question of the day: Is Patton Oswalt right? Does geek culture have to die?
In a recent impassioned essay at Wired entitled “Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die,” comedian and geek philosopher Patton Oswalt explains how, now that geek culture has been coopted by the mainstream:
Boba Fett’s helmet emblazoned on sleeveless T-shirts worn by gym douches hefting dumbbells. The Glee kids performing the songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show. And Toad the Wet Sprocket, a band that took its name from a Monty Python riff, joining the permanent soundtrack of a night out at Bennigan’s.
and the Internet has turned nerdery into something that anyone can acquire in much the same way that immersion courses can teach one a foreign language:
The problem with the Internet, however, is that it lets anyone become otaku about anything instantly. In the ’80s, you couldn’t get up to speed on an entire genre in a weekend. You had to wait, month to month, for the issues of Watchmen to come out. We couldn’t BitTorrent the latest John Woo film or digitally download an entire decade’s worth of grunge or hip hop.
geek culture needs to renew itself… the hard way:
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. Ever see action figures from the ’70s, each with that same generic Anson Williams body and one-piece costume with the big clumsy snap on the back? Or played Atari’s Adventure, found the secret room, and thought, that’s it? Can we all admit the final battle in Superman II looks like a local commercial for a personal-injury attorney? And how many people had their cassette of the Repo Man soundtrack eaten by a Walkman?
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.
Click over to read the very funny details of the pop-pocalypse Oswalt imagines that will blow this all away. And when it’s over:
But back here on Earth, we’ll enter year zero for pop culture. All that we’ll have left to work with will be a VHS copy of Zapped!, the soundtrack to The Road Warrior, and Steve Ditko’s eight-issue run on Shade: The Changing Man. For a while—maybe a generation—pop culture pastimes will revolve around politics and farming.
But the same way a farmer has to endure a few fallow seasons after he’s overplanted, a new, richer loam will begin to appear in the wake of our tilling. From Zapped! will arise a telekinesis epic from James Cameron. Paul Thomas Anderson will do a smaller, single-character study of a man who can move matchbooks with his mind and how he uses this skill to pursue a casino waitress. Then the Coen brothers will veer off, doing a movie about pyrokenesis set in 1980s Cleveland, while out of Japan will come a subgenre of telekinetic horror featuring pale, whispering children. And we’ll build from there—precognition, telepathy, and, most radically, normal people falling in love and dealing with jobs and life. Maybe also car crashes.
The Road Warrior soundtrack, all Wagnerian strings and military snare drums, will germinate into a driving, gut-bucket subgenre called waste-rock. And, as a counterpoint, flute-driven folk. Then there’ll be the inevitable remixes, mashups, and pirated-only releases. A new Beatles will arise, only they’ll be Iranian.
Oswalt is being tongue in cheek throughout, but he’s also being serious: Pop culture has become all self-references, snake-eating-its-tail meta commentary on our own dorkiness. Could the only way to refresh pop culture — as well as the nerd love that worships it — be to destroy it all and start fresh?
Is Patton Oswalt right? Does geek culture have to die?
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