Perverts Of Geekdom
The #MeToo movement has been kicking over a lot of rocks recently, and taking note of the worms and vermin that scurry to hide from the light.
Some of those rocks have been tombstones.
In recent days disturbing and distressing reports about Forrest J Ackerman have come out. “Uncle Forry” a.k.a. “Mr Monster” was instrumental in the monster movie craze of the 1960s and as such many “monster kids” (now old fogies my age) have fond memories.
Have…or rather, had.
Because while Ackerman was leading an enthusiastic cheerleading section for classic horror films and B-movie sci-fi, he was also behaving in a wholly monstrous manner to many women and female fans.
At the very least he was a stalker and a harasser, committing acts that today would earn him jail time. If the worst accusations are true, then he absolutely belonged behind bars.
The thing is, Ackerman’s behavior was not exactly secret in sci-fi fandom, and hadn’t been for many, many years.
Though many who knew of his actions denounced him publicly and repeatedly, by and large geekdom (which we’ll use to include all sorts of overlapping forms of fandoms and specialty interests) didn’t want to hear about it.
“His critics are just jealous…”
“He grew up in a different era…”
“Well, okay, maybe he is a little bit ‘off’ but not that bad…”
“Oh, that Forry…”
…and with that the stories were brushed aside, the complaints ignored, the problem masked.
Terrible enough if Ackerman was the sole turd in geekdom’s punchbowl, but sadly geekdom has a long history of shielding / protecting predators so long as they are members of the geek tribe.
Case in point:
Walter Breen, the husband of Marion Zimmer Bradley, who was repeatedly accused / charged / convicted of child molesting and yet who managed to stay active in both sci-fi fandom and numismatic circles because “he’s one of us” and “what’s the big deal, anyway?”
Case in point:
Bradley herself, who abused and molested her own child and yet was staunchly defended by fans and enablers who attacked anyone relaying such stories.
Case in point:
Ed Kramer, co-founder of Dragoncon, who used his position in the con community to groom and prey on youngsters, and his continuing revenues from Dragoncon to pay lawyers to keep him out of prison.
Case in point:
Arthur C. Clarke, certainly one of the most influential sci-fi writers of the 1950s and 60s, one of the first gay professional writers to come out in the sci-fi community, and by several independent reports also a pedophile who moved to Sri Lanka where his class and cash enabled him to abuse local young teens with impunity. (Let the record show that sexual orientation is separate, distinct, and different from an interest in having sex with children, and that males and females of any and all orientations are capable of sexually abusing children.)
Case in point:
Isaac Asimov, proudly notorious as a self-described “posterior pincher” and “sensuous dirty old man”, enjoyed putting unwelcomed hands and lips and tongues on young women who came within arm’s reach.
And I can think of two giants of geekdom who are still with us who will doubtlessly have their own peccadillos fully revealed once they’re planted six feet under.
One reason so many predators get away with it so long is that they have the resources to attack those who bring their crimes to light, not just by funding lawsuits but by rallying far too numerous supporters in the geek community to carry water and be shield bearers for them.
Up against that, many victims and witnesses thought it better not to press their accusations too hard.
Okay, so why does geekdom defend these monsters?
It is typically not a case of personal gain or reward in doing so: Even the most successful of the above named individuals was not fabulously wealthy, several lived quite penurious lives.
Part of the answer can be explained as seeking to protect a person who has provided entertainment and, more importantly, vindication in a geek’s life.
Every person cited above provided reassurance directly and indirectly to literally thousands of people that their lives and interests were not meaningless, not invalid, not worthless.
Bradley was adored by fans who found much to glean in her writings. Female fans in particular drew strength and inspiration from her works, seeing their own lives and struggles symbolically depicted in her fiction.
Ackerman reassured tens of thousands of kids that their interest in monsters and weird films and fictions were not only perfectly acceptable but a viable career choice as well.
Breen, in numismatic circles, provided invaluable insight and research in the hobby, producing numerous reference works that are still used by coin collectors today.
But that only goes so far.
No, the main reason they were defended or tolerated for so long is simply that they were members of the tribe.
Now, it doesn’t matter who or what the tribe is; the tribe is important to modern citizens of the digital world (and, yes, we’re talking about events that often started before the computer revolution; bear with me).
Mainstream culture -- squares or mundanes or muggles, however you want to call them -- defines itself by what it excludes.
Wear the wrong kind of clothes, eat the wrong kind of food, cut / color your hair the wrong way, and =poof!= suddenly you’re an outsider, cut off from society.
One doesn’t need complete and total physical banishment to feel cut off: A single condescending glance, a patronizing remark, a dismissive gesture and the mainstream clearly announces “you are not one of us”.
