Join 3,512 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Twilight of the Nerds
December 28, 2010 1:44 PM   Subscribe

Patton Oswalt on the death of geek culture.
posted by Artw (140 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite

 
Geek Culture is alive and well. It's still there, it's just a little beneath the new surface. It's Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft, awesome German board games, Make Magazine, H.P. Lovecraft, and probably a dozen things I've never even heard of.
posted by JHarris at 1:50 PM on December 28, 2010 [36 favorites]


So this is the geek-hipster equivalent of "I knew them before they were cool and now they're ruined!

As for pop-culture becoming self-aware, Oswalt, there is this artist, she calls herself "Lady Gaga" or something like that, have you heard of her?
posted by schroedinger at 1:52 PM on December 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


The coming decades—the 21st-century’s ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s—have the potential to be one long, unbroken, recut spoof in which everything in Avatar farts while Keyboard Cat plays eerily in the background.

please please please please please please please please
posted by Greg Nog at 1:53 PM on December 28, 2010 [31 favorites]


What Patton really seems to be mourning is the loss of (or mass popularisation of) 80s/90s geek culture. The fact is that there are whole new subcultures being glommed onto by nerdy kids as we speak that even I can't comprehend. I mean... Homestuck? WTF?
posted by PenDevil at 1:53 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Your favorite underground counterculture's gone mainstream. And sucks.
posted by chavenet at 1:53 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


we jumped the shark
posted by johnny novak at 1:55 PM on December 28, 2010


johnny novak: "we jumped the shark"

More like jumping the shark has jumped the shark.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 1:59 PM on December 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


SOMEONE ELSE LIKES WHAT I LIKE AND NOW I AM NOT ALLOWED TO LIKE IT ANYMORE
posted by vorfeed at 2:00 PM on December 28, 2010 [71 favorites]


Wired is always calling the death of something and usually getting it wrong
posted by stbalbach at 2:01 PM on December 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


The Shark totally sold out after their second jump. The first two jumps were pretty good but the last few just really felt like they phoned it in.
posted by Babblesort at 2:02 PM on December 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


The only way we're going to solve this is with a whole lotta killing.
posted by pashdown at 2:05 PM on December 28, 2010


So this is the geek-hipster equivalent of "I knew them before they were cool and now they're ruined!

I'm really surprised to see Oswalt do this. Especially since he's recently been on a so-so Pixar film and played a role in a so-so Joss Whedon show. He's immersed in the very so-so pop culture suckitude he's decrying.

Hope he goes back to comedy sometime soon...
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 2:05 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I totally knew the Shark before he started jumping.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:07 PM on December 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


I think there's some confusion about "Nerd Culture" and "Nerd Pop-Culture". Nerd culture is really about computers, science, etc. Then you get "Nerd Pop-Culture" which is more about pop-culture that happens to appeal to nerds: Everything from Starwars to D&D, Firefly, Star Trek, etc.

Or something like that, frankly the term "Nerd" has become as meaningless as "Hipster" Except everyone wants to be a nerd, and no one wants to be a hipster.
posted by delmoi at 2:07 PM on December 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


"I used to be With IT. But then they changed what IT was. Now what I'm with isn't IT, and what's IT seems scary and wierd. It'll happen to YOU." -- Abe Simpson
posted by phelixshu at 2:08 PM on December 28, 2010 [45 favorites]


I don't understand what makes obsessive nerd culture an unmitigated good in the first place. It seems desperate and lonely to me, even speaking as someone who has been a nerd about stuff in the past. Maybe Patton Oswalt just grew up, and doesn't have to turtle in to a fantasy world to find fulfillment like he did as a teenager in the 80s. I don't see "normal" people suddenly recognizing nerdy pursuits as something bad, but rather think it's good that the internet can spread everything to everyone who's interested. I think that's the goal of culture, not the nadir.

Maybe I'm misreading the article -- I usually like Oswalt, but think this loses its thread about halfway through.
posted by codacorolla at 2:09 PM on December 28, 2010 [9 favorites]


Admittedly, there’s a chilly thrill in moving with the herd while quietly being tuned in to something dark, complicated, and unknown just beneath the topsoil of popularity. Something about which, while we moved with the herd, we could share a wink and a nod with two or three other similarly connected herdlings.

I love Oswalt for lines like this. It nicely perfectly describes something I had never really thought about before in an eloquent way. But I completely disagree with him for this:

The problem with the Internet, however, is that it lets anyone become otaku about anything instantly

This is not a problem. This is a wonderful, brilliant, game-changing thing. Last week I thought it might be fun to learn to bend glass, I watched a bunch of videos, read a handful of threads, and now I'm able to do it in my garage.

That's fucking powerful.

I get what he's saying about how it will eventually flatten out and everything will be remixed with everything else, but I think that will actually create an entirely new kind of otaku, with new obsessions and creations resulting.

I'm not worried.
posted by quin at 2:11 PM on December 28, 2010 [48 favorites]


This is why I gave up on being a nerd and became a bro. Fuck Yea! If I see this nerd out on Smith street I am going to punch him in his nerdy face!
posted by Ad hominem at 2:12 PM on December 28, 2010 [15 favorites]


Nicely perfectly? WTF brain?
posted by quin at 2:12 PM on December 28, 2010


So wait, if "nerd" is now mainstream and without the stigma of social awkwardness, what is my socially awkward formerly-nerdy self called?
posted by SirOmega at 2:13 PM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


. . . Was I the only one who thought he was being kinda tongue-in-cheek throughout most of this thing? I think Oswalt is self-aware enough to know that he is a prime actor in contemporary nerd-dom. The way he talks about Whedon, when Oswalt has been a guest star on Dollhouse, the way he talks about the AV Club, when Oswalt has guest-columned/ gets a newswire blurb on him every other day. I think Patton may be simultaneously lamenting the loss of his own little thought palace while acknowledging that it is kind of a ridiculous thing to complain about.
posted by Think_Long at 2:14 PM on December 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


Anyway I know what he is saying. There are always a core group of misfits that were united by love of something they felt was theirs exclusively, star wars, Monty python, d&d. This is something that defines them, as much as sports o clothes define other people. Suddenly the same people who always hated you like what you like. What do you do. If d&d defines non-misfits, what do misfits have?
posted by Ad hominem at 2:18 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is an excellent example of our new "mashup" culture: in this case, a "mashup" of the obvious and the tendentious.
posted by grobstein at 2:21 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


So this is the geek-hipster equivalent of "I knew them before they were cool and now they're ruined!


Congratulations on not reading the article.

(Affixes 'Grape Job' sticker to schroedinger's post)
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:21 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Hope he goes back to comedy sometime soon...

Is two weeks soon enough? He'll be at Caroline's in New York on January 7th. His standup is generally hilarious.
posted by The Bellman at 2:22 PM on December 28, 2010


So you rolled an 18 and then what happened?
posted by phaedon at 2:22 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Yeah, Think-Long, I had to assume/hope Oswalt was kidding.

You know, in the old days, you had to give up your childish obsessions when you got a Real Job and kids and a house and whatever, at least till you got your gold watch and could retire. Now, you can keep somewhat current on the state of model railroads or Star Wars ephemera or what have you while still doing the grown up gig. It's nice.

And really, Monty Python is still nerdy--I actually shared Holy Grail with a friend of mine a few years ago, a smart and funny girl, who just Didn't Get It. And going to Ren Faires is still kind of iffy, in terms of social activities. LARPers still get no respect. There is plenty of un-gentrified nerd real estate out there.
posted by emjaybee at 2:25 PM on December 28, 2010 [16 favorites]


>"...If d&d defines non-misfits, what do misfits have?"

How about this: they don't have to be misfits anymore. They get to connect with so many more people through the stuff they like! This is an amazing development and Patton is being ridiculous and selfish for lamenting it.
posted by Grimp0teuthis at 2:26 PM on December 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


. . . counterpoint?
posted by grobstein at 2:26 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


And yes, I know that a lot of what I’m listing here seems like it’s outside of the “nerd world” and part of the wider pop culture. Well, I’ve got news for you—pop culture is nerd culture. The fans of Real Housewives of Hoboken watch, discuss, and absorb their show the same way a geek watched Dark Shadows or obsessed over his eighth-level half-elf ranger character in Dungeons & Dragons. It’s the method of consumption, not what’s on the plate.

Good lord. Has the man never read any Jane Austin? This kind of obsession over details has gone on throughout recorded history. Only it used to be about manners and marriages and class and such. Just because it's now discussion about television and comic books instead of estate balls and marriages doesn't mean it's new.
posted by hippybear at 2:28 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


The internet hasn't made everybody into a nerd, but it's made the nerds realize how many of us there really are. Things that once seemed to be the exclusive prize of you and a few select friends are suddenly the subject of expansive websites and organized web communities. One day you're the expert amongst your small group of friends on a particular bit of culture minutia, but then the internet came along and you learned that there were a ton of other nerds that not only shared your obscure passion, but many knew more than you did and seemed to be even more passionate. The transition into the internet age was a humbling experience for many nerds.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 2:28 PM on December 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


So wait, if "nerd" is now mainstream and without the stigma of social awkwardness, what is my socially awkward formerly-nerdy self called?

This is very odd to me too. I go to bars and hear people talk about the lord of the rings. Yet as opposed to being impressed they are soon driven off by my pedantics.

"Well you see, Orthanc is roughy translated as mount fang in the westernese, or cunning mind in elvish.....where are you going? Don't you want to talk about the 1481 crop of longbottom leaf?"
posted by Ad hominem at 2:29 PM on December 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


'Crass' isn't a title and shouldn't be italicized. Goddamn Wired copy editors.
posted by box at 2:29 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I do not think of it as an unmitigated good so much as we who were once outliers in our interests might not feel so alone in it through a hanky code of then-obscure references. The other day a friend and I were at a new restaurant, staring over unfamiliar menus. I adopted a small high mid-class English accent with a slight hint of pretension and, without raising my eyes, murmur "Try the cock. It's a delicacy." My friend switches to the same voice, then adds, "And you know where it's beeen." We have odd little exchanges like this whenever we visit.

Strangers eavesdropping might think us mad, but it is a way to establish not merely membership (elite or not) but that one knows another person through a commonality of experience and interests — those extending into the past to indicate a shared background.

Patton laments the well-indexed and the highly available because these previous obscurities can now be imitated by anyone with Internet access and inclination. It's not the exclusivity of the club that we've lost so much as the knowledge that the members were outsiders led here by deep, long passions that we'll hold long after someone who has googled up a reference has moved on to the latest thing. Each tiny reference was won with money and patience and hours spent trying to get the person behind the counter to check on that order you just knew would come in soon. That has all been flattened in an admittedly egalitarian manner, but one that has lost much of the depth treasured by a few, not Hoarders of the Sacred Knowledge but Keepers of the Flame, we who wait another ten years for a Kate Bush album or faithfully videotaped shows we feared would never again see circulation.

Having uninvited guests company tromp through your interest, checking out the china and peering at the curios, is not quite the same as companions who know where the flatware is kept.
posted by adipocere at 2:33 PM on December 28, 2010 [10 favorites]


Good lord. Has the man never read any Jane Austin?

