Saturday, February 11, 2006

Why do TV writers hate me?

I just wrote a shorter version of the following in the comments section of Bill Sherman's blog Pop Culture Gadabout and decided to expand it for a wider audience...

Okay, so now Bones starring David Boreanaz has done an episode mocking socially inept comics fans. A while back, Six Feet Under did an episode mocking socially inept geeky comics fans at a funeral. Back in November, a show called Las Vegas -- a series presumably inspired by the "what happens here, stays here" ad campaign -- set an episode in a comic book convention, including every negative cliche about socially inept comics fans you can think of. Apparently we're all teenage boys who are afraid of women and can't tell the difference between comics and real life.

What inspires this venom from tv writers? Is it that they're so humiliated and put upon in their own field they have to find an even more defenseless group to beat up on?

(Yes, I know there are plenty of writers in Hollywood who read comics. One is John Rogers who not only produced a pilot based on the Warren Ellis comic Global Frequency but is also now writing Blue Beetle.)

I gather The O.C. treats comics fandom better -- not surprisingly, given one of the executive producers also writes Young Avengers for Marvel -- but I've never seen that show. Maybe I'm missing something really good. Apart from that, the only decent treatment of comics fans I recall seeing in prime time was a sequence from Roseanne, involving the younger daughter attending conventions and trying to break into the industry.

So the other day, I found an unaired pilot made for Comedy Central called Super Nerds, created by and starring Patton Oswalt and Brian Posehn, two of the greatest stand-up comedians around.

These guys are real hardcore comic geeks, surely they'll outdo Kevin Smith in conferring a little respect and dignity on our much-despised ilk? Nope. The comic shop set is perfect, the topical references are as accurate as one could hope...but the jokes all revolve around these two guys being terrified of women, losing the ability to speak in the presence of a pretty girl, and obsessing over a valuable pair of limited edition Kirk and Picard bookends.

A few years back, a pilot for an animated show based on the comic "Welcome to Eltingville" by cartoonist Evan Dorkin aired on Cartoon Network. I enjoyed it, but it wasn't remotely affectionate. Now we can add this pilot to the roster of self-loathing depictions in other media created by comics fans. Can't we do better than this?

Comments and other examples of mass-media depictions of the hapless comics fan are requested...


  1. Well, I think it has to do with the affection that TV writers have for *all* stereotypes, but has been downplayed for cErTaIn GrOuPs. Especially ethnic groups. This means an increased focus on the "acceptable stereotypes," you know, like those damn dirty lawyers, and those lyin' politicians, and those unsightly fat people. And, of course, comic geeks. Anyone who isn't Middle-Class Healthy Office-Worker White Male.

    Lots of writers love stereotypes. If you have a character you want to introduce and use in less than a page, you just plop one down and off you go. No need for messy characterization and development, everyone already knows who he is and what he likes, his soul is laid bare to the reader from the first word, and in any time-pressured type of story-writing (that would be all of them, really) stereotypes can be very useful, and not always bad either.

    Of course, as you've discovered, they can also be really damaging, and not just if your entire damn show is built off of 'em either. They reconfirm what people already think about something instead of challenging them. Sometimes that can be excused when the point of the work is something only tangentally-related to the stereotype, but if the entire point of your work is "GHEEEE lookit the geeks lookit the geeks," then what you have right there is Bad Writing.

    There *is* bad writing on TV these days, isn't there? Somewhere?

  2. Actually the one I hate the most is in Free Enterprise.

    Wait, hear me out!

    See, I don't mind it if it's done well, like that X-Files with Charles Nelson Reilly in it (lately, having a lot of trouble with people I know never having heard of him, can you believe it?). That was done by one of us, you just know it.

    But Free Enterprise...also done by one of us, sure, but I have to say...the hot girl in the comic shop with the ludicrous pull list? No. That was pandering. No offence to my geeky sisters out there, plenty of you are attractive as hell, but come on, would you boast about reading Spawn? Would you?

    No. You're cooler than that, damnit. So I think they overshot it all pretty criminally: it was all so too-cool that it made me shiver a little, as if a cold, cold hand was patting me on the head. Because those guys were still the most awful geeks, they were just pretending not to be! Gah. Betrayed by my own.

    However I imagine I'm alone in that opinion, which is fine too.

  3. It's hard to say, Plok. I went to a convention at one point (a local one that is held every four months) and there is this one hot chick behind the boxes selling comics with her dad, or something. I commented with another guy saying, "Man, she REALLY looks out of place." And due to her attractiveness, no one would ask her, "What issues do you read?"

    As far as writers slamming sterotypes, that has been done with nearly everything, including comic book geeks, southerners, religious groups, etc. And they will always will slam them. Do we have to like it? Hell no. Do we have to expect it? Unforunately yes.

  4. Good points, all!

    JohnH has nailed it by pointing out that a TV writer is always looking for the shorthand stereotype to get out of having to develop a character. If you had a bunch of, I dunno, ham radio enthusiasts instead, that wouldn't work so well. Who these days has any preconceived notions about ham radio buffs? And while many sports fans are far more twisted and bizarre in expressing their passions than any comics fan I've ever known, that wouldn't work for the opposite reason: too many people know sports junkies or are sports junkies for any one lazy stereotype to fly.

    I guess comics fans are just visible enough to have a stigma, but not enough to exist beyond that. We're the porridge Goldilocks ate!


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.