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Steve Likes to Curse
Writing, comics and random thoughts from really a rather vulgar man
Worse than a swirlie: refusing to learn from a swirlie 
Wednesday, March 11th, 2009 | 04:17 pm [commentary, film]
Steve

Subjected for generations to a ceaseless battery of abuse and humiliation at the hands of jocks, upperclassmen, and just ordinary fucking people scornful of their oily complexions, too-short pants, and penchant for carrying ink pens in their shirt pockets, nerds understandably seek the refuge of the internet. Here they can make themselves over in whatever image they choose; they can be cool and hip and funny, more easily navigate the waters of romance, and take out their lifetime of pent-up raging aggression on lesser nerds and (sweetest of all) non-nerds who wander through their digital domains.

 

But ruling the virtual reality of the web for so long has made some nerds cocky, swaggering — too big for their suspender-supported polyester britches, if you want the goddamn truth. Having devoted significant portions of their lives and energies to learning everything there is to learn about some obscure piece of pop culture esoterica — Captain Power and the Soldiers of the Future, let’s say, or mid-90s Ted Shackelford vehicle Space Precinct — they claim the exclusive right to offer informed opinions on such things, and they get awfully testy when faced with disagreement.

 

Case-in-point, the Watchmen film. I first read Watchmen in 2000, and I loved it. I find it a brilliant work, one of the best comics I’ve ever read, easily up there in the top two or three superhero stories ever written. I also loved the film. I found it imperfect, sure — the level of carnage in fight scenes goes wildly overboard, to cite the biggest of my few gripes — but I found it brilliant, too. I’ll need to see it again, probably a few more times, before I can sort out my opinion of it, but right now I’d put it at the top of my list of best superhero films. Even with its problems, it’s that fucking good.

 

Lots of Watchmen nerds disagree with me about this. But odds are at least a few of them also disagree with me on Batman Begins being a huge piece of shit, so that doesn’t really bother me. What does bother me is how they go about expressing their disagreement, and how they regard others of differing opinions. Have not the swirlies and wedgies you have long endured taught you the least bit of humility, nerds? Evidently not.

 

So, considering all that, it’s not hard to see why I loved the fuck out of this blog post from Patton Oswalt:

 

You’re all going to go see it, you resentful nerd mafiosi. And you’ll walk in rolling your eyes and you’ll walk out whistling sadly through your teeth because the fuel of the Nerd Mafia is disappointment and exclusion.

 

Tell you what — before you go and see THE WATCHMEN, plunk down and watch CATWOMAN, GHOST RIDER and DAREDEVIL. And use those seven hours (and don’t pretend like you don’t have seven free hours in your day) to get out all of your disgust and the-world-owes-me-my-daydreams-made-real attitude you strut around with.

 

Because Zack Snyder STEPPED UP, motherfuckers. THE WATCHMEN was going to get made, one way or another. And instead of bleating on his Facebook status updates or Tweeting about how shitty the upcoming adaptation’s going to be, he TOOK THE BULLET and tried to do it right. . . . Zack delivered a 2 1/2 hour, honest attempt, and broke his ass cranking out tons of free extras. Hell, he even animated The Tales of The Black Freighter for you chumps. . . . He’s the best friend the Nerd Mafia’s had since Joss Whedon and Brian Michael Bendis, so everyone please crack the tab on a frosty can of Go Fuck Yourself and go see the movie version of THE WATCHMEN.

 

Nicely said, and doubly stinging coming from Oswalt, a well-known lover of a myriad of nerdly things who has somehow managed to avoid becoming a socially crippled loser.

 

But the Watchmen reception isn’t the ugliest the nerds have gotten lately. Though it’s gotten a lot more attention, the self-satisfied dismissal of the Watchmen film is nothing next to how the nerds have been giving it to Roger Ebert lately.

 

Ebert invited the wrath of nerd nation by publishing a review of Fanboys, a film depicting a group of Star Wars geeks in 1999 plotting to burglarize Skywalker Ranch to steal a print of Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace before anyone else has seen it, in which he writes

 

Extreme fandom may serve as a security blanket for the socially inept, who use its extreme structure as a substitute for social skills. If you are Luke Skywalker and she is Princess Leia, you already know what to say to each other, which is so much safer than having to ad-lib it. Your fannish obsession is your beard. If you know absolutely all the trivia about your cubbyhole of pop culture, it saves you from having to know anything about anything else. That’s why it’s excruciatingly boring to talk to such people: They’re always asking you questions they know the answer to.

 

Ebert also writes that the most serious flaw of Fanboys “is that it’s not critical. It is a celebration of an idiotic lifestyle, and I don’t think it knows it.” Oh no you did not! This provoked an avalanche of negative feedback from wounded and betrayed World of Warcraft players, including a letter from Jimmy Mac, which Ebert gamely posted to his website. Jimmy, who identifies himself early on as co-host of The Force-Cast, “the most-downloaded Star Wars podcast on the net,” is about as upset at the Fanboys review as you might expect. He spends most of the letter offering various apologies and justifications for Star Wars fandom, even relating the suspiciously generic story of a construction worker struggling in “these hard economic times” who watches the films with his kids on Friday nights, finding that “Star Wars is the one thing that can bring a family together.”

