Patton Oswalt on the Death of Nerd Culture

Posted on January 10, 2011
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Via a link from Tom Spurgeon, I saw this article Patton Oswalt wrote for Wired.com. It reads like a remix of points from Jaron Lanier’s You Are Not a Gadget, ironically enough. I’m just not sure I buy it from either of them. They mythologize the era when information was hard to come by, which is the classic aging crank construction. Patton decries how easy it is to learn about things with:

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

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. The Onion’s A.V. Club—essential and transcendent in so many ways—has a weekly feature called Gateways to Geekery, in which an entire artistic subculture—say, anime, H. P. Lovecraft, or the Marx Brothers—is mapped out so you can become otaku on it but avoid its more tedious aspects. Here’s the danger: That creates weak otakus. 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? The Shining can be remade into a comedy trailer. Both movie versions of the Joker can be sent to battle each another. The Dude is in The Matrix.

The question I have is whether Oswalt decided that creating output based on existing pop culture was bad before or after he wrote the comic book Serenity: Float Out in Joss Whedon’s universe? It’s a pretty unconvincing argument when put forth by someone who is an engine of the very thing he asserts is weak tea. I find this cut from the same cloth as when I heard Harlan Ellison proclaim that his writing is better than younger writers because he does it on a manual typewriter that “takes foot pounds of pressure to operate.” He did in fact say that, in an interview on the Writers Strike Chronicles podcast a few years ago.

I work hard to fight the urge to decry other generations for doing things differently than mine did. I grew up hearing from Baby Boomers that every god damn thing we did was wrong because they did it all different at Woodstock. The punk generation explicitly rejected their predecessors, and then turn around and mock their successors for not rejecting them. Who cares? Do what you want, next generation. It’s not my job to like what you do, rather the opposite. Patton Oswalt wants pop culture to get off his lawn and he shakes his internet cane in rage. Have at it son, good luck with that.

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