The Problem With Nerd Privilege

Earlier this week, the Collectress addressed the issue of fan appropriation and writer intent in a letter to TPTB. If you haven’t read it, go do so, tweet it, and then come back.

I’ll wait.

So, we have established that, as members of a fandom, we have the power to interpret textual meaning and those interpretations are no less valid than those of other fans or the writers, producers and actors. What I want to address is parallel to the idea of fan shaming–it is nerd privilege.

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The 21st century is proving to be The Time of the Nerd. A steady influx of geek culture into mainstream society in the last few years has given the marginalized a face, a voice and a style that has suddenly become cool. With thick-rimmed glasses all the rage, comic book characters played by gorgeous men and women on the big and small screens, and smart as the new sexy, the “nerd” has been embraced by the media and popular culture. Suddenly, the nerds are at the cool table and, guess what? We are no better than the Mean Girls.


When I was a kid, I loved books and music of all kinds. I spent my time reading and writing, listening to music and trying desperately to fit in. I was one of 5 black kids in my high school graduating class and grew up in a multi-cultural family that tried their damndest to keep me sheltered from racism and sexism, even though I was an overweight black girl raised by a single, white mother. My favorite books, The Secret Garden, A Wrinkle in Time, Anne of Green Gables, were filled with people that did not necessarily look like me, but to whom I could relate. I learned to ignore color, gender, age in order to thoroughly enjoy many of the books and films I loved. As I got older, I fell in love with Batman, Star Trek and Indiana Jones and claimed the term “nerd” to help establish myself in a society that makes it difficult for a young, black woman to define her own identity.

This means my biases and cultural codes help create my experience in this particular subculture. I made a choice, like women all over the globe, to infiltrate a sphere typically reserved for (white) men and engage because I genuinely enjoy what is considered “geeky” and because, well, nerds have really awesome stuff.

Even if my story is nothing like yours, the unifying factor within the subculture of “nerd”, as I am to understand it, is the SUB–as in not prominent; having varying POVs, values and experiences than the larger group. Even if the larger group has appropriated our shit, you ask? Even if we can’t tell the real nerds from the hipsters anymore, you ask?

Wait. What?

You see, the problem with nerd privilege is us.

Before WonderCon, I had to do some last minute shopping with my sister for shoes to wear with my Captain America cosplay. All day at work, I wore the Doctor Who shirt I got from Santa (I bought it for myself), but it was fucking hot and the shirt was fucking tight, so I changed (and put on deodorant) before I headed over to the local mall. I make it a point to comment on fandom gear, regardless of the person wearing it, as I know I love a bit of fan love when I’m sporting my geek chic apparel. So, when I saw a gentleman in his late 40s, in a wheelchair, wearing a really badass “Gallifrey Falls” shirt, I had to comment. As soon as I did, this dude proceeded to ask me 1) when I started watching Doctor Who 2) who my favorite Doctor was 3) which series I liked better, classic or current and 4) why I wasn’t wearing this supposed Doctor Who shirt I claimed to own. And when I told him my daughter liked the show as well, he asked all the same questions about her. This fellow geek felt the need to quiz me about the show as if I was lying about liking it. As if I would go up to a stranger and compliment their fandom and know nothing about it.

Nerd hierarchy is a vicious thing.

Should I be creating a list of what is nerdy and what is faux-nerdy? Should I be writing down the dates I first discover something considered geeky so that I may compare it to yours in order to determine who is the bigger geek? Should we be measuring our dicks before things get out of hand?

Oh, wait.

I’m a woman.

Of color!



But wait. The reason I first began to identify with the geek way of life was because I related with the principles of the subculture. So, who establishes the rules of nerd-dom? Is the fact that I enjoy comparable tenures, experience similar trials and squee over the same shit not enough?

Yesterday, LA Weekly published a piece on their blog by John Roderick, titled “Why I’m not a Fan”. This piece intrigues me, because the author claims he is not a fan of anything. He enjoys and plays music and likens participating in a music fandom to listening to Tony Hawk skateboard.

My fandom pretty much stopped at the door. I owned the records, what else was I supposed to do? Put a patch on my Levi’s jacket? Buy a tapestry? That meant going into a head shop, talking to the dude behind the bong counter, picking out a patch or tapestry, ruining a perfectly good Levi’s jacket, etc. It felt like a big commitment.

