Nerd Wars

'Zero Charisma' and the social costs of geekdom

Co-directors Andrew Matthews and Katie Graham
Co-directors Andrew Matthews and Katie Graham

Of all the fan debates passionately argued on the Internet over the past year, few saw more passion from people on both sides than the one surrounding the (probably mythical) existence of the "fake geek girl." Ostensibly a creature who enjoys the trappings of geekdom – say, a Green Lantern T-shirt and an enthusiasm for video games – the "fake geek girl" incites ire for having never suffered the years of alienation that pursuing those interests led to among the so-called "real" geeks. Self-identified geeks are very protective of their stuff.

The urge to protect nerd culture from interlopers is at the core of the Austin film Zero Charisma, which enjoys its world premiere at SXSW. The film stars Sam Eidson as the übergoober dungeon master Scott Weidemeyer, whose world is shaken up when a cool, socially acceptable, one-might-even-call-him-a-hipster named Miles joins his gaming table – and subsequently disrupts the most important thing in Scott's life. It's an experience that the film's co-directors, Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews, were surprised to be able to identify with when they moved to Austin in 2010. "The nerd culture and hipster culture really kind of blend here," Graham explains.

"When we moved to Austin, I found that it was so easy to find Dungeons & Dragons games here," Matthews says. "And there were so many ... I guess you would call them 'hipsters' who played it. This was a new thing to me. It worked so perfectly, because you have Scott, who takes everything so, so seriously. And then you have the hipster, who doesn't take anything seriously."

While Graham and Matthews don't want the script (which Matthews also wrote) to take sides in the geek/hipster wars that have inflamed the Internet ("We're certainly not trying to condemn one side or another with the film," Matthews says), the pair do feel some sympathy with its geeky antihero.

"There is certainly a part of me that is like, 'This is not fair. This belongs to us,'" Matthews explains. "I feel like a lot of the hipster-geeks are people who never paid a social price for these things. It's not a refuge anymore; it's just taste."

Nerd Wars

Matthews and Graham have been immersed in this debate since they began work on Zero Charisma, but they've also got a unique perspective on the debate over social costs and the "right way" to like something. It was at the core of a movie that both of them worked on in a number of roles that had its premiere at SXSW 2009 – Best Worst Movie, the documentary about the fans of the nigh-unwatchable cult horror classic Troll 2.

"When we worked on Best Worst Movie, you heard that argument a lot – about liking things for genuine reasons or ironic reasons," Matthews explains. "We were inundated with the argument about what's the 'right way' to like something."

Despite their own biases as self-identifying geeks, the experience of making Zero Charisma has helped Matthews and Graham recognize that everyone's story is probably a little deeper than it might seem at first glance. Even Miles, Zero Charisma's hip interloper, explains that his interest in role-playing goes back to high school – and Matthews recognizes that a lot of the "hipster-geeks" may not have had it as easy as it seems. "I know that I've always been into this stuff, and I've paid a social price for it," he says. "But people who you would look at and think, 'You don't look like a geek,' you wonder: 'Were you a geek, and you learned not to be?'"

Regardless, the walled gardens of geekdom continue to find themselves overrun by people who wear deep-V T-shirts over oversized black ones with dragons on them. With Zero Charisma, the geek/hipster war becomes as immortal as the Battle of Wolf 359 or the Siege of Asgard. And that much, everyone can agree, is pretty cool.

Zero Charisma

Narrative Spotlight, World Premiere

Monday, March 11, 7:15pm, Rollins

Wednesday, March 13, 7pm, Rollins

Friday, March 15, 11am, Topfer

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