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Patton Oswalt's "pop culture apocalypse"

chebutykin posted this link from Wired over at FB, and while I think Bob Subiaga did a good job ripping Oswalt's glaring stupidity to shreds, there were a couple of things I wanted to expand on.

I'm old enough to remember the days when there really was a ghetto for SF and fantasy, and while it was an okay enough place to be in, (if you weren't completely autistic) the problem came when you had to deal with the outside world, which took its cues from the New York Times and similar arbiters of what was okay and what wasn't when it came to middle-brow culture. The outside world definitely did not approve of "all that Buck Rogers nonsense" and the social penalties for reading something like Heinlein or Clarke in public - and never mind that both had been published in such bourgie publications as the Saturday Evening Post and Boys' Life - could be pretty unpleasant. Let's not even mention comic books. Everyone knew those were for kids, and the sight of a grown man reading them was a sure sign of some kind of deviancy.

And then, things started to change. Star Trek acquired a large, fanatic group of viewers who eventually compelled Paramount to make a movie, then a second series, then more movies...and this guy George Lucas had a crazy notion that people would want to watch a romantic adventure with spaceships and robots and blasters and an evil villain in black armor and lightsabers, and we all know about THAT. Suddenly it was okay to like science fiction and fantasy; eventually it even became cool. Science-fiction concepts and ideas are all over the place in popular culture now, which makes some of the older fans...uncomfortable. To say nothing of their kids.

So Oswalt whines about people who have instant familiarity with the Cthulhu Mythos or any of fifty other "important" pop culture landmarks. I think he needs to STFU and get a real life. The websites and lists he complain about only provide a surface knowledge, and that doesn't make people interesting, or even otaku. It just gives them a key to the door, a free spin of the propeller beanie that marks them as someone with an interest in one of the many facets of geek/nerd/SF&F culture. Him thinking that a mere perusal of internet sites is enough is a big honking neon sign proclaiming to all and sundry: "HEY! I DON'T KNOW WHAT THE FUCK I'M TALKING ABOUT! BUT I'M COOL AS SHIT BECAUSE I'M DISSING THE NEOS!" No, Patton. You're not cool. You're just the 21st century version of the old literary fans who sneered at the Trekkies because they had no idea who Mervyn Peake was or why they should be interested in Gormenghast*. They were never cool, and you aren't either. Your "pop culture apocalypse" is a childish fantasy with no more possibility of becoming real than Iron Joe Bob being elected the next governor of Texas.

Frankly, Oswalt's immature, imbecilic spew is further evidence that WIRED isn't worth the trees they're killing to print it, any more than Time or Newsweek. I guess we should be happy that it didn't show up on Boing Boing. As much as I despise Cory Doctorow, he and Ms. Jardin at least have standards, which is apparently more than we can say about WIRED.

Jesus. First the Insane Clown Posse, and now this. Would somebody find the editor and take away his crack pipe, please?

*I'm going to get around to it one of these days, maybe.

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wombat_socho
Dec. 30th, 2010 02:04 am (UTC)
I'm going to disagree with you on what may seem a small point but in fact is crucial to the argument. Back when all there was to read was books and pulps, the bar to entry was pretty low - you actually didn't have to know that much, because it could be damned hard to get your hands on anything NOT written by Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and the handful of other authors whose work was consistently in print. You could, at least in theory, up until the mid-1970s, develop a comprehensive knowledge of science fiction and fantasy works.

That's just not possible any more. There's too much stuff. I gave up a long time ago trying to stay on top of just the combat SF subgenre, because there are just too many authors cranking out books (and games, and TV shows, and movies...) in that part of the city, and you can multiply my experience by a million. Vampire novels? From Bram Stoker through Sheridan LeFanu up to Laurell K. Hamilton, there's got to be a few thousand books, and then there's all the Hollywood and Hammer vampire films, and, and, and...what it boils down to is that anyone with a "comprehensive" knowledge of SF & fantasy these days either is at least a few years behind the market, or their knowledge is so superficial that they can't intelligently discuss any of what they've heard of.

With regard to the social experimentation, I submit that you need to get out to more conventions. There's plenty of experimentation going on out there; it's just further out on the fringes than it ever used to be - and at the same time, people tolerate way more than they used to. It's not always a good thing. Ask P about it sometime.

Edited at 2010-12-30 02:06 am (UTC)
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