Contribution Versus Caterwauling: How Nerds Communicate

What does it mean to be a nerd? What does it mean to discuss a topic? I promise, and I really mean this, I’m not trying to hate on anyone or harsh your mellow on any given topic, but that being said I’ve been bothered of late and need to get some things off my chest.

Nerd feels like it has become a sacred term. And part of me wants to rejoice in that. I have the luxury of having a great many things going for me (white, male, etc.) so proudly calling myself a nerd may never had been a great risk. But what does it ACTUALLY mean to be a nerd? I feel like the popular definition is something along the lines of “Someone who is passionate about a thing and doesn’t apologize for it.” If you think my definition is in err, that’s fine, but please understand that it’s what I’m using as a definition for the remainder of this column. So is this term representing a good thing? I think that it mostly is, but that the idea of being nerd also shouldn’t function as a shield against some well-intended criticism when appropriate. And just being a nerd also doesn’t mean that screaming joy or rage about any given topic of nerd-love is worth as having part of the discussion.

I realize I’m building up to something that I actually won’t provide, because my point is very basic and boring: let’s grow up a bit. Excitement is at the heart of why we are all nerds. However, excitement and discretion can coexist. Except on Tumblr. But that’s beside the point.

Perhaps it’s time to be more specific: I fear that comments are hurting more than helping. Obviously this is a bigger problem than just comics, but this is my sphere of choice, so I’m hoping you’ll all roll with me for a minute. It’s not about you, the iFanbase. You guys are cool. But have you tried reading the comments out there? They’re kind of awful. And not like bad movie awful where it’s actually sort of fun. They’re just awful. And of course, I’m speaking to the majority, not you. You’re brilliant, don’t ever stop, unless you ought to, which is kind of the point.

More specificity: comments ought to matter. I put a lot of content onto the internet, and the normal breakdown of the comments? Affirmations (which are nice), non-affirmations (a nice way of saying “they didn’t like it”), corrections (not all of which are even right, ironically), and actual feedback (the diamond in the rough). Anyone who works to provide FREE content for anyone browsing the internet is putting themselves out there to be critiqued, and that’s an acceptable risk, but what has been bugging me lately is the actual substance of those criticisms.

It has to do with actual discussion (or commentary) versus just so much noise. I don’t claim to be the first person to notice this, but how many comments online are just noise? At what point does every “Suuuuuuuuuuuuucks” get cancelled out by every “Plus 1”? I’m not in any way saying comments aren’t a good thing, I just wish I wasn’t thought a fool for expecting a bit more.

I brought this all up with my girlfriend over dinner, in particular how sometimes comments are left in the form of tirades or screeds. Her mutant ability is to find the hole in any argument and to then ask questions which confound and frustrate the person presenting said argument. And for this argument she ask: What if you really just have that much to say in response or are trying to respond to points made by another commenter whose being a jerk? To that, I suggested that it’s the author or editor’s job to shut down truly egregious commenters. And as to the really long comment, I suggested getting your own platform (there are lots of free options to get a blog) and then maybe posting a comment that included a link back to your longer response. I know some sites don’t allow links in their comments, it was just a thought. I figure if you’re response is 10% of the length of the article or more that this might be an appropriate avenue (my columns are usually about 1,000 words if that helps you calibrate). And this isn’t intended as advice, just what I would do in that situation. But I rarely ever leave comments anyways.

The reason I rarely leave comments is because often I have nothing substantive to add. This may seem strange seeing as I write this column every week, contribute to a few other sites, do a podcast, and use twitter. Clearly I have much to say, but most of the time the things I would have to say in a comment are “I agree,” or “good post,” which might make the author feel nice but doesn’t really add anything, right? If I have something negative to say, I usually just walk away altogether; there aren’t enough hours in the day to fight about what’s on the internet.

