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Sunday, July 7, 2013

The Revenge of the Nerds trope

Pictured: Nerd revenge
First, a disclaimer: I've not seen a single episode of Big Bang Theory.

I did, however, read an article about it entitled Why Geek Girls Are Tired of 'Big Bang' Bullshit, and contains a lot of complaints about sexism on the show. One of them in particular caught my eye:
In the season two episode “The Panty Pinata Polarization,” Howard and Raj use NORAD satellites to locate the contestants of America’s Next Top Model. They stalk these women, show up at their door, and then pretend to be the satellite repair men in order to gain access to the house and gawk at the women wearing bathing suits. That is not funny. That is not clever. That is downright creepy, and even when this is pointed out to the characters, they don’t care. You get the sense that they feel entitled to these women, like it’s their right as men to go try to seduce and ogle them, even if it requires illegally using military spy aircraft.
It stuck out because it reminded me of re-watching Revenge of the Nerds a couple of years ago for Film Sack, and seeing the same sort of thing. In case you haven't seen Revenge of the Nerds lately-- and I would not blame you one bit for that-- there is a scene in which the nerd fraternity decides to literally drill holes in the ceilings of a sorority and drop cameras in, so that they can spy on the sorority girls as they undress. This is not the worst thing they do to this sorority, considering that the movie also has a "panty raid" scene, and the covert cameras apparently captured image of one of the sorority members-- Betty-- topless which nerd hero Lewis copies and glues into the bottom of pie tins sold at a carnival. That is, of course, before he dresses up in a costume that Betty's boyfriend Stan had been wearing in order to seduce her in a funhouse at that same carnival, eventually revealing that he's not her boyfriend at all. So yep, rape by false identity-- but Betty's character is presented as being fine with it, because I guess having the movie end with Lewis being arrested and charged with sexual assault would've taken things out of the comedy category.

But in both cases what we have is nerds spying on attractive women using their nerdy skills of surveillance, with the explicit or implicit understanding that this is okay because those women wouldn't date the nerds anyway, perhaps might even be mean to them, and therefore the nerds are justified in taking what they weren't given. Getting revenge.

Yes, the Big Bang Theory scene doesn't sound nearly as bad as the surveillance of the sorority in Revenge of the Nerds, but really it sounds like the only reason it wasn't is because Revenge of the Nerds was an R-rated movie in 1984, when showing bare breasts was not just acceptable but practically obligatory. I don't exactly get the feeling that it's because Hollywood looks back at that movie with any particular feeling of revulsion or regret. As, you know, I did when watching it two years ago.

So I'm wondering-- is this actually a trope? One alive and well, long after it had no business being so-- nerds feeling wronged by the injustice of existing in a world where attractive women won't sleep with them, and therefore being justified in doing whatever it takes to get a good look (or more) at those women, without their consent if necessary?

Gosh, I hope not. And if so, let it die already.