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Thursday, May 29, 2014

Revenge of the Nerds: Entitlement, Misogyny, and Misconceptions Perpetrated By a Classic

Oh 80s, you silly time.  No one cared about PC culture or what was considered right.  Hollywood took a concept used time and time again and equated it to College, dating, and social status.

In 1979, Bill Murray and a bunch of ne’er do wells took on the rich, more entitled campers of Camp Mohawk in Meatballs.
In 1980, it was the slobs vs. the snobs in Caddyshack as the likes of Danny Noonan, a poor caddy, and wealthy, but uncultured Al Czervik take on the likes of Judge Smails and Dr. Beeper at Bushwood Country Club.

But in 1984 the haves vs. the have nots trope was spun into the nerds vs. the jocks at Adams College in Revenge of the Nerds.
Simple concept, two nerds try to fight the established “Greek” social society infrastructure at a college in order to be given the same treatment as their more physically fit and attractive male counterparts.  Brains vs. Braun.   Along the way, main nerd Lewis develops a crush on sorority cheerleader Betty and pursues her in spite of the fact that she clearly has no interest in him and already has a boyfriend, footballer and alpha male Stan.

Through various tests of wills and basic knowledge of science, the nerds defeat their jock antagonists and Lewis wins Betty from Stan in the flimsiest of plot points.

And that moment set the stage for a variety of cultural misconceptions that have always existed but were exploded into a “thing”.  If a nerd can just convince an attractive, out of his league female, he will be rewarded with sex and status, regardless of anything such as earning these concepts.

I’ll admit it.  I loved this movie growing up.  It was funny.  I was a budding teen and this movie was an HBO staple at the inception of my adolescence.  In other words it had boobs.

But it also had other things that, upon review after 30 years, are somewhat unsettling.  It has, in no particular order:

  • Sexual harassment
  • Rape
  • Invasion of privacy
  • Destruction of private property
  • Lewd and lascivious behavior
  • Theft
  • Misogyny
  • Pornography

I was talking about the acts committed by the nerds, mind you.  Yes, it is shocking to think that something considered to be a "comedy" could really be the basis for a horrible reality.  Even the title creates an air of violent tendencies "REVENGE" of the nerds.
Now, to be fair, the treatment of the nerds by the jocks is unfounded.   If you want to get technical about it, the jocks fire the first two or three shots.  They physically assault the nerds, throwing them from their dorm rooms in a manifest destiny of “Well, my football players need coddled because they are the driving force of enrollment and funding for this institution of higher learning.”  They also humiliate the nerds by inviting Lewis and Gilbert to rush Alpha Beta fraternity.  In fact, Betty is complicit in her role as deceiver of affections towards Lewis.  In the end, they choose to resort to physical violence at a pep rally before they are stopped by another stereotypical character, the scary and possibly more intimidating African American male fraternity.

However, if you think the nerds are absolved of blame, let’s take a look at what they do throughout the course of the movie.  Lewis and company sneak into PI sorority and steal underwear, physically enter private dressing areas, set up surveillance equipment, all because those women teased us, so we are entitled to look at their naked bodies without their expressed approval or knowledge.

During the Greek games, the nerds outsell the jocks in the charity pie bake sale by including, as a reward, a picture of Betty, topless.

Finally, Lewis gets his ultimate revenge by posing as Stan in a costume and following Betty into an attraction and effectively raping her into submission in his desire to win her from a jock with the argument that I am a better match for you because I am better at sex than Stan.   Yes, technically, it is rape.  She was not consenting to Lewis.  She was tricked.

But it’s all in fun, right?  It’s the 80s.  It’s college.  It’s acceptable behavior.

No.  It creates a false expectation in those who are considered nerds.   It forgives the egregious behavior by a subculture of humans that are clearly smart enough to know what things they should not do just because they feel they are wronged.

It also creates a false personification of an alpha male as an antagonist towards those with weaker physical attributes and stronger mental ones.   “Because he is clearly weaker, I must dehumanize him more for the sake of my position in my group.”  Granted, it is more acceptable to believe that because someone is a jock or popular, they are afforded more rewards because of their status.

Now, I am not absolving the jocks for their behavior in the film.  I am digging further into a concept that is becoming a huge problem in this age of instant gratification due to technology; entitlement.

The jocks feel entitled because they have physical prowess and are clearly the driving force behind the school’s success at capturing funding.  They feel that because of that role, they are deserving of the best accommodations, regardless of actually earning them.    They feel that others, who do not fit into their mold of perfection are not worthy of the same accoutrements.  They even leverage their girlfriends to deceive and humiliate the nerds.  They feel entitled to use women for their bodies because they are dating them.

The nerds, display the sense of entitlement that has developed into an epidemic of thinking among young men today.   “I am a good person.  I am smart.  I am nice.  I clearly treat women better.  Therefore, I should be rewarded by women, just because of those things.  Not because they actually:

A: Are attractive to them
B: Have common interests as them
C: Have a chemistry conducive to the foundation of a relationship with them

In the wake of the rampage by Elliot Rodgers due to “entitlement sex”, the foundations of nerd culture get called into play.  The problem is, like any culture or subset of a culture, the loudest and most antagonistic members are the ones the group gets defined by.  Whether it be Republicans, Democrats, Christians, Islamists, jocks, nerds, feminists, blondes, gays, lesbians, men, or women, every set has its “one bad apple”.     But we need to take it back.  We all do.