What does this have to do with comics? Well there was a certain review of a certain movie posted on a certain site recently (read: Paul’s excellent spoiler-free Man of Steel review) which garnered a fair number of comments. And the passion for the character from all comers is palpable, which is great. But I think what I realized, and what made me want to put my opinion out there, is that passion, which is at the heart and soul of being a nerd these days, maybe isn’t enough.

A person may have read every Superman comic ever written, and love the character fiercely, but that doesn’t necessarily make them an expert in how to tell a Superman story, via comic, movie, or even in a review of that movie. Thus, their commentary is coming from a place of passion without knowledge, and can fall into the realm of just noise.

I hope all this makes sense. I truly do believe the iFanbase is of the best communities out there when it comes to quality over quantity in the comments, which is why I felt like I could say all this here. But with my piece done, I yield the floor to the rest of you.


Ryan Haupt has opinions. Hear the words in your ears on his awesome science podcast. 


  1. You’ve written “nerd” but I think you mean “geek” and you didn’t specify “comic-book geek” or “sci-fi geek” or their nerd counterparts. You are so wrong.

    So. Wrong.

  2. I’m not sure I grasp what we’re talking about here; overload on Nerd passion, criticism of those who liked MoS, or the fact that we don’t know everything? I can germs of all three in here. Isn’t the point of an article to get lots of comments? Doesn’t that equal page views which equals money from advertisers (I don’t know how websites work, but I think that strategy is how IGN does it)? This was kind of a vague article (but well written), I just don’t know what the moral of the story is. We should calm down and not get excited, which is the definition of a Nerd (IE, someone who gets very excited about something)? On a site which focuses on Nerd topics no less. I don’t know, I’m still confused and I don’t want to go over my alloted word space.

    • I think page views equal page views.

    • He’s saying that comments should add something to the discussion, and not just be mindless “this sucks” or “+1” posts.

    • But I like +1 posts… There’s no “Like” button on here and if someone said something so well that I can’t really add to it then its just shorthand for “I agree”.

    • What about “+2”? Can we use “+2” when we like something?

      Anyway, I have more to add now. I scroll through the comments on this website alot and “this sucks” or “+1” only make up, on average (and this is just my humble opinion), they make up 5 to 10% respectively. So I gotta think this article is about something deeper than that.

    • “It’s not about you, the iFanbase. You guys are cool. But have you tried reading the comments out there?”

      “We” aren’t adressed here. But there might be irony there. I’m not sure.

  3. This is going to be an unpopular comment, but I think the real problem is much more general than just nerds or geeks or whatever. The problem is just people. Let’s face it, most people are pretty stupid. As George Carlin put it ” think about how stupid the average person is, and realize that half the people in the world are dumber than that.” Most people are kind of stupid, therefore most comments on the Internet are pretty stupid.

    And before people here get all offended, let me just say that I agree with Ryan’s last paragraph. I have found that the iFanbase has a much higher ratio of cool, intelligent people than other websites. It is why this is the only website I go to on a daily basis and the only place wherei even bother to read comments.

  4. This EXACT problem is why I hate AICN since a few years. The talkback used to be weird and harsh, but FUN. Now its 95% hate and bashing stuff people like. If you are brave, go on there and say you like Chris Nolan movies. You will get crucified like a Uwe Boll fan! And the funniestthing is that back when TDk came out, all those posters loved the man, but now retroactively hate that movie too.

  5. Interesting article Ryan. I agree that internet commenters in general–and not just on nerdy websites–tend to use the anonymity of the internet as an excuse to be rude and or antagonistic. A lot of times sound arguments and points get lost in all the vitriol. As you pointed out, here at iFanboy it seems to happen less. I think this is a direct result of the atmosphere fostered by the iFanstaff itself. When I first started coming here I noticed right away that when a comment was more like a rant, or counterproductive in it’s vehemence; one of the trio (Conor, Josh, Ron, now Paul), or another iFanbaser would call out said commenter, and point out the flaws or inanity of the comment. I’m sure it happens elsewhere too, but here it seems more prevalent, and I really like that.

