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Nerds, Geeks, and Genre Preferences
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Nerds, Geeks, and Genre Preferences:

 1 Midnight Rambler, Thu, 30th Aug '12 8:45:07 AM from Germania Inferior
JEZUS MARIA PANIE KURWA BOŻE
WARNING: This post could be easily misread as an insult ('these genres are stupid and you're stupid for liking them') or as frustrated complaining ('waaah, why won't people like the stuff I think they should like'). It is neither. Nothing in this post is meant to insult anyone or complain about anything; I'm just looking for explanations for something I've noticed.

There have been endless debates about the meanings of the words 'nerd' and 'geek', and about the differences between the two. In this post, I'll use 'geek' to mean, roughly, 'someone with an interest in mathematics, engineering, programming and/or the natural sciences, who isn't overly concerned with mainstream norms for "coolness" or "popularity"'. I think this is a definition we can all more or less agree with; at any rate, I don't want to debate it here.

No matter what you think of geeks - it will probably be something positive, since you are likely to be one - you've got to give them one thing: on average, geeks are smart. The "geeky" interests mentioned above all require a considerable talent for learning and analytical thinking.

Besides stuff like maths and programming, geeks are also associated with certain genres and works in media. Fandoms which are traditionally seen as geeky include those for:

...and I could go on for ages; these are just the ones that spring to mind right now.

Now, most of these have a few things in common. One is escapism; most works covered by this list are set in a fantasy world far removed from the audience in time and place, or in a world closer to home but full of fantastic elements. Another... well, let's be honest here, they're not exactly known for their intellectual complexity. (Yes, I know there are plenty of exceptions; please don't start listing all of them. Like I said, I'm not trying to "prove" that anything is "stupid" here).

Many of these works share a focus on action rather than characterisation and psychology; the stories often have clearly identifiable "heroes" and "villains"; and much of the material was originally marketed to children and/or seen as "pulp".

Why, then, are they so popular with the intelligent people of this world? Why aren't most geeks enthusiastically reading Lit Fic, watching Le Film Artistique, going to performances of classical Greek drama, and listening to Bach?

In Buffy Speak: why do the smartest people like stuff that hardly requires smarts at all?

I'd be interested to hear your theories.

edited 30th Aug '12 8:46:06 AM by MidnightRambler

"...and by 'the real world' I mean continental Europe."

– Me
 2 Kayeka, Thu, 30th Aug '12 9:47:45 AM from Amsterdam Relationship Status: Brony
World's biggest wannabe
I like to think that being a geek is all about seeing coolness in inherently stupid things.

It might also be because geeks tend to like indexing stuff, and that sort of genre fiction lends itself prefectly for that sort of thing (hence, tvtropes).

Or it might be because geeks like stuff a kid would like because they never saw much of a point in the traditional image of adulthood.
I think a lot of it is a want to see worlds that are inherently different and more fantastical.

I know one of the major reasons I love tokusatsu shows, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu songs or Takashi Murakami's art is an obsession with quirky and fantastical things.

edited 30th Aug '12 9:58:35 AM by Midgetsnowman

Going Forth!
Why, then, are they so popular with the intelligent people of this world? Why aren't most geeks enthusiastically reading Lit Fic, watching Le Film Artistique, going to performances of classical Greek drama, and listening to Bach?

Are any of those things really more intelligent than science fiction or videogames, or is that just society's perception?

I'd also argue that things like reality TV, game shows and daytime soap operas are a lot dumber than any of the things you listed. I don't think you've established that geeks like things that "require less intelligence" at all.

edited 30th Aug '12 10:02:32 AM by Talby

It's because those arthouse things aren't marketed to them.
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
 6 Oh So Into Cats, Thu, 30th Aug '12 10:13:57 AM from The Sand Wastes Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
I have a question for you in return: have you ever really hung around openly literary types? I mean, really spent time with some?
"Beware of the wolves. They were raised by wolves."

Eidolonomics: ~60.4k/100,000 words
 7 Midnight Rambler, Thu, 30th Aug '12 10:26:27 AM from Germania Inferior
JEZUS MARIA PANIE KURWA BOŻE
I'd also argue that things like reality TV, game shows and daytime soap operas are a lot dumber than any of the things you listed. I don't think you've established that geeks like things that "require less intelligence" at all.

Twisting my words, sir. I never said that all these "geeky" things require less intelligence than mainstream popular culture - indeed, I'm with you on reality TV and soap operas being a lot dumber than most fantasy and science fiction. However, I was making a comparison with "high culture", like Lit Fic or classical music, which are a lot more intellectually challenging than Star Wars or Superman.

