BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, we go back and forth. Is discussing a persistent global horror, violence against women, appropriate in the wake of one angry lunatic’s rampage? "Absolutely,” wrote actor, writer and former Jeopardy! Champion Arthur Chu in the Daily Beast. Yes, Rodgers was mentally ill, but his illness expressed itself in a particular way and reveals something about Rodgers’ subculture, Arthur Chu’s nerd culture and the wider culture in which we all live.
ARTHUR CHU: He was a regular poster on a forum called PUAhate. PUA stands for pickup artist. It’s like teaching you how to make money from home, teaching you how to sell cars. But they apply principles like that to how to, you know, get women, ranging from common sense stuff, like dress better and work out and look better, to, you know, creepy stuff, how to manipulate women or pressure women or bully women, talking about isolating women from their friends.
And PUAhate is another level of this, where there’s guys who have paid lots and lots of money for the seminars and the books, and it still doesn’t work. And now they’re left with even more resentment. Elliott Rodger was part of a subculture and he didn’t make up any of the things he said in that video. He was quoting, almost like verbatim, concepts repeated again and again.
As a guy who was introverted and isolated a lot in school and who’s had a lot of the same issues that Rodger complains about, I found myself thinking the same way. I’ve heard guys saying similar things. They don’t take it as far as mass murder, but this sense of resentment and entitlement towards women is everywhere.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So let’s move from this particularly virulent subculture and talk about how broader cultural tropes actually resonate with this. You reference Saved by the Bell and Steve Urkel, along with The Big Bang Theory and Niles on Frasier, and so on.
ARTHUR CHU: Well, Steve Urkel, his whole character was developed because he’s the guy who has this hopeless crush on this girl.
[FAMILY MATTERS CLIP]:
STEVE URKEL: Well, you know, I’ve asked you out a thousand times and you have said no a thousand times. I am beginning to notice an alarming trend.
LAURA WINSLOW: Get a clue, Steve! Give it up!
STEVE URKEL: I shall never give up, Bubbling Brown Sugar.
[HOOT FROM AUDIENCE]
In fact, I’m gonna do something so romantic, so gallant, and so fabulously grandiose that your heart will melt and you will be mine forever.
ARTHUR CHU: You know The Big Bang Theory, to its credit, is better than that. Leonard and Penny are not like Steve and Laura on Family Matters. But if Steve Urkel were real, he would be a criminal. Breaking into someone’s house, harassing someone, standing outside their window - and these are things that all actually happen to real people.
If you follow #YesAllWomen on Twitter, you hear all these stories from women about guys who literally do these things, and they don’t see themselves as the bad guy because to themselves they’re the victim. But that’s why I singled out, quote, unquote, “nerds.” You know, I’m not talking about liking science fiction or liking comic books. I’m talking about this sense of, I’m the victim, and anyone who contributes to that feeling of loneliness and exclusion is a victimizer.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: You mention, in particular, Revenge of the Nerds.
ARTHUR CHU:Revenge of the Nerds is an old movie. The 1980’s, it’s long enough ago that we can see there was some messed-up stuff in these films that at the time were considered, you know, hilarious, entertaining, fun movies. So Revenge of the Nerds uses the bed trick, involves a guy sleeping with another guy’s girlfriend in disguise, which meets the definition of rape.
BETTY CHILDS: You’re that nerd!
LEWIS SKOLNICK: Yeah.
[HEAVY BREATHING SOUNDS]
BETTY CHILDS: Oh god, you were wonderful.
LEWIS SKOLNICK: Thanks.
BETTY CHILDS: Ohh, are all nerds as good as you?
LEWIS SKOLNICK: Yes.
BETTY CHILDS: How come?
LEWIS SKOLNICK: ‘Cause all jocks think about is sports. All we ever think about is sex.