    I think most folks on here respect the opinions of the site-runners and contributing writers, so getting called out will make even an anonymous person think twice; though not always. I think this is the best tactic to take, and if all else fails, remove the incendiary blather all together, and move on (Which I’ve seen happen here also).

    Sorry for the ramble, I don’t have a blog 🙂

  6. I’ve disconnected from a lot of it of late.

    I tend to look for positive comments, positive people, concise critiques and and succinct replies.

    I also heavily apply Sturgeon’s Law.

  7. Ryan, and I know this might not add much, but I thought this was really well written. It expresses a feeling I’m sure most of us have had from time to time.

    But now allow me to seque to my criticism. While I agree with your assertion that passion is not always enough (I’m a television producer and I can’t tell you how sick I am of every person with a GoPro and a youtube channel thinking they are a “filmmaker”) but you don’t really articulate what IS enough. You say +1’s and pure negativity don’t add to any discussion, which is true, but then what does? You say what you don’t want to see but never really what you would like to see. Yes, we all want comments that “add to the conversation” but that means different things to different people. I think a clearer articulation of what exactly you think qualifies as a good or substantive comment would have greatly benefited this article.

  8. I don’t want to come here and have someone challenge my every comment. Real life has enough of that to go around. There are those (though not many) that believe its okay to berate someone else just because they use polite language and this gives them not only justification, but entitlement to keep piling it on. That’s why I didn’t participate in the Man of Steel article last week to avoid the B.S. I don’t need it. To be fair, most people here are not like that, so let’s keep it that way.

    On the other hand, there was an article on Will Eisner earlier this week and I stated how I’d like to read some of his work though not sure where to start and I got suggestions that were helpful. This is what I’m here for. More of this please. 🙂

    • I, too, also enjoy when people expose me to stuff they thought was good.

      I prefer it to much of the kerfuffle about how the latest adaptation did not fulfill one viewer’s bucket list.

    • I received a great recommendation a couple months ago to check out The Incal. Someone mentioned it in the comments of one of the “ifanboy upstart” articles. I had never heard of it and asked what it was about. A couple people responded and told me to check it out and I did and LOVED IT! Stuff like that helps to cut through the B.S.

      P.S. – Speaking of the Incal, has anyone else heard the rumor that Nicholas Wending Refn is adapting it for the screen?

    • player1: I’m not opposed to disagreement altogether, its when both sides have stated their case, yet persist on picking up the same rock to keep throwing at each other that I’m not interested in. I tip my hat to you and have a nice day.

      USPUNX: I had no idea the Incal story was in this process. I’ll be the first in line if it gets made because while The Fifth Element was cool it is pretty much Incal Light.

    • @treeofthestoneage: I can’t remember where I read that but it was somewhere at least somewhat legit enough to make me take notice. Since then I have not been able to find conformation anywhere so it might have just been a rumor. But I REALLY hope it’s true because Wending Refn could make an amazing interpretation.

    • @uspunx You’ve been on here a long time. I’m surprised you didn’t catch on when Ron was talking about it. The ‘whatever whatever’ edition came out a while back, made book of the month, and they spoke of it on the podcast:)

    • @vada: Wow I totally missed that! Oh well, at least I found it eventually!

  9. I do agree with most of what you’re stating here (and have no problems at all admitting that sometimes I’ve been on the ‘wrong’ side of making horrible comments), but this one little statement really bugged me to no end:

    “A person may have read every Superman comic ever written, and love the character fiercely, but that doesn’t necessarily make them an expert in how to tell a Superman story, via comic, movie, or even in a review of that movie.”

    Amazing. You know, the worst movies that you personally hate were… get this… written by a professional, more than likely with a film studies or script-writing degree? Unitl I see films and TV shows produced by scripts you all wrote, any degrees in screen writing is only a piece of paper between you and the so-called ‘unqualified’ fans.

    • I’m not sure he mentioned having a degree, or any professional certification.

      I just read “someone capable of adapting said work to said medium”.

