Chasing Amy and the toxic “nerd masculinity” of the nineties.
Kevin Smith’s romantic comedy Chasing Amy, now almost two decades old, was a big deal for my generation of nerds. Back in 1997, all of our dorky interests, from comic books to video games, remained hidden, far from the prying eyes of the American mainstream. To us, the unapologetic fanboy Smith had emerged as something of a nerd culture Shakespeare—the best of us, a man who captured our hopes and dreams in his character’s lengthy, pop culture–laced monologues. Chasing Amy, which concerned sensitive-yet-sleazy Ben Affleck’s pursuit of the bisexual comic-book artist Joey Lauren Adams, constituted Smith’s first serious attempt to tell a meaningful dramatic story against the backdrop of the geek demimonde he’d explored in his previous slacker comedies Clerks and Mallrats. We were supposed to identify with (or at least pity) Affleck’s comic-book penciler Holden McNeil as he tried to come to terms with Adams’ sexual history, which involved group sex and gay sex and all sorts of other activities alien to his own heteronormative experience.
Chasing Amy was always an uncomfortable movie, a film that encapsulated the worst aspects of narcissistic nerd entitlement at its late-nineties peak, but twenty years later I couldn’t even bring myself to finish rewatching it. When it was released, I begged my father to drive me to Raleigh’s Rialto Theatre and left that first showing enraptured, believing that some aspect of my privileged nerdy male “struggle” had been set to film. Kevin Smith was the first director whose scripts I had ever read; before I’d encountered his work, I hadn’t ever considered the form. It helped that Smith was such a dreadful cinematographer, a fact he admits without shame, because it meant his movies were the equivalent of ninety-minute script readings. Yet why, in the course of dreaming about becoming a “Hollywood writer”—whatever that meant—had I lingered over this material? How had it ever resonated with anyone at all, myself included?
The answer was simple but painful: I was one of those stereotypical “guys who liked movies,” and I was stupid. Read More