Bullies and Nerds: When Hate Breeds Hate

My fears about being condemned as a ‘fake nerd’ at Anime Midwest were greatly unfounded. The people I spoke with, both seasoned con goers and newcomers, were all as thrilled to be talking to me as I was to be talking to them.

One of the first people I met was Mimiru Riley, a woman whose been cosplaying since she was 12. I mostly spoke with her friend because Mimiru’s cosplay covered her mouth, making it near impossible to understand her. She and her friend were both excited to find out the fourth of July was the day I lost my convention virginity.

The only dark spot was one person. By far, most of the people I met were completely normal. They didn’t have any of that social awkwardness  or nervousness that accompanies the nerd stereotype. The one exception was a 14-year-old boy who happened to sit at a table where I was enjoying my free ramen. My boyfriend and one other person were also at the table. Conversation flowed pretty easily, as we talked about events we’d seen and wanted to see.

We were all different, but that didn’t mean anything. This was something I noticed soon in my experience. With so many video games, manga and anime to choose from, how could anyone expect someone to know it all? We were all there to have a good time and we didn’t all have to share the exact same knowledge to do that.

This kid, however, was…. well, the word I’m going to use is sad. He was attending the convention alone, and I was more than happy to engage him in conversation. His interests were different from mine, but I figured that wouldn’t matter. As the conversation moved around the table, this boy constantly interrupted, changing the subject to a topic he was more familiar with. It was clear he wasn’t interested in hearing what other people were interested in. All he wanted to do was gush about his own.

His most unbecoming trait was his apparent hate for various fandoms. I hadn’t heard of most of the fandom he so passionately detested. From what I could tell, he found just about any fandom outside of his own detestable. It was so off-putting and a shame. I had had such a pleasant conversation with the other man at the table. By the time the boy started reciting YouTube videos word for word, I couldn’t finish my ramen fast enough.

This photo, “Got my Angry Nerds T-Shirt today. Thanks @atlassian :-)” is copyright (c) 2014 Tim Bartel on Flickr and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license
This photo, “Got my Angry Nerds T-Shirt today. Thanks @atlassian 🙂” is copyright (c) 2014 Tim Bartel on Flickr and made available under an Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license

My heart went out to the boy a bit. What kind of life must you have to hold such animosity towards those with interests different from your own? How many times did he have to watch his favorite YouTube videos to memorize them? How long did he sit in front of the computer every day? Were his parents active in his life, or did they let him spend so much time in front of the computer because he was easier to deal with that way?

The boy reminded me of my ex-boyfriend, Zachery. He had the same sort of monotone voice, with a tone that didn’t fluctuate no matter what he was saying. The cruel things he said, annoying as they were, didn’t come off as true opinions. I felt like he was trying to put on an act. He thought he was supposed to carry great dislike for other fandoms, that he was supposed to act as he did.

The internet is full of threats and people who appear to have great dislike for people interested in things different from their own. While looking up information on my own interests, I always find at least one person complaining. Even online, it seems so crazy to me. The typical nerd deals with a significant amount of bullying throughout their life, often seeking an escape in books, video games and graphic novels. Why tarnish that escape with animosity?

I admit, I went through a phase where I harbored much hate. During those middle school years, hate was all I lived on. In the depths of despair, where taking my own life seemed like the only option left, hate was the one thing that kept me going. The only thing I hated more than myself was proving my bullies right. What my bullies actually thought didn’t matter. I thought they hated me. I thought they looked down on me and condemned me as worthless.

My perception of the world was all I had to act upon. In my silent rage, I refused to like or enjoy anything ‘popular.’ When the first Harry Potter book came out, enchanting everyone around me, I refused to so much as open the series. I did the same thing with fashion, music and anything else. During those years, perhaps I was much like that 14-year-old boy. Maybe he faces the same sort of things I once did. When you live in a world like that, it’s easy to become bitter.

While I wasn’t happy at 14, I had grown out of my hate, finally recognizing the damage it does to the soul. As soon as I moved from Catholic school to public school, I no longer needed that emotion to survive and let it go. I can only hope the 14-year-old boy I met will realize the same. Once he lets go of all his hate, he’ll finally be able to form the kind of relationships he desires.

Why do you think some nerds make fun of other nerds? What can be gain from such actions? Do you think it’s common for people to go through phases in life where such extreme emotions like hate are necessary for survival? Once that phase in life is over, how does a person learn to let go of that damaging emotion?

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24 thoughts on “Bullies and Nerds: When Hate Breeds Hate”

  1. Nerds hurting nerds. It is no different then a bully hurting a nerd. It can be as simple as wanting to be noticed. Finally be the person you think you are. The role playing can have an effect to. But mostly I think it is just being noticed or the fear of staying unnoticed.

