The Battle Continues Over "Childish Things"

The recent kerfuffle between Bill Maher and comic fans mourning Stan Lee's passing has illustrated an ugly truth that geeks everywhere continue to face: geekdom is still viewed by some as a sign that society has failed to "grow up."

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.​

It Started with Stan

The death of comics legend Stan Lee prompted an outpouring of grief and comedian Bill Maher took his passing as an opportunity to take a shot at fandom with an essay titled "Adulting":

"...the assumption everyone had back then, both the adults and the kids, was that comics were for kids, and when you grew up you moved on to big-boy books without the pictures. But then twenty years or so ago, something happened – adults decided they didn’t have to give up kid stuff. And so they pretended comic books were actually sophisticated literature."

The response was swift. Maher admitted the lost 40,000 Twitter followers after his post and that he's still followed by paparazzi asking him about "the Stan Lee thing." In response, Maher doubled down in a scathing attack on geekdom everywhere with a video titled, "New Rule: Grow Up":

"...the point of my blog is that I'm not glad Stan Lee is dead I'm sad you're alive...my shot wasn't at Stan Lee it was at, you know, grown men who still dress like kids...I'm sorry but if you are an adult playing with superhero dolls--I'm sorry, I mean collectible action figures!--why not go all the way and drive to work on a big wheel? Grown-ups these days, they cling so desperately to their childhood that when they do attempt to act their age they have a special word for it now, 'adulting'."

If those statements make your blood boil, you're not alone. The comic book industry's condemnation of Maher's comments were swift and wide-reaching. Stan Lee's estate responded directly to Maher:

Mr. Maher: Comic books, like all literature, are storytelling devices. When written well by great creators such as Stan Lee, they make us feel, make us think and teach us lessons that hopefully make us better human beings. One lesson Stan taught so many of us was tolerance and respect, and thanks to that message, we are grateful that we can say you have a right to your opinion that comics are childish and unsophisticated. Many said the same about Dickens, Steinbeck, Melville and even Shakespeare. But to say that Stan merely inspired people to “watch a movie” is in our opinion frankly disgusting. Countless people can attest to how Stan inspired them to read, taught them that the world is not made up of absolutes, that heroes can have flaws and even villains can show humanity within their souls.

The same criticism has been leveled at all things geeky, including role-playing games.

Are Role-Playing Games Childish?

Maher's attack on comics is essentially an attack on geekdom itself; the defense from Stan Lee's estate is an argument for the kind of imaginative storytelling that is at the heart of role-playing games.

In a lengthy response to a Quora question if D&D is "too immature and childish," Jake Harris explained:

D&D is a great game that brings people of all kinds together, for those willing to actually try and enjoy it. It's far from childish. Same with other forms of science fiction and fantasy. I strongly believe that these are lowkey pillars of society, which endure when pop culture constantly waxes and wanes with new trends and interpretations of “pop”. Dungeons & Dragons might have 6 Editions (I'm counting 3rd and 3.5 Editions) and Pathfinder, but its playerbase and rules remain largely the same: sit around a table, and travel to far-off lands, doing what no one else in the world is able to. Maybe you think that's childish. Maybe you could even argue that it is. Fine. I submit that maybe our world needs a little childishness. Maybe if we learn to fight less and play more we might actually get somewhere. If we choose to let the children inside of us inspire ourselves and those around us, we might not be stuck with all the problems we have.

Comedian and actor Patton Oswalt doesn't see a difference between pop culture and geek culture:

...I've got news for you—pop culture is nerd culture. The fans of Real Housewives of Hoboken watch, discuss, and absorb their show the same way a geek watched Dark Shadows or obsessed over his eighth-level half-elf ranger character in Dungeons & Dragons. It's the method of consumption, not what's on the plate.

