For Love of the Tale: A Musing on the Power of Nerd Culture

The hippies of my parent’s generation, real acid-dropping psychedelic flower children, and their ideological off-shoots who founded the America neopagan movement, were very into comic books and science fiction. A lot of other leftists took up this interest as well; for a modern example I highly recommend the scifi/speculative fiction collection “Octavia’s Brood.” Current nerd culture is often stereotyped as being pedantic, narrow, bickering over details with fundamentalist zeal. And current leftist culture often mimics the same pedantry, showing an alarming interest in purity tests and nitpicking. However, hippies saw scifi and comic books as something expansive, larger than life. It was a modern day mythology, a continuation of hero tales and folklore, a place where the imagination could run free to create a better future.

I would suggest, contrary to the popular narrative among bona fide basement dwellers, that it is not “fake fans” and women who are ruining nerd culture. Rather, it’s the fans who have departed from interacting with comics and scifi as myth and hero-tale. Stories are meant to captivate the imagination, not to be used as a litmus test for who is a “real” fan. Arguing over details is fun for some people, but enjoying stories as they are mean to be enjoyed should never brand someone as a “faker.”

In the ancient world, the characters of myth were reinterpreted over and over again. Someone’s origin story might change over time. Someone might perform far more feats than it would be possible to fit into a lifetime. Someone might carry within themselves contradictory attributes which might be emphasized by different storytellers at different times for the purpose of different tales. This evolution is in the nature of a huge story that spans through time and across a changing culture.

It’s okay to have a favorite interpretation of a character. It’s okay to dislike certain interpretations of a character. It’s not okay to say that a particular character has to stay exactly the same for all time and across all interpretations of a genre. It’s not okay to say that any change to a character is wrong, or bad, or impossible. This is how extremely large bodies of work with multiple authors over time function. Something so big is not going to please you at all times. You can get caught up in the pedantry or in fighting tooth and nail against an author you dislike, or you can re-read the stories you do like and enjoy them. It’s your choice; it’s not the job of the myth to conform to your specific taste.

The strength of hero-tales, expansive scifi worlds, endlessly morphing comic book characters, is that anyone can tell the story. Your fanfic is valid, just like someone making up a new story about Zeus to entertain fellow travelers around a campfire was valid back in ancient Greece. Other peoples’ fanfic is valid too. This is something we all get to create together. It’s not some angsty hyper-realistic novel that belongs only to the author and their tiny coterie of moody fans. It’s far bigger than one person’s vision. To read the stories, and close your eyes for a moment to fantasize about fighting crime with Batman or hooking up with Captain Kirk, is to participate in culture-building.

Should we have the conversation about the extent to which capitalism now owns our cultural mythology? Of course we should! Capitalism seeks to replace our imagination with its own, and bigots carefully craft their stories for nefarious purposes. But when you look at all the fan art and fanfic and world-building and you listen to people discussing theories while in line for the next Star Wars movie, you realize that the human impulse to myth can’t be contained by capitalism, even now when almost everything in our world is devoured by the profit-makers. This is something too huge to be controlled and this is where our quest for liberation can begin. Don’t lose yourself forever in the details. Reclaim your myths, the old ones, the new ones, the reborn ones, retell them, reshape them, and reclaim the world.


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