So, there was this article from Slate circulating yesterday: Nerd Violence, by Daniel Engber. It’s stupid. It’s an infuriatingly stupid and pointless article. Engber claims that sword-related violence is some kind of trend, and that nerds are to blame. That those who use swords to commit violence are nerds, and that nerds who commit violence prefer swords.
He provides no evidence to support those claims, mind you. Really, his article can be summed up as follows: “Here are a handful of links to sword-attack stories from the past several years (one dating back to 1979), assembled in one place to make them look newsworthy. Nerds like stuff with swords, so let’s use it as an excuse to beat up on nerds. Also, sword attacks are weird.”
(And yet, on this final point, Engber failed to make the great “Serenity” reference that I made in the title for this post. Then again, I suppose quoting sci-fi would have gotten in the way of his thesis, re: NEEEEERRRRDDDDSS.)
Anyway, leaving aside his reliance on trite disparaging stereotypes of “nerds,” what really irks me about the article is Engber’s sheer laziness in blaming this ill-defined group for sword violence. Of the sword-wielding killers, he writes that “the mere fact of their armament suggests membership in a geeky and aggressive subculture.” Yet when it comes time to identify that subculture, he leaps right from the keyword “sword” to “sword & sorcery” and therefore “nerd” without recourse to anything resembling logic or evidence.
If Engber had looked just a little closer at his examples, he might have noticed a different pattern. He cites somewhere between 15 and 20 specific cases of sword-based violence. A cursory glance at each article reveals that almost every incident involved a weapon described as a “samurai sword” or katana. That’s not quite “the weapon of dueling gentlemen and swashbuckling adventurers, of knights in armor and the horse lords of Rohan.” (Those would be rapiers and broadswords, respectively.)
Like I said, Engber gives us no reason to believe this trend is real. But even if it were, what he describes isn’t a trend of wannabe paladins, Jedi, or Errol Flynns (Errols Flynn?). It’s a trend of wanna-be ninjas.
And yet, though he goes out of his way to reference “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings,” and Dungeons & Dragons, he leaves out any reference whatsoever to “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” “Kill Bill,” martial arts, or other factors that might actually contribute to katana collector culture. Could it be that these latter factors are a little too mainstream to support the profile of the fantasy-obsessed, socially-inept psychopath dork Engber is constructing? (Never mind that “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings” are themselves hardly niche interests anymore.)
Collectible swords (katanas or otherwise) are valued as art objects and physical reminders of history and literature. Enthusiasts in such artifacts might all be considered “nerds” by some definition of the word, but that’s not the definition Engber is using.
As for those who actually put these swords to use, look: when someone snaps and wants to commit a violence, they’ll use what’s available and effective. Lots of things can be used to cut or bludgeon or stab. Furthermore, a nerd who is so inclined can fire a gun as easily as anybody. Calling the sword the nerd’s “primary means of self-defense” is cutesy, but inaccurate.
Whatever. Obviously, this garbage article was just a combination of 1) trying to entertain readers with links to weird stories and 2) pushing buttons to stir controversy and draw eyeballs.