The other day I was having what seemed to be a Groundhog Day moment during a conversation with a close friend. The topic isn't as important as the message being conveyed, which was that they were tired of people assuming one thing was the real version of X when it was obvious that the thing he was really into was the accurate portrayal of what X should be.
Normally this wouldn't be that big of an issue, people are allowed to have opinions and express their love or disdain for whatever it may be, what bothered me was the vitriol in their voice towards this straw man who liked something they deemed not worthy. It was quite alarming that such hatred would be leveled at a person or group of people who were into something as trivial as a band, TV show, comic book or movie. It was during this conversation that it struck me; nerd culture has taken over and it is unsustainable.
I should probably qualify that last statement, nerd culture has been co-opted by the masses and now we are suffering the blow-back. This theory was outlined in a terrific column by the homey Reggie Hancock on his blog Defending Reggicide. There seems to be a sense that the nerds have won, that the nerds have taken over. I would like to posit that the nerds have always won because they always have, I think this is a lesson that history has proven time and time again.
The seeds of success are planted early in the nerd, the obsessive attention to detail, the thorough mining of information, the stalwart dedication to the mundane; these are tools that help the nerds in their schooling, careers and adult lives. What I see is not that the nerds are winning but that the losers have co-opted the least important and most irritating aspects of nerd culture for their own, and they are not so much as winning as they are spreading.
Thanks to the proliferation of information on the internet anyone can be an expert in anything, well a self presumed expert. The problem is that people are choosing to become experts in things that might carry a certain cultural currency in fringe groupings but have no real world value. Comic books and niche music scenes are great, and add to the spice of life but no matter how often the purveyors of such scenes repeat the mantra, they are by no means important. They are entertaining and enjoyable but fail to register on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. So while cottage industries have popped up allowing those who are verbose enough to make a case that Led Zeppelin is essential to who we are, it does not change the fact that these experts are dabbling in the shallow end of the pool.
So I guess the question is; how important is popular, semi-popular and not-really-all-that-popular culture? I would argue that it is marginally important; the problem is not that this culture exists, as much as the level to which it exists. This gets back to my original statement about the anger my friend possessed. I could see if this person was in their teens, or even their early 20s suffering through a bout of arrested development; the problem was that he is 30 something, with two kids, a wife, a mortgage and a shit ton of responsibilities at the work place and stuck in middle management.
If this was an isolated incident I wouldn't even have noticed, but this is seems to be rampant in our society. Granted it might just be the circles I run in, but evidence points to the contrary. Just look at your Facebook and Twitter feeds and you will see a stream of grownups who are obsessed with popular culture, who are experts in every sub-genre and extol the merits of each while casting judgment on those who are guilty of not liking the right 'it' band, or who are on the bandwagon two weeks too late.
A major part of this co-opting of nerd culture seems to be a reaction to a world that makes little sense. I would be willing to venture a bet that the vast unwashed masses* realize that they will never understand the workings of the power structures that dominate politics, finance and business; and that this shift towards pop-culture nerd-dom is as much a reaction to this as our parents reveling in the glories of Motown was for them. The problem isn't the escapist pursuits as much as it is the level to which they are pursued. We are no longer judged for our character but instead are judged by what we like. It is in the fetishistic collecting of the acts and deeds of others that we find our worth. This in turn makes us less than human, it makes us parasites.
No longer do we strive for personal excellence instead we find ourselves searching out the next band or show that will show just how interesting or edgy we as individuals are; all while forfeiting our own individuality. It is not a way to sustain a culture or a people, it is however a sure fire way to assure that we become less and less vital and more and more homogenized. It is a race to the bottom and we seem to have a pretty big lead.
*I include myself in this group, shit I run a music site for fuck's sake.