I have a question for you in return: have you ever really hung around openly literary types? I mean, really spent time with some?

I have. They tend to be rather ditzy, talk in vague concepts that mostly sound like pretentious nonsense to me, and hate mathematics. Which only complements my original question: why are the smart people (geeks) usually interested in the less complex stuff, whereas the supposedly more intellectual material is mostly the domain of... well, people who don't seem to be all that intelligent?

edited 30th Aug '12 10:27:05 AM by MidnightRambler

"...and by 'the real world' I mean continental Europe."

– Me
Twisting my words, sir. I never said that all these "geeky" things require less intelligence than mainstream popular culture - indeed, I'm with you on reality TV and soap operas being a lot dumber than most fantasy and science fiction. However, I was making a comparison with "high culture", like Lit Fic or classical music, which are a lot more intellectually challenging than Star Wars or Superman.

Well, maybe when you think of science fiction and comics you think of Star Wars and Superman. I think of Stanislaw Lem and Watchmen.

 9 Barkey, Thu, 30th Aug '12 10:31:20 AM from Bunker 051 Relationship Status: [TOP SECRET]
War Profiteer
I don't think it has anything to do with less intelligence, I think that geeks and nerds like escapism. The pursuits you mentioned are all intellectual in the fact that they require you to use your imagination, or involve the escapism of some different reality.

That's what being a nerd or a geek is, having a more active imagination than most regular people who are into "reality" TV or other idiotic shit. Concepts might be simple, but escapism is not. Really escaping into and enjoying a story set in an entirely different world requires much more intellect than a lot of the things you see as mainstream. It just isn't embraced as such.

edited 30th Aug '12 10:32:22 AM by Barkey

The AR-15 is responsible for 95% of all deaths each year. The rest of the deaths are from obesity and drone strikes.
[up]

This. Its the same reason a lot of modern art students are also nerds. Both groups highly prize imagination and escapism.
Going Forth!
Is that cake frosting?
Are any of those things really more intelligent than science fiction or videogames, or is that just society's perception?
I would posit that yes, these things are really more intelligent. Don't get me wrong, I enjoy a number of geeky forms of entertainment too: but there is no sense in which, when playing Skyrim, I am doing anything more intellectual than my sister does when she watches cheesy reality shows.

And while there is some science fiction and fantasy that, I think, may be legitimately considered of comparable quality of the great classics, the vast majority of it... well, doesn't.
But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

 12 Oh So Into Cats, Thu, 30th Aug '12 10:40:11 AM from The Sand Wastes Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
The vast majority of all entertainment is terrible. I think one should also notice that when lit fix writers try to write speculative fiction, a lot of them do so poorly.
"Beware of the wolves. They were raised by wolves."

Eidolonomics: ~60.4k/100,000 words
Is that cake frosting?
But even nice forms of geeky entertainment are not generally at the same level of the classics. The classics, after all, are the greatest works of their period; and therefore, it is unlikely that the 20th and 21th centuries will give us more than a handful of "classic"-quality Science Fiction or Fantasy works tongue
But they seem to know where they are going, the ones who walk away from Omelas.

Moar and Moar and Moar
Well, I take the other route. The great classics are simply not that..great. I'm not saying that they're bad, of course. There's some that are really good (and there are some that are god awful), but what gives them meaning is the cultural importance. The fact that they are widespread cultural touchstones GIVE them that meaning, that they don't really have inherently.

Of the "proper" things listed above, I don't mind any of that stuff, and I enjoy some of it...with the exception of Literary Fiction, which I simply think is often hollow codswallop, but I think that even if we stand on the backs of giants, that generally means that we're still higher up. Culture didn't stop evolving and progressing.

Actually now that I think about it...do you really know what nerds and geeks like about all those above things, or at least speaking for myself, what do all those things have in common? Systems. They're generally all about systems. Sometimes relationships and social systems, sometimes cultural and societies, sometimes technical and numbers and gameplay. But all those things are about systems (Zombie/Apocalyptic stories of course, are about the breakdown of systems).

They might be about other things too, but things are arranged in such a way as to make them accessible to people who look at the world from that viewpoint. It's a safe spot. And I know speaking for myself it's something I find insanely interesting, and I'll read a book or something if it features an interesting system to explore.

I think this is as good of an explanation as any as to why this subgroup tends to like the things it likes.

