Rachael Lefler recently wrote an article for A Voice for Men which proposed an explanation for why feminists seem so hateful towards “geek” or “nerd” culture. In other words, Lefler is trying to come up with a theoretical explanation for what Mytheos Holt called “The #WarOnNerds“.
The #WarOnNerds, at least as a broad phenomenon, is ultimately what led to my own red-pilling and fall down the proverbian Rabbit Hole. Geeky men are indeed considered enemies by the official feminist movement (indeed, the way Incels are now being targeted seems like the next phase of this campaign). As the feminist #WarOnNerds is my primary empirical interest within gender politics, I will be commenting on Lefler’s theory.
Explaining the #WarOnNerds is not an easy thing to do. Perhaps the best explanation so far was proposed by Mytheos Holt; Holt argued that the #WarOnNerds was ultimately a reaction by the Clerisy (the established media, academic/intellectual and artistic/cultural classes) against the subculture which created the internet and thus deeply damaged their ability to control the broader culture whilst simultaneously smashing their profits. Through disintermediation of culture, the institutional platforms which gave the Clerisy such power were faced with a sudden onslaught of dramatic competition.
Not only did they lose some prestige, they lost the massive profits which they once enjoyed (the record industry being an obvious victim given how the internet slaughtered a CD-based business model). This left many artists, intellectuals, journalists, and those whom were educated in these fields, facing pay cuts and substantially reduced future job prospects, which helped ferment a grudge against those making piles of money in Silicon Valley. So it comes as no surprise when journalists paid by the click call to “bring back bullying” of those whom they blame for their fading prestige.
This argument certainly makes sense in the aftermath of the Great Recession, and Holt’s argument certainly has substantial explanatory power.
Unfortunately, I can’t say the same about Lefler’s. As I am going to be critical, I would like to make the following clear; firstly, I am greatly sympathetic to Lefler’s project and I think much more writing should be done on the subject of the #WarOnNerds. Secondly, I absolutely consider her an ally given she is both a geek herself and has a long history of publishing on AVFM. Thirdly, any theory that tries to explain such a complex social phenomenon as the #WarOnNerds will almost certainly be incomplete, because complex social phenomena have multiple contributing factors and it is hard to reduce everything down to one thing. I hope this article will be taken for the constructive criticism it is.
A Reconstruction Of Lefler’s Argument
Like Holt, Lefler argues that the #WarOnNerds is fundamentally an economic phenomenon. Lefler, however, argues that it really comes down to big corporations wanting to make profits and increase market share; as Lefler points out, “nerdy” consumption patterns typically favor smaller businesses rather than the “mainstream” ones. In Lefler’s view, this makes nerds “bad consumers” because we aren’t necessarily funding big corporate entities with our spending. Mega-Corporations are trying to ‘fix’ this and prevent nerd money from going to producers that serve niche markets; one way of doing this is to make mainstream blockbusters which bear the names of traditionally “nerdy” intellectual properties. This, in theory, would get the nerds buying from the largest Mega-Corporations once more and integrate nerds into the “mainstream” consumer base.
Lefler then moves onto a second, and substantially less clear, argument that Mega-Corporations want to encourage nerdy men to pursue romantic success with women. The threat of geeky men not having relationships with, and thus not spending money on, women is argued to be threatening to the profits of Mega-Corporations. I honestly cannot be certain about the chain of logic in this argument; it seems like Lefler believes these mainstream entertainment products (being sold to nerds through the use of the right brand names or the invocation of poseur nerd cred) try to persuade nerds to keep trying to “win the girl” so that nerds will ultimately end up with a wife and child and thus, again, feed into the mainstream patterns of consumption. I fully concede I may have misinterpreted this argument, and I am sure Lefler would be happy to indicate to me if I am wrong, but for the purposes of this article I will presume this to be a fair summary.
In brief, Lefler argues the #WarOnNerds is an attempt to re-integrate nerds into mainstream consumption patterns either through rebranding mainstream products with nerd names or faux-nerd reputations, or encouraging nerds to get with women and start families so as to become mainstream consumers.
Again I do not want this to be seen as an attack, but I think that as a theory neither of these arguments make sense, nor do I believe the meta-cause Lefler postulates (an attempt to get nerds away from niche businesses and into supporting big businesses) to have much explanatory power. Lefler’s theory simply doesn’t seem consistent with the evidence.
Where Lefler’s Theory Fails
I am going to state my assumptions up front. First, I will assume that nerds like specific things about the IPs they enjoy; if one removes those specific things, one will lose the nerd market. Second, I will assume that nerds are indifferent to whether or not the IPs they like are produced by large or small firms (or whether or not those firms are proprietorships, partnerships or corporate entities); what determines whether or not a nerd likes an IP is whether or not they like the content of the IP, and nothing else.