    • That fact that bad movies exist doesn’t mean that fans, even die hard fans, know more about making movies than professionals. If all it took to be a good storyteller was being a fan there would be a whole lot more writers, directors, artists out there right now.


    But I’m cool with the rest of y’all!

    The problem is everybody always has to be “right” on the Internet. It’s a lot less fun than it should be, discussing the things we love and enjoy in life.

    • I’m not sure what the beginning of this comment said but it brings up another interesting point in Ryan’s article, comment moderation. I understand it helps to keep a discussion civil but it also reeks of censorship.

    • You free to call it censorship. We call it moderation of a private website that we own and operate as we see fit as we have now successfully for 13 years.

    • You served me real good a couple months back when I was clumsily complaining about DC’s current lack of creative desire, making some really nice points, but what is overwhelmingly obvious in your comments since then is your fixation on comic book price and I think that may be at least a small part of some of the ifanboy staff’s “dismissal”.

      As politely as anyone is going to say this, “It’s 2013 and comic books, for the most part are $4 and you may want to get over that…”

    • That’s fine, I wont disagree with the success or quality of this site, not for one second. But it is censorship. As a private website it’s your right to control the content in anyway you see fit. But limiting what someone has to say because you don’t agree with it, for whatever reason you happen not to agree with it, is censorship.

    • Or enforcing the rules of the house. iFanboy is our house. We have rules for people who want to come over and hang out in our house. You don’t play by the rules you suffer the consequences (deleted comment, moderated comment, banning, etc.).

    • Look I’m not saying it’s not your right to control the site however you want, in fact if you read my first comment I’m not even debating the fact that it helps keep discussions civil. I’m just saying you can call it whatever you want but calling it something other than censorship is just equivocating. Grade schools limit what students can say in the name of keeping classrooms under control. The military controls what soldiers can say in order to maintain the chain of command. You can call it whatever you want, dones’t change what it is.

    • @J-Nel Yeah, I hated when Marvel went to 3.99 and I hate that DC is going to 3.99 – it’s going to make me give up comic collecting because it’s too damn high. But my disdain for a couple people at this site has nothing to do with anything they have said about me griping about the pricing – it has to do with an elitist dismissive tone they use.

  11. Avatar photo Paul Montgomery (@fuzzytypewriter) says:

    Thanks for the kind words for my review, Ryan. I just want to say I appreciate all the feedback. There was a lot. Some of it probably is ‘noise.’ A lot of it might be misguided or unfocused. But there’s been a ton of great insight as well. From people with no particular background in filmmaking or creative writing. We don’t know where insight and eureka moments are going to arise. So I’d never want to limit the broader conversation in the comments forum to trained or professional writers.

    • I was among those who didn’t agree with Paul’s review and liked the movie. My goal was to give my opinion and not offend anyone. I do think that the internet could be a more civil place, but I don’t think IFANBOY is that bad compared to some of the other stuff I have seen on the internet. The ironic thing is on Facebook I got blasted by friends because I didn’t like the movie enough. I guess you just can’t win.

  12. I admit I am a ‘+1’ guy. I don’t always really get in depth in what I have to say but I do really enjoy coming on here and reading every one else’s comments. And sometimes I don’t have a lot of time to go into a whole big review. I like to say ‘+1’ so it lets the poster know that I took the time to read their post and agreed with what they said. It might not be enjoyable for people to read but I think of it as me voting for that opinion.

    But yeah, iFanboy really has some of the most civil and mature people out there. You don’t see a lot of people trolling around here like you do on other sites. That really gets annoying, people just trying to get a rise out of you. I’m not sure why iFanboy attracts very intelligent people, maybe it’s because the trollers stop in for a little bit, get bored when nobody takes their bait, and moves on.

    Off the subject but another thing that really attracted me about iFanboy is the pull list. I don’t know why, but when they post the new comics for the week on Mondays I get all excited when I go down the list and pull the ones I am getting. And then get to rate them and comment on them too? Totally awesome.

