In it, Patton Oswalt breezes past something that’s been aggravating me for quite awhile, now, on the way to his spittle-flinging, conclusive cry to pop-cultural arms: the weird dilettantism that’s sprung up around geek “culture” with the hyper-accessibility of everything, and the scramble to capitalize on this with processed & prepackaged “nerd” fodder. I’m talking about MC Frontalot, Big Bang Theory, and World of Warcraft: superficial distillations of the sorts of things that “nerds” traditionally immersed themselves in with zero barrier of entry.
My irritation with this has been brewing for awhile as I’m increasingly surrounded by people who play WoW to level 10 and run out to Hot Topic to buy themselves a Green Linen Shirt to wear to the gym, folks sitting me down to watch a Blu-Ray of Watchmen who’ve never read a comic book, and self-described “gamers” that just bought their first console and isn’t Kinect cool.
I catch a lot of hell for my irritation with this stuff going mainstream; it gets written off as a kind of douchey hipsterism no different than someone, say, freaking out because the Manic Street Preachers were playing on the radio at the grocery store. Well it isn‘t any different: I heard the Manic Street Preachers playing on the radio at the grocery store awhile back and I was irritated with that, too. Why? Because I sort of doubt whoever added The Everlasting to whatever 400 Shopping Greats XM channel the store had on listened to the lyrics when they decided its aural tranquility qualified it for the shopping experience:
The gap that grows between our lives
The gap our parents never had
Stop those thoughts control your mind
Replace the things that you despise
“Oh, you’re old,” I hear you say
It doesn’t mean that I don’t care
I don’t believe in it anymore
Pathetic acts for a worthless cause
I bet they didn’t know the socialist Manics were invited to play at Castro’s place, either, but I do; because I care.
Let’s talk World of Warcraft. I like WoW. I’ve freely admitted I find the game perilously addictive and publicly marveled at the accessible-but-deep (if you take the time to excavate) piece of software Blizzard’s crafted, but I wouldn’t call myself a WoW fan, really, and I’d never run out and buy a Green Linen Shirt. I’m a casual player, at best, which is why I’ve historically gotten rankled when even more casual casuals than I seem hellbent on defining themselves as WoW fans and shell out ridiculous sums of money to prove it with easily-found merchandise to rot on their shelves without setting foot in half the actual game content or taking the time to learn how to gear for their goddamn role. Simultaneously, I enjoy hearing/reading about WoW when its devotees talk (looking at you, arc): their passion for the game’s intricacies is admirable, interesting. They care, and by extension I care about their insights into the game and learn a little something about them via their commitment, to boot. Meanwhile, Green Linen Shirt guy is all too happy to espouse his views on the game, too, as a means of defining himself … as a smattering of surficial garbage I could pick up cursorily scanning a wiki, which I guess would then qualify me to declare myself a fan, an authority, a nerd … right?
“Nerd” culture, like goth culture or hipster counter-culture or Scientology, has just become another cruise control for identity. Be more than the sum of the crap you buy, the shows you fucking watch and the movies you can quote, people. Quit your dabbling and dilettanting and do your own thing.