Tuesday, May 3, 2005

Anti-Nerdism

A more charitable take on Sean Collins’s response to Ron Rosenbaum’s anti-Kill Bill piece might have focused less on Sean’s somewhat bizarre claim that Rosenbaum’s essay exhibited anti-white bias and more on Sean’s claim that Rosenbaum’s essay exhibited anti-nerd bias. Sean seems to have made up Rosenbaum’s prejudice against white people, but Rosenbaum’s uneasiness with geek culture—especially its entwined depiction of violence and women—seems to be the driving force of the essay.

I’m fairly ambivalent about the whole anti-nerd thing. Even though I really like a lot of geek culture stuff—sci-fi movies, super-hero comics, video games, etc.—I do find the amount of time and money the pop culture industry spends in catering to people with a 14-year-old fanboy’s sensibility a little depressing. (I also wonder about the way this sensibility is even colonizing parts of the “high art” world). And while I generally don’t care too much for the kind of internecine nerd battles that try to pass as commentary on geek culture (Rosenbaum’s essay is an only slightly more mainstream versions of this phenomenon, as is A.O. Scott’s pan of Sideways, for that matter), I find it hard to get too worked up over it anymore. After all, to paraphrase a character from Evan Dorkin’s “Eltingville” comics: “This is a great time to be a geek.” As a geek (or at least a geek fellow-traveler) myself, I really can’t complain if non-geeks (or people pretending to be non-geeks) feel a little overwhelmed huge importance the pop culture industry places on stuff like Star Wars, super-heroes, and The Lord of the Rings. I understand the backlash against and I can sympathize with anti-nerdists like Rosenbaum because, after all, for now at least the geeks have won. And not just in a money-industry-product sense: hip lit-fic writers like Jonathan Lethem and Michael Chabon are writing super-hero comics. It isn't surprising that Rosenbaum (not to mention genuine high culture warriors) have sour grapes.

But sometimes I get the sense that Sean (and others who share his anti-anti-nerd stance) won’t be satisfied until the kind of stuff he loves—the Wu Tang and Kill Bill and Brian Michael Bendis’s Daredevil—is warmly embraced and praised to high heaven by every cultural commentator/critic from The New York Observer to The Comics Journal to The New York Times to The New Criterion. But this just isn’t going to happen. And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s a pretty good thing, too. Because most of geek culture is made up of junk whose primary feature is that it references a lot of other junk, creating a kind of huge interconnected junk labyrinth. In the big scheme of things, it may not be a bad place to spend a few hours a week, but too many of its fans get lost in it.

I think Pauline Kael got it right when she defended trash culture back in the 60s: sometimes trashy stuff is more vibrant and connects more honestly with an audience than stuffy, self-conscious works of “serious art”. But trash culture’s positives are also its negatives: its vibrancy and up-to-the-second relevancy leave it disposable and unable to provide substantial cultural nourishment.

2 comments:

David Fiore said...

this whole conversation (Hastings + Berg + Collins=good times and happy memories for me!) is wonderful and I'm eager to involve myself in it-but then there's this freakin' essay that I really must write!

consider my own sad predicament--I've spent the past year and a half or so arguing that superhero comics (or, at least, the superhero comics that I like best) don't belong in a group with stuff like Star Wars, Kill Bill, Wu Tang, Lord of the Rings and Sin City... (all of which I basically hate--although I did find Sin City visually arresting)

I am a big nerd (there's no question about that!)--but I don't seem to be the same kind of nerd that Rosenbaum is targeting (and that Sean is defending)--and I don't like the idea that my beloved existentialist romances suffering the ignominious fate of being lumped in with the rest of that stuff! (it doesn't help that fanboy/horror guys like Raimi do the Spider-Man movies, instead of someone like David Lynch...)

Anyway, given my position, it should come as no surprise that I am probably more "anti-fanboy" than anyone involved in this discussion, and I'm going to have to weigh in with something a little more reasoned than this at some point in the near future!

Dan Jacobson said...

Yeah, Dave, I was a bit surprised that you hadn't weighed in on this yet, but then I remembered that you had those essays to write...still it should be good to see...