That times have changed is perhaps best exemplified by the Collins online dictionary, which signified a shift away from Maher's perspective:

Once a slur reserved for eggheads and an insult aimed at lovers of computer programming, geek has been deemed the word of the year by the Collins online dictionary. Less brazen than selfie – which topped the Oxford Dictionaries poll last month – geek was chosen as a reminder of how an insult can be transformed into a badge of honour, according to Collins. In September the dictionary changed the main definition of geek from someone preoccupied with computing to "a person who is very knowledgeable and enthusiastic about a specific subject'', adding geekery, geek chic and geekdom to the fold.

Part of geekdom is maintaining the passion for things we enjoyed as children into adulthood, but it does not necessarily mean that we aren't effectively "adulting." Although geekdom seems to have taken over popular culture, comedians like Maher are there to remind us that not everyone is okay with the takeover.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
 
Michael Tresca

Comments

Jacob Lewis

The One with the Force
Adults dressing up in costumes? Check!
Debates/arguments over rules and plays? Check!
Constructing fantasy teams and turning it into a competitive/social activity? Check!

Yeah, we're all geeks in our own way.
 

Koloth

Visitor
So the millions that Hugh Hefner and others made by providing books with pictures for 'big boys' didn't happen? And let's not overlook that whole fantasy sports industry thing. And a fair number of folks still drive big wheels. They just have 4 tires and sit 3 feet off the ground.

I long ago put Bill Maher on the list of shows I don't need to bother watching. "What he says is unimportant and I do not hear his words." with apologies to Dr McCoy.
 
Oh yes... I was too scolded a long time ago by family members of my grandparents' generation (first half of 20th century), about how immature it was to play games into your twenties, when instead in their golden generation they were adult and started working at 12 years old at the latest. And what did they build among other things in our countries? Dictatorships, world wars, concentration camps, the cold war, environmental devastation...

Thanks, I'll stick to my Orcs.
 

lyle.spade

Explorer
I think I fit into the 'elder statesman' category of gamer, having starting playing DnD probably around 1980, and so I remember - and probably still have social reflexes related to - the stigmatization of gaming in general, and RPGs in particular. It's equal parts refreshing, validating, and surprising that DnD is as close to mainstream as it is today.

And yet...I think this is much ado about nothing. I care nothing about what Bill Maher thinks about anything, and my hobbies are my business. The time and resources they take are in part my family's business, and so if to anyone in this life, it would be to them that I am in some way answerable at all.

Regardless, this is not worth getting worked up over.
 

Rocky777

Visitor
Maher, a baby boomer takes another swipe at a younger generation so squeezed the only recreational activity that I can afford is D&D even though I have a great job. That generation gave us student loan dept, skyrocketing housing prices, stagnate wages and a credit society. I don't think this is about Geek culture its about a generation suffering under sever economic stress and really pissed off about it.
 

Celebrim

Legend
"When I became a man I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up." - C.S. Lewis
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Bill Maher has forgotten a man who has had *far* more collective impact on culture than Maher ever will, and who came long before Stan Lee...

I'm talking about Walt Disney.

Disney was not making things for kids. He was making things for *families* - things that kids and parents could engage in together. Adults are supposed to enjoy Disney material, rather than suffer through childishness for sake of kids. And, for the most part, we do. Because mammals don't actually leave their childhoods fully behind, and Maher doesn't understand that.
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
Part of the problem here I think is that Maher conflates “comic books” and “superheroes”. He’s really criticizing one genre but speaks as if he’s criticizing the entire media of comic books. And while he may have at least a little bit of a point about superheroes (and I say that as a fan), dismissing the entire medium is just foolish. There are clearly examples of comic books that rise to the level of literature.

It displays his ignorance on the topic, which therefore makes it easy to ignore. It’s also a shame because as comedian, he’s an artist in a craft that is often dismissed as being unimportant, or less worthwhile when compared to “serious” art. As such, you’d think he would get it....but no.
 

WyleType

Visitor
Without getting too political, I'll just say that Bill's shallowness and vapidity is already well-known on the left. He's a well documented hack.
 

