The Mean Geek Clique

There are geeks and dorks, dweebs and nerds, weirdos and freaks. While each classification has its own definition, they all share one common thread: each is susceptible to bullying. Whatever it is about us that makes us stand out, seem strange or awkward, makes other people  uncomfortable enough to target us (at any point in life but, of course, more often when we’re young), some more horribly than others.

Chances are, those who are bullied are also smart and, as we get older and more self-confident, we can find clever ways to bite back when we feel threatened.

Sometimes, though, what seems like fighting back is just another clique bullying someone, and the cycle continues. Only this time, it’s not done out of ignorance or stupidity, it’s a direct, planned, nasty attack meant to make someone else suffer for his or her perceived ignorance. Because that attack is fueled by years of our own genuine or perceived suffering.

Take for example a site that makes fun of Etsy sellers (I admit I’m concerned about attacks from users), a web site full of geeks who love unique, handmade products, but make fun of the worst ones that are featured on Etsy. For sure, Etsy has turned in to a kind of homemade eBay, where some sellers are trying to make a buck off something that is usually neither handmade (unless it’s by an 11-year-old Guatemalan boy) nor unique.

Occasionally, I glance over the comments on the Facebook fan pages for each site. Etsy is full of a bunch of people verbally blowing each other about their cutesy crafts, and the other is full of people attacking the Etsy sellers or users for being stupid, then getting pissed at that person for having the audacity to be offended by being called stupid by a bunch of strangers on a web site.

A recent series of posts has turned the corner from occasionally ugly, light-hearted fun-poking to really vicious attacks. The thing that bothered me most was seeing users who disagreed with the group being attacked, called names, and encouraged to cry like the babies they are and leave the site.

The other night, the site pointed out a couple who had a themed wedding which was featured on the Etsy site. The theme was offensive to many people (1,199 comments and counting as of this post).  The couple admitted to spending something around $10,000-15,000 for their wedding, where they tied their boot laces together, “shared a single bean,” and made all of their guests dress in related gear (including creating a blog months in advance where the bride featured Etsy sellers who had products she felt guests should purchase, and making fun of anyone who came in “regular clothes”).

The angry response was exceptional. Users called the bride and groom everything from ignorant and racist, to referring to the groom as a c*nt, to having Twitter wars with members of the couple’s family who felt the response was out of line.

Fans toted out the stories of their own family members who barely lived through the Depression, suffered extreme poverty, starved half to death. Some referred to their own childhood or young adult destitution, shared sob stories about how they surfed friends’ couches, or talked about other people they knew who were essentially homeless. Hence, the wedding theme was NOT CUTE and these people were PISSED. They posted 15-paragraph-long diatribes about the Depression, what a hobo really was, how retarded this family was, why they deserved to be attacked, and how the user, themselves, can say all this because they know a poor person.

Don’t get me started on my lifelong financial woes, because the shared experience of homelessness does not make me any better or worse than those other people — the couple getting married or the people tearing them apart.

Pointing out the ridiculousness of the wedding’s theme is one thing. The deliberate, personal attack on these people was snowballing out of control. The creator of the site admitted to me that things occasionally get crazy like that, but usually burn out quickly. However, I noticed that first night that she was the one asking fans to post screencaps of the couple’s family’s Twitter feeds, which could only be found if fans took the time to search for those people online. It seems like a terrible waste of energy. And the comments have gone from the hundreds to over a thousand in a couple of days.

I love Etsy. I love the idea of a site that helps people who create individual, handmade items that any of us can purchase. I love the other site. There are lots of hilarious, weird things posted on Etsy, and this site finds that stuff and pokes good fun at them. The owner of the other site also encourages her fans to buy the products of sellers who are in desperate situations – a girl making bags to try and fund her boyfriend’s cancer treatment, a single mom of three kids making teddy bears to try and purchase a car for her family.

Sometimes, though, the snarky, witty, clever, helpful people turn into these rabid, foaming-at-the-mouth, vicious creatures. Their cultural awareness, education, and intelligence is backed by decades of anger at having been made fun of by Popular People. Suddenly, the geeks are the ones with the power, and their sheer numbers, shared hatred for all things cliquey, and skills allow them to completely tear down and destroy an otherwise harmless person who has made a mistake, a misstep, a blunder, a goof, an ignorant remark, or even an ugly dress.

Essentially, they’ve turned into a pack of bullying mean girls. They may support a cause they feel is worthy, but anyone they feel isn’t worth it is summarily trounced.  One woman announced her disappointment in the other users, and her Facebook comment was promptly recorded and posted on the site, where 300 people called her a bitch and a twat, told her to go screw herself, and other don’t-let-the-door-hit-ya’s.

It makes me wonder how strong the connection between the fans can really be when, as soon as someone says “this is going too far,” he or she is ostracized. I made one remark about how I think it’s okay if one out of 90,000 fans dislikes a post and was told to go perform a sexual act on myself by no less than eight people in five minutes.

You can’t blame their behavior on teenage ignorance. It’s adults being  intentionally mean. They want to TELL YOU LIKE IT IS, school you, educate you as to WHY YOU’RE SO FUCKING STUPID, and they want to make sure you suffer for your ignorance.

But what they don’t seem to get is that it’s still butthurt. When someone responds to say, “Why are you doing this to me?” And those fans rise up en masse to pound him back into his place, regardless of their rationale, it’s still bullying.

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2 thoughts on “The Mean Geek Clique

  1. When the bully / suicide thing was hitting hard a while back, I spent a long time writing about my past experience and perception of the whole issue. I’m still wrestling with it.

    But you bring up a great point about the perceived geeks who now gang up on the internets for all sorts of reasons. Some petty. Some illegal. Some pretty freaking awesome.

    It’s basically a different society with different rules, and there are few laws or social norms as of yet that really stick. It’s a wild west of sorts between generational differences. Too many have such different views on technology, information, and their place in a “normal life”.

    Whatever normal is.

    If you have a wedding with limited access to photos, blogs, and the like… Then the possibility of being flamed is reduced exponentially.

    It should only take a minimal amount of time online to realize that making information and media public online is an open door for all kinds of things. Fame. Fortune. Adulation. Ridicule. Shame. It’s all out there for as long as the internet can remember. The internet remembers a lot (http://wayback.archive.org/web/).

    If I tweeted, blogged, or commented when I had the urge to, I know I’d say and do a lot of things that I would regret. I am therefore pretty quiet in most instances.

    The big realization that this response has brought to me?

    The internet does not foster any notion of restraint.

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