Elliot Rodger, the 22-year-old virgin who killed six people and wounded a dozen others, did so in what he called “The Day of Retribution”—a plan to terrorise and punish all women for making his life a misery. His 140-page Mein Kampf style manifesto targets all the women who clearly picked up his creepy serial-killer vibe and valued their own safety enough not to allow themselves to be alone with him. Amazingly, despite his belief that he was “a nice guy”, “a sophisticated gentleman” and “superior”, Elliot never realised that next to wearing neckbeards and fedoras, the least sexy thing a man can do is believe he deserves sex from a woman, for any reason, ever.
What becomes clear from reading his manifesto (fortunately he won’t be around to write a prison diary as well), Rodger was a misfit geek. In minute detail he describes his interest in Star Wars (in the first sign of mental problems, he loved the Prequels), World of Warcraft (until the makers ruined it), and Game of Thrones (ok, everyone likes that). Did geeky stuff like comic books and video games turn Rodger into a killer? No. But the geek community is the last refuge for many socially awkward, sexually inexperienced young men like Rodger. That community sets a terrible example when it comes to women: how to treat them, how to relate with them, and what to expect from them.
There’s an old joke: What do you call a nerd in 10 years? Boss. With the economy as it is, I thought I should be proactive and get in some early networking, so I headed to Wollongong’s annual Comic Gong, a convention for comic books and video games—about as nerdy as it gets. Inside the Town Hall, I find dozens of stalls selling comics and toys. Geeks of all stripes roam the floor, hunting for first edition Superman comics. I take a free gift bag and am surprised to find there’s no complimentary deodorant can (note to Rexona: there’s a virgin market here).
To be honest, I’ve come with all the zeal of an escaped cult member. For the first few years of high school I was definitely a nerd. My weekends were mostly taken up playing video games, watching pro wrestling and painting a miniature Warhammer army. Despite that, by some small miracle I found a girlfriend and beer found me, and my geek days were over. That girlfriend stole my heart and beer took my brain cells, but now I enter this hive of geekdom with a sense of relief for what could have been a worse fate.
I’ve come here to meet Eve Beauregard, Sydney’s homegrown geek queen, with over 300,000 Facebook fans, who travels around the world dressing up as superheroes and comic book characters. She’s onstage hosting the Cosplay competition—a kind of beauty pageant for nerds—dressed as a U.S.O. Girl, scooped into a tiny corset, what looks to be a pair of underpants, and gartered stockings. In nerdspeak there’s “actually hot” and then there’s “con hot,” a girl who’s only hot because she’s surrounded by pasty geek girls. Eve is actually hot. When she’s not dressed as a superhero, she’s a regular model too. So what the hell is this hot girl doing among the nerds?
Eve has been accused of being a fake geek girl—one who gets off on teasing virgins. Tony Harris, prominent comic artist had this to say about such girls: “[We] are being preyed on by YOU. You have this really awful need for attention, for people to tell you your [sic] pretty, or Hot, and the thought of guys pleasuring themselves to the memory of you hanging on them with your glossy open lips, promising them the Moon and the Stars of pleasure, just makes your head vibrate.” And that’s just it. The geek world has a bit of a problem with women.
Back at the cosplay, the female contestants parade in front of a hundred fans in their meticulous, figure hugging outfits. Once off-stage, they don’t make it far without being stopped for photos. But never by the teenagers. Always middle-aged men. “Excuse me, darlin’, can I get a photo?” they ask. “It’s for my daughter”, they always offer a half-hearted excuse. “No way,” he seems to plead, “This is totally not an excuse for physical contact with a hot woman.” We all know what you’re going to do with that picture later buddy.
A crab-like creature pushes its way through the crowd, causing a ruckus. “The head is too small,” complains one bystander, unimpressed. The crab is followed by some sort of Dragonball Z character brandishing a big sword, I’m not kidding, this sword was ginormous. “Hey, cool sword,” says someone. “It's a big big sword. I'm not overcompensating though,” Dragonball Z reassures himself. In cosplay it seems, size does matter.
Later, Eve invites me to lunch, and I’m having trouble keeping up as we walk down the street. I guess superheroes have to walk fast—the world’s not going to save itself. As we pass, men gawk and women shoot Eve dirty looks.
VICE: Do you notice the looks you get?
Eve: Not any more, you get used to it.
Do you ever get hassled?
Yeah, just a lot of abusive comments or really inappropriate sexual comments.
I assume this is the reason she’s brought along her bodyguard/brother: a Jedi Knight, complete with glowing lightsaber.
So, why did you get into this whole thing?
I was just always a bit of a weirdo. Just quiet and, didn’t really get along with anybody. I’m still kind of the same with people my age, I just don’t relate to them in any way.
So you enjoy escaping into the characters you dress up as?
I don’t think that it’s so much becoming the character that you’re cosplaying, as it is becoming that ultimate version of yourself that can be all of these fantastic things, like amazing and sexy and stuff…That’s just not me in everyday life.
Geekdom has a bad reputation for the way it treats women. Have you encountered anything like that?
One of my biggest priorities when I first started to get recognised for doing this stuff was to develop an online community that was supportive and welcoming and safe… It’s like a safe and happy place on the internet, which is impossible, but totally possible somehow!”
How the hell do you manage that?
I have a really good bullshit radar. I just don’t allow that to happen…To me, as far as women in the community are concerned, it’s all about showing that look, we’re a positive force, we’re powerful, we can do good, I think that’s the most important thing to talk about with gender issues, not so much it sucks that things are unequal. Let's make it equal.”
Why are conventions like this important to geeks?
The geek community is all about being a refuge for people who felt isolated from everywhere else. That’s why I’m so, so anti-bullying — I’ll be really vocal about anything like that, even if it brings a shit-storm upon me. This is a place that people use to come when they didn’t feel welcome anywhere else, and we should never isolate anyone who comes here.
Isn’t having hot girls and geeks mixing just wrong?
Judging someone’s personality based on how they look is so dumb. And like, such a textbook case of discrimination, it’s horrible…I mean, imagine if you said to someone, “You’re ugly, so you can’t be a sports fan.” Like, that is exactly what you’re doing and its awful and just really douchey.
Well, that put me in my place. Eve was starting to sway me. I realised I was making an assumption: that if you were good-looking you wouldn’t need to be a nerd. But Eve is a nerd by choice.
In an age of hipster cynicism and irony, geeky sincerity is refreshing. They don't wear their fan shirts ironically. They wear them because they love them. It's not about meta-commentary subverting genre. The cardinal sin of hipsterdom is to be sincere about liking anything, especially if it’s popular. The geeks, on the other hand, are completely sincere about their geeky interests, and unlike hipsters, they don’t give a shit what you think. Rather than sitting outside a culture and making ironic commentary, they just immerse themselves in the culture for the love of it. Eve embraces it. “The great thing about being a nerd is you get to not be ashamed of the things that you love. You don’t have to pretend…You can come in and be yourself and do whatever you want, no-one’s going to judge you. We’re all dorks here!”
Follow Reece on Twitter: @reecejones2