I've been thinking about Patton Oswalt's essay in Wired about the death of "geek culture" for a couple of days now—trying to separate what Oswalt actually said from the fleet of straw men that immediately marched out of his article and into the blogosphere.
As I read it, Oswalt is asserting that geekiness—as he knew it in the '80s, as defined as a subset of the population devoted to obsessively ferreting out the minutiae of certain books, comics videogames, and movies—is dead, thanks to an instant-gratification pop culture landscape that allows anyone to pursue any interest immediately. This easy access, he argues, leads to a watering down of experience—without the added value of the difficulty in obtaining certain items and their relative scarcity in the culture at large, the experience is diminished and the pride nerds used to take in being masters of their little corner of the universe has been stripped away. And now anyone can get anything and experience has been trivialized and that muscley dude at the gym wears a Boba Fett t-shirt and it's all just ruined.
I've been struggling to put my finger on why this piece bothered me so much, and the word that finally comes to mind is "miserly." Oswalt's insistence that his experience of these pop culture artifacts was the purest and deepest and most meaningful—that ease of access leads to a shallower experience—denies the experiences of the gadjillions of people who read Watchmen in its collected form and still found it an amazing experience, crappy Zack Snyder movie or no crappy Zack Snyder movie. Oswalt marks 1987 as the year the nerd-music died—but I don't think it's a coincidence that he would've been turning 18 around then: The level of obsessiveness that many of us brought to our nerdy pursuits as kids and adolescents (every single Xanth novel) just isn't sustainable in adulthood, but that doesn't mean kids still aren't having those experiences. My 10-year-old nephew's deep obsession with Clone Wars is no less meaningful to him than the fascination Star Wars held for previous generations—and it's going to be just as awkward when he's 15 and trying to explain his action figure collection to his new girlfriend (to borrow the straight-guy-goggles Oswalt put on to make his argument). The fact that the internet exists and that he watches this shit on his computer does not diminish his experience. And Patton's ultimate conclusion—that if everything is available all the time, no one will be motivated to make anything new—just doesn't gel at all with me, for basic reasons of old people always underestimating young people.
For more on the tempest in the nerd-pot, Erik's got some thoughts on his personal blog, as well.
Oswalt will be in Portland in February, BTW, at Helium—tickets here.
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