A Brief Ethnography of Orcs


“A Brief Ethnography of Orcs” was a second presentation I did for the New York branch of Nerd Nite, where local experts can give small lectures on niche topics. I think that Orcs, the staple fantasy monster race, are absolutely fascinating. They exist to be human enough to evoke pathos in fighting them, but not so human that we feel bad about doing so. The presentation was partly a history of Orcs in fiction, which has an arc of troubling racial politics, and partly a deconstruction of them as fictional tropes. I really enjoyed doing research for this one, which alternated between being hilarious and heart-breakingly sad.


I was really pleased with how the talk was received, many people in the audience told me they had never really thought twice about Orcs are the classic bad guy, but upon reflection they do have many troubling aspects. I was particularly complimented by someone who thought they’d be least interested in my talk (that night there was also a talk about new developments in addiction treatment, and a talk about Houdini’s work debunking psychics) but they ended up liking it best. Ha, well, I guess the blurb needed work then.