Flexor the Mighty!

18/100 Strength!
I'm not sure its a totally incorrect perspective. In my dad's day you "grew up" and got into cars and bikes, often went into the military, played poker and card games instead of "kids" games. You had kids and a family early in your 20's, and left behind the trappings of youth for the most part. Now many adults apparently are far more into video games and comics though their lives and often seem to base their lives around their recreation. Modern cinema seems to revolve around super hero flicks. Not saying its good or bad but I've had similar thoughts in the past myself.

And yeah sports fans have changed a lot too. Part of it is the changing of social norms for dress, but a live sports game seems to have as much cosplay as a anime con. Especially football...
 

hawkeyefan

Explorer
I'm not sure its a totally incorrect perspective. In my dad's day you "grew up" and got into cars and bikes, often went into the military, played poker and card games instead of "kids" games. You had kids and a family early in your 20's, and left behind the trappings of youth for the most part.
They also bottled up all emotion, smoked 3 packs a day, downed a bottle of whiskey in the evening, and keeled over dead at about 56. So yeah....;)

And don't get me wrong....I don't think Maher's actual point is entirely without merit. It's how he delivered it that is ruffling so many feathers. But that's kind of what he does.

But really, his dismissal of an art form as being "for children" is pretty silly. I figured we'd be past this by now in our society. Cartoons, novels, music, games, comic books, movies, comedians.....all of them run the gamut from kids to all ages to adults only.

So to me, it's a question of whether he knows that or not. Is he so unaware? Like him or hate him, he's a smart person. So he must know that every medium has fare for every age category out there.

So then the obvious answer is he knows that, but feigned ignorance in order to rile folks up and get a lot of attention.
 

Ralif Redhammer

Adventurer
The problem with this is it tries to define things as kid vs adult media, and that’s often completely arbitrary. I mean, Twain is considered a literary great. But isn’t Huck Finn also considered a kid’s book. And The Iliad and Odyssey – we come to those most often in high school or college, but aren’t those considered literature? They feature gods and monsters and magic, but you’ll find them in the classics or literature sections, not fantasy.

When I was a teenager, my uncle predicted I would outrgrow and put aside Dungeons and Dragons. Later, he predicted that Goth was just a phase. We talk now about that now and we both chuckle about it, and then I go put on some Bauhaus while I work on the next D&D adventure.
 

LuisCarlos17f

Adventurer
World of Darkness by White Wolf isn't for children at all, and Mortal Kombat isn't Sonic the hedgehog or Mario Bros.

And now RPGs are in a new gold age because we are used to speculative fiction and some nerds now they are parents playing with their children because they want to show them an option for videogames.

We need self-criticism sometimes, but there a time when you have to recognize comments by toxic people to be ignored.
 

Zhaleskra

Explorer
I'm not a fan of C.S. Lewis's works anymore, for reasons I won't get into here. That said, he did have a quote about, and I'm paraphrasing here "when I became an adult I put away childish things, including the need to appear very grown up." Context, I believe, was from a habit of hiding to read fairy tales as a kid, and reading them publicly as an adult.

Unfortunately, our society has some very negative associations with things, which is why movies like "The 40 Year Old Virgin" exist. Sadly, some people also get their relationship advice from movies, or maturity ideas, but I digress.

What we have is an Age Ghetto, unfortunately.
 

AriochQ

Explorer
Ironically, Maher is a comedian. I would ask him, "Why should we waste time listening to someone be funny when there are serious problems in the world?"

The answer is the same for him as it is for Stan Lee and comics, because it can provide insight into those problems (through a slightly different path) and possibly reach more people than otherwise, all the while also providing entertainment.

Since he resides in a glass house, he should be careful about throwing stones.
 
Even in my Dad's day there was a saying "You can tell the men from the boys by the price of their toys" and given I can see almost $3000 in diecast metal planes and probably more than that in roleplaying game books I know which side I'm on.
 

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