My own experience in this subset is somewhat skewed.  I am a hybrid of sorts.   If you imagine social strata as a wheel with each spoke representing a subset of culture; jock, nerd, popular, etc.  I tend to exist near the hub.   My attempts to exist in any one end or spoke is impeded by centripetal force constantly pulling me inward to where I exist as several different stock character types at once.    I grew up, dealing with things like being chubby, wearing glasses, being labelled as “smart” by my peers.  I had bad teeth and hair and clothes.  I also played basketball and baseball, albeit horribly.  I wasn’t a straight A student and found myself, at times, struggling with Algebra and Science.  Yet, I also felt as if I was well liked and had friends who operated in different spokes.  Sure, I had my own dealings with “jocks” and “bullies”, but I could always blend in when it called for it, but couldn’t stay there for long because that force of motion could not allow me to sustain any one trait.  It’s a sort of chicken and egg conundrum as to why I pursued acting.  I either developed it because I wanted to be an actor or I pursued it because I was already trying to be everyone at once.  However, I probably identify more with nerds than any other group.  Even though, I cannot hang with them beyond the surface in terms of certain things like Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, Quantum Physics, Dr. Who, and D&D.

When that adolescence period hit and I was developing interests in girls, I, like most people, pursued what I thought was perfection.  In college, I was so livid over a certain guy because he consistently and successfully “scored” with women while he had a girlfriend “back home.”  I was friends with his "girls" and a few would confide in me that this guy would constantly lead them on, and they would comply, thinking that he would dump his girlfriend and eventually commit to them.   Meanwhile, I seethed that they could be so stupid to continually put themselves in that position, when someone, like me, was right there and would never do that.  Sound familiar?  Of course, it’s a typical situation.   But what was I really upset about, him, because he could get away with such brazenly bad behavior, or myself, because I was unsuccessful at doing the exact same thing?   He would gloat about his exploits and treat me like crap.  But I gave him all the ammo he needed with letting him get to me.  Did it really matter?  These few women were not the only ones in the world.   There were other possibilities out there.

I am also sure that I probably ignored obvious potential relationships because I was blinded by society’s definitions of beauty or status.  But, we live in such a paradoxical society.   On one hand, we are told that we are special and that we shouldn’t limit ourselves in terms of what we desire to have.  We work hard for it and it will be ours.  Yet, we’re also told that our expectations are too lofty.  In dating circles this would be akin to trying to date out of your league.    We’re told we’re special, but nerds shouldn’t try to date the prom queen.  This limitation on what level of social being we can or cannot date is just as bad as the expectations we create about what we deserve.  Again, chicken and egg.  Are “nerds” coming up with these “nice guy” mentalities because they are told they can’t do something, or are the limitations being put in place because too many “nerds” are thinking they should be rewarded for nothing?

Who is to say?  If you try to argue the point that nerds should be well within their right to seek out dates with people out of their league, you piss off a lot of people.    And when you may be the one exception to the rule of “nerds”, it doesn’t matter.  You’re branded and you must move on and deal with the imagined reality that has been put in place.  If you argue it, you’re “Aggro”.  You can't turn it around.  It is what it is.    You get slapped with labels used by Internet dating sites and observational non-contextual so-called experts.  Again, you let the other person define you when it doesn't matter what they think.  You give them the ammo to put their labels upon you and treat you as such.

Let’s face it.  We are individuals, so we should be treated on a case by case basis.   We are not our labels.  Don’t think that because I am a ”nerd” I believe I deserve some kind of special entitlements.   If I were to want to date someone who is considered “out of my league”, it’s between me and that person, not anyone else.  If we share some special bond or chemistry, that is for us to discover, not society’s social watchdogs.  We are adults.  I will not expect any special treatment because I feel I would be worthwhile for any woman just as she should not expect that I am horrible because I may be not the typical definition of attractive.   Also, it works both ways.   I will not ignore the possibility that matches exist with people who I may not deem as a typical type of attractiveness, but will see that there could be something that is stronger between me and that person.   

Yet, we get this stereotypical, “Oh you just want to date someone unattainable.”    Well, who is to say that someone who would want to date me isn’t doing the same thing?   But yet, someone will give you grief that you are being irrational.  Again, isn’t between me and that person on whether or not we should become a couple?    So, it’s cyclical.  We don’t need to say that nerds shouldn’t date out of their leagues and nerds shouldn’t have to date someone in their league just because of proximity.   Now that we have settled, let’s get back to entitlement.

I don’t care which “spoke” you live on but you are not entitled to anything except what you earn.  Whether it’s money, love, position, sex, or respect, you should only get what you deserve.   Treat someone well and they may treat you accordingly.   If they don’t, so be it.  They aren’t required to reciprocate, but it would be nice if they did.    You cannot demand anyone to give you something that they are not willing to do.  You can only do the best you can do and let things happen.  You can’t make someone fall in love with you just because you are a better person.  You can’t demand payment for services rendered outside of a contractual agreement.  Meaning, if you do A, B, and C, for a woman OR MAN, they should automatically be thankful and repay you with some arbitrary reward.    So, guys, drop the “Nerds are better lovers and we can prove it” attitude and everyone else drop the “The nerds actually believe this stuff” attitudes.   

Somewhere, a long time ago, a few popular movies put forth the idea that it was the nerds time, that it was “game on” in the realm of love and war.    But, we need to break that stereotype just like we need to break our own.  People get what they earn and if someone else gets more, suck it up and deal with it.  No one owes you a thing and your actions, as well as your intentions, speak to your character.   People will screw you over no matter what.   Just don’t let it define you.    If you like someone put it out there.   If they aren’t interested, deal with it and move on.  It doesn’t matter if you know or believe that you are destined to be together.  You can’t make someone love you just by wearing them down.  You can only be who you are and those who are looking for those traits will meet you in the middle.   Don’t let movies define what you think you should get and don’t let movies define who people think you are.


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