Friday, January 7, 2011

pioneers of superviolent line-dancing music

Patton Oswalt's article bemoaning the state of modern nerd culture has already made the rounds, but I just finished reading it because I'm still on winter break and therefore lounging around doing glorious amounts of nothing. But since this weekend will be devoted to The Novel, I decided to catch up on my Internet and read Patton's article, which had been linked to me some time ago.

Patton isn't much different from the herds of other aging suburban counterculturalists who don't like change - things were cool and fun and unique when he was into them, and they lost all those qualities the instant he outgrew them or, more likely, they outgrew him. His disgust at seeing normal people wearing Boba Fett shirts or hearing Rocky Horror songs on Glee is almost exactly like old punks whinging about punk being dead because of Good Charlotte or AFI or whoever they want to blame for not being relevant anymore.

Where Patton diverges into headier and smarter territory than the rest of the I-Remember-When Club is his realization that "everything we have today that’s cool comes from someone wanting more of something they loved in the past," and that our cycles of nostalgia aren't creating people who are obsessive and weird and interesting - they're just creating hordes of consumers who are essentially buying an identity for themselves instead of creating one. Granted, comic book nerdery required a certain amount of cash on the barrelhead back when Patton was a kid, but being a nerd was really defined by knowing things. Being required to hunt and peck for the things you loved meant you had to like researching things that took time to find, which meant you had to be, by and large, a curious person. Even if you were curious about things with no immediate social or practical value - foreign films, weird music, medieval history, literature, etc. - you were still invested in some part of the world with more than just your wallet.

Unfortunately, marketers figured out that nerdy obsession is a pretty sweet plum, financially speaking, and over time, being a nerd became less about knowing stuff and more about buying it. Being a nerd is as simple as buying the totems of nerdery - computer, Firefly DVDs, anime wall scrolls, t-shirts of old cartoons, Taun-Taun sleeping bags, a copy of Johnny the Homicidal Maniac laying around - and suddenly it doesn't matter whether or not you know, or even care, about any of this stuff beyond what it superficially reflects about you to other people. That kind of consumerism is harmful to any culture, let alone a subculture that didn't originally have the numbers or social standing to resist it. So really, it's less about people being stupid and weak, and more about marketers being evil and reducing cool and interesting things to their monetary value.

Of course, now I sound just as old and paranoid as Patton, and his ranting probably made a lot more sense than mine, so I'll stop here, but getting involved with communities and fandoms (which, as a steampunk guy, is something I should probably be doing) is immensely unappealing to me because of stuff like this.

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