  13. i’m going to go off topic for a second, ryan, as a co-scientist:

    you do all that writing and content weekly? don’t you have a damn publication you should be working on for submission?!? get back in the lab, boy!

    • If you must know, I spent the evening going over PDF proofs for an upcoming publication. Unfortunately I just don’t have a ton of data to write up at the moment. The balance will shift as data is produced.

    • ha. THAT’S more like it.

  14. I think as a rule there is too little moderation of actual comments online. Websites can have lively debates with an engaged fanbase without it degenerating into name-calling and ad-hominem attacks. Its more prevalent on news and political sites but even on comics or movies sites, people go bananas.

    I think when given complete license by both anonymity and availability, some people are going to be offensive and totally off-topic. I think in those instances, website moderators should act like teachers leading class discussions and get people back on track.

  15. The article brings to mind a master marionette manipulator who can perform Die Fledermaus flawlessly but his audience demands Punch and Judy. Over and over. Now the manipulator one day snaps at his audience and screams “Can’t you see I’m a master?!” and the children laugh at him some more.

    Coming out all shocked about the comments to a movie review that admittedly gave a very low score to a very popular feature film seems much the same to me. In my opinion no credible defense of the low rating was given. The movie was technically very masterful and the acting quite proficient. The special effects were seemless, awe-inspiring, and deserve praise in and of itself. The reviewer can cry all he wants “Can’t you see I’m a master at my craft?!” and I am still going to laugh at him while thinking “This guy is just as good as Punch.” Or, more situationally appropriate “This guy is almost as good as Statler and Waldorf.”


  16. “And I can’t get any GaDamn Mr Pibb!!!”

  17. Internet conversations can be very frustrating and annoying, just like “real life,” but the beauty here is that it is so easy to walk away from the douche bag or glance over the “+1” that the impact on the conversation can be minimized if we allow it. The problems arise when the “nerd ego” flares up and we forget why we showed up in the first place. I have had some beautiful conversations with people on forums lately that could have easily been derailed by negativity had someone let it. I guess it gets back to “cool people”. Moral of the story: don’t be a dick even if someone else is and ignore them and continue with the conversation. I think people eventually figure it out and change their ways. Nice article by the way.

  18. It’s true that passion can definitely get in the way of reason. Obviously.

    My general impression of the writers of the site is that they are, by and large, fellow fans who just happen to write for the site. So I’m not sure I totally agree with what I’m kinda getting from the last few paragraphs, that the fans who visit this site, are somehow less qualified to judge the quality of a thing than a reviewer. You have no idea what the background of the commentators is, but even regardless of that it doesn’t affect their points, unless you’re trying to make an argument from authority. 😉 It’s hardly scientific to put a review out there and just immediately dismiss all comments that challenge you simply because you think they’re made by people you imagine have less…I dunno, education? less storytelling background?

    That’s kind of what it feels like you’re saying, but I may just be mis-interpreting.

    Then again, I find reviews largely pointless (no offense to the reviewers out there) and generally avoid them unless it’s a work I’ve never heard of and might be interested in picking up, so what do I know?

    • Excellent article Conor! Thank you very much for sharing. I’m actually kind of over-the-moon that Kotaku posted something like this. Let’s all strive for a better, less toxic, internet (and geek culture). Thanks again.

  19. “A person may have read every Superman comic ever written, and love the character fiercely, but that doesn’t necessarily make them an expert in how to tell a Superman story, via comic, movie, or even in a review of that movie. Thus, their commentary is coming from a place of passion without knowledge, and can fall into the realm of just noise.”

    You saying this makes me pretty happy, in the context of the years long email conversation we’ve shared that started because you claimed that someone with a lit PhD didn’t have any greater understanding of a written work than their casual-reading counterpart in the hard sciences.

  20. I think the root of the problem is that few commenters possess the ability to share their opinion in a constructive, coherent fashion. Or they impulsively begin to type in anger without giving themselves a second to collect their “cool” and reflect on what they want to convey.