Revenge of the Nerds?: Leslie Jones and the Politics of Entitlement

A few years back movie critic Bob Chipman made a video about how geek culture liked to imagine itself as an aggrieved, oppressed demographic fighting back against the powerful forces of the “cool” and the “popular.”  Check it out, it’s great.

If you’ve ever seen the 1984 movie Revenge of the Nerds, then you can easily imagine the dynamic Chipman is describing.  The titular geeks (an extremely diverse bunch of misfits) are viciously bullied by the jocks of the Alpha Beta fraternity and so they decide to band together and form a frat house of their own.

Star Wars

Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid

The Sound of Music

In the tradition of these great films about fighting back against the odds, 20th Century Fox presents another milestone in motion picture history:

Revenge of the Nerds.

However, the only national group that will accept them into its ranks is the Tri-Lambs, an all-black fraternity, whose head sympathizes with the nerds after witnessing the “discrimination” they face at the hands of the football players and cheerleaders.


Revenge of the Nerds appropriates the symbols of racial discrimination to tell a story about geeks standing up to bullies.  Source

Keep this in mind and now contemplate what is happening to Ghostbusters star Leslie Jones on Twitter right now.  According to the New York Times,

Leslie Jones, one of the most visible and accessible stars in the all-female remake of the    Ghostbusters movie, said that she would leave Twitter after becoming the target of online trolls who sent her a stream of pornography, racist speech and hateful memes….

Several users compared her to primates, including Harambe, the male gorilla who was shot dead in May at a Cincinnati zoo. Others sent her pornography. Another created a fake Twitter account that appeared to show the actress spewing hateful language.

Jones is simply the latest in a long line of women being singled out for abuse by geek culture.  See: Kathy Sierra, Anita Sarkeesian, Zoe Quinn, and Felicia Day, among others.

It seems that a certain subset of geek culture has shifted away from identifying with the outsiders, the social outcasts, and the iconoclasts as their consumer power came to be recognized by the mainstream.  Now they are feeling the rush of identifying with the “cool kids” and they are dolling out the same kinds of violence and harassment that used to be aimed at them.

Perhaps this is why #GamerGate has so thoroughly gelled with the anti-feminist Men’s Rights Activists and the white supremacist alt right movement.  These groups excel at using the language of the underdog (Affirmative action is reverse racism!  Feminism is misandry!  All lives matter!) to push a reactionary, repressive political agenda.  These folks fear that feminists and anti-racists secretly wish to wield power over straight white men rather than to achieve equality because, as their behavior amply demonstrates, they desire power over others and they are projecting their own motivations onto their ideological opponents.  They don’t simply want to co-exist alongside the jocks and the pretty girls.  They want to feel what it is like to be them, to humiliate others as they feel they have been humiliated.  So they band together to “punch down” at targets even more vulnerable than themselves, even as they cast their targets as the real oppressors. They are addicted to a cycle of imaginary injustice followed by a toxic mix of rage and entitlement.

To people with this mindset, cultural capital is a limited resource.  If one group makes gains then it must mean another group faces losses.  If women, and especially women of color, are making inroads into geeky movie franchises and video games, then white male geeks must be losing something, which justifies the formation of a hate mob to get it back.

When you are accustomed to privilege, even the smallest steps towards equality feel like persecution.

The answer, of course, is more feminism, more social justice.  Rather than seeking the spot at the top of the social hierarchy and the ability to lord over those below, geek culture should invest in smashing hierarchies and expanding access to the spaces that sheltered them when they felt put down and put upon.  Nerds don’t need to get “revenge” on anyone, least of all women and people of color.

Update: Milo Yiannopoulos, the alt-right #GamerGate troll who orchestrated the abuse of Leslie Jones, has been banned from Twitter.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s