I'm going to cry.
posted by The Bellman at 2:33 PM on December 28, 2010 [11 favorites]


How about this: they don't have to be misfits anymore. They get to connect with so many more people through the stuff they like! This is an amazing development and Patton is being ridiculous and selfish for lamenting it

Don't think that's true. Monty python is not what made them misfits. If Monty Python is now cool it doesn't make them cool.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:34 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Waiting for the next issue, movie, or album gave you time to reread, rewatch, reabsorb whatever you loved, so you brought your own idiosyncratic love of that thing to your thought-palace. People who were obsessed with Star Trek or the Ender’s Game books were all obsessed with the same object, but its light shone differently on each person. Everyone had to create in their mind unanswered questions or what-ifs. What if Leia, not Luke, had become a Jedi? What happens after Rorschach’s journal is found at the end of Watchmen? What the hell was The Prisoner about?

This is a sentiment I've seen other old fogeys utter. If there is no quiet time and no time for reflection anymore how does new deep art get created?!!!! People make time. The way they did before, even when they could have been reading a million books. It's okay, peoples is peoples and they will want to be like, "Yo hey I WAS HERE." So shit's gonna get made. Settle down.
posted by edbles at 2:35 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Does he really think that the average meathead could differentiate IG-88 from 4LOM in a lineup of galactic bounty hunters? I think not! *Adjusts Glasses*
posted by jnnla at 2:37 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Geek Culture is alive and well. It's still there, it's just a little beneath the new surface. It's Dwarf Fortress and Minecraft, awesome German board games, Make Magazine, H.P. Lovecraft, and probably a dozen things I've never even heard of.

I agree, and overall I don't agree much with Oswalt's line of thinking here, but he does bring up a good point: the sort of social isolation that existed for comics nerds in the 80s (or jazz hipsters in the 40s or any other small subculture) doesn't really exist anymore. If you were as obsessive about some random Minecraft-like thing in the 80s, it was entirely possible to legitimately feel that you were the only person as into [random thing] in the world or at the very least that only a very small number of people shared your level of enthusiasm for it. Now if you spend huge amounts of time building stuff on Minecraft, you have the Minecraft wiki, YouTube videos, shared Minecraft servers, and a ton of other online sources to give you evidence that you are in fact just one devoted Minecraft fan in a sea of thousands.

People still have small geographically segregated real-life social groups, but in general what used to be small isolated subcultures are now easily connected online. Obviously in a lot of ways this is unquestionably positive. The homophobic remarks of an Arkansas school administrator, for example, would probably have escaped scrutiny inside of that particular geographical community with its small isolated gay population, but if you suddenly put that speech in a public online forum where millions of LGBTQ-friendly people can read and respond to it, the geographical isolation doesn't matter. Although Oswalt mostly seems to just be nostalgic for the specific sorts of geeky things that he used to think were special, there's also a sense that he misses the entire idea of feeling unique due to social isolation. Removing social barriers might not create an absolute monoculture, but it does make it much more difficult for the sort of microcultures Oswalt is talking about to exist.
posted by burnmp3s at 2:37 PM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


The terms he's using are so vague and poorly defined that it is hard to have a substantive discussion using them. Does "nerd culture" mean the stuff he and his friends liked in the 80's? If so, then yes, LOTR and Watchmen and John Woo have become more mainstream. Or does "nerd culture" mean computers, science, etc. or Star Wars, D&D, Firefly, etc. as delmoi suggested? If so, then yes, a lot of that has become more mainstream. But I don't think any of that is what "nerd culture" is really about. It is not Sci-Fi or video games or comic books or any of that. Those are how "nerd culture" manifested itself for some people at some times. Nerd culture is simply liking something even though it's not cool. That is it. So now Star Wars is cool. That's okay. You can still be a Star Wars nerd. You just have to work a little harder by liking it to a degree that other people disapprove of and voila you're a nerd again. Patton Oswalt and his friends were nerds because they liked something that other people thought was uncool and they knew other people thought it was uncool and they liked it anyway because they liked it more than they wanted those people's approval. That is what nerds do, God bless us. We would like you to like us, but if you liking us means we can't have a Katamari wedding then fuck it you can just not like us cause we really like Katamari and really want to have a Katamari wedding. That is being a nerd and with it comes a lot of positives and a lot of negatives but I think the positives outweigh the negatives. Being a nerd is about being brave or being dumb or being obsessive or a little bit of all of that. But most of all it is enthusiasm. Nerds like things enthusiastically. That is why you were my people when it wasn't cool, you are my people today, and you will be my people when the pendulum swings back and it isn't cool again.
posted by ND¢ at 2:48 PM on December 28, 2010 [16 favorites]


I’m not a nerd. I used to be one, back 30 years ago when nerd meant something.

Fuck you 3 times with an AT-ST, cause you don't rate an AT-AT.
posted by nomadicink at 2:48 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


tl;dr'ing it for people who'd otherwise be all "Your favorite underground counterculture's gone mainstream. And sucks." because that doesn't seem to be his point at all:

We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.

I know it sounds great, but there’s a danger: Everything we have today that’s cool comes from someone wanting more of something they loved in the past. Action figures, videogames, superhero movies, iPods: All are continuations of a love that wanted more.

...
Now, with everyone more or less otaku and everything immediately awesome (or, if not, just as immediately rebooted or recut as a hilarious YouTube or Funny or Die spoof), the old inner longing for more or better that made our present pop culture so amazing is dwindling.
...
Etewaf doesn’t produce a new generation of artists—just an army of sated consumers. Why create anything new when there’s a mountain of freshly excavated pop culture to recut, repurpose, and manipulate on your iMovie?

...
But I prefer to be optimistic. I choose hope. I see Etewaf as the Balrog, the helter-skelter, the A-pop-alypse that rains cleansing fire down onto the otaku landscape, burns away the chaff, and forces us to start over with only a few thin, near-meatless scraps on which to build.

I think he has a pretty good point there. Something about how the scarcity of artifacts, back in the recent past, made you actually have to *think* about stuff more (because that's all there was to do.)

Waiting for the next issue, movie, or album gave you time to reread, rewatch, reabsorb whatever you loved, so you brought your own idiosyncratic love of that thing to your thought-palace

You'd hear about a band, or a book, and invest them with meaning, and imagine how they'd sound or read, and something went on there in your head, that just doesn't have a chance to happen when you can go torrent a discography in a couple of hours, or order practically-anything off of Amazon and be done with it.

Being that kinda nerd - film nerd, comic nerd, book nerd - has demonstrably led to the present generation of directors, artists, authors, yeah? So who knows yet if he's right - if making everything available to everyone all the time, no more hidden knowledge, no more true obscurity, no more rarities, is leading to the atrophying of that cultural nerd-muscle. But it's definitely a different point than "oh noes, normals stole ma kewlness."

But I actually don't care if he's right- the idea of pop culture entering a singularity, becoming self-aware, and then exploding like a giant sporeball, leaving only random scraps and junk behind, is appealing for its own sake. Let's hope it happens!
posted by hap_hazard at 2:49 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


I think he has a pretty good point there. Something about how the scarcity of artifacts, back in the recent past, made you actually have to *think* about stuff more (because that's all there was to do.)

He doesn't have a point, what he has is a goddamn disease and it's called "Getting old and I can oly see the world how I know it." Kids these days are absorbing more and thinking as they're absorbing, they're on a whole 'nother wavelength at times and they don't need some old guy telling them to slow down so they "think more," they're thinking as they're watching tv, talking on the phone and playing on the Nintendo DS or iPod and if you can't see that grandpa then get off your damn lawn and get back inside.

Change or die.
posted by nomadicink at 3:04 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Think-Long: Was I the only one who thought he was being kinda tongue-in-cheek throughout most of this thing?
"This will last only a moment. We’ll have one minute before pop culture swells and blackens like a rotten peach and then explodes, sending every movie, album, book, and TV show flying away into space. Maybe tendrils and fragments of them will attach to asteroids or plop down on ice planets light-years away. A billion years after our sun burns out, a race of intelligent ice crystals will build a culture based on dialog from The Princess Bride. On another planet, intelligent gas clouds will wait for the yearly passing of the “Lebowski” comet. One of the rings of Saturn will be made from blurbs for the softcover release of Infinite Jest, twirled forever into a ribbon of effusive praise."
I think that's a good guess.
posted by Bonzai at 3:08 PM on December 28, 2010


"If you like nerd, you'll love NERDHAMMER!"
posted by Artw at 3:11 PM on December 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


If the issue is the loss of the classic nerd culture to the mainstream the simple solution is to just ramp up the reference points to a level of nerditude that makes them exclusive again. If he's bumed about the muscleheads at the gym wearing t-shirts with Boba Fett’s helmet emblazoned on them, then change the iconography from the helmet to his boot or glove - something that only a fellow hardcore Star Wars nerd would recognize. If you don't like being associated with everyone else quoting the Parrot Sketch then move on to the Golden Age of Ballooning. Or even better, move on to Dave Allen at Large or the Two Ronnies. Nerds will always find a way to take their obsession beyond the common man - it's the very essence of being a nerd.
posted by Slack-a-gogo at 3:14 PM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


The first half hooked me with sheepish, warm recognition of the 80s details, but it really got away from him in the get-off-my-lawn second half. Pity.
posted by ipe at 3:17 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


It is Margaret he mourns for.
posted by jfuller at 3:17 PM on December 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


It feels like post-internet-babies don't have that aspect of culture where the things you're excited about are incredibly scarce and even the information about them is impossible to find and you have to go to great lengths to search it out and then that's all you have and you play/read/listen the shit out of that thing for the entire Winter of 1992 and it becomes embedded in your soul, and then you find someone else who also has that thing embedded in his/her soul and it actually feels like something special. Worlds apart from the find-everything, download-everything, too-many-choices culture we have now. Maybe (forced) scarcity and (forced) commitment are crucial aspects of culture that are eroding away.
posted by naju at 3:17 PM on December 28, 2010 [15 favorites]


I have a secret to confess. This has been eating at me for years. I don't like star wars.
posted by Ad hominem at 3:23 PM on December 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


Look, think about it this way:

When I was a kid, you sat in the back of the bus and the hot topic of conversation might be: What if there was a movie with Sylvester Stallone AND Arnold Schwarzenegger? And then somebody would say that the guy that played Han Solo should be in there or that guy from The Road Warrior.... and everybody would be like, "yeah..." ... and we'd wish, but we'd know Hollywood would never be so cool as to put the best action heroes all into one movie - it would be just too awesome for Hollywood. I cite "The Expendables." It was a eight year old's wet dream before we knew what wet dreams were. We were sneaking a view of our friend's friend's HBO to see that movie with that actor, we were finding a bootlegged VHS copy of our dad's that we were told not to watch, or we were just trying to remember enough of the trailer that was on late night television to fit in.

And the same thing goes with LOTR. It was the same sort of discussion, centered around not only not enough people finding it cool, but it being impossible for Hollywood to do it justice since Sir Alec Guinness refused to do anything else sci-fi/fantasy and the cinema technology of dragons and goblins can be best summed up by the move "Dragonslayer." It was a big what if. Now, a movie like that is not a what-if, but it is a when will.

There's a difference between reading the Tracy Hickman and Margaret Weis chronicles now - conveniently purchasable in an heirloom leather binding and having to wait for the next would-be cover art by Elmore. Seriously, there was no release schedule. There was no go show up at Mr. Paperback at midnight dressed like Tanis for its release. These stories weren't meant to be movies. They were meant to be idealized as movies in the mind, something so distant and impossible, that it would be your wish coming true when it happened. To understand this, I cite post-Star Wars Episode I fan rage.