Edit: Yeah, agreeing with everybody else. If you really want a fair comparison you have to compare the best to the best. Comparing the worst or even the average to the best is simply unfair.

edited 30th Aug '12 10:51:21 AM by Karmakin

Democracy is the process in which we determine the government that we deserve
 15 Oh So Into Cats, Thu, 30th Aug '12 10:48:12 AM from The Sand Wastes Relationship Status: Showing feelings of an almost human nature
So you're discounting all of the classic science fiction and fantasy literature out there as relevant? I mean, it's easy to say that there's less of it because proportionately there is less of it out there than contemporary and historically based literature.
"Beware of the wolves. They were raised by wolves."

Eidolonomics: ~60.4k/100,000 words
 16 Aceof Spades, Thu, 30th Aug '12 10:49:25 AM from The Wild Blue Yonder Relationship Status: Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free
Midnight Rambler, I'm wondering how you equate Science Fiction, of all things, with being an unintelligent passtime. That's a genre that requires its writers to be very intelligent, and versed in the latest theories of whatever their particular story involves, in order to create a believable world, particularly when it gets into the harder and more stringently realistic end of the spectrum. And the type of people who read it tend to be the ones who specifically enjoy the scientific speculation. A lot of people who are in the know about the latest theories will tend to enjoy this genre even more than someone who is less up to date about scientific speculation.

Also, games of all sorts require a certain level of intelligence to play. That's part of why anyone participates in them; strategic thinking is as important in something like football as physical fitness is. Such ability to think that way comes into card games and tabletop games as well. (Basically, we play Yu Gi Oh and the like for much the same reason as our ancestors invented and played poker and gin rummy.)

Yeah. None of what you listed necessarily involves letting go of our brains. Or ability to think. In fact, we participate in these activities in order to stimulate our brains in relatively non stressful situations, and also because we're social creatures that enjoy being around people. (In the case of games the require social interaction.)

The fact that there is unintelligent slop in any of these is simply a result of Sturgeon's Law. Ninety percent of anything is going to suck. People just like to pile on that which isn't protected by ivory towers, which includes most genre fiction. Lit Fic is hard to attack because of said ivory tower, and also because it sort of defies being put into a specific category.
 17 shimaspawn, Thu, 30th Aug '12 12:25:34 PM from Here and Now Relationship Status: In your bunk
I think a bit thing that stops geeks from getting into Lit Fic is that the truth is, it's not all that interesting. Most of the complexity of it is artificial and pretentious. It's purposely complicated for the sake of putting on airs. Not actually intelligent. It's sort of the Hipster genre. It tries to obscure and just comes off as shallow. As a result a lot of geeks ignore it in favour of media that does actually have real depth, and not just pretention masquerading as depth.
Reality is that, which when you stop believing in it, doesn't go away.

-Philip K. Dick
 18 Hourai Rabbit, Thu, 30th Aug '12 12:34:59 PM from Fort Sandbox, El Paso Relationship Status: Hooked on a feeling
Do pushups.
I don't think it has anything to do with less intelligence, I think that geeks and nerds like escapism. The pursuits you mentioned are all intellectual in the fact that they require you to use your imagination, or involve the escapism of some different reality.

That's what being a nerd or a geek is, having a more active imagination than most regular people who are into "reality" TV or other idiotic shit. Concepts might be simple, but escapism is not. Really escaping into and enjoying a story set in an entirely different world requires much more intellect than a lot of the things you see as mainstream. It just isn't embraced as such.

Quoted for emphasis, and also because Barkey read my mind again.

edited 30th Aug '12 12:35:26 PM by HouraiRabbit

Wise Papa Smurf, corrupted by his own power. CAN NO LEADER GO UNTAINTED?!
 19 Midnight Rambler, Thu, 30th Aug '12 12:58:23 PM from Germania Inferior
JEZUS MARIA PANIE KURWA BOŻE
Yeah, the escapism thing sounds like a pretty good explanation - which is why I mentioned it in the OP.

It worries me a bit, though. I don't like escapism; all too often, it seems to mean 'flee to a fantasy world so I don't have to give a shit about what happens to the real world'. And indeed, I've noticed a disturbing lack of interest in Real Life politics or history among my fellow geeks (the troper community being a positive exception).
"...and by 'the real world' I mean continental Europe."

