27 June, 2011

the violence of nerdiness

(from Fear Claws)

more on this (about Chase from Runaways, some weak spoilers)

I was also thinking that Chase’s lack of nerdiness/intellectualism/intelligence (including the facts that he isn’t part of a subculture, doesn’t do well in school, and is often kind of dense and spacey) is an extremely important facet of his character, and that makes it especially unfortunate that Joss Whedon retconned him as nerdy. The conceit of Runaways is that all the main characters have parents who are a different type of supervillain, and when the kids find out, they team up to fight their parents. Chase’s parents are “mad scientists,” obviously the most intellectual type of supervillain (which Whedon himself portrayed as a hero in Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, with the villain being a conventional hero, Captain Hammer, who is a stereotypical dumb jock–self-centered, stupid, sexist, and a bully of the nerdy Dr. Horrible). Although, like all the Runaways’ parents, they do evil with the goal of providing for their children, Chase’s parents are physically and emotionally abusive, and they are the only set of parents who are like this.

Although Chase fights with his parents and behaves rebelliously, he is written throughout Brian K. Vaughan’s run as having internalized the lessons he was taught by their abuse–basically, that he deserved to be abused because he wasn’t a good person, misbehaved, or was otherwise unsatisfactory. An amazingly painful moment, toward the end of BKV’s run, is Chase’s realization that he is “innocent” after all. (Amazingly painful because Chase wants to sacrifice an innocent soul to bring his dead friend back to life, so his realization causes him to plan his own death.) Chase’s parents frame their abuse of him in terms of “we’re smart, and you’re unsatisfactory and don’t know what is good for you, because you aren’t smart/intellectual.”

I started thinking about Chase again because my original post was called “isn’t that a cliche?” which is a quote from the first page Chase appears on. During an argument about Chase’s grades, his dad hits him and tells him he is a “dumb jock,” a “cliche.” Chase responds, “You’re a nerd who punches like a girl–isn’t that a cliche?” Which I think is really interesting because if you do read Chase’s dad through that lens, as a nerd who was bullied as a kid and wasn’t physically able to stand up for himself, and the violence that grew in him became his supervillainy…doesn’t that serve as a frame for his parenting? Does he have a childhood hatred of “dumb jocks,” which he takes out on his dumb jock son? It doesn’t matter if you “punch like a girl,” after all, if the person you’re punching is young and dependent on you.

So can I just say how much I love Brian K.Vaughan? He clearly isn’t mainstream or anti-nerd, as many of the positive characters are nerdy, but he also sees the potential violence in the idea that nerds are better than other people. In Y the Last Man he does a great job of portraying very diverse characters and the same is true for Runaways.

(The reason I’m categorizing this post as “disability” is that I think some disability culture, primarily Autistic culture, has this kind of nerd violence in it. Basically, autism is associated with nerdiness and intellectual achievement, and the people who hold this association think that intellect should redeem autism from the stigma of disability, or even the word disability. People who feel this way are prevented from experiencing solidarity with people who have autism but don’t have high intellectual achievement, or have intellectual disabilities, and they are prevented from experiencing general disability solidarity. Which is a huge problem in my opinion, and very upsetting.)

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