So look... this is I guess what Oswald is saying, and its way more of a challenge than people realize: Make new nostalgia. Quit co-opting and corrupting the past and find something new. Challenge yourself to find a new story and not just regurgitate the old. We've been there and they were great, and as such, they will be classics in our mind forever... but - trust me - to find your own and to make something very small become something great is a feeling which nostalgia cannot take the place of.
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:29 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Maybe (forced) scarcity and (forced) commitment are crucial aspects of culture that are eroding away.

There is no such thing as a crucial aspect of culture.
posted by edbles at 3:30 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I grew up in the 80s. I was a huge geek/nerd. I collected comics and read SF and played with action figures. I loved Star Trek. For that matter, I loved anything that had anything to do with robots and space. And lego bricks... oh man, don't even get me started.

But I grew up and grew out of them. Somewhere between age 18 and 30 I started seeing the comics and toys and movies of my childhood as merely toys and comics and movies, and not as cultural and philosophical foundations upon which to base an adult life. And as I learned shed those obsessions my horizons broadened.

Now, when I see a man in his 30s in a Boba Fett costume camping out for movie tickets, or walk past a desk of a co-worker that is festooned with action figures, or hear people seriously debating who would win in a fight between Kirk and Picard, I feel kind of sad and a little embarrassed at such proud displays of what can only be described as self-prolonged adolescence.

(I still play with lego bricks.)
posted by Ratio at 3:30 PM on December 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


I'm obsessed with Metafilter, and that gets a "wha? nerd." reaction from a lot of people.

(Surefire test: If you remember any DOS commands, you're still a nerd. Just saying.)
posted by whimsicalnymph at 3:30 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


His complaint is foolish, and his conclusion provably false. Geek culture was always easily won, as has all commodified culture since mass production began. I never had to wait for the next Lovecraft story -- it was available instantly, via a library, or, when I had the money, via Arkham House. I loved film, and it was a bit of work to see films before DVD, but, then, the work was mostly the work of waiting for it to show at a second-run theater or on television. And he's about my age -- that work ended by the time I was midway through high school, when cable and videotapes had become common. I went through the entirety of Haliwell's four- and five-star films in a year and a half. The more obscure stuff took longer, but mostly because I couldn't afford it, and it wasn't available for lending anywhere. Nonetheless, if I made a list of stuff that sounded interesting, I'd have tracked down nearly all of it in six months, with only perhaps 5 percent that was just too far off the map to be easily available. And nothing he describes in his list is that hard to locate, or ever was.

As to waiting leading to the creation of new culture, has he really missed the advent of the Internet, and fan fiction, and blogs, and YouTube videos, and self-publishing?
posted by Astro Zombie at 3:31 PM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


As to waiting leading to the creation of new culture, has he really missed the advent of... fan fiction, and blogs, and YouTube videos, and self-publishing?

So we're talking culture in the sense of bacteria?

posted by entropicamericana at 3:34 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I don't think the Internet and free flow of information has undermined geek culture at all. I honestly think it has clearly differentiated the average consumer of geeky things, and an actual geek who does cool things.

Anyone can watch and like Star Wars - it's just a movie. The DVDs are sold at Best Buy. But only the true geeks started and maintain their own Star Wars wiki. The rest of you - and me - aren't geeks by comparison.
posted by meowzilla at 3:36 PM on December 28, 2010


The Internet has been a great thing for nerds who like to find others with similar interests. For those who wanted to feel unique because of their particular interests, it's brought home the message that other people are probably just as specialized as you are.

It's still very possible to find a niche interest that you'll be nigh-unique in. With RPGs, for example, D&D is very mainstream; get into some obscure 1980s RPG, or write your own, or play some rare indie, if you want to be unique.

Personally, while I have many interests that are weird even among nerds, I'm not proud of that fact. It's just how I am. I'd like there to be more people who shared my interests, actually, so I could share that with them. I want my interests to be points of contact with others, not ways to distinguish myself.
posted by jiawen at 3:36 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I have a secret to confess. This has been eating at me for years. I don't like star wars.

If I remember my year in Germany in the mid-80s correctly, many people there weren't fond of star wars, either. They felt that Reagan was overstepping his bounds by trying to place the star wars system in Europe, and there was much debate, even amongst the Gymnasium students I was in school with, about whether he should go ahead with the plans for that undeveloped and untested defense system. Mostly they saw it as baiting the Soviets, and as the US using European countries as pawns in the Cold War who had much to lose and not much to gain by its implementation.

Wait, what were we talking about?
posted by hippybear at 3:40 PM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


I'm happy nerd has gone mainstream. It means I don't have to get a real job.
posted by jscalzi at 3:44 PM on December 28, 2010 [13 favorites]


I think instead what we'll see is a fading of the taboo against borrowing, or unoriginality. When, in the beginning, oral tradition was all about borrowing, retelling, etc., we're actually kind of seeing a return to it now. Sure, all the big Hollywood remakes get the attention, but it's also the case that you no longer have to feel that it's completely necessary to invent something out of whole cloth. There's still that subculture he laments, but now it's a subculture of creatives and creative appreciators who embrace retellings, particularly those that shed some new light or offer a fresh perspective on an old tale. Because they're all old tales. Most of them are even the same old tale. Once we can get over that, unlimited creativity is possible. Derivative aspects will still be seen as derivative, but perhaps rather than deriding a work for its borrowings, we will hold them up as most folks hold up their own personal heritage and ancestry.
posted by Eideteker at 3:47 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


He doesn't have a point, what he has is a goddamn disease and it's called "Getting old and I can oly see the world how I know it."

Nah. He doesn't have a point, that's true. Or if he had a point, it's lost earrrrrrly on. But the disease he has is called "I'm a stand-up comic and it's really hard for me to stay on topic when other funny shit occurs to me to say and at the end of my long-ass article I've laughed a lot writing it and, fuck, man, I have like forty guest-star shots to do in the next month and it's not like I'm doing this for any better reason than Wired asked me to, so while I'd like to read it back and maybe edit it or something I seriously have so much shit to do and -- oh, who am I kidding? This shit's fucking awesome! [click SEND] Boo-yah!!"
posted by kittens for breakfast at 3:49 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


The beauty of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was is a lot to get through, even if you have Forever. There are millions of individual comic issues, each with their own level of detail. You may claim to be a comic otaku, but in reality you either 1) have a good understanding of the breadth of comics, or 2) focus on one publisher, character, author, illustrator, or other element of the Comics Cosmos. You simply cannot know it all. Perhaps you have a great memory, and have been reading outstanding summaries of extensive knowledge, but there is STILL MORE TO KNOW.

But then I realize he's griping over how what was underground is becoming mainstream, and that is an old complaint, and a boring one at that.
posted by filthy light thief at 3:55 PM on December 28, 2010


But I grew up and grew out of them. Somewhere between age 18 and 30 I started seeing the comics and toys and movies of my childhood as merely toys and comics and movies, and not as cultural and philosophical foundations upon which to base an adult life. And as I learned shed those obsessions my horizons broadened.

This. I'm turning 30 in January and have, except for the occasional Rock Band song and trying out the new Kinect, have given up on video and PC games. Its the really strange feeling to be giving up a big piece of my past (that's really all I did as a kid, growing in Vegas in the 80s and 90s doesn't leave you many culturally fulfilling options).

I've been going back and forth and have been feeling weird about it. Another part of it is what to replace it with? Do I start watching the Food Network more? What is the correct adult substitute for me.

Some of this thinking was actually brought on by a great write-up at Comics Alliance about Scott Pilgrim (which I was obsessed with for a while)...
And while conventional wisdom may offer the dubious claim that your teenage years and early 20s are the "best of your life," woe be onto to them who confuse one chapter of their life for the whole of it, for they will be doomed to repeat it in a series of cycles whose returns are ever-diminishing, and thus hold themselves back from telling any other story.

In the end, adulthood isn't a single decision you make, but a long series of decisions you make every day for the rest of your life. And the best reason to grow up isn't because it is expected or required, but because it means moving forwards. Because while it may also involve incredibly tedious things like mortgages and car payments, growing up is a natural function of seeking a life that is more dynamic than static, of choosing ambition and hope over avoidance and fear, of wanting to know who you're going to be and not just who you were, even if that takes you away from the things you used to love.
There is really nothing more than I can add to those two paragraphs...
posted by SirOmega at 3:58 PM on December 28, 2010 [8 favorites]


I was able to inadvertently win the ongoing informal nerd contest we have at my office through this exchange:

We were talking about shapes. I confessed that I forgot the name of a 3-dimensional "shape" and so proposed we just call 'em 'hedrons. "Ahh solids," my colleague said, "that's what we're talking about."

I confessed to a preference for 'hedron, as many things can be considered solid. Then we got into the Platonic solids, and I pointed out that the AD&D dice were the Platonic solids. Point!

I then waxed eloquent about how the best of them was the dodecahedron, because it's the most fun to say. Point!

Next I pointed out that, ironically enough, it is the least useful/least used die in AD&D. Point! Point!

I closed my argument and cemented my reputation with this knowing and supercilious quip: "Unless you roll a barbarian. As if!" Point! Point! Point!
posted by Mister_A at 4:00 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie Geek culture was always easily won, as has all commodified culture since mass production began

You, me and Patton are pretty much all of an age, so I feel qualified to call a mild 'bullshit' on this. I mean- so you read all the zines? You heard of all the bands? You knew about all the movies, somehow, and lived in a place that had second-run theaters? And a library system that had all the Lovecraft? That was not my experience at all.

But I guess a lot of it is money, though. If I wanted to, I could have read Re-Search (assuming I'd ever heard of it) and then sent away to all the various record companies and publishers mentioned in their publications and oredered everything by mail, if I'd been, like infinitely rich! Sure! But my life wasn't like that.

But now it sort of is- I have like 140,000 songs in my everything-playlist. That's maybe 10,000 albums. most of which are bootlegs, so an easy 6 figures worth of 'records' that the internet gives me for the price of knowing how to ask. (which isn't nothing, but it's sure the hell not on the order of being rich, and spending my life in record stores searching.)

And back when you had to pay for physical representations of music, you listened to it over and over and over because it was all you had, you listened *hard*, because it was *there*.

Point? It's never been anything like this easy to be a music geek, not ever at all. And the theoretical availability of something- the fact that it was manufactured (even if in miniscule quantities, even if barely distributed) - did not make it easily available, or realistically available at all.

nomadicink - Change or die.

Reckon I'll do both, figger you will too, but who knows. Point there though- not 'slow down and think', but - if you don't have to dig to get deeper- if it's all around you to be 'absorbed' - then maybe you're never going to get down to where it means something to ya. But hey who knows, I'm just some old guy on the internete.
posted by hap_hazard at 4:03 PM on December 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


The Age of Nerd is over! The Time of the Stoner has come!!!
posted by milarepa at 4:11 PM on December 28, 2010


I dunno, reading stuff like this makes me think about the Bronte kids, stuck on a moor at the ass end of nowhere, inventing a world. If good 'Bramwell and Charlotte and Anne and Emily were able to play Justice League instead, would we ever have gotten those twisted little hothouse blooms, Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre?

