Wednesday, April 3, 2013
I Hate When They Get That Wrong
I happen to be a Geek with particular interests in Math, Physics, and Computers. Chemistry & Biology, not so much. Medicine, not at all. I also happen to be an Evangelical Christian with interests that are Puritan, Baptist, and Reformed. Moralistic social activisim, not so much. Westboro Baptist nuttiness, not at all. I also happen to write and read with particular interest in Robert Heinlein, Jerry Pournelle, and Larry Correia. William Faulkner, not at all. I hang out with "Makers" and am very excited at the prospect of a maker-space growing in Grand Rapids, MI.
Membership in these groups is not necessarily mutually-exclusive.
Each group has its unique folkways, and lingo. Jokes that are funny in one group may well fall flat in another. Each group has its own inside knowledge. And most importantly: each group has its own distinct "trust cues." These are little shibboleths that are deployed within the group to identify whether the person you're talking to is "one of us" or not. Ferinstance, did you know that a "student" at Oxford is the fella/gal up front teaching the class, and the kids learning stuff are called "members." We'll just change up the lingo a little bit to identify interlopers.
the knack," it means something to Engineers, particularly those who watched the old Dilbert TV show.
Some tribes are accustomed to being picked on. Before Geeks made good money and had all the best job prospects, we lived in terror of the Jocks. If you're in any group in the "before they were cool" time, you've come to expect abuse. When a TV show comes on and the guy has a Bible and handles snakes, all the Christians I know will flinch: We don't talk that way. We don't act that way. That's not who we are.
To successfully engage a tribe, you've not only got to depict its members in a realistic way, but you've also got to have your characters flash some of the "trust cues" associated with that group. It's very important that these trust cues be used by the right people in the right way.
Did you note the use of "unsaved" and "unbeliever" in the last paragraph? Non-Christians don't say "unchurched" either.
Evangelicals have this code language that's different from the general population. If you can use it, you'll create a more convincing Evangelical character. But you have to use it right, because being just a little bit off will stand out to your Evangelical readers.
And it works the other way, too. I happen to be fluent in Atheist. When I want to sound more like an Atheist I'll use language just a little different. Ferinstance, I say "deity" a lot more than "God."
I found "The IT Crowd" unwatchable because it got the Geek tribe so wrong. Sure, we're
In particular, some groups pride themselves in their superior intelligence. Physics grad students and post-docs do not come from the shallow end of the gene pool. Such may have low social skills (which can be milked for comedic effect), but they aren't stupid. "Big Bang Theory" exploits this masterfully. Even the "dumb blonde" on the show isn't dumb.
What I'm getting at here is that in your writing, you may want to depict characters who belong to tribes you do not belong to. Part of your research into those characters includes getting to know that group. If you fail, you'll make cardboard characters or worse a caricature.
Black people are insulted by putting black-face makeup on an actor then making him talk like Li'l Black Sambo. It works the same for Geeks, Christians, or whatever other tribe people belong to.