The thing is, fandom–nerd-dom–is a big commitment. I spend an ornate amount of time on Tumblr and Twitter interacting with other fans, I put together seriously intricate Spotify soundtracks to ship to and look for unique fan gear on Etsy made by fans for fans. After reading the Roderick piece, I began to identify with it, but as the punk-rock person at the cool people’s party who asks the writer about his favorite bands and is quickly disillusioned by the author’s blasé attitude and exits stage right as quickly as possible. Except I’m not cool. Am I?

The thing is, Mr. Roderick, you sound a bit intimidated by fandom culture. And that’s okay! But it is no reason to shame those of us who are part of a fandom. We love what we love because it makes us feel all squishy inside, not to intimidate. Or at least, we should. I guess, what I’m trying to say is, on behalf of privileged nerds, I apologize. You see, sometimes, the masses can make the individual feel marginalized. Even nerd masses. But these few are not indicative of a fandom as a whole. All most of us want is to feel accepted. Unfortunately, even as a community borne out of the margins, many of us are quick to revert to learned social habits and end up happily measuring ourselves against each other, although that is the behaviour we have attempted to avoid our entire lives.


No fan should shame another fan. We should not judge others based on personal cultural codes, nor do we have the right to claim fandom as belonging to one group instead of another. Nerds, let us unite together and remember the reason we claimed the term in the first place. We wanted to belong, and finally, society is recognizing our value. Let us not devalue it with our petty hierarchies.

xoxo The Collectiva Diva

**none of these images are mine, although they are hilarious and I wish I’d thought of them**


  1. Bec Graham

    Yes! To all of the above! This is exactly why I leave Tumblr alone. Nerd superiority is vicious! I love that Mean Girls comparison.

    I maaaayyyy have a touch of the nerds > hipsters superiority and here’s why: 1. I have heard on numerous occasions, while overhearing hipsters in the wild, that they wish they actually needed prescription glasses so they didn’t have to get the fake ones. Never mind that I wear glasses and I am essentially blind without them but they cost an arm and a leg every time I need new ones because my old ones are giving me headaches. 2. Generally, if something they like becomes mainstream, they abandon it. Eg, Paramore fans. After their “Decode” success so many people jumped ship. 3. In order to feel more accepted by their hipster friends, one of them crumples their copies of their books so it looks like they’ve read it more times than they have. I have seen the cyber evidence. I mean, what did the book ever do?

    In essence, the way I see hipster culture is people wanting to be different and alternative in a conformist kind of way. The true hipsters I have no problem with. Like Adam in “Only Lovers Left Alive”. It’s the ones who want to be alternative for the sake of it, not because they have any true interest in their chosen fields, that annoy me.

    Whoa, OK, rant over.

    1. acollectivemind

      i totally have nerd/hipster superiority, but then again, i don’t know one person who would admit to being a hipster, so if they don’t wanna own up…

      on the other hand, what is a “true hipster” or a “real nerd”? if we think like that, we are perpetuating fandom shaming. which i do. sometimes. but i’m going to try really hard not to from now on, because it doesn’t feel good. let’s just let em have fun with it and stop the judgements.

      1. Bec Graham

        I’ll try my hardest.
        I think my main problem is I see it as a facade. The whole hipster thing. Like….they’re not being real with me. Maybe I am a little prejudiced. I will definitely work on that. It’s the whole generalising thing all over isn’t it? The same way people generalise other minorities to make their points. Oh God. Yep, personal epiphany. Changing that, like, yesterday.

        But I don’t know how well I’ll handle someone telling me I’m “sooo lucky” for HAVING to wear glasses again.

      2. acollectivemind

        Ugh. Well, I give you permission you force said person to read tiny print by bad light until they have really horrible eyesight. Then don’t let them get eyeglasses. HAHA

      3. Bec Graham

        That is brilliant. You know what else? Running at night without your glasses because you’re terrified you’ll break them.
        I did that with my parents the other day and they ran on ahead. I was shit-scared the entire time that I’d trip and break something because I legitimately couldn’t see in places. i need a head lamp, I think.

  2. Sarah @ Pretty Nerdery

    Tralalala as I wander through the archives. I always thought being a nerd was very punk rock. Punk rock is about unapologetically doing what you love, right? And being a nerd usually entails the same. What those things you love actually are can vary wildly, but the unabashed enthusiasm is integral. And, much like punk rock, if someone doesn’t like the way you’re doing you, fuck ’em and play louder.

    1. The Collective Blog

      I definitely agree! In fact, I would consider myself to be in the “punk/goth” category in terms of my music tastes for a long time now. I suppose this anarchist behavior carries through to my other hobbies as well. Enjoy your scamper thru the archives ! *tralala*

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