Someone will say, well, if we wouldn't have gotten them we'd have gotten something just as good. Intellectually I can see the argument, I suppose. But I can't seem to make myself feel that way, that pastiche is just as good as true originality, that a culture is formed by a response to the conditions of scarcity (these are the only things which grow here, and so we must feed ourselves, body and soul, on these things). Is not the salient quality of genius originality? Does not the recognition that your thoughts are not, in fact, original deflate and dimish them in one's own eyes? The degree of pride experienced by one who brings a new thing into the world must, I feel differ in magnitude than the degree felt by one who brings a nifty thing into the world. There are a thousand nifty things; 24-hours worth of nifty thing being uploaded to YouTube every second, doubtless. So why trouble over one? I can't believe that that sense of disposeability will tend to the production of pietas....
posted by Diablevert at 4:14 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


> The coming decades—the 21st-century’s ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s—have the potential to be one long, unbroken, recut spoof in which everything in Avatar farts while Keyboard Cat plays eerily in the background.

"If we can pull together the threads of this discussion so far, it would seem that four factors are present when a civilization collapses:

...

(d) Spiritual death—that is, Spengler's classicism: the emptying out of cultural content and the freezing (or repackaging) of it in formulas—kitsch, in short."

posted by The Card Cheat at 4:16 PM on December 28, 2010


When did the definition of "nerd" change? When I was growing up (I'm 43), a nerd wasn't someone who was an obsessive fan of something; most "normal" kids had at least one thing they loved more than anything else, whether it was a sports team, a movie franchise (hello, "Star Wars"), a car, a band, a hobby or activity...this wasn't necessarily a sign one was a nerd.

Nerds were identified by being a social outcast. The factors that led to that:

* Being unattractive in dress, hygiene or manner
* Being introverted
* Being tactless/socially unaware
* Being super-knowledgeable about the obsession/not letting things which were "wrong" go

None of these by themselves were enough to earn the label. I knew popular "jock" type guys who could write books on Monty Python if called to do so. What separated them from the nerds was the ability to recognize when that knowledge would find a receptive audience and when it wouldn't.

Likewise, I knew plenty of smart, popular people, knowledgeable in the extreme on certain subjects. Deep knowledge of arcana is interesting to fellow enthusiasts but is eye-glazing to people outside the discipline, as it were. I know quite a bit about certain things, old cars for example. But I recognize that when someone comes up to me to say "cool x!" where "x" is something vaguely similar or the most common car of that type, they're not looking to be enlightened as to why "x" is wrong and what the history of "x" is and how different "x" is from "y". They're just passing on a compliment and trying to bond for a second with a stranger. Most of the time I smile and say "thanks!" or at worst say "that's a great guess, most people wouldn't even get that--it's a y, very similar" if they seem receptive.

A friend, who is equally knowledgeable on the subject, cannot let it go. Because he's tactless as well, he lets them know in no uncertain terms they're mistaken, without acknowledging their compliment, launching immediately into a long litany of reasons they're wrong, the complete history of "y" from the founder's birth, etc. It's actively hostile (while not meant to be, again, cluelessness and an inability to understand social dynamics) and leaves the friendly passer-by wondering if all fans of "y" are total jerks.

That's being a nerd, as I used to understand the term. It's not a conscious decision. I'm not sure it's anything to be proud of, is it? The modern use of the word doesn't seem to cover this at all.
posted by maxwelton at 4:20 PM on December 28, 2010 [20 favorites]


The beauty of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was is a lot to get through, even if you have Forever. There are millions of individual comic issues, each with their own level of detail. You may claim to be a comic otaku, but in reality you either 1) have a good understanding of the breadth of comics, or 2) focus on one publisher, character, author, illustrator, or other element of the Comics Cosmos. You simply cannot know it all. Perhaps you have a great memory, and have been reading outstanding summaries of extensive knowledge, but there is STILL MORE TO KNOW.

Yeah, but.

For consumers, there's never been a better time to...well...consume stuff. That said: It is true that the thrill of finding a memorable video via ninety seconds of some advanced Google-fu is not the thrill that a teenager in 1986 would have had somehow finding the Live Like a Suicide EP, buying it on a whim (or because s/he heard some of it on a college radio station, perhaps -- there really is no other way anyone outside of LA would heard Guns n' Roses before then, and even that's unlikely), and kicking back with it in his room for the first time. There are two reasons why:

1. Dude on the internet doesn't have to go anywhere to find that cool thing. S/he doesn't have to brave cavernous record shops or musty secondhand bookstores or terrifying, jockstrap-scented comics holes. It's just, click click BOOM. The internet is obviously more efficient, but just as obviously fucking boring in comparison. When you go to a strange place, anything can happen. It's an adventure. Especially when you're young: You meet people, you see things. You might fall in love or get hooked on heroin or get shot by the cops! It's like a video game, only it's actually fucking happening!

2. If you're buying that EP, there's a million more you aren't buying. Are you sure it's the one you want? Because you've got like seven bucks for the foreseeable future. That's it. Not only do you have to want it, but you have to be willing to listen to it over and over and over for months, because it's that or the radio (or the albums you're already sick of). You and that piece of music are going to be very, very good friends. You don't know it now, but a few notes from that thing will bring back entire songs for you, decades later. You're going to bond with that work. You're not going to just listen to it once or twice, or play a couple of the songs and forget about it. It's going to be Extremely Important to YOU. So choose well.

Deep attention to the work and real-life adventure are what we've (kinda) traded away in exchange for everything we want now now NOW NOW. I say "kinda" because we still have the ability to pay deep attention if we're so inclined, and it's not like adventure isn't still out there somewhere. But it's not in the places it used to be -- or rather, there are just fewer and fewer of those places -- and that's a loss, absolutely. I would say that more of us are slovenly appreciators of art now that we're exposed to so much more of it, and certainly more of us are just generally slovenly fucking people, which we wouldn't be if we got out more. So it goes. There's no putting the djinn back in the bottle, but I do understand why there's a bit of gnashing of teeth and rending of garments over the whole thing.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 4:21 PM on December 28, 2010 [17 favorites]


I have a very specific image in my mind when I think about what the point of pop culture is. It's from my childhood. It's probably a pop reference itself so if you don't get it I'll try and explain it a bit further.

Star Fox 64. Meteo, the asteroid belt.

The blue warp thingies that look kind of like fruits bursting with juice. If you don't try and hit them, you can fly through the rest of the level, avoiding obstacles, shooting bad guys, and then you get to the boss and shoot him a few times and fly to Fortuna. But if you hit the warp points suddenly the bad guys and obstacles start becoming indistinct, until the only thing you care about is hitting the next juicy blue target, and every one you hit makes the world around you matter less, until finally you tear through reality and find yourself in a world of neon meteors where no matter what one you hit it gives you a kabillion points and more bombs and more lasers and basically you're a badass hero of everything. Plus then you get to go to the level where you shoot the enemy mothership out of the sky.

Star Fox 64 has got a points system. There's a high score at the end. But nobody played Star Fox 64 for the high scores. They played it to try and get to all the tough levels, and to get to the secret places, the warp zones, to find all the things they hadn't found yet. And if you weren't playing it to look for all the cool things then you couldn't win anyway, because there were more points in the neon meteor world than there were in the rest of the level combined.

That's how human existence works in my mind. The point of it all, inasmuch as there is one, is to look for the cool warp zones that give you a million billion points but which more importantly are just plain freaking cool. These cool things very frequently exist in nature. Many of them are manmade, and I think that as time goes on we keep making cooler and cooler things. But it doesn't matter specifically which things we find. What matters is that we try to enjoy all of them that we find until we're delirious and silly and can't think of any other way to be.

Pop culture is kind of like the strategy guide for being a human being. It tries to help you find all the cool tricks without losing a hundred lives in the process and without getting terribly bored. A long long long time ago pop culture was limited to just the people we met in our lifetimes; then we developed methods of finding people farther and farther away, and of contacting more of them at once. Now we've got the Internet, which in theory is powerful enough to connect every human being simultaneously (though it doesn't necessarily make each of those connections equally powerful).

We've each developed our own ideas of good and bad, and so we become sort of like the friends who watch the person playing the game and tell them what we think they should be doing. But the rules aren't the point. We're not the point. What matters is the game, and we're only there to help people maybe find some of the cooler things there.

There's nothing that says the game's always got to play the one way. When I was a kid, I was an outcast through and through for my weirdnesses (though now, at 20, I only ever feel like an outcast on a handful of days every year, and fewer every year). But when I talk to people I know who are even 5 or 6 years younger than me, I find that they're frequently happier and more accepted for their own individual weirdnesses. I suspect the kids who come after them will be even more so. And they're not exactly missing out by not being outcasts like I was. They've still got their huge cultural events and obsessions. They look different than mine did but their hearts are still in the right places. And while it's impossible to objectively determine who in life had the most happiness and the best days in their lives, if it was possible to measure and those kids ended with a higher score than me, I'm not going to be upset about it. It wasn't about the exact score to begin with.

I'd like to think that society's trying to build up to that point where everybody's blissfully happy and hasn't got any cares at all. I don't think we've got that; I don't think we'll have that in my lifetime. But I'd like to think if we don't all Game Over and kill each other we'll eventually get to a point of relative ecstasy. Recently I've been wondering if the religious concepts of Nirvana or the Second Coming aren't metaphors describing the same kind of idea. Even if they weren't intended to be it's fun to think of them like that.

Geek culture was just one of many cultural phenomena that connected a certain kind of people together, propelled them forward, led them to create beautiful, beautiful things, and eventually saw them accepted and embraced and dissolved into the mainstream culture that lacks a name. I was on the tail end of it, so I don't want to pretend that mine's the voice that matters when I say I won't miss it if it stops becoming an exclusive clique. But I won't.

As for the worry that somehow people having access to more things than other people had access to before will somehow lead to a diminishing of creativity: Is there proof that surplus and contentment leads to that sort of thing? I thought it was the opposite, and led rather to new explosions of creativity, and to more sophisticated methods of creating new things. Even if Oswalt was right and the proliferation of awesome things meant each individual awesome thing didn't mean as much as it used to, that only means we'll come up with newer, cleverer ways of figuring out what we think is awesome, and we'll start making even greater things than we're making now.

(When I was twelve and absolutely in love with Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it wasn't because I wanted to place myself in some sort of clique. I loved it because it was fucking awesome. It still is. The reason I haven't seen it in a year or two isn't that it's worse than I thought it was, it's that there are even better things that I hadn't found yet. And I found them through my connections with other people. Some of those connections I formed through a mutual love of Monty Python. As much as pop culture is awesome on its own, it's even awesomer because it brings us more people. And those people bring us even more culture. And more things. It's like those warp gates in Meteo, where hitting the first one sends you spiraling faster towards the second, until everything starts to blur and you're going faster and faster and approaching that breakthrough.)
posted by Rory Marinich at 4:21 PM on December 28, 2010 [7 favorites]


Honestly, I think this is a good thing. Because ultimately what this comes down to is defining yourself by consumption. Nerds are people who consume things that most people don't, and they go to greater lengths in order to consume those things, but they're still largely defining their identity as, "Look, I buy these things that other people created!"

That gets old fast. And the easier it gets to consume more and more things, the quicker it gets old. So you can no longer pride yourself on knowing everything about Star Wars? Awesome. Now to be special you have to go write your own science fiction. You can't just buy (or download) things that other people made, then hobble them together in lists to post on social networking sites as some kind of proxy of a real personality. Do things. Build things. This is already happening: you see whole communities of crocheters on the internet. Lots of DIY sites, lots of forums about crafting and cooking. That's awesome. That's what you build an identity around, not how much you know about what's come out of George Lucas's brain.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 4:25 PM on December 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


ipe: The first half hooked me with sheepish, warm recognition of the 80s details, but it really got away from him in the get-off-my-lawn second half. Pity.

