Patton Oswalt, the American comedian perhaps best remembered for his supporting role on the long-running sitcom King of Queens, wrote recently for Wired that it is time for Geek Culture to die. Oswalt, who has devoted no small part of his professional life to catering to the geeks (he wrote a terrific fan’s-eye-view of superheroes in the graphic novel Justice League of America: Welcome to the Working Week–scoring bonus nerd points by referencing a song by nerd icon Elvis Costello), says:
everyone has easy access to their favorite diversions and every diversion comes with a rabbit hole’s worth of extra features and deleted scenes and hidden hacks to tumble down and never emerge from, then we’re all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted. We’re on the brink of Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was—Available Forever.
The modern Geek is kind of a Bizarro World inversion of the Hipster. Where Hipsters shy away from such nomenclature, Geeks have embraced their term, and in turn, they have diluted the idea of Geekdom. Originally, the word geek referred to the guy in the circus sideshow who opened the performance by biting the head off the chicken. Unless you actually were a geek, it wasn’t a way you wanted people to think of you. Eventually, geek has come to refer to anyone who is especially knowledgeable or enthusiastic about a certain subject. Not too long ago, that actually meant something. It took some effort to become a geek. When I was a young comic nerd, I spent long winter days absorbing Ron Goulart’s Great History of Comic Books by Ron Goulart (who else?) or Michael L. Fleisher’s The Encyclopedia of Comic Heroes Volume Three: Superman (also known as The Great Superman Book) at the Frances Morrison Library in Saskatoon. It wasn’t particularly hard work, but it took some effort. The upstairs non-fiction section was my refuge from the casual violence and daily humiliation of the sixth and seventh grades. My growing knowledge of comic books and comic book history was something I quickly learned to share only with my immediate family, lest I give my tormentors at school (classmates and teachers alike) more ammunition. Getting through the Eighties, that was an accomplishment.
Nowadays, though, you can use your iPad to scroll through an impressively thorough Plot Summary of the Kree-Skrull War on Wikipedia without even getting out of bed. Nowadays–at least in Vancouver–you have billboards featuring a dude wearing a Green Lantern shirt every four kilometres, advertising a crap TV show that seemingly does not revolve around said dude in a Green Lantern shirt getting a punch in the arm every time he walks past certain classmates.
The Nineties, for me, brought on puberty, increased hygiene & social skills, and I drifted out of comic book nerdery and into music geekdom. When I eventually found my way back to comic book circles, in the mid-2000s, I barely recognized it. Ideas that had once been relegated to the backpage letter columns of comic books were now mega-budget Hollywood blockbusters. You could now buy Fantastic Four t-shirts in women’s sizes. Fast forward to the summer of 2010, and no less a monolithic corporate behemoth than Warner Bros is trotting out a life-sized replica of the corpse of Abin Sur–a figure from the most secret place of my pre-adolescent imagination–to drum up excitement for next summer’s action movie crapfest starring the soon-to-be-former Mr. Scarlett Johansson. I don’t know man, when Van Wilder starts talking to Entertainment Tonight about the Guardians of Oa, it starts to feel like all those beatings I took in 1989 count for nothing anymore.
“Etewaf doesn’t produce a new generation of artists—just an army of sated consumers,” says Oswalt. But here’s the thing, if Everything That Ever Was really is available, why has Hollywood made a movie based on the current, totally boring, Geoff Johns iteration of Green Lantern when it would be just as easy, and more exhilarating to use the earlier, more elegant Gil Kane stuff (seen below)?
But I’m off track here…
Oswalt says Geek Culture Must Die! because we’ve disappeared so far up our the Sanctum Santorum of our unceded childhood that we may have lost the ability or the drive to Create. New. Things.
The coming decades—the 21st-century’s ’20s, ’30s, and ’40s—have the potential to be one long, unbroken, recut spoof in which everything in Avatar farts while Keyboard Cat plays eerily in the background.
I dunno if you’ve read any DC Comics lately, but that’s pretty much what it’s become. Oswalt’s solution–which, being a good nerd, I won’t spoil–involves lists, lists of lists, and Steve Ditko’s Shade the Changing Man.
Of course, Oswalt’s satirical diatribe has found its mark. Professional Geek Harry Knowles, of the ugliest website in Space Sector 2814 Ain’t It Cool News, has written a rebuttal, which you may choose to read at your own risk of eye-and-brain-strain here. Knowles’s argument is pretty much unassailable because, well, see for yourself:
GEEK CULTURE is fine, I say this because the same folks that didn’t love TRON for the past 28 years – are the leaders of the minority vocal opinion on the film.
So there you have it. To me, the argument is moot. Geeks and nerds are passé; the future belongs to the dorks, and especially the Dorkbots.
Dorkbot Ensemble from Neutral Ground on Vimeo.