It was good to read this (via the great Justin Miller). In it, Patton Oswalt laments the cooption of geek culture by the masses. He lovingly describes his youth as a Northern Virginian Otaku, and laments that culture’s adoption by the mainstream.
I’m sympathetic, but Oswalt is totally wrong. It’s not a problem that jocks like Watchmen or Buffy or whatever else. It’s great that they do. If something has artistic value, it should be enjoyed by as many people as possible.
I get that this stuff feels like a life raft to teenagers in legitimate pain; that it provides a sense of identity for outcasts. I was one of those kids. But I’ve reluctantly concluded that it’s not healthy to create these islands of identity. Imbuing pop culture with value, then borrowing that value for yourself — it’s not a winning formula. If kids who can throw footballs know who Boba Fett is, and if that cuts the legs out from under some aspiring introverts… I guess I think that that’s a good thing, even if it’s painful for them in the moment.
Oswalt’s lamenting the destruction of the nerd ghetto, and proposing that we build a new one. That’s an understandable impulse, but it’s wrong. Undercutting the drive to self-victimize can appear cruel when considered in the context of young people’s deliberate and inevitable victimization of one another. But the alternative isn’t really mercy; it’s just assisted masochism.
(A note: I wrote this late at night, then pulled it down the next morning until I could reconsider it. Seems fine now (1/8/2011), so back up it goes.)