ARTHUR CHU: You know, I can have sex with a woman so well, without her consent, that she’ll retroactively consent, that’s not a cool message. I’m not saying I have no sympathy. I was one of those guys. Being a lonely guy sucks. Being lonely sucks. But the real problem isn’t that we have stories from a perspective of a lonely guy who wants love and affection, but that men, and women, mostly see stories about how hard it is to be a man looking for love, and the woman’s role is to provide that. So it’s just, it’s a conversation that we need to have. I don’t want it to be about me and these assertions that I made, when people say like -
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Right
ARTHUR CHU: - what’s your evidence? I don’t have the evidence. I’m telling you what these women have been sharing for days, ever since, you know, Memorial Day weekend on Twitter and blog posts and articles. And you can go read them. If another man needs to be the one to tell you to read them for you to feel like you need to hear these stories, that’s kind of messed up but I’ll do it, if that’s what it takes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But as you mentioned, Revenge of the Nerds was 30 years ago. Is there anything to suggest that these attitudes are current, in the same way?
ARTHUR CHU: A lot of it is couched in satire and irony. I’m not saying we have to take all satire literally but, you know, “Get me a Sandwich” is a meme on the Internet. It’s a, it’s a joke that people say to dismissively, if a woman says something, “Shut up and get me a sandwich”, you know, because you think well, no one’s really in an abusive relationship like that anymore. I can joke about it. It’s not a big deal.
On Gawker, Adrian Chen recently unleashed this tornado of controversy because he outed the anonymity of the guy who founded Creep Shots, which is a subreddit about surreptitiously taking pictures of women without their consent, and then people actually saying, well no, these guys are the underdogs, these guys are introverts who are scared to approach women, so this is how they appreciate women, over and over again men painting themselves as the ones who are being wronged here.
Louis CK, when there was this controversy a while ago about Daniel Tosh defending the idea that rape jokes are okay, that they shouldn’t be censored, Louis CK listens to people and his routine changed, as a result. He did a routine about how scary it is for women to date men.
LOUIS CK: We’re the number-one threat -
- to women!
If you’re a guy, try to imagine that you, that you could only date a half-bear/half-lion, and, “Oh, I hope this one’s nice.”
ARTHUR CHU: Who was it, Margaret Atwood said that men are afraid women will laugh at them, women are afraid men will kill them.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: One of the commenters on your article pointed out that what you’re really saying isn’t just about nerd culture but also jock culture. So is this narrative that you describe really indicative of how society defines masculinity more broadly?
ARTHUR CHU: Oh well, absolutely. I’m not singling out nerd culture or whatever, because I think that we’re worse than other guys. I’m singling it out because I am in that culture. If anything is worse, it’s the fact that we are not self-aware about it. It would be one thing if Elliott Rodger had said, “I just hate women and want to kill them” but that he, he had this cloak of self-pity over all of it.
And yeah, he was crazy. But when a crazy person shoots up a synagogue, we don’t say, he was just crazy, there’s no reason to implicate anti-Semitism in it. It found the target that it did because of the culture he was in, ‘cause most guys aren’t going to take a gun and shoot a bunch of random strangers, but there’s a lot of guys out there who commit sexual assault, there’s a lot of guys out there who commit rape. It happens a lot.
When you paint him as a monster and an anomaly and you say his madness has nothing to do with any of the rest of us, and I’ve literally had guys say like, misogyny is not an ideology, misogyny is not a specific thing, what Elliott Rodger did has absolutely nothing to do with any other bad thing that happens to any other woman in the world, then you destroy the point of even talking about it in the first place.
The only reason to talk about tragedy, unless you are someone who knows someone who died and you are mourning them, the only reason for you and me to be talking about it is to try and prevent bad things from happening in the future.
[MUSIC UP & UNDER]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Arthur, thank you very much.
ARTHUR CHU: Thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Arthur Chu is an actor and writer. His piece in the Daily Beast is called, “Your Princess is in Another Castle: Misogyny, Entitlement, and Nerds.”