Yeah, I think you nailed it exactly. The first half, the description of The 80s Geek World, was pitch-perfect. And his analysis of how things have changed isn't bad. But his "remedy" is rambling nonsense. Make everything available to everyone and culture will explode? What? Spreading culture will destroy it?

For all the sense he's making, he might as well have prescribed forcing everyone to wear plaid, or farm giraffes, or adopt pet piranha. "Everyone must wear a clown nose!" is at least as likely to accomplish his vague and unclear goals as accelerating culture distribution.

I am, sadly, no longer a teenager, but I was a nerd, and I knew a lot of nerds. More than anything else, nerds focus. They pick something they really like, to the exclusion of pretty much everything else, especially including a social life. And the fact that they can now do in a few days what used to take months isn't going to change that, it just means they'll either be nerdy about a lot more stuff, or they'll go way deeper than we used to, back in the day.

And, instead of just building Patton's "thought palaces" and keeping them private, many of them will be able to share and collaborate and make intricate, wonderful things that we old people won't even know about for a decade or more.

I think we've benefited enormously from the mainstreaming of so much nerd culture... there's a lot of neat stuff there, and I think it's great that it's in wider distribution. But I'm sure today's young social misfits are busily recognizing and creating whole new oeuvres to explore, and with modern tools, they will do one hell of a lot better job than we did.
posted by Malor at 4:35 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


but I was a nerd

Actually, on review, I'm not sure "was" fits the bill. :-)
posted by Malor at 4:41 PM on December 28, 2010


Oh, and I forgot! The internet also gives us all more of a voice, so when we create our own beautiful things, those things can travel to millions of other people and become the culture. So not only is it a good thing that we have quick and easy access to all of our culture because we can no longer rely on unique patterns of cultural consumption to define us, it's also a good thing because we have more power over what the culture is. And if that won't inspire a flurry of creativity and a jolt of new energy into our culture, I don't know what will.
posted by Anyamatopoeia at 4:43 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


I did not enjoy the article, but I love it for inspiring so many awesome comments in this thread.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:00 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


David Foster Wallace wrote an essay which was in part about the sort of extremes porn was going to in an attempt to maintain the outsider cred it had originally had. One of the appeals of porn, after all, was that it was something hidden or shameful, and there are people who enjoyed the secretiveness and dirtiness of it. But as porn got mainstreamed in the 90s by your Howard Sterns and Pamela Anderson sex tapes and the internet and whatnot, that threat was disappearing - until guys like Max Hardcore showed up with gonzo and the craze for anal began and a lot of the really dark misogynistic stuff started showing up more and more frequently. Wallace's essay comes from an interesting place because it seems like he was pretty sympathetic to the problem, insofar as he can understand why someone would desire something taboo more than something that was allowed, but it's also tempered by a definite distaste for the sort of people who are willing to pursue the taboo no matter how far they have to go, because those people can be pretty amoral.

I think nerd culture is kind of in a similar place as pornography insofar as it's always been something that defined itself in relation to the mainstream and now finds itself in the mainstream, more or less. And whether or not it's silly to define your tastes in opposition to some imaginary monolothic source, I can understand why losing that seems threatening.

What worries me about this trend is that I don't want to see nerd culture push itself to become more and more extreme in the same way that pornography has. Unfortunately, I think it has. Love it or hate it, I think 4chan is a good example of where nerd culture is now. I think the project of 4chan is - more or less - to create something that's uncooptable, but that unfortunately means doing and saying a lot of really ugly things, in addition to spending a lot of time talking about more traditional nerd domains like anime or computers.

For my own part, the ability to download entire discographies plus the traditional nerd desire to authoritatively master a subject and to approach my study of it in a rigorous manner has lead me to take a lot of the joy out of things I should enjoy more. I don't think I'm the only nerd whose media consumption sometimes feels like trying to drink water from a firehose, because there are so many things in the long tail that keeping up with it is an all consuming - and sometimes unpleasantly exhausting - task. Things like Mp3 players and netflix instant view are pushing nerds to extremes: our minds still want to gorge on as much culture as we can, but now that we can get as many disposable mental calories as we want incredibly easily, we're pushing ourselves to what I think of as mental diabetes. Out of all the songs I've heard this year, there's really only a handful I've listened to enough to feel really comfortable with, and that's a relatively new phenomenon for me.

Whether or not you agree with Patton's specific point - and I certainly don't echo his conclusion - I do agree with the basic premise that underground cultures are being left kind of high and dry in the internet age.
posted by Kiablokirk at 5:00 PM on December 28, 2010 [21 favorites]


I used to work in an office that had more nerds than Sauron had orcs. Once, a coworker stood up and said he had forgotten what the statues were that the Fellowship rowed between. Three people stood up and called him a fool for forgetting the Argonath. I was surrounded by my people and it was a beautiful thing.

Now my wife and I are in a dim corner of a Red state and while not the only nerds in town, I can count the number on one hand. And somehow it's a different kind of comfort to be the only members of a very select few again.
posted by Ber at 5:05 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think the idea that spreading culture will destroy it is a thinly disguised territorial imperative. This fandom is MINE! You MAY NOT enter! Trespassers will be SHOT! Survivors will be thrown in the SARLACC PIT!
posted by LogicalDash at 5:13 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I mean- so you read all the zines? You heard of all the bands? You knew about all the movies, somehow, and lived in a place that had second-run theaters? And a library system that had all the Lovecraft?

Perhaps I was privileged to live in Minneapolis, but I don't expect my experience was especially odd in a city. But, yes, between Northern Lights record store, the Uptown Theater, the Suburban World, the movie revivals at the Walker Art Center, and the Minnesota Public Library, plus specialty bookstores such as Uncle Hugo's and Dreamhaven, I was pretty well covered.

I may have had access to more culture faster than Oswald, but, then, his list doesn't strike me as exceptionally obscure. Dungeons and Dragons? I imagine he had access to a gaming store in Sterling, Virginia; if not, it could be bought through the mail. Monty Python? It was rebroadcast on public television, which is also where I first saw Holy Grail at the grand age of 10 -- not hard-won culture that. They were also rebroadcasting Dr. Who then. And The Prisoner. Star Wars action figures? Could be purchased at any toy store. Blade Runner? I saw it in a suburban movie theater. I read Asimov in my grade school library. It sure sounds like he lived in a town with a good comic books shop. I am not sure where his friend got access to the films of John Woo and Tsui Hark, but I recall there being an active grey market of video tape collectors who would sell you pretty much anything for $10, via mail. I found it when I was 13, and it wasn't that hard to track down.

He really isn't talking about the outer edges of nerd culture, or anything hard-won. It took me 12 years to track down a copy of Tod Browining "Freaks," and I don't think I'm better for its long absence, or the long amount of time it took me to find it. It took me 20 years to locate a copy of Doris Piserchia's "Mister Justice," which came recommended to me when I was a teenager. How was it when I got it? Eh, okay. The degree to which that bit of sci fi ephemera was difficult to locate isn't an indicator of its worth, but its obscurity, and the only benefit I got was having a thing, long desired, finally acquired. That's a flinty sort of accomplishment, and certainly not one that made me more creative, or made the culture itself more valuable, or more treasured.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:27 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


Oh man, party foul. I just realized that when he was talking about the reboot of pop culture, he totally passed on the chance to make a "Clark Ashton Kutcher" joke.
posted by Eideteker at 5:43 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oddly I still don't think being a nerd is what kind of ephemeral you digested. But whatever it was about you that caused you to digest that ephemera to begin with. But then again nobody thinks you are cast for knowing sports facts or being able to identify a Pucci dress at 500 feet so maybe there is hope.

Until then I refuse to talk about firefly with anyone unless they have read the comics also.
posted by Ad hominem at 5:43 PM on December 28, 2010


That download-everything-ever-created thing is hooey. Or, to be more charitable, it's a deliberate oversimplification that only applies for certain limited definitions of 'everything.'

If there's a place that has rips of every 7" ever released on Jamaican labels (or even venerable American indie labels), or the entire discography of even comparatively well known free-jazz players like Cecil Taylor or Peter Brotzmann, please point me to it. Because it wasn't IRC, or Napster, or Limewire, or Oink, or [redacted]. They have a lot of things, but nowhere near everything.

And, as far as accessibility goes, I'm lucky to like reggae and free jazz--if I liked e.g. 78s, or '50s country, or library music, it would be a lot worse.
posted by box at 5:43 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


My collection of 50's western swing is about 600 songs, all downloaded from one site. No site might offer a complete collection, but once you start looking into music sharity sites and Russian download sites, it's pretty amazing how much music you can acquire in a very short time. And I think there is a critique to be offered of this -- it's more music than I can possibly even organize, much less really commit to. But, then, I had a friend who was an obsessive videotaper of television shows, and he pretty quickly accumulated more video tapes than he could do anything with. This was about 1992.
posted by Astro Zombie at 5:58 PM on December 28, 2010


I think maxwelton nailed the problem I was having here - there are two parts to this "nerd" thing that are getting entangled.

In my experience, the derogatory label "nerd" was applied to outcasts in a very predefined social context: it's an easy "us vs. them" label employed by the immature and applied to the powerless. Being a nerd used to mean you were a victim of the social structure. It was used as a cudgel to keep a specific type of person out of the mainstream (popular crowd), often to emphasize the notion that the nerd belonged in a lower social strata than whoever was using the label. It doesn't matter what the nerd was interested in - it just had to be something that wasn't popular at that time. The nerd in that situation was either too awkward to communicate their fascination with their hobby or activity (socially awkward) or unwilling to do so (enjoyed being contrary or enjoyed the ego boost of knowing more about something). Again, it didn't matter what the interest was, but things like D&D, computers, or Sci-Fi in general are interests that allow for introversion and escapism so it's no wonder that these are often associated with "nerd."

The way "nerd" is used in our non-victimized lives is more like a verb, and it has positive connotations. When someone is "nerding out" over something, it's because they consider themselves fixated or obsessed on a level above the average person. And there's probably some illusory superiority in all this, in that a person over-estimates their own dedication to something and underestimates the level in which anyone else engages. Which is probably true in a small sample size, but you'd really need some chops to consider yourself a nerd on the internet. Once you're out of school, there's little value in social pecking order, if there is a pecking order at all. Your "obscure" interest (assuming it causes no harm) has no detrimental impact on how people perceive you; if it does, it's because you are being an overbearing or boorish egotist, or your obsession is infringing on your hygiene.

So I don't think Oswalt is using "nerd" the way some of us grok the term. He may look nerdy, but from what I've read from him he's never really been victimized (it was the other way around, based on his "It Gets Better" piece). He just happened to like a few things that some other people were ostracized for liking back when they were kids. Those things weren't inherently nerdy, it's just that what made them great was never properly communicated by the early adapters. Any good thing will eventually become popular in this day of instant communication, and that's what he fears - that people cannot "own" something for as long and build identities around it. But maybe that's because we were raised in an "us vs. them" world and enjoy feeling that we knew something first and everyone else was stupid, until everyone likes the same thing now and all of a sudden that thing is what is stupid now. Maybe we'll be more enlightened when we can truly share every experience without having to be the first to post about it or try to possess it. I don't know if this is even possible, and if it isn't, I had this thought first and all of you are totally lame for not knowing about it back when I did.
posted by krippledkonscious at 6:01 PM on December 28, 2010 [6 favorites]


Until then I refuse to talk about firefly with anyone unless they have read the comics also.

