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Geek Wars – Responses to the ‘Village Voice’ article

June 6, 2001 at 8:06 pm by Tehanu  - 

Village Voice Rebuttal.

Not surprisingly, the link to the Village Voice articles yesterday here and here heated up our email somewhat. Here are some responses – first from Grond:

“Just a quick note. I tend to agree about the point of the articles that you’ve referenced. They really sound alot like people feeling the overwhelming need to say *something* without really having any sense of why they are saying it beyond perhaps an unscratchable *itch* engendered by a phenonemon in which they cannot participate. Some part of their sense of wonder, perhaps their innocence has atrophied to a point that they’ve got a downright pathological need to belittle it.

The first article says nothing louder than *smarm*. It seems so obvious that the writer is talking to a small self important clique of fashionably jaded dorks that an outside reader can’t help but wonder what exactly he’s on about. It’s interesting to note that while at the same time as he brands the Tolkien fan community as *geeks* he then also (twice) equates them with *everyone* thus reducing them to the great herd of humanity who are unlike his audience the great unwashed masses. A laughable double standard.

The second article similarly seems to exist largely so that the reader might admire her own cleverness while missing the point entirely. She appears to fire around in the dark without actually touching on the simple fact that the Professor’s work is first rate *mythology*. That despite the critics and the self absorbed naval gazing of recent (read 20th century) *literati* Tolkien remains relevant as something that speaks to a usually sleeping part of our selves that sees the truth, if you will, in the proceedings of the tale.”

Next up is Karl Proctor:

We need some sort of rallying cry or slogan to herald the movement. “Tolkienism” or some such is too vague sounds like so many other “isms” that have gone before. “Ringers” is clever and sounds clandestine. We must think of something, for…

To Geek Or Not To Geek? That is the question. And if we be Geeks, then is it Ill or Well? If to be Geek is
an Ill thing, and we have Geeked, then what are we to do? And if we have not yet Geeked, But Should, do we begin, and if so, How?

I had written briefly to Turgon on this topic of literary snobbery on the East Coast. This seems to me to be more of the same sort of thing. The grand “Journalist” trying vainly to explain away the immense popularity of the works of the Good Professor and succeeding only to vilify those of us who read and enjoy those works, referring to us as “geeks”. The Journalist can not, or will not, see the forest for the trees. Neither will the Journalist understand that the Good Professor was interested in topics that span all peoples, times and places: good and evil, life and death, love, honor and betrayal, the corruption that power brings with it, and the transience of life. The Journalist is concerned with their personal popularity with their Journalistic peers, writing “cleverly” (many times with disregard for fact or accuracy) and with whatever the tawdry issues of the moment may be.

If this is what it is to be Geek, then Geek I am. Geeks unite! Spit in eye of the Journalist. Thumb one’s nose at the Snob. And remember, how can they possibly be having as much fun as we are?”

The second is from Michael Lubin; he sent this to the editors of Village Voice:

“Thank you for two utterly pretentious articles about Tolkien. “Hobbit Forming” takes three paragraphs to say absolutely nothing. It reads like People Magazine with a larger vocabulary. “Lord of the Geeks” takes ten paragraphs to say slightly more. The only sustained idea in it seems to be author Julian Dibbell’s peculiar definition of what a geek is. Dibbell may well believe that “the 20th-century cultural mainstream” consists of those naive enough to take seriously literary critics’ self-proclaimed status as the guardians of literature. But when I was a child and the Star Wars
movies came out, their fans were the in-crowd and anyone interested in
literary criticism (which at that time included me) was a geek. I doubt this has changed. Perhaps a less grossly unbalanced picture of society might also lead to an analysis that would replace snobbish dithering with substance. This would, unfortunately, require Dibbell to actually read Tolkien, rather than merely repeating what others have said about him.”

Thomas Kelly also wrote to the editor of Village Voice:

“I enjoyed your two pieces on Tolkien mania for the most part. Although I found them a bit reductive and misguided at times, there was enough substance to them. Still, concerning Biddell’s piece, I think he was rather incorrect about Tolkien’s treatment of evil. Why is it that critics and journalists when writing about the “Lord of the Rings” always seem to throw the character of Gollum right out the door, before they go on to claim Tolkien’s concept of evil is childish? Gollum is only the key character to understanding the whole emotional complexity of the book. It is in his character that Tolkien not only argues that most of us are not innately evil but corrupted, and that there is a grey area influenced by the tides of personal need, but that “evil” itself has a crucial role in the interplay of nature itself, and even in the outcome of “good.” Obviously, Gollum is a foil of Frodo, and if you don’t get Gollum, then you don’t get Frodo, and therefore you don’t get the books whatsoever. Moreover, often Tolkien’s idealized forms and characters are simplistic, but they are more archetypal than anything if we remember he is writing in the spirit of myth. For every simple theme or character, there is a wine-dark deep and complex counterpoint. I wholeheartedly believe that Tolkien’s world is a varied and rich landscape, that is a dialectical mythos often lost on the conventional and prejudiced reader. And being half-Japanese, I’m growing tired of the allegations that Tolkien was some kind of racist-in-the-closet just because his orcs are described as swarthy and slant-eyed. Ask any Asian-American who has read and enjoyed the books and he’ll tell you, really, he finds the need of so-called “enlightened” white critics not at all welcome. It’s not that I don’t want to be reminded of it, it’s just I’m an adult and I can see when someone is hijacking an important social evil to make some lame point about a book that is in no way intentionally out to make me feel like I’m less than human. There are enough sensitive treatments of this grey area and a solid moral system in the book to assuage the more reasonable leftist. And if I have to read one more article that characterizes Tolkien’s books and his readership as juvenile idiots I’m going to kill someone! People love his books, who cares, big deal, get over yourself! Why are taste-nazis so threatened by that? And why must journalists who obviously read and enjoyed the books at one time feel the need to be apologetic about it? Are we all ten-year olds, embarassed about what our Harvard peers will think of us if we like certain “geeky” things? Come on! What is truly childish is the maintenance of an attitude that sanctifies snickering at another’s choice of creative mode and truth, and that reads the fantastical forms of myth as mere child’s play. How wrong can an unadventurous mind be!? But don’t get me wrong, I think the two pieces you posted are for the most part good, and I thank you for running them. Even though O’Hehir’s recent essay on Tolkien and the “Lord of the Rings” at Salon.com has it’s own faults, I recommend it as a good starting point when calibrating your next pieces on the subject. Sorry for my displeasure–I did enjoy your two pieces–but I am interested in thorough, reasonable and good criticism on the subject. Thank you for hearing me out.”

And this last from John Sutton:

“It amazes me how these mentally limited people start coming out of the woodwork when some big project comes about. Why do they feel the need to rub their two cents together and come up with some kind of “constructive criticism”? They go about looking down their noses and labeling everyone geeks and nerds…..and for what reason? Maybe they do this to take away from the pain of knowing they will never accomplish anything as meaningful in their lives. That their best in life will only amount to something…….average! Maybe they’re just mad at the world because at one point in their lives they were labeled a geek or a nerd. I think most of it stems from plain old jealousy. Jealousy that someone can have an effect on so many people and not even really mean to. When you take away all the fancy words they used, what was left……………they called millions of people geeks! ????????? “

Posted in Old Special Reports on June 6, 2001 by

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