 

All of which is hilarious. But the really telling line from Jimmy Mac is this one: “when you and the late, great Gene Siskel did a week of radio talk shows that I produced at The Loop in Chicago back in 1992, you ordered 3 pizzas, offered Gene a slice, and offered me nothing.”

 

There we have it. Belittling a nerd’s chosen obsession is one thing; withholding pizza, however, is unforgivable. How could you, Roger? No wonder Jimmy closes his letter with a threat to kick Ebert’s enfeebled, cancer-surviving 66-year-old ass should they ever meet again in person.

 

You might think that Jimmy Mac’s petulant, pitiful, inadvertently self-revelatory response is as bad as it gets. If that were the case, you would be so, so fucking wrong. This post from Jason Kerouac over at Panels on Pages takes the cake:

 

Now let me go on record as saying I hate the term “fanboy.” Like many other nicknames used to describe subsets of humanity, I believe it is the kind of word that should only be used good naturedly among members of said group.

 

Like the n-word. He’s comparing being called a “fanboy” to being called a “nigger.”

 

Whenever someone uses the word fanboy as an obviously derogatory slur, it angries up my blood.

 

See? Now let’s see what Jason — very sensitive to derogatory language used to describe other people, he — has to say about Roger Ebert.

 

Seriously, you’ve turned sitting on your ass, watching movies, and bitching about them into a lucrative lifelong career, and you have the gall to suggest that among others, extreme fandom is a sign of some sort of sical [sic] deficiency? How dare you deny the rest of us our shot at living the dream?

 

Now, I’m sure I don’t need to point out to ya’ll that Roger Ebert is one of the most insightful and influential voices in the history of film criticism, a longtime champion of overlooked and independent films, and a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer. He teaches (or taught, up until his tracheotomy a few years ago) on the movies at college and universities, is a frequent attendee of film festivals all over the world, and the founder of his own annual Overlooked Film Festival in Chicago. He also writes one of the best blogs I’ve ever read. His notion of “living the dream” likely does not include camping out in front of a theater for days on end in order to see a shitty over-hyped movie a few hours before the rest of the country.

 

In other words, Jason, you thin-skinned, bitchy little twerp (and I say this only because I know Roger is too classy to say so himself in the first place, and too busy to have read your article in the second place), fuck you.

 

That rebuke sounds a little too off-the-shelf, actually. I’ll let Ed Ferrusquia, another letter-writer published on Ebert’s website, say it better than I can. He’s responding to Jimmy Mac, but this goes for you, too, Jason:

 

[L]et me let you in on a little secret — it IS an idiotic lifestyle. You may not think it, but knowing who the Secret Apprentice is and actually CARING is idiotic. Subscribing to a “Force-Cast” dedicated to all things Star Wars is idiotic. Camping out for weeks on end, missing work, school, sex, just so you can say you saw The Phantom Menace before anybody else is idiotic. Doing all these things in a Boba Fett costume stretches the limits of human dignity itself.

 

Ed, I owe you a high-five. Jimmy Mac and Jason, you guys each have one motherfucker of an atomic wedgie coming. I’m not sayin’ I’m the guy to do it. I’m just sayin’ . . .

 

Oh, and just to tie this all together — if you’re interested, Ebert gave Watchmen four stars.

Comments 
Saturday, March 14th, 2009 | 03:33 pm (UTC) - Thanks for the kind words!
Anonymous
I don't mean to be anonymous here, I've just never bothered to have a livejournal account and am not familiar with "OpenID" - I am, however, Jason Kerouac.

I'm glad to see you think so highly of Roger Ebert. I'm actually inclined to agree with you in terms of his quality as a movie reviewer. Among other things, I appreciate the fact that Roger can recognize popcorn movies as such and rate them based on their entertainment value, regardless of whether or not they are actually "good" movies. It's a rather enlightened approach, I believe.

My issue with Mr. Ebert is when he stops bothering to review movies. I am without question a fanboy, but one who is leading what is, by most standards, a "normal" life - I have a job, a home, and a wife. I am, as I've said elsewhere, blissfully happy in all regards. So why then does Roger care if at my job I read comics in my down time, or in my home I have display cases full of action figures, or with my wife I go to comic book conventions? And let me be clear, I don't mean to imply that I think I personally am even so much as a blip on Roger Ebert's radar, but when you condemn an entire social subset, you condemn every member therein.