Ah, geekdom identifies itself by whom it includes.
As such their focus tends to be much more narrow, much more specific.
Oh, you like monster movies? Well, come on in, the feature’s starting.
Coin collector, you say? Got any wheat pennies?
You like dressing up as Sailor Moon? So do we!
As such, the multiple points of similarity that mainstream culture checks us on -- haircuts down to shoes, religious beliefs to dietary practices -- are pretty much ignored in return for acceptance.
“You’re a geek” mundanes say as they turn their backs on us.
“You’re a geek!” other geeks say as they throw open their arms to welcome us.
You become very defensive of that if you’re a geek.
And defensive too quickly turns into protective.
If those isolated points of interest are what bind you to other geeks, you become wiling to overlook whatever eccentricities they may possess.
Harmless eccentricities, such as a penchant for oddball clothing.
Annoying eccentricities, such as indifferent attention to personal hygiene.
Hurtful eccentricities, such as narcissism bordering on sociopathy.
Dangerous damaging eccentricities, such as a penchant for child porn.
Geeks are acutely aware of their outsider status; they’re reminded of it daily -- if not hourly.
As a result they are much more accepting of others who are different them in race or orientation or religion or politics or ability.
Geekdom famously welcomed minorities of all stripes.
Those differences were unimportant compared to the interests shared.
And the fearing of losing that connectiveness, that community, the fear of becoming cast adrift alone and friendless in a society that neither cares nor understands you, that makes it all too easy for many geeks to turn a blind eye to bad, evil, outright predatory behavior by their fellow geeks.
Especially if those geeks are better known and higher up on the geek social ladder.
Geekdom of all stripes -- from high brow high art circles down to raunchy pick up garage bands -- are notorious for tolerating what can be euphemistically described as “alternate lifestyles”.
I begrudge no one their pleasure so long as all parties involved are fully informed consenting adults.
Sci-fi fandom in particular has been accepting of casual sex, serial monogamy, polyamory, and convention shenanigans such as bath tubs full of lime jello (no, I am not kidding).
And while most sci-fi fans don’t participate in such things,, while most sci-fi fans may not be accepting of such behavior, they are mainly tolerant of it…
…so long as it only involves fully informed consenting adults.
You may not like kimchi, but as long as you don’t stop those of us who do from eating it, no problem.
But the predators are aware of this.
It’s a fair question to ask if predators are attracted to geekdom for the same reasons they’re attracted to careers in public schools / show biz / politics / churches (i.e., access to more victims who are unable / unwilling to complain) or, once they have entered geekdom through whichever particular interest, discover relatively defenseless prey in an unsuspecting environment.
Regardless of which angle of approach, the predators depend on naiveté and geekish good will to keep their behaviors hidden.
Knowing first hand the sting and shame of isolation from mainstream society, geeks are typically loath to treat their own in like fashion.
#MeToo is making that option no longer defensible.
# # # # #
#1 -- The above is different from the other turd in the punchbowl: Toxic masculinity.
Just as a man can be a feminist, so can a woman be supportive of toxic masculinity.
Often times it’s an attempt to exert control in their own lives by influencing their perceived “decision makers”.
In geekdom, toxic masculinity has manifested itself in #Gamergate and now #Comicsgate, in the Sad Puppies and the Sick Puppies movements.
What attracts much of the “gators” to geekdom -- in particular sci-fi / fantasy / horror / superhero geekdom -- is not so much a desire for individual validation but rather a craving for societal dominance. For decades the alt-right / nazi fascination in Star Trek seemed unfathomable, but then the Black Mirror episode “USS Callister” laid it all out: They’re attracted to the authoritarian aspects of the genre/s.
#Gamergate was just the first of many now overt attempts to wrench control of geekdom away from women and minorities of any stripe and back into their own (mostly) pasty white hands.
#2 -- There’s a lot of this in Christian churches, too; we’ll talk about that in a bit…
#3 -- Full disclosure:
I wrote a story for the 2016 tribute anthology Tales From The Acker-Mansion that reflected the Forrest J Ackerman I thought I knew. Had I been aware at that time of his pattern of sexual harassment and accusations of child pornography, I would not have participated.
The sexual harassment (and there are too many targets and witnesses stepping forward to deny that) is awful enough but the child pornography is unspeakable. If Ackerman trafficked in images of real children actually being raped, he deserved to be thrown in jail. If it was just drawings or printed stories about fictional children, it would be equally disgusting but not (at the time) technically a crime.
In either case, I would want nothing to do with him had I known.
This is why we need to be fully informed.
© Buzz Dixon