Monday, March 3, 2014

Why I loved Fangasm and was sort of insulted by King of the Nerds


In case you didn't see them, Fangasm is the documentary-style nonfic story of a group of super geeks getting to work for Stan Lee's very own convention, and King of the Nerds is a competition-reality show trying to see who's the biggest nerd of all. One was charming and humanizing, and the other quickly devolved into glorifying in people yelling at each other.

That, right there, is the crux of it.

Fangasm was on SyFy and King of the Nerds was on TBS, and, for the first time in, like, ages, I'm pretty sure SyFy was more gentle and loving with its audience--and I think TBS sort of missed the whole thing and settled on stereotypes.

See, both shows feature really geeky and nerdy people. Both shows show social awkwardness and childlike love of popculture. Both shows have contrived activities for the people on them to do, and focus a little too much on the kneejerk reactions that tend to pervade geekery. But only one show really let the people on it be intelligent, well-rounded, multi-dimensional and real

And I think the difference was the competition.

See, Fangasm had things they had to accomplish, but they were things they had to accomplish together. Because of that, we watched these strangers (or, at least, virtual strangers) get to know each other, learn to settle into each other's weakspots and support each other to get the job done. King of the Nerds, which should have been fun, focused instead on making what was mostly a group of introverts choose sides, form terrible backstabbing alliances, and resulted in lots and lots of people screaming at each other in ways that made them seem unstable and possibly dangerous--and that's not at all a good way to get people to stop thinking of geeks and nerds as weirdos that need to be avoided.

I've had a theory for a while that competition shows bring out the worst in people. My favorites on the few I watch are always the ones that are fair and honest and kind through the whole thing--Christine and Luca on Master Chef, for a very good example. And the shows that feature mostly fighting and backstabbing--The Bachelor, Other Worlds, Survivor--are so low on my list of shows I want to figure out how to plan the schedule around that I gave them up ages ago. I've never even seen Survivor because the commercials make me want to slap people.

There were all these little moments where Fangasm could have gone that way--and instead, they chose to go the way of realism, honesty, and humanity, and for that, they stand at the top of my list of Shows Aimed At Nerds, and the only one off the top of my head on the list of Shows That Don't Insult Me On A Personal Level. It wasn't perfect, but it was a damn sight better!
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