    Hatred makes us do the opposite of everything and in that process we forget who we are. We now know we can be ourselves. we can wear what we want when we want,but when we were younger we fought the ruling order by being extremely different.

    I the end I think it is the on one hand the fear of being unnoticed with a combination of the fear of being swallowed up in the mob and become like anyone else.

    But that is from own experiences.

    1. I agree, a nerd becoming a bully is no different from their own bullies. All that anger comes from the same painful part of a person.

    1. It didn’t really seem like it, but I also can’t say you are wrong. I was close to someone who had Aspergers and this kid certainly did not seem like that.

      But, as I said, I can’t really say one way or the other.

  2. I think Victo Dolore is right. I taught school for many years and it does sound like that boy had Asperger’s Syndrome. The wanting only to talk about his own interests, the monotone voice, the interrupting, and the strong opinions, most likely fueled by being bullied and by black and white thinking are all characteristics. Depending on where he’s at on the spectrum, he may be doing the best he can and may have had lots of social training that just hasn’t “stuck” due to his cognitive wiring.

    I think many victims of bullying are empathetic to others in their situation. However, there are always those “nerds” that bully people who have personality characteristics that are weaker than their own. They do this in order to feel a sense of power, and to channel their own anger, hurt, rejection or sadness towards someone else.

    I think for the boy you wrote about, the word “hate” is probably a summation of lots of emotions (hurt, fear, rejection, sadness, anger, etc.). Unfortunately, at 14, many kids, especially those with Asperger’s, can’t pinpoint the specific emotions they’re feeling, so “hate” becomes their catch all word.

    1. That’s interesting because those characteristics could also be a part of a person who does not have Asperger’s . I’m not sure I would know either way. I can just give my account.

      ” They do this in order to feel a sense of power, and to channel their own anger, hurt, rejection or sadness towards someone else.”

      I think that describes all bullies, nerd or otherwise.

  3. When I counsel people I find that hate and anger are often just defense mechanisms. People usually don’t outgrow or move past that until they find happiness in their own lives outside of others and can then spread that happiness to others.
    Nerds are weird (and I say this, being a proud one). So many of us hate on other nerds. But then again, so many of us, find something we love and just want to share that with others.

    1. It really is funny. But, given that this boy was the only nerd who seem bully-ish, I’m going to assume most are not so cruel. Hopefully that kid will find the acceptance he desires and not feel the need to act as he did anymore.

  4. My experience of fandom’s is that there are always some people who it is impossible to reason with. The mistake is to engage with them in the first place, as any attempt will bring a negative reaction. You can only leave them to themselves because they will never be brought round or persuaded by others.

    1. famdoms are odd. Sometimes I think pitting themselves against each other can be part of the fun, but some people take it too seriously. There’s a manga I read where some people want the main character to end up with one person, and some the other. I see a lot of playful banter back and forth, but every once in a while, people take it too far. It’s one thing to mess around, it’s another to attack someone for their opinion. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if the person you are talking to is having fun or seriously hates your fandom.

  5. Hatred is something that can be all-consuming. The smallest thing can provoke a massive reaction. At the same time, hatred re-directed can lead to someone who has a great positive passion for something they believe in. It can be very much a tipping point, where life circumstances decide which way it will fall.

    1. I agree. I think I managed to turn mine into positive passion but it’s a fine line. Very few things would have had to be different in my young life for me to have gone down the other road.

  6. I think nerd make fun of others just to make themselves feel bigger, if he is to be classed as a nerd he wants to be the best nerd, where his views are the right views in order to gain favour, same principles for belittling someone in an argument, to make themselves feel superior. Nothing will ultimately be gained however when they realise that it’s all self imposed and no one outside their head cares if his opinion is right or wrong because most people can accept “each to their own”. I think it’s very common, I know I did, I took my hate out in exercise until I dropped from exhaustion, turns out that didn’t help… Because eventually I snapped at someone who went to far…but then no one bothered me after that, in fact for me respect, fortunately I took from that standing up for yourself gains more respect that being the bully ever does, I find learning to respect yourself is the key to being happy. Wow I could have done a mini blog with that response… Nice questions, very true blog. I know a few off people exactly as you described!

    1. I just think it’s ironic. I think all bullies are trying to feel better about themselves by putting other down. They typically target nerds, so it amazes me that those same nerds could turn around and be bullies to another. I guess hate just breads hate.

      I don’t believe violence is ever the answer, but I do believe that standing up for yourself is more effective against bullies than ignoring them. Ignoring my bullies only made them try something different until they found something I couldn’t ignore. Now, if in standing up for yourself you find yourself attacked, there’s nothing wrong with physically defending yourself.