What would I think about Firefly if had read the comics also? (How does it relate to how I would have felt if I had never seen the movie? God damn that artifact of sin?)
posted by grobstein at 6:03 PM on December 28, 2010


Astro Zombie I may have had access to more culture faster than Oswald, but, then, his list doesn't strike me as exceptionally obscure

Fair enough, and I agree, that stuff doesn't sound all that weird. I was kind of transposing it I guess, his list into my teenage obsessions, and Throbbing Gristle is a pretty different animal than Bladerunner - jesus, who doesn't love that movie, now? On the other hand, I suppose just about anyone who wanted to could listen to TG now, but hey, do they? not that I do either So at least there's that.

But OK, OK. One last stab at this. If there's always been this dynamic where the underground thrives, in isolation, because nobody knows or cares about it- and it reacts to the mainstream (which DOES NOT NOTICE, much less care), it reacts to itself, it becomes something rich and strange. And because it does not even *try* to be normal, it has a lot of freedom, it can take a lot of risks, and be really stupid a lot of times, and be actually awesome, occasionally. And then the mainstream co-opts it, gets influenced, takes on a little edge, and the lucky ones sell out, and the rest get bitter, and life goes on.

And that's how culture perpetuates itself- the weirdness comes bubbling up from under, from these little hothouses of isolation and weirdness and too-much-time-on-your-hands-ness, and it refreshes the mainstream.

But if nothing's really nerdy or underground or obscure anymore, then where is that supposed to come from? 4chan? I mean, sure, but *only* 4chan? For me, that's the point, that if there isn't that fringe - if everybody's a nerd, but in an easy, internet way- then how can there even *be* a mainstream? Maybe there doesn't need to be, I don't know. But it's something I think about sometimes.

And it's definitely not an original idea. I probably stole it off the internet, somehow.
posted by hap_hazard at 6:26 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


But if nothing's really nerdy or underground or obscure anymore, then where is that supposed to come from?

The underground will always be underground. Democratic access to culture doesn't mean the underground becomes Catholic. You can download Huysman's "La-Bas" for free from Project Gutenberg right now, but I would wager not one in 100 million actually download it, much less read it. Some things will only appeal to a specific or ratified taste. The trouble is that Oswald thought he was a snob, and was disappointed to discover that, in fact, he had very popular tastes. I mean, Star Wars? It was a blockbuster, not some ignored cult masterpiece.
posted by Astro Zombie at 6:44 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like Patton Oswalt but when he mentioned there existed a Matrix/ Lebowski mashup I had to go watch it and it made way more sense than the shit he was blathering on about.
posted by photoslob at 6:45 PM on December 28, 2010


I can't believe how many people I know IRL who claim on the inter-webs to have been outcast nerds in high school, to possess substandard social skills (even those who make Monty Hall and Rose Queens look shy and tongue-tied) and to have been beaten daily with whips and chains by the cool kids. Even if this is remotely true, so what? Who cares what happened when you were in 11th grade?

When everyone is a nerd, no one is a nerd.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:51 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Astro Zombie, it seems like you're not willing to admit that relationships with culture were absolutely and entirely different for us pre-internet teens than it is for kids today.... and you can't mean that, right? I wasn't a nerd (I was a drama geek, thanks for asking) but I did have pop culture love and I can't see how you can sing the praises of the internet on the one hand (blogs! youtube! creative revolution!) and dismiss the lack of it (you could easily experience any media you wanted!) on the other. I remember standing in Sam Goody and flipping through whatever guitar tab books they had because that was the only way to learn the lyrics to songs I loved (and I only learned the lyrics to whatever songs I loved that happened to be in the books). I remember listening to HOURS of dull radio because this is the station that's most likely to play the band that the cool boys in my grade are suddenly into. I remember sitting on the floor of the library when I was meant to be doing homework, flipping through old Rolling Stones because that was the only way to look at pictures of Bono. I remember being so excited to read reviews of concerts in the local paper the day after bands came around because that was the only way I could know what the tour was like. I could go on and on - but you remember all that, right?
posted by moxiedoll at 7:07 PM on December 28, 2010


Yes. The difference between then and now is mostly one of patience. It's gotten easier, but I maintain it was never really all that hard. These things were made to be consumed, and were mass produced, and were put out there to be consumed. If it was less popular, or a little older, it took a little longer to consume it. But comestibles are meant to be comested, and will eventually present themselves for your waiting tongue. It just took longer back then, as compared to the Star Trek-like culture replicator we have now. Speed is not a mark of decline, as Oswald seems to believe.

I imagine, just after the printing press was invented, some tonsured Celtic monk complaining that in his day, you had to hand copy Thales of Miletus, and it meant so much more then. And behind him was the ghost of a caveman complaining that it was so much more meaningful when the spirits of the elk were painted on walls.
posted by Astro Zombie at 7:30 PM on December 28, 2010


I sincerely admire those of you who apparently have some idea of what this essay was trying to get at. I confess that I am mystified. It honestly made no sense to me -- not in the "ah, the author is poking fun at himself" way, but in a "these sentences appear to be loosely about similar topics, but kind of randomly jumbled together such that they do not follow each other in any logical manner" kind of way. Would anyone care to explain to me what ... all this was about?
posted by kyrademon at 7:31 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


What Patton Oswalt is really talking about is the ubiquity of everything, including the obscure, and whether culture even requires otaku. That alternative ending of Army of Darkness that was once only available on a Japanese laserdisc? Well, here it is on YouTube. That early Yello mix? Yup, we've got it too. In fact, why not just download Yello's entire discography from a torrent?

We know all this. And these developments may concern you if you feel a need to remain an outsider. Or if you wish to identify yourself by the obscurity of your tastes. But with the exception of one great concern that I'll get to in a bit, if you're thinking about whether you're inside or outside, chances are that you are already part of the problem. Like what you like. Be what you are. And don't let whether you're hip, square, geek, or cool dictate your existence. Because that isn't how culture evolves and that isn't how humans live. And as Astro Zombie says above, "the underground will always be underground." But the one other truism is that the most vile mainstream forces will always find ways to pluck, profit, and destroy original voices. (The great irony is that they're doing all this as their big box stores collapse and mass culture as a whole is fragmenting. Gone are the days where you'd find a Bloom County strip sitting incongruously in the middle of a family newspaper or Monty Python's Flying Circus could get aired on the BBC as a fluke. They're not going to let that sort of thing happen again. Because for them, it's all about the bottom line. Play by the rules. And just maybe, maybe you might have your personal project once you ensure that the investors buy the minimum six McMansions. Of course, by then, you'll be a soulless burnout. But what they don't have yet is the Internet. Key word: yet. So let's try to do the best we can out here while we still have this space.)

The problem with variegated subcultures is much worse. Much as we don't want to talk about how the richest 1% horde a vast majority of the wealth and are willing to profit off your inevitable bankruptcies and foreclosures, we don't want to talk about the way the New Geek culture has been similarly co-opted by money and power.

Geek culture before the Internet was about people who genuinely liked Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, Skinny Puppy, and other "fringe" items, but who weren't recognized by the mainstream for their tastes. Acts that operated in such conditions were a bit like small businesses. They couldn't always make payroll, but they operated in the spirit of truth.

Unfortunately, the men with the money discovered (much as Werner Erhard and self-help gurus exploited the emotionally sensitive back in the 1970s) that they could profit off of the geek demographic and exploit them with Bernaysian glee. And you'll now find these profit-oriented types -- who like money but don't really like your culture -- attending ComicCon and E3 to control geek spin (or hiring people to do so; the E3 Booth Babes are among the most vile and sexist approaches) and woo the latest people presently perceived as tastemakers.

Remember OK Soda? Guess what. Corporate scum become self-aware and more ambitious after that hilarious little episode. They located people who were mostly illiterate, but who had an audience. And even during these We're Not Really Living in a Recession times, they fly unethical hacks like Harry Knowles off to junkets. And they invade legitimate geek space on the Internet -- much of it generated in an initial burst of genuine geekdom until the inevitable question of money comes into play and spoils damn near everything. (Not always. Metafilter, I suppose, has a compromise in place, similar to the pre-New Geek small business, by featuring advertising from The Deck on the main page. The American Dream. Get paid to do what you love, right? On the other hand, could Metafilter have become what it is without the initial wave of genuine non-monetary unbridled geek enthusiasm?)

Most of these efforts to network are an extension of advertising and crass PR. B-list celebrities @ reply on Twitter and "friendship" becomes another word for another way to cash in. And why not collect all their private data and track their tastes so that we can refine the profit machine? I mean, the fucking fools are GIVING it to us!

Yup, far too many New Geeks who are part of this despicable capitalist food chain never stop to think that they may just be getting used. Like anybody suddenly handed the keys to the executive washroom with little explanation, goddam, they want to use this power. They don't want to sell out; they want to buy in. And it's often for so, so little.

But they almost never stop to consider that maybe their legitimate tastes might actually be used to fuck with the money men or to stand for some corresponding set of virtues that don't involve geek groupthink. Their previous cultural tastes, now derivative courtesy of the natural expiration dates that come with every cultural cycle, suddenly become part of a new mainstream derivative that exists right now in the endless comic book movies. Rehash after rehash and so forth.

So Oswalt is right on the money about creating new cultural conditions to address these troubling developments. It's just too bad he doesn't really deal with the vital fucking question of money to begin with. Maybe because, his essay appearing in a prominent magazine that has become mostly gutless new geek corporate, he's not about to announce the vital revolution we really need. Like anyone, he needs to pay the bills. At the end of the day, he really really really wants to be liked.
posted by ed at 7:37 PM on December 28, 2010 [12 favorites]


The first half, the description of The 80s Geek World, was pitch-perfect. And his analysis of how things have changed isn't bad. But his "remedy" is rambling nonsense.

I kind of suspect that was the point.

Thesis + nonsense = comedic synthi-crud
posted by Sparx at 7:38 PM on December 28, 2010


legitimate geek space on the Internet
2 nd star to the right?
posted by Ideefixe at 8:11 PM on December 28, 2010


Nerd culture is generally welcoming, non-judgmental, and easily approachable due to simple plots and characterizations. It's not that it's been co-opted, it's just that we never really knew how many of us there actually were, and once we figured it out, made it possible and fun for others to play along.

I don't really see a reason to go back to the way things used to be.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:16 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think some of the reads on this piece are pretty far off the mark. He isn't lamenting how he used to be all cool and indie, and now everyone has collectively blown his stash of top-secret awesomesauce. Instead, he's saying that this stuff used to be better because people had to work harder for it. Something like the first Star Wars wasn't a guaranteed, runaway, fanboy success so it took time to create it and time to appreciate it.

If you care at all about good sci-fi or fantasy, or good comics, or good genre-fiction in general then his argument makes a lot of sense: until it stops being a big, mainstream business, all of this stuff is going to suck, and directors and authors are going to keep raping our childhoods for ideas because there's no reason in the world to create their own.

All of the things he mentions were at one time harder to come by--and pretty obviously better--when they were untested, unproven and certainly not commoditized products. Now that they are, it's all Twilight and Tron/Star Trek/Godzilla/Battlestar "reboots" until there's a pile of shit a million miles high and no one cares anymore.
posted by littlerobothead at 9:20 PM on December 28, 2010


I own a T-shirt from Donald Knuth's 64th birthday party, to which I wan not invited.

