King of the Nerds, Episode 2: Ben and Sophie talk cosplay, chance, and Danielle’s outfit
Okay, let's take a moment to talk about cosplay. People who aren't a part of the scene assume that it's just dressing up, or that the woman who is now the official face of Bioshock Infinite's Elizabeth was hired due to being pretty. She is pretty, sure, but the real draw was her dedication to the character. Cosplayers are often masters of many skills, as it takes dedication, time, and money to put together the costumes they wear. During PAX Prime last year I was chatting with Penny Arcade's Jamie Dillon about cosplayers, and I said that it seems like they miss the show because they spend so much time posing for pictures or talking to people about their outfit. Jamie very patiently explained that for a cosplayer those acts were the show. It was like a light went off in my head, and I finally got it. When someone loves a character so much that they learn how to recreate the outfit, how to move and act like their character, and master the make-up and prosthetic techniques to make the whole thing seem authentic… it's beautiful in a way. For a few hours you get to bring that character to life for other people, and the more skillfully you do so, the more other people enjoy it. It's a very giving act in a way, and good cosplayers can make a show come to life. That's why I loved that cosplay was this week's first challenge on King of the Nerds. They spent time showing how much work can go into these outfits, and one team even created a short stage play about their characters.It was very cool to see cosplay shown on TV in a way that rewarded both creativity and dedication to the character. Again, this is the show treating the contestants with respect that you rarely see in reality television. Hell, one team even gave someone shit for trying to start drama with the other team. I enjoyed the first half of the show a great deal, although Alana is starting to seem a little unbalanced to me. Trying to physically and verbally bully another member of her team - and that is certainly what she does during preparation - and then tearfully claim to be the “nerd” on her team when people try to get rid of her doesn't fly. Okay, time to get catty. It was creepy the way the camera crawled up Danielle when she came out in her costume, and the camera man went right for her butt when she fell down. Sophie, am I falling into the “fake geek girl” trap when I wonder if that was the effect she was going for?
Before I get catty, let me also say I loved the cosplay contest, due in no small part to the panel of judges. George Takei and Adam Busch are actors which took part in television shows associated with nerd culture, but Yaya Han is known for her place in the world of cosplay. She is a legitimate celebrity in this realm that the casual audience isn't going to recognize or appreciate, but I bet the nerds - both at home and in Nerdvana - were happy to see her. The contest itself was portrayed in an even-handed manner, despite the outlandishness of several of the contestants' costumes and character portrayals. I'm sure that some people saw some of these costumes as dorky and stupid, but I never got the sense of the show focusing on the aesthetics or silliness of what everyone was wearing. There was no, “OMG can you believe these people like to do this? What a bunch of nerds!” The orange team in particular just made cosplay look fun and cool. As for your thoughts on Danielle: notice how the criticism you just gave - that the camera seemed to “crawl” up her and later focus on her butt - aren't related to what she did, but what the camera did. You can say that Danielle is fake, but if anything, it's a scheming, in-it-to-win-it type of fake, not the “fake nerd girl” stereotype you're referring to. When you see Danielle being fake, she's putting on a good face for Alana, and that's because Alana is, like it or not, a competitor, and therefore, a threat. “Keep your friends close and your enemies even closer” is a lesson Danielle seems to know well. I don't think that says anything about nerd cred.However, I wish “nerd cred” wasn't even a factor in this discussion. Trying to single out people who don't know as much as you on a particular subject is silly, and detracts from the nerd culture. “Oh, you only liked Batman after the Nolan films came out? I bet you don't even know who Killer Moth is. Brand this one as a fake!” Can't we all just like Batman and call it good? Besides, if you want to start getting into who's the fake nerds, I'd like to point out that host Curtis Armstrong mispronounced “Shyriiwook,” and when he quizzed the two chosen for the nerd-off as to what the percentage chance was of scoring a critical hit in Dungeons & Dragons, he didn't specify which edition the question was referring to, and also neglected to factor in weapon threat ranges and confirmation rolls! See how silly you sound when you search for a fake, or someone not as nerdy as you?
I don't think she's fake, and in fact many people on Twitter have a problem with me not liking her due to being fans of her videos. She's the only contestant that people seem to know due to her work outside the show, and the cameras have caught her being nice more than once. It's just that this show is going to be under so much scrutiny with people in our community, and when she came out in that outfit, and then the camera moves in for the kill, and I just knew that we would be hearing about it later. What's interesting about my reaction is that I don't really care about how she presents herself as much as I'm sensitive to how she's going to be treated for it, and then when the camera really went in for this close look it turned my stomach. It's so obvious and lame, and people are already going to be skeptical of anyone who is attractive on a show called King of the Nerds that I think it's almost like I expect her to disavow her looks somehow. Or at least address them. She's absolutely right not to, but my lizard brain continues to think that I'm somehow being manipulated, and then you see the camera really going for it in terms of how it shows her, and it's almost like vindication. “It's working!” I think to myself. “She's getting more attention due to her looks!”That kind of response, where you think you're being progressive but you go so far in the other direction that you're thinking like a creep again, is a big part of the whole skepticism of attractive girls in fandom. We tend to punish women for our own shitty responses to how they look and act, and it usually has nothing to do with them as people. It's an incredibly ugly reaction to someone, but even understanding it doesn't do much to lessen the effect. A part of me reacts very negatively to her when she's on camera and, even though I know that says more about me than it does her, I still feel it. It's almost like if the producers hadn't picked someone who looks like her we wouldn't have to have this argument, so I find myself wishing she wasn't on the show at all so we didn't have to have this conversation, which is of course another way to punish someone due to their looks, not their behavior or skills. Which is shitty. This gets very circular very quickly. The quiz show was great, and I thought the questions were fine, but the whole rolling dice down the hill for a high score seemed weird (appropriately?) random. I wish the game had more to do with knowledge than with the luck part. It's also fun that they had three hours to prepare. So Sophie, you have three hours to get read for a geek trivia competition… what do you research? I know almost nothing about Fringe or Babylon 5, so I would probably start there.
Sophie's final thoughts
It's funny that you ask, because it really starts to make you wonder what constitutes a nerd culture item and a non-nerd one. Does Twilight fall under nerd domain because it's about vampires and werewolves? Does Supernatural? Does I Am Legend? The quiz itself incorporated Chronicles of Narnia, Star Wars, and D&D, so where do we even begin? I can see what you're saying about Danielle and her appearance, but it's not a feeling I personally experience. Was her costume more revealing? Sure. But it's one thing to say, “That outfit shows a little more skin than the others” and another to say, “What an attention seeker and faker.” We have to remember these are people with complete personalities, and we didn't really see a lot of behind the scenes of the costume creation. Ivan led the group in that challenge, and it's entirely possible he played on established tropes to sell his group's vision for the judges. We don't know, and without that needed context, we should not assume. One thing I appreciated about this episode - and a part of me hates myself for saying this - was the drama. There was some double-crossing, some scheming, even theft and name-calling. Thankfully, none of it felt forced, and nothing got too out of hand.Still, there were some uncomfortable moments. One contestant, as you said, comes across borderline unstable as they swap between bullying and berating others and moping when they're the one left out. This episode had some issues with pacing by trying to squeeze a lot in. We had the cosplay contest, some behind-the-scenes drama, the contest winners' reward, the nerd-off, and the expulsion of the loser. It also felt a little cheap, a feeling possibly exacerbated by said pacing issues. I'm not sure this show will ever take off quite like Survivor or The Bachelor or I Had Money Once, Who Wants To Date Me To Get On TV?, but I think it will find an appreciative audience, and I look forward to next episode. P.S. I'm not sure that last one was ever a real show.