  7. I think (or hope) that not everybody goes through a time were they’re fuelled by hate and anger, but sadly it’s not uncommon either, I believe. My story is not about nerds hating nerds, but about becoming nerdy and somewhat self-centered because of bullying. Maybe there’s still something in it someone can relate to.
    My love for fantasy and science fiction is at last partly connected to such a time. When by bullying and all this crap I was “taught” I was not good enough to be one of the cool kids (nerdy, socially awkward, and not a lot of money in the family), it resulted in a self-preservation mechanism of looking down on the mainstream kids who needed new outfits and all the new shiny stuff all the time. Add some issues with “friends” who turned me down and told me they’d merely been tolerating me for two years or so, and you get one very angry starfish. I lived in my own little universe, which looked nice enough to me from the inside (because fictional worlds ARE awesome, as is poetry) while in reality I ran on emptiness, and a weird mix of haughtiness, not always suppressed aggression, and self-loathing.
    It took me some years and some running away from the past to begin cleaning up the mess little by little, and even now, nearly a decade after the worst times, some days the old mindset is triggered and everything comes crashing down again. I believe that becoming concious of the destructive mechanisms active in one’s mind is the first important step; deciding to change something is the second. Apart from that it takes time, and practice – learning social skill for the first time (or relearning them) later in life than it would be “normal” is full of pitfalls and frustration, especially when one is always anticipating negative reactions and therefore is prone to acting upon that expectation by building up aggression or similar negative emotions in advance.
    For me the biggest eye-opening moments were small situations like a fellow student telling me she’d like to meet up with me for coffee, or someone staying at my side in moments when I was frustrated/angry/talking about selfish/depressing stuff. People who manage to see past my insecurities are the ones who gain my trust and loyalty because I respect and admire them a lot for their unselfishness, and they are the ones I call my friends now.
    I think you did the right thing when you tried to strike up some conversation with that guy, even though it failed in the end. You can’t change a person’s behavioural pattern in one day, especially not when they aren’t concious of it yet, but constant dripping wears away the stone. We need more drops in the world. And we need more safe outlets for all the latent aggression in our generation. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why some nerdy folks take up LARPing including fighting with blunt weapons? Just a thought.

    1. It sounds like you and I share a similar story. I was bullied before I was nerdy, although I don’t know if being bullied made me nerdy. I just didn’t have a lot of confidence from a young age and my peers jumped on that. I escaped into the worlds of books and video games. I soon did just what you did. Anything that was popular was something I hated. All the modern fashions, modern music. I hated it all because I associated all of that with those who bullied me. It’s certainly been a struggle to overcome that.

  8. Hey TK!;) glad to hear you are well…and yes: nerds ARE weird [and yes, i am a nerd myself, among other titles….] bullying, and being mean are the flip side coin of insecurity and fear and loneliness and depression manifest in an outward display of behaviors….and also, on a base level, people that do these things to others, are looking for a power grab: as in, they feel they have none, and want some. Everybody wants power, and negative traits are, remember, just the flip side coin of more positive traits. A lot of this is subconscious, and I am merely waxing intellectual here with words. When all of this is going on in the real world – no one is actually thinking these things, well most aren’t. These are just explanations of what is going on in a deeper sense, a deeper level. But again, I am needing out on psychology here – just opinions! 😉

    1. I think all bullies, nerds or otherwise, are just looking for power, as you say. They’re insecure and are looking for a way to feel better by putting someone else down.

  9. Hi TK, I know you are very busy. Your new job, your life and your own routine of blogging. My wishes for you.
    I’ve started a mini series for my blog waitforyourcall(dot)wordpress.com, in which I’ll be posting interviews of writers, poets, who are on wordpress. I’ll be happy if you can take some time and be on it. I’ll send you the questions. Questions will be simple. As you’ll send back the answers to me, I’ll post them as individual interview on my blog.
    Do tell me if you are ready for it. It won’t take your much time. It might inspire someone. Best Wishes. Thanks 🙂

    1. I know it takes me a while to get to comments these days, sorry. I’d be happy to participate in your mini series. Shoot me an email with the questions and I’ll answer as soon as I can.

  10. I mean I can’t say that that I necessarily relate to the whole nerd deal. I personally hated the idea of being called one and just accept the fact that I liked what I liked.

    I had much respect for other people’s interest and never once did I have any ill will towards them. Perhaps this boy’s stage is something he will grow out of, but it’s like the old saying goes “only time will tell.”

    1. Only my fellow nerdy friends like being called a nerd. I know some people who are interested in some nerdy things, but they take the word nerd as an insult. It all just depends. I remember joking that my dad, Trekie that he is, is a nerd. Then and now, I took the word nerd to be a compliment, but he didn’t think so.

      It’s all a matter of how you identify. Liking something doesn’t automatically make you a nerd.

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