– Me
I think a bit thing that stops geeks from getting into Lit Fic is that the truth is, it's not all that interesting. Most of the complexity of it is artificial and pretentious. It's purposely complicated for the sake of putting on airs. Not actually intelligent. It's sort of the Hipster genre. It tries to obscure and just comes off as shallow. As a result a lot of geeks ignore it in favour of media that does actually have real depth, and not just pretention masquerading as depth.

Heh heh heh.

Are you serious? Because the vast, vast, vast (vast) majority of stuff that nerds like is power-fantasy with all the depth of a teaspoon. There is sci-fi/fantasy out there that is truly deep/interesting (Ursula la Guin & Philip K Dick come to mind), but the popular stuff is almost universally dross with at best two-dimensional characters, blatantly obvious themes, etc.

That's perfectly fine, escapist power-fantasy has its place, but to claim that's it's particularly deep is loltastic.

Now, some literature is a bit too esoteric to leap into, and you have to build up to it. But seeing something that you don't understand right away & dismissing it as 'pretentious' because of that doesn't strike me as a particularly intelligent approach.
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
 21 Aceof Spades, Thu, 30th Aug '12 1:18:52 PM from The Wild Blue Yonder Relationship Status: Yes, I'm alone, but I'm alone and free
See, that lack of interest isn't even specific to the nerd subgroup, so to blame that on escapism is misattributing that. Lack of interest in politics is a society spanning cultural trend, and if they weren't nerds they'd be entertaining themselves with something else.

You may not be trying to prove anything is stupid here, but that does seem to be the gist of what you're saying as regards the desire to participate in nerdly topics of interest. Or, you know, just enjoy a game or a book now and then without having to deal with the complexities of life. You even use the word escapism, which suggest that large amounts of people have a problem with avoiding real life. It's like you're saying we have to be super serious all the time. Well, we don't have to. And it would, in fact, be incredibly bad for our mental health on a personal and societal level. So yeah, there's all sorts of escapist fantasies going around, and games, and books of all sorts. Even lit fic is escapist in the sense that it's not something you personally are experiencing, or ever will experience.

And yet we usually manage to function just fine with all this going around. "Escapist" fantasy (and now I'm really hating that word) is just a way for us to let our minds relax. Fun is as important as politics. And entertaining ourselves keeps us from going crazy. It's not a stupid thing to do, it's a human thing to do. And, as such, actually quite intelligent to do.
Escapist fantasy is universal; some nerds just like it to involve spaceships and dragons rather than explosions and kung-fu, or shoe shopping.
Violence is the last refuge of the incompetent.
 23 Midnight Rambler, Thu, 30th Aug '12 1:47:49 PM from Germania Inferior
JEZUS MARIA PANIE KURWA BOŻE
See, that lack of interest isn't even specific to the nerd subgroup, so to blame that on escapism is misattributing that. Lack of interest in politics is a society spanning cultural trend, and if they weren't nerds they'd be entertaining themselves with something else.

But the fact that 'the nerd subgroup' isn't exempt from the 'society spanning cultural trend' is exactly what worries me. Take my fellow Electrical Engineering students, for example. Without question, they're smart people. They can design processors and solve differential equations. They're part of the small minority who receive an education at the academic level. They're in the upper crust of our society when it comes to intellectual ability.

Yet if you made them take a test with some basic questions about our political system or about 20th-century history, most of them wouldn't do much better than the average man in the street.

And that, my friend, is something I'm complaining about.
"...and by 'the real world' I mean continental Europe."

– Me
 24 De Marquis, Thu, 30th Aug '12 1:58:29 PM from Hell, USA Relationship Status: Buried in snow, waiting for spring
Who Am I?
I have an entirely different take on this: it's neither intelligence nor escapism. Geeks are people who like rules and objective structure. They want to be right about something. And they want that something to have a lot of objective structure that one could be right about. The subtle emotional complexities and nuances of human relationships don't interest them as much. That explains why they like science and sci-fi and comic books (the kind where it's all about in-universe continuity). Any genre with strong narrative conventions is potentially interesting. It also explains why they don't like Lit Fic or mainstream politics (which are all about complex social nuances). In short, Geeks are interested in things that potentially have objectively correct answers, and are bored by things that do not.
“Disobedience is the true foundation of liberty. The obedient must be slaves.”
 25 Mrs Ratched, Thu, 30th Aug '12 2:01:31 PM from Dorne Relationship Status: Crazy Cat Lady
The guy nobody likes
All I have to say about that is that the consideration of geek or nerd by non-geek or nerd, as far as I observed, is pure hypocrisy
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