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Nerd Culture: Conspiracy Theories and Trashy Rumors

Us nerds love rumors. They are like a catnip that grabs our attention, getting us twitchy for some little factoid that we can blow out of proportion, then banter about incessantly like a sewing circle.

Occasionally, a rumor about a comic, video game release, character casting, or blockbuster movie will trickle out, only to become a full-on brush fire in a matter of hours as it swirls around the Internet.

It’s in those times that a rumor will itself become a whole fleshed out narrative.

In this post I want to follow the life cycle of a rumor from its conception in a seedy backwoods hotel, into its awkward adolescence, to when we finally get to the point when Walter Peck from the EPA comes in and threatens to shut the whole thing down.

But since nasty, nerdy rumors come in so many forms, we’re going to track a rumor about a comic book movie step-by-step, simply because I need to tether this article with a specific example.

With our further adieu, did you hear that comic book movie rumor? I did. Marvel is unhappy with Brie Larson’s performance in Captain Marvel!

Step 1

A website that is typically unsourced claims to have a scoop. How do I know Marvel is upset with Brie Larson? I saw a Tweet from a website that sourced it from a YouTube video. At this point it’s like the children’s game Telephone, with each new website absolutely failing to inspect the truthfulness of the source, yet nevertheless still publishing 400 words anyway. Each of them becoming more sensational and inching further and further from the truth each time.

The rumors could be the rantings of an estranged gaffer looking for a little attention or it the entirely made up and projected ravings of a YouTube ninny. The point is that we don’t know! Because we don’t have the details, much less enough facts to be able to suss out the truth. In fact, there may be no truth there. Ofttimes it’s just an agenda in search of an audience.

Step 2

Nerds amplify it. Despite the unconfirmed source and the lack of objective information, nerds everywhere slam that retweet button. This is to be expected because us nerds obsessively worry about the health of the fictional universes we love, because we’re, you know, nerds. We love this stuff; it matters to us, so any morsel – no matter how tangentially related or truthful – finds our radar.

But sometimes only the headline has been read, and hitting that retweet button is easy, meaning rumors that don’t have a lick of truthiness start to create smoke anyway.

We see this often with social media, particularly in politics. You’ll see a source release an agenda, propaganda, or a talking point for the express purpose of having their social media followers use their personal networks to amplify it. But because social media users aren’t professionals, they of course don’t act with professionalism. More on this in a moment.

Step 3

We formulate narratives that lead to predetermined conclusions. Each us us have formed preconceived narratives that allow us to attach juicy little tidbits to our brainpan without haven’t to create a new neural pathway. We just graft the news onto something from before that feels like a plausible match. Psychologists recognize that us humans do this all the time.

Besides, reacting is faster than thinking. Preconceived narratives allow us to accept at face value, then react. There is no thinking involved. With the narratives already formed, we simply jump to a conclusion that gives it “legitimacy” in our brains.

Remember, we’re focusing on comic movie rumors, so let’s discuss some of the conclusions associated with that genre:

Conclusion #1

There is an illuminati of movie studio executives that are not just hapless, but are maliciously OUT TO DESTROY US WITH THEIR SINISTER AGENDA. And who would argue with this? We’ve heard actual horror stories of executives tinkering with movies to disastrous effects, so any rumor with the word “executive” in it feels plausible.

So even though there is excellent evidence that Marvel movie executives work quite well and collaboratively together, they are guilty by association, meaning executive involvement with Captain Marvel must mean bad news.

Conclusion #2

Conclusion #1 correlates with conclusion #2, which is that executive involvement in movies can only ruin stories, never improve them. We’ve concluded this as a given.

Movie executives equate to the Gestapo in our mind, while directors and/or actors equate to precious artists. Said another way, our conclusion is automatically that director involvement is a positive, while executive or producer involvement is a negative.

Conclusion #3

We automatically assume that reshoots or script edits are proof positive that a movie is doomed. But the fact of the matter is that reshoots and script doctoring is almost always pre-scheduled, meaning studios have already set aside a few weeks, knowing that they’ll need to come back and clean up a few things. Sure, many reshoots may signal that a movie didn’t shape up great, but correlation is not causation.

Besides, directors often ask for reshoots. They might see the first cut and realize something in the scene didn’t click for them the way they’d hoped.

Conclusion #4

Finally, we automatically assume that movies are always better in their original form when only the director can touch it. But the truth is that rough cuts are rough. Most people are ashamed at their first draft of something, before they’ve gotten any sort of feedback.

Yet the narrative we hold to is that the first cut of a movie is the purest, best cut and the pinnacle is when a director can fully express herself without any external influence or feedback. I’m guilty here. Personally, I’m not a fan that the original Star Wars films were tinkered with, so I’ve built a narrative in my head that first cuts are the best cuts.

Conclusion #5

If an actor or actress doesn’t match our personal taste, then they certainly aren’t right for the role. Related, we’ve reached the conclusion that our feelings on this can somehow influence the future or a performance (or even a franchise) if we could only make our feelings heard.

Step 4

After jumping to the above conclusions, us nerds make wild claims and theories about a small piece of news we hear. Are the Captain Marvel rumors proof that the movie will be the worst movie in a thousands years and that Marvel executives are buffoons if they don’t cater to our feelings on the matter?!!? OF COURSE BECAUSE REASONS!!

Once someone has engaged the RUMOR LOCK Key, rational arguments are no longer applicable.

Captain Marvel Rumors: How to Navigate the Rumor Mill

So what do we do when a rumor gets started? Let’s get back to the word “professionalism” that was brought up several paragraphs above.

Read the entire article, not just the headline! The internet is a medium that is largely dependent on text, but is used by a population that really hates reading, much less paying attention to context. Nor does the population care to note the reliability of what they are reading.

Rank amateurs skim, then jump to conclusions. Professionals think, research, and consider context.

So pay attention to the source. It matters.

Rank amateurs absorb mindlessly. Professionals double-check sources, then check again. 

Again, pay attention to the source. It matters.

Understand assumed narratives and don’t automatically default to those conclusions. Are there sometimes adjustments made in long-time franchises? Absoflibbinlootly. But try to practice professionalism when it comes to rumors and sourcing.

Some YouTubers clearly shouldn’t be operating a toaster, much less offering hot takes on beloved comic book characters. Forget a toaster, some YouTubers shouldn’t be operating toast.


So everybody take a deep breath. And remember that good news about Captain Marvel has also been leaking out like a sieve that’s had the strainer part cut off and is actually just a ring with water running right through it. It was a billion dollar movie, folks.

Besides, there will be other rumors to distract us soon enough.

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