I win.
posted by erniepan at 9:22 PM on December 28, 2010


Also, I can recite “Cedro Willy” by heart from start to finish. Throw them to the great whirling blades!
posted by erniepan at 9:23 PM on December 28, 2010


Twilight of the Nerds

D&Dämmerung?
posted by tzikeh at 9:46 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie: "As to waiting leading to the creation of new culture, has he really missed the advent of the Internet, and fan fiction, and blogs, and YouTube videos, and self-publishing?"

To be fair, I have zines full of fan fiction dating back to 1975, and VHS tapes of fan videos nearly equally as old, and they *were* shibboleths, because you had to know someone who knew someone who knew someone to find any kind of conventions that weren't run by CreationCon (and even those were nerdy enough that they were only marginally more well-known than fan-run cons like Boskone and Wiscon).

The internet, just as he says, exploded fanfiction and fan videos because anyone could access them/learn about them/make them, but they certainly existed well before the popularization of the web through GUI interface. Fandom on the internet means there's more dross, but it also means there's more gold.

I like some of Oswalt's stuff, but as for this, it seems to me that he's created simulacra to stand around on his lawn, just so that he can order them off.
posted by tzikeh at 10:11 PM on December 28, 2010


GUI interface?! I might as well go to the ATM machine. *sigh*
posted by tzikeh at 10:12 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


How he sums up the Etewaf singularity is how I have always interpreted what is happening; pop-culture is now finally able to be digested, to be broken down and metabolised fully. It will become the fertilizer for whatever comes next... (?)
posted by Joe Chip at 10:35 PM on December 28, 2010


Patton laments the well-indexed and the highly available because these previous obscurities can now be imitated by anyone with Internet access and inclination.

The bolded word is, I think, the critical one.

I grew up in the Appalachians, mostly before the internet. And if there is a more isolated place for someone who loved the kinds of things I loved, it is probably not in the US. So when my friends gave me Monty Python or Conlon Nancarrow to listen to, it wasn't just about that culture. It was about the connection between the people sharing that culture.

That piece is still the same. When I send my friends links to Lucky Dragons, we're not just sharing the marvelous and strange, but the experience of sharing.

But I read LoTR about once a month in junior high and high school, and while I'm not able to hold my own with people who've read it in Elvish or something I am fairly familiar with it. And so when the movies came out you had people who could go to a wiki and sound like they knew the works, for a paragraph or two. But they'd not lived with it like I had, and their knowledge was hollow. It's like that with Johnny Cash, or Billie Holiday, or Virginia Woolf or Jane Austen. The internet gives people chicken nuggets of data, but the true understanding is absent. Unless they have the same sort of impetus to discover that is not a property of nerdiery but of human curiosity and passion.

That is why I've mostly stopped talking about things I love to people. There's a feeling of trampling on precious things when you talk to someone about something that matters to you, something important, and they pretend to love it too, but their pretense isn't even a good imitation of your feelings. That's what the internet has done. People are better able to pretend to knowledge. But the imitation is still perceptible.
posted by winna at 10:37 PM on December 28, 2010 [2 favorites]


Star Fox 64 has got a points system. There's a high score at the end. But nobody played Star Fox 64 for the high scores.

I did. 1700+!
posted by JHarris at 10:37 PM on December 28, 2010 [1 favorite]


This reminded me of a point William Gibson made a decade ago:

The otaku, the passionate obsessive, the information age's embodiment of the connoisseur, more concerned with the accumulation of data than of objects, seems a natural crossover figure in today's interface of British and Japanese cultures. I see it in the eyes of the Portobello dealers, and in the eyes of the Japanese collectors: a perfectly calm train-spotter frenzy, murderous and sublime. Understanding otaku -hood, I think, is one of the keys to understanding the culture of the web. There is something profoundly post-national about it, extra-geographic. We are all curators, in the post-modern world, whether we want to be or not.
posted by corey le fou at 10:44 PM on December 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


I stick by Donald Glover's definition of a nerd: "Someone who likes strange, specific things. If you asked Kanye West 'hey, what are your favorite things in the world?' "ROBOTS AND TEDDY BEARS!" That's a nerd."

I'm too lazy to scroll back up and who said what, but I wanted to address a few points

1. "If you're 30+ and you still like comic books you're pathetic" I always find this to be a curious standpoint. Sure, the stereotypical 'fat 40 y/o virgin star trek nerd still lives in mom's basement' is a sad sight, but you know what I find sadder? People my age already bogged down in mortgages and car payments, kids they're ill prepared for, substance abuse issues due to the stress and disappointment; lamenting missed opportunities because they were in such a rush to get to the altar, because peer pressure told them "30's getting close, time to stop having fun and start acting like your dad!"

I know people who are happy with the kids and family thing, bully on them. On the other side of the spectrum, I have an education, a career I love, and enough money to be more than comfortable. I wake up every day with the means and opportunity to do absolutely anything I want. You want me to put this aside for a "real" adulthood involving... what, buying a riding mower? Pretending to like my neighbors? Joining the lodge?

2. Regarding "Nerds always claim to have no social skills but they SEEM so social!" I get this one a lot, this was actually a point of contention with my last girlfriend: Just because someone CAN talk to people doesn't mean they fully understand what they're doing. In fact, the reason most nerds appear to be so GOOD at talking to people is often due to their approaching social interaction the way they do any new system, project, or game; by observation and mimicing actions. One particular nerd applied his D&D charting experience to women, got a funny hat, and now he's on TV.

3. On one hand, I can understand how it's frustrating to spend a great deal of time and effort in tracking down the niche things you love, only to watch kids reap all the same rewards and more while barely lifting a finger. On the other, this is the same flavor of elitist bullshit I got in high school, since I had the audacity to start liking NIN when Downward Spiral came out. It's awesome finally finding something you can relate to, only to find the big kids want the swingset all to themselves. As fun as it is to be a snarky dick at kids who offend you by liking the same things you do, what's even more fun is sharing it. When I was a teenager, I was blessed to know guys like Brian from Smash who was so taken by the fact that I'd even heard of Heavy Water Factory that he promised to spin it the next week, and later gave me his Kevorkian Death Cycle tour shirt from 97; or Ryan who ran the Industrial section at Tower (and later his own record store), keeping me posted on what's new, and what out of print shit was worth seeking out (like Girls Under Glass's legendary "Firewalker" cd).

Here's the thing, one way or another, you're old, and they're not. Would you rather attempt at being someone's hero, even if it means conceding that said niche interest is not your personal clubhouse anymore, or just another one of a long line of pricks who kicked them while they were on the dusty floor of adolesence, trying to piece together who they are?

4. I think Patton touches on this bitterness a bit, but the stronger message of his piece seems to have fallen by the wayside, both in his focus and many of the people reading it (admittedly, he obfuscates it somewhat in nonsense). Maybe he's right, maybe not, but I do know that satire used to look like "Airplane!" and now it looks like "Date Movie"

Sure I get nostalgic about the stuff I had coming up: Playing DOOM on a local BBS, 4 to a match, playing SNES with friends in my room, the like. It was a lot of fun. I wouldn't trade any of it for my XBOX 360, my iPod, YouTube, or my web enabled phone, mind you.

my my I fear I've typed so much and said so little. Alas.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:53 PM on December 28, 2010 [5 favorites]


A warning: it's 2 a.m. and I'm in a strange mood. Over the holidays, we received the news that my mother's thyroid cancer is back. It's been a heavy boots kind of time.

But you know what? My mother and my husband and I watched the Doctor Who Christmas Special on Christmas while my cool sister (though I love her) texted her friends and pretended she was elsewhere. And the the three of us sat around talking about it, ranking the Christmas Specials (we all think this one is tops) and then we somehow ended up talking about MST3k, my mother and I reminiscing about the summer I was 13 when we spent all of Sunday afternoon watching it, after my sis went off to art school. I've facilitated both of these interests in my mother--whining that we get cable so we could get the Sci-fi channel, which my mom, to this day, watches tons, lots of bad monster movies, and I burned her Who DVDs when I realized she'd love it.

Maybe I should be sad about the ubiquity of this, that I'm not this isolated geeky loner in my family. But mostly I'm glad that the world we live in lets me share these things with people I love, or find people online who love these things too (my husband and I, ages ago, met on a dating site because Zorak was my profile picture). I don't know. Is my mom a lame poseur otaku because she wouldn't have geeked out over Matt Smith and a flying shark if it weren't for their commonness now? I don't know. Maybe. Does it matter?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:20 PM on December 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


“You can't fake quality any more than you can fake a good meal.”
-William S. Burroughs
posted by clavdivs at 12:32 AM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


MetaFilter: Last week I thought it might be fun to learn to bend glass, I watched a bunch of videos, read a handful of threads, and now I'm able to do it in my garage.
posted by dhartung at 12:33 AM on December 29, 2010


The good stuff still exists despite the existence of bad stuff. Twilight does not invalidate Perdido Street Station. Acting as if a critical mass exists, as if once we hit one too many bad zombie movies nobody will ever care enough to make a good one, that is some jaded get off my lawn shit. The other thing is that the bad stuff? For somebody, it's the good stuff. Maybe it won't always be, or maybe they'll go to their graves acting as if Harry Potter was worth reading if you're out of middle school. Doesn't matter. Culture rolls on. Adapt or die.

You think something is worth keeping? It is now your responsibility, your moral obligation to introduce that thing to new people who might be interested in it. Don't want ta? That's cool, that's fine, but for the love of all that's good you better not whine when it gets pitched into the ash heap of history. You think the current culture strip-mines the past? Wait until two generations from now when we have Twilight/Anonymous/Slasher movie spoofs. Some pop culture has always been garbage. Geek culture is pop culture, it just took us all a while to notice. Roll with the punches or get out of the ring and let a new champ in. That's all it's ever been. Who here remembers Little House on the Prairie/Doctor Quinn: Medicine Woman/Ally McBeal? They died for a reason.
posted by Peztopiary at 5:41 AM on December 29, 2010


But what they don't have yet is the Internet. Key word: yet.

Speaking as someone who has been on the Internet since 1992, let me just say this:

BWAH-HAHAHAHAHAHA

thanks, i needed that.
posted by entropicamericana at 7:54 AM on December 29, 2010


littlerobothead: All of the things he mentions were at one time harder to come by--and pretty obviously better--when they were untested, unproven and certainly not commoditized products. Now that they are, it's all Twilight and Tron/Star Trek/Godzilla/Battlestar "reboots" until there's a pile of shit a million miles high and no one cares anymore.

I disagree on two points. Usually I find that claims that "it's all ___" are ignorant of what's going on in the genre. This is true whether the claim on the table is "fantasy is all Tolkien-derivative," "science fiction is all Star Trek," and "it's all Twilight."

The second problem here is that Trek, Godzilla, and Battlestar were commecial derivatives and "reboots" in the 80s. Trek got two reboots, a film series that expanded the universe and gave us the Klingon language, and a television franchise that substantially improved on the original. Godzilla got a reboot in the 80s. Battlestar Galactica was a commercial attempt to cash in on the science fantasy craze sparked by Star Wars, which in turn, was derivative of WWII aviation and Kurasawa.

