don’t get too comfortable

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.)

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