pretty much grotesquely insensitive appropriation - and all the more so when the "marginalized community" in question is as powerful and dominant a part of the pop-culture market and conversation. To say that "geek culture" is in any meaningful way suffering under the boot-heels of the mainstream "bullies" is to ignore Hollywood, TV and the publishing industry alternately bending over backwards to revive and invigorate every sliver of nerd-adjacent intellectual property and finding new ways to assure (white, male, middle-to-upper-class) nerds how awesome and meaningful they and theirs are considered.

To put it bluntly, for however much the very real problems of schoolyard bullying and social stigmatization have been part of the "geek experience" over the years, the temptation for self-identified geeks, nerds etc to claim an exaggerated sympathy for the same (whereby the archetypal "bullied nerd" is afforded the privilege of presumed innate goodness) too often prevailed; particularly when abated by a popular culture that so loves it's "underdogs."

The result was, predictably, the emergence of culturally-pervasive power-dynamics with immensely troubling implications: The conflation of being a devoted fan of geeky things often associated with smart people (in the very beginning, scifi-fandom and devotees of actual science were quite intertwined, though it hardly remained such) - "I'm smart and you're stupid because you watch football whereas I watch 'BABYLON 5.'" The default good-versus-evil dichotomy of the Smart Nerd and Dumb Jock absent any acknowledgement of the culture and socioeconomic factors that can both make academic achievement more readily available to some and athletic achievement the only viable form of upward-mobility for others - By what logic, really, does the well-off child whose parents could afford to buy them a microscope hold innate moral-superiority over the poor child for whom a football scholarship is among the only realistic hopes of a better life?

And then, of course, there's the dynamic involving women. You'll note that I didn't specify "Geek Male Privilege" in the title - let's face it, I didn't need to: That so-called "Geek Culture" described what was until fairly recently widely understood to be a culture overwhelmingly of white men all-but goes without saying, and the way the Geeks = Underdogs = Good Guys privilege-narrative turns women into both prizes (sex) and villains (withholders of sex) is at once a manifestation and propagation of said narrative's ugliest side.

Consider one of pop-culture's most prominent "Hero Nerds," Family Matters' Steven Q. Urkel, whose central character arc over nine television seasons was aggressively pursuing the romantic attentions of an uninterested target in a manner that would red-flag him as stalker (and a potentially dangerous one at that - one of his triumphant catchphrases was even "I'm wearin' you down, baby!") were he not afforded the privilege of default moral high-ground by virtue of his being a "misunderstood" bullied nerd. In this morally upside-down scenario, Laura Winslow (the object of his obsession) was practically framed as a bully/oppressor herself by virtue of denying Steve love (and, let's face it, sex.) Yes, 90s Kids, I know it was a cute, funny, nostalgic touchstone. But roll all that around in your heads for a moment... it's just a bit repugnant, isn't it?

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