I don't mean to presume to have any special insight into Roger Ebert's train of thought, but it certainly seems as though his issue here is not with fanboys in general, but rather the particular excesses of this subculture. Why then does he hold up Jack Kerouac as a paradigm? And, as a film critic, does he not recognize the trick of using exaggeration for comedy? Did he also hate John Belushi's character in Animal House? Did he write an entire review focused on how frat boys are idiots? I'm asking because I don't actually know, but if I had to hazard a guess, I'd go with no.

Long story short, Roger's review ISN'T A MOVIE REVIEW. Whatever value it may or may not have as a piece of social commentary, it is not a movie review.
Sunday, March 15th, 2009 | 03:23 am (UTC) - Re: Thanks for the kind words!
I think you're allowing your overreaction to harsh criticism of your geek-dom to cloud your judgment on this. Ebert's piece on Fanboys absolutely is a movie review, and he is reviewing it as a film. Sure, he incorporates his opinion on the idiocy of extreme fandom into the review, but don't lose sight of the fact that that is what he is doing — reviewing the movie. Pointing out that failing to criticize an idiotic lifestyle is a flaw of the film is a perfectly legitimate piece of film criticism. If you go back and read the review, I think you'll see that Ebert cites that as one of his biggest problems with the film.

My question is this: Why the thin skin? Not just you, but fanboys in general. So Roger Ebert describes something you obviously identify as your own lifestyle as idiotic. So what? I'm not above a few geeky interests here and there. I enjoy the odd Star Trek episode, I dig me some Batman — I think this blog has spoken rather emphatically to this over the years. And if some know-it-all literary critic or whoever published an essay saying, for instance, that Charles Bukowski was just a drunk who never wrote anything worth reading, I would sure as hell disagree, and I might even take it a little personally.

In fact, a few years ago when Ebert's webmaster Jim Emerson wrote a somewhat dismissive article about Bukowski, I responded with a post of my own.

But God help me if I ever go off on a rant like your BLAARGH! column. I don't know if you realize what a whiny little pussy you sound like in that. Jesus. Pull it together. And try to keep a little perspective. There are worse things in the world than being called a fanboy.
Sunday, March 15th, 2009 | 05:33 pm (UTC) - Re: Thanks for the kind words!
Anonymous
Meh. Your inability to discuss without being condescending is unfortunate. I was trying to take the high road. I COULD have pointed out the humor behind reading the words "nerds understandably seek the refuge of the internet. Here they can... take out their lifetime of pent-up raging aggression on lesser nerds and (sweetest of all) non-nerds who wander through their digital domains" in a livejournal that talks about giving wedgies to people you disagree with, but I chose to leave that alone. Now I figure it's fair game.

More importantly, however, let's discuss the review. The first two paragraphs thereof have nothing to do with the movie. They're nothing but an attack. From someone I otherwise respect. That's what bothers me, the fact that someone capable of so much more is choosing to go this route for Ebert-only-knows what reason.

So, maybe God should help you. It seems like rants like my BLAARGH! column may just be your stock and trade. If you think I sound like a whiny pussy for my POV on Roger's review, consider how others must think your livejournal reads.

Sunday, March 15th, 2009 | 06:18 pm (UTC) - Re: Thanks for the kind words!
Your column was a stung overreaction to a perceived insult, and you sounded like a little kid who was being picked on by an older boy. If this were actually the case, I'd probably be on your side. But you're not a little kid. By your own description, you're an adult with a job and a family and probably a reasonably fulfilling life. I just don't see why what Roger Ebert thinks about your nerd-dom matters.

Sure, a guy you respect wrote something less-than-glowing about something you care about. I get that part. It's the tone of your response, and the utter lack of self-awareness you displayed, that I have a problem with.

I think I've got a pretty good handle on who I am and what I do here. You're right to say I come off as condescending a lot. It's not something I'm proud of, and I hope the greater part of what I've written here in the last almost-three years has been better than that, but sure, it's happened. (This article about K.O.G. Media jumps to mind — even I think I sound like a pompous ass in that one.)

I'm embarassed by a few of the things I've written here. I don't think you are embarassed by your anti-Ebert BLAARGH! column. But you ought to be.
Monday, March 16th, 2009 | 11:19 am (UTC) - Re: Thanks for the kind words!
Anonymous
Fair enough.

For the record, as I don't know whether or not you've been back, I HAVE added an addendum speaking to Roger's overall quality as a film critic. I maintain my stance on this one review, but I figured I ought to throw that in there since I hadn't mentioned it previously.

I still think you miss the point, since it's got little to do with the fact that I AM a fanboy that this review bothered me so much. If I'd read a review of his on any film where he went off on the subject of the film rather than the movie itself, I think it would bother me. The fact that this WAS my subculture only served to further my distaste for it.

Regardless, it's been a pleasure conversing with you. Good luck for the future.
Monday, March 16th, 2009 | 01:59 pm (UTC) - Re: Thanks for the kind words!
Same to you, Jason. Thanks for taking the time. It was fun.
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