The first counterargument I can think of with Lefler’s theory is that simply making mainstream, non-nerdy movies branded with nerdy IPs has been a catastrophic failure, as evidenced by the new Disney Star Wars movies. Lefler implicitly presumes that merely branding a film with a nerdy IP is sufficient for that film to capture the nerd market, but empirically speaking this has not been shown to be the case. The way that Marvel Comics have now become achingly politically correct has been demonstrated to alienate the nerd market, rather than retain it. Interestingly, the Marvel Cinematic Universe has not lost the nerd market, and it has also gained mainstream attention; I would argue this is because it preserved what nerds liked about the basic IPs within movies that also were able to please more conventional audiences. Either way, if branding “standard issue” entertainment products with nerd IPs is a strategy to get the nerd market to buy these entertainment products and become loyal consumers of conventional entertainment products, then the strategy so far has been a miserable failure, just as my assumptions predict.
The second counterargument I can think of is that branding a mainstream entertainment product with a nerdy IP’s name is simply not necessary for a large corporation to get the nerd market’s spending. Let us presume that there is a small entertainment firm S and a large entertainment firm L, with the former making a niche product for nerds n and the latter making mainstream entertainment product m. Why would L buy the rights to n but then use the name of n on product m? Couldn’t they just purchase S and otherwise leave S alone to keep producing n? This is more than sufficient for L to get all of the nerd spending. In addition, S is more likely to have better knowledge of the audience for n than L does, just as L may have better knowledge of the audience for m; presuming that an entertainment product which satisfies its audience more will make more money, the profit-maximizing thing for L to do may simply be for L to purchase S but let S just keep doing what its currently doing.
It should be noted that record labels often did precisely this; they may have been producing tons of mainstream pop, yet at the same time they often had smaller subunits (often with their own “vanity label”) that produced music to target niche markets. This is arguably true in the publishing industry too, where large publishers will establish smaller imprints to serve smaller/specialized markets. Even in very concentrated industries, large corporations often preserved niche marketing as subunits within a larger business rather than tried to make niche markets buy the mainstream product.
Let us also extend this particular argument; it is very rare for the revenue from any entertainment product’s purchase to only extend to niche companies, and not to give any benefit to mainstream companies. For example, Amazon makes money from every e-book sold even if that e-book is self-published or published by a small independent publisher. Treating “nerd consumption” as if it doesn’t have any benefit for large corporations only makes sense if you ignore complicated supply chains and presume that even niche market entertainment producers are completely vertically integrated. This is of course a false presumption.
The third problem I can see with this argument is that if nerd culture is viewed as an “enemy” to feminism because mainstream entertainment companies want nerds to become integrated into the mainstream consumer base, why is nerd culture alone being targeted for sexism? Why don’t we see shaming campaigns directed at say, goth culture? I mean Metropolis Records hasn’t been purchased by a large corporation yet! In addition, why didn’t the attacks on nerd culture cease when Marvel and Star Wars were purchased by Disney (and DC by Warner Brothers)? This argument is even further undermined if we note the fact that subculturally speaking, many feminist/SJW types are hipsters, and hipsterism is defined by avoiding mainstream consumption and instead preferring artisanal/boutique/alternative producers. Why hasn’t hipster culture been declared an enemy of women?
A fourth problem I can see with this argument is that it presumes that if nerds get married and have children, they’ll start engaging in mainstream consumption. This may be true if he “gives up his childish hobbies” as a result of marrying/kids, but again this seems like an atrociously indirect route of trying to capture the nerd market; why shouldn’t the mainstream company just buy the niche-market company and let the profits flow, irrespective of whether or not a nerd who marries ends up giving up his hobbies?
A fifth problem is that the argument describes a man going MGTOW as something that large entertainment corporations are terrified of. Why, exactly? Wouldn’t a MGTOW, due to not having to support a wife or children, have more disposable income to spend on their own entertainment (which could be mainstream or otherwise), thus resulting in a smaller number of higher-spending consumers? Presumably, the problem is that one nerdy man who does not reproduce is a smaller number of consumers than one man plus one woman plus a non-zero number of children. But what this justifies is mainstream cultural producers generally pushing a “pro-natalist” agenda. Do they really? Do mainstream entertainment companies encourage campaigns against abortion (which terminates a potential future customer) for example?
Do mainstream entertainment companies encourage big families and promote the idea of women being enthusiastic mothers with multiple children? Many people make the accusation that mainstream entertainment companies pander to feminist agendas, which often don’t include room for large numbers of children; if this is correct, then mainstream entertainment companies can hardly be accused of pro-natalism. Not to mention that yet again, it is questionable that a pro-population-growth (and thus pro-market-growth) corporate agenda would justify a selective targeting of nerd culture in particular. Why nerdy males? Why not go after SJW feminists? I mean they’re not exactly lining up to enthusiastically start families and have plenty of children.
The sixth issue with Lefler’s theory is that it relies upon the idea that the feminist movement is some sort of coordinated entity which is merely acting in accordance with the profit-maximizing aims of large entertainment corporations. But how can this be the case? Feminism clearly predates nerd culture and has an intellectual history going back long before the establishment of today’s large entertainment corporations. Not only that, but whilst feminist organizations exist the fact is that Intersectional Feminism (the kind of feminism that has prosecuted the #WarOnNerds) is fundamentally a set of ideas rather than an organization. The #WarOnNerds seems to be a product of individuals enacting ideas which they were taught in universities; no evil corporate mastermind is necessary. Was, for example, Anita Sarkeesian given money by Viacom to go into video game culture and lecture it for being sexist (and by the same token, how could anyone at Viacom believe that feminist lectures would change the consumption patterns of gamers?)?
As Sarkeesian’s Master’s Thesis makes clear, she had the beliefs she did back when she was in college; how could her convictions be merely the product of entertainment conglomerates attempting to make nerds consume mainstream entertainment products? Doesn’t it simply make more sense that she, due to being a radicalized feminist, was hostile to cultural artifacts which didn’t promote her preferred views of women?
Indeed, if contemporary feminism were merely about trying to make nerds purchase mainstream entertainment products, why do feminists (and SJWs generally) constantly critique mainstream entertainment products as well as “nerdy” ones? Doesn’t this go entirely against what mainstream entertainment conglomerates want? Why would Harvey Weinstein’s misconduct and #MeToo – both of which caused much damage to the reputation of mainstream Hollywood – become celebrated feminist initiatives if encouraging the consumption of mainstream entertainment were a goal of feminism?
A final critique which I must make of Lefler’s hypothesis is that a very critical moment in the #WarOnNerds, specifically Elevatorgate and the resultant sundering of the New Atheist movement, cannot be reconciled with her theory. If the #WarOnNerds was merely about trying to drive nerds towards consuming mainstream entertainment products, how can this be consistent with an attack on an intellectual movement that did not even remotely center around the consumption or purchase of any entertainment products at all? Why would New Atheism be a target in the first place?
Additionally, the closest thing to entertainment products which New Atheism produced were the books and television appearances of people like Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins. This was not “nerdy” consumption; the core texts of the New Atheist movement were published by mainstream publishers and sold quite well even to audiences outside the New Atheist movement. To the extent that New Atheism created consumable products, those products were monetized by mainstream corporations. The spokespeople of the New Atheist movement frequently appeared on mainstream television networks; how were the profits or market shares of mainstream corporations preserved or enhanced by Rebecca Watson’s temper tantrum? I can simply see no way in which Lefler’s theory explains why the #WarOnNerds tore New Atheism apart.
How can we explain the strange, almost paradoxical hatred displayed by Intersectional Feminists towards a culture of people who don’t live up to traditional gender norms and suffer as a result? How can we explain the fact that Intersectional Feminists have attacked the tech industry, STEM, video games, New Atheism and comic books? Why would the spaces of “nerd culture” be so systematically and thoroughly targeted for entryism, attack and cultural colonization?
This is certainly an interesting question, but Rachael Lefler’s proposed explanation simply doesn’t make very much sense. The feminist #WarOnNerds cannot be merely about safeguarding and increasing the market share and profits of large entertainment conglomerates. In a world where massive conglomerates can pander to market niches by creating specialized subdivisions or buying out smaller companies and turning them into subsidiaries, the nerd market can be easily monetized. Attempts to make nerds purchase hollowed out versions of IPs they cherish have failed miserably, and in a world of platforms, formats, license fees and supply chains large corporations benefit from nerdy consumption as well. Not to mention that SJW feminists are, themselves, typically members of a subculture which is nearly in-principle hostile towards mainstream consumption and non-mainstream subcultures other than nerds have generally remained unmolested by feminist entryism.
How can feminist hatred of nerds be merely a product of a desire to deter nerds away from non-mainstream media when feminists have been stridently critical of the mainstream entertainment industry as well? Indeed, the idea that mainstream entertainment conglomerates would try to incubate a women’s movement that would attack nerds so as to drive nerds away from non-mainstream entertainment consumption is an absurd Rube Goldberg Machine of a theory. And indeed, it does not explain the scope of the #WarOnNerds, which extends beyond video games, comic books and science fiction.
Holt’s explanation certainly makes more sense. And even the “Red Pill” explanation – that feminist women hate non-sexy men and it is those men who dominate nerd culture – makes more sense.
I will not pretend that I can offer a single, integrated, flawless explanation for the #WarOnNerds, at least not yet. I am highly skeptical of the notion that there is even “one reason” for these events. Lefler should be commended for offering a theory in the first place, but the theory she proposes is severely lacking. As much as I appreciate, and echo, the call she gives at the end of her article for men to go their own way, I cannot find myself in agreement with her theory of the #WarOnNerds.
YetAnotherCommenter is an Honey Badger Brigade writer and MHRA who primarily focuses on the issues of non-traditionally-masculine men. He’s a long-time veteran of the recent culture wars, having been in the atheist-secularist movement back during the days of Elevatorgate.