It's turtles all the way down. Batman was derivative of pulp detectives and The Shadow, who in turn, could be found in the adventure novels of Dumas.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:37 AM on December 29, 2010


ed: Geek culture before the Internet was about people who genuinely liked Dungeons & Dragons, comic books, Skinny Puppy, and other "fringe" items, but who weren't recognized by the mainstream for their tastes. Acts that operated in such conditions were a bit like small businesses. They couldn't always make payroll, but they operated in the spirit of truth.

I find this extremely amusing. D&D and table-top gaming actually seems to be getting more and more marginal in spite of access to the internet. Sure, you have dozens of game systems and fan-created worlds and modules at your fingertips, but half of them will be gone in 6 months and actually getting into a game is difficult.

The same is true for comic books. While Marvel and DC are big business, the independents struggle, and a good chunk of the stuff that interests me has a bad habit of going out of print. I find the same is true for Science Fiction where beloved titles have spotty availability.

Astro Zombie is right in that the obscure and underground is still obscure and underground in the age of the internet. In fact, I strongly suspect that these things follow a Pareto distribution.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 9:13 AM on December 29, 2010


I think what he's saying is that underground culture is a lot more special if you have to dig by hand.

He's right.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:13 PM on December 29, 2010


FUCKEN' NURDS

/hamburger
posted by thsmchnekllsfascists at 1:21 PM on December 29, 2010


Worlds apart from the find-everything, download-everything, too-many-choices culture we have now. Maybe (forced) scarcity and (forced) commitment are crucial aspects of culture that are eroding away.

Anytime somebody says "I think we maybe have too many choices" I get jumpy. Even if we are confused/stressed by a surfeit of choice I'm sure we can all learn to adjust and deal. Nostalgia for days of less freedom and more ignorance is never a good thing.

What being spoiled for choice has done is make me choosier and given me room to ask more of my entertainment. I can recognize how poorly Star Wars holds up over time, and allow myself to get bored with Doctor Who's inability to regenerate as a different gender or race, because there's lots of other good stuff out there.
posted by emjaybee at 1:41 PM on December 29, 2010 [3 favorites]


A billion years after our sun burns out, a race of intelligent ice crystals will build a culture based on dialog from The Princess Bride.

Ah ha ha! Good Stuff, thanks.
posted by Twang at 1:45 PM on December 29, 2010


I'm just trying to find that list of the 200 harshest nut shots. How can that not be great?. I'd settle for the top 25.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 2:10 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I think what he's saying is that underground culture is a lot more special if you have to dig by hand.

Except that few of the things he gratuitously namedrops into his essay were truly "underground."

D&D: Shipped millions of copies and sparked a moral panic. I got the Basic Set for Christmas, and most of my collection from Borders.

Star Wars: Probably the most lucrative multimedia franchise in history. Movies, toys, books, comics, and video games all have been hugely successful.

"Three Laws of Robotics": A concept from a perennial classic of Science Fiction. I got it from my dad's copy of I, Robot. He probably got it from ST:TNG.

Blade Runner: #2 on opening weekend after ET.

Star Trek: Wrath of Khan was #1 on opening weekend, $80 million domestic in '82.

Steven King: In the 70s and 80s, the guy could print his own currency by sitting a typewriter.

William Gibson: Bestselling novelist and first winner of the triple-crown of science fiction awards.

Alan Moore, Frank Miller, and Neil Gaiman: Who were heavily marketed by their publishers in the 80s. Watchmen was heavily hyped by DC with multiple marketing tie-ins and was so popular that it briefly boosted DC sales over Marvel.

"Fast-forward to now: Boba Fett’s helmet emblazoned on sleeveless T-shirts worn by gym douches hefting dumbbells."

Oh good grief. Lucas created the marketing tie-in blitz. (He had to because he had sold off most of his other rights to get Star Wars in theaters.) Star Wars characters were on baby blankets, drink cups, and boxes of facial tissue. He's romanticizing shit that was in the nickel bin at yard sales and thrift stores before the whole collectable toy craze became a monster.

I don't doubt that Oswalt identified himself as a geek in the '80s but it's not the case that any of these things were especially obscure or hard to find in the '80s.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:06 PM on December 29, 2010 [6 favorites]


D&D had a successful animated series with toy spin-offs for three years on CBS in the mid-80s. Yes, it was so much fucking hard work to turn one dial on the antenna rotor and another dial to Channel 10 on Saturday morning.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 3:21 PM on December 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


The same is true for comic books. While Marvel and DC are big business, the independents struggle, and a good chunk of the stuff that interests me has a bad habit of going out of print. I find the same is true for Science Fiction where beloved titles have spotty availability.

The stuff that is on the fringes now couldn't exist without the internet. You can bet that one remove beyond them is a host of weird ideas that are not viable now that, were another revolution in communications with the cultural power of the internet were to come around, would go from being pipe dreams to barely profitable. In fact, between those two points there will probably be a phase where they're more than barely profitable, just from the novelty of their existence.
posted by JHarris at 3:35 PM on December 29, 2010


Boba Fett’s helmet emblazoned on sleeveless T-shirts worn by gym douches hefting dumbbells.

Are gym douches hefting barbells that much more of a problem than twisting Carrie Fisher's head off and pouring liquid out of her neck? Science Fiction fandom of this decade wishes it can get its memorabilia in at least five different grocery aisles and the point-of-sale candy displays the way Lucas did in the weeks before Empire Strikes Back.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 4:24 PM on December 29, 2010


It's sharks all the way down, people.

Which, of course, makes jumping the shark impossible. This is a good thing.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:28 PM on December 29, 2010


I was hoping this article was going to live up to the sidebar stinger ("Wake up, Geek Culture, it's time to die.") Unfortunately, as has already been pointed out, it's instead a sad and confusingly meandering Grand Unified 'cool-before-they-sold-out' screed.

I'm disappointed, because for a few hot minutes now, I've really been thinking that it's time for 'geek culture' to die. It's got this inherent victimization complex, all wound up in the traditional meaning of 'geek' as a social outcast, which is not relevant anymore since 'geek' is pretty much the one-size-fits-all pop culture of the upper-middle class.

This would be simply annoying, except that the real payload of 'geek culture' is really just raw, shameless consumerism. Mac vs PC? iPod vs Zune? iPhone vs Android? XBOX vs Playstation? DVD vs Blu-ray? These are the axes around which geek 'culture' orbits. These are its driving narratives. I don't think there's ever been a 'culture' with so little socially redeeming content.

'Geek culture' is really an engine whereby consumer electronics can be sold as part of a principled expression of identity, fueled by the unhealthily still-raging psychological specters of a socially unaccepted youth. It really is time for it to die.

Also, I'm tired of Monty Python quotations. Like, really, really tired of them. If we're as smart as the word 'geek' would suggest, why are we incapable of having conversations comprised entirely of original, in-the-moment content?

now leaving Grumbletown, sorry for the unscheduled layover
posted by silentpundit at 6:20 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


Also, I'm tired of Monty Python quotations. Like, really, really tired of them. If we're as smart as the word 'geek' would suggest, why are we incapable of having conversations comprised entirely of original, in-the-moment content?

I take it you aren't here for an argument, then?
posted by maxwelton at 6:40 PM on December 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm kinda with silentpundit on this one -- there's no inherent glory in being a social outcast, to go with the classic definition of the term (not someone who bites the heads off chickens; that's the literal definition of the term), so I'm not sure there's anything all that awesome about declaring yourself one. It's really more like something you get stuck with and can't scrub off, like...uh...the smell after you fall into a chemical toilet (he said, grasping for metaphor). It's not a point of pride. And the contemporary use of the term is just meaningless. Over at a friend's house this weekend, I saw Olivia Munn's book sitting around, the one with the subtitle "misadventures of a Hollywood geek" (I think?), and that's about the most epic bullshit-calling thing I can think of. I'm not trying to hate on Olivia Munn -- I know this is the internet and that's how we do here, but she's funny and all so whatever -- but come the fuck on. If you look like a damn supermodel and are superhumanly extroverted, playing the occasional video game or reading a trendy comic doesn't make you a geek. That's just insane. It may even be pandering to people who actually are geeks (which hello, hence the Olivia Munn hate), and that's fine, certainly they're an unexploited market, amirite? but no. Just no. That is not what that word means.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:44 PM on December 29, 2010


...And (much like Patton Oswalt in his article, I think) I got so into random babbling that I forgot to put forth my actual point: There is no geek culture when geek culture is something that everybody does, because geek culture that everybody does is impossible unless everyone is a geek, and if everyone is a geek (you guys! watch this -- I saw The Incredibles! I know! I'm such a geek! just like the other nine million people who did, too!) -- no one is. Olivia Munn can be stunningly gorgeous and socially awesome and be a geek, because being a geek just means you watch Doctor Who and read The Walking Dead, and that's like 25% of absolutely fucking everybody, and 25% of absolutely fucking everybody will logically include insanely hot social butterflies. I'm not pressed by this myself, as of course I am one as well, but I can see how it might ruffle some people's feathers.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 7:59 PM on December 29, 2010


MetaFilter: Insanely Hot Social Butterflies
posted by keli at 9:08 PM on December 29, 2010


Except they just got inside and they're playing my White Stripes records watching my Star Wars DVDs.
posted by acb at 6:57 AM on December 30, 2010


I find this extremely amusing. D&D and table-top gaming actually seems to be getting more and more marginal in spite of access to the internet. Sure, you have dozens of game systems and fan-created worlds and modules at your fingertips, but half of them will be gone in 6 months and actually getting into a game is difficult.

Some people I know play D&D; they have a weekly campaign. The thing is, they're all music-scene hipsters. One plays in three bands and has regularly been cast as an extra in TV shows/ads as a "trendy inner-city type", and another is a music journalist.
posted by acb at 7:36 AM on December 30, 2010


I'm disappointed, because for a few hot minutes now, I've really been thinking that it's time for 'geek culture' to die. It's got this inherent victimization complex, all wound up in the traditional meaning of 'geek' as a social outcast, which is not relevant anymore since 'geek' is pretty much the one-size-fits-all pop culture of the upper-middle class.

"Geek", in this sense, seems to occupy the same space as "alternative music" (which started off meaning Sonic Youth and finished up meaning Limp Bizkit) and "indie" (in the UK, unadventurous lad-rock based on dumbed-down versions of new wave/garage rock and sponsored by lager brands; in the US, music likely to be consumed by white people of above average incomes and appear in an iPod ad). A word that once meant something oppositional and countercultural and now is a stylistic signifier and a market segment.
posted by acb at 7:40 AM on December 30, 2010


I started writing up a response, and it turned into this.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:00 PM on December 30, 2010 [3 favorites]


This man needs to introduced to some Harry Potter fan fiction.
posted by TheShadowKnows at 7:32 PM on December 30, 2010


stavros: I liked that very much. Made me feel vaguely post-humany, the way Diamond Age felt when I first read it.
posted by silentpundit at 10:50 PM on December 30, 2010


keli: MetaFilter: Insanely Hot Social Butterflies

I prefer being a Really Rich Italian Satanist.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 12:20 PM on January 2, 2011 [3 favorites]


stbalbach: "Wired is always calling the death of something and usually getting it wrong"

Wired is always calling for [something] and usually getting it wrong.
posted by Chrysostom at 12:24 PM on January 11, 2011


To be fair, it's not like the entire US economy doesn't spend a lot of it's time betting on long booms.
posted by Artw at 12:42 PM on January 11, 2011


« Older New Year's has always been a day for eating lucky ...  |  The 4th Amendment Underclothes... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments