Why Harry Knowles is Right and Patton Oswalt is Wrong.

For those of you who don’t know, and according to Mr. Oswalt geek culture is everywhere now so you all know, Patton wrote a piece for Wired.com saying that because everyone is now otaku (obsessed with something, usually of a geeky or nerdy variety) the time of the true geek has passed.  The only way to save the geek culture is to scorch the Earth and start over.  Thankfully, one Harry Knowles of Aint It Cool News came to the rescue.  His love of everything geek is infectious, thus this article.

Darth Hiss?

My credentials are thus:  I’m writing this article on a Mac, with a Homestar Runner background, and all while listening to Saturday Morning Cartoons Greatest Hits CD in iTunes.  Beat that!

Patton says that its too easy to be a geek now.  That anyone can find something they like and, due to the internet and easy availability of all media, instantly become an expert on that thing.  Bullshit.  I’ve read comics for 25 years.  Try explaining MODOK to someone.  Even I have trouble.  All apologies to Patton for the explosion of geek over the last decade.  My apologies to watching you in Community, Dollhouse, and Ratatouille.  Its sad that there’s an entire channel devoted to being a geek, G4, and said channel is how I learned about Oswalt’s movie, Big Fan.

However, this is not meant to be an attack on Patton Oswalt.  He’s a ridiculously funny and talented man and I look forward to his upcoming book Zombie Spaceship Wasteland.  But he is wrong on two counts:  One, that geek culture is everywhere and two, that it is easy to become an otaku.

Point one.  Geek culture is not everywhere.  What is true is that if you are a geek, you surround yourself with other like minded people.  For example, in the last two years I went from working in a major bookstore chain, to working at a sporting goods store (stupid economy).  While at the bookstore my world was populated by other geeks and geeks alone.  Whether it was creating another fan of World War Z, or having a customer turn me on to Scary Monsters (and in turn, Famous Monsters of Filmland), there was a constant import/export of knowledge on all nerdy topics.  Then a new job was necessary.  A job where “geek” is spoken like an ethnic store.  Without exaggeration, there is only one other person in that store who has read or watched Harry Potter, and its a 16 year old girl hired only for Holiday help.  This isn’t a long time geek trying to debate the best Avengers leader besides Captain America.  (Wasp is very underrated.)  This is Harry Fucking Potter!  But its gets worse.  Try making a Lord of the Rings joke.  “No one is going to get your jokes, Lord of the Rings is too obscure.”  Too obscure?!  The films have made nearly 3 billion dollars.  That is as far from obscure as one can get.  When a person surrounds themselves with other like minded individuals, as I did by working in a bookstore and with my close group of friends, or as Patton does with friends like Brian Posehn and Sarah Silverman, they will see everyone in the world as being like them.  Yes, it does seem like geek culture is everywhere when Golden Apple comics is down the road and every script is based on a graphic novel.  However the majority of the country is watching Jersey Shore and calling our Chief Commanding Comic Book Fan an “Ah-rab”.  They would rather shoot illegals than shoot illegal bootlegs or tributes to upload on torrent sites.  Which leads me to Harry Knowles.

Harry lives in Texas.  Another personal story, when I went to college in (WAY) upstate NY my first roommate was British.  He confessed to being shocked on his first day that none of us were wearing cowboy hats.  “All we see on the tele is your President, and we kind of assume you’re all like him.”  That president, being from Texas.  Thus there are many in the world that see us Americans as nothing more than gun happy hicks with Texas as the black hole in the center of that universe.  (Again, nothing against Texas, but this needs to be said to make the larger point.  Texas is a beautiful state and anyone I’ve ever spoken to from there has been nothing but great.)  Harry lives right in this center and somehow he and Austin have become the Muhammad and Mecca of geek culture.  The Alamo Drafthouse should not be seen as a spot for a pilgrimage and yet there it is in the opening of Death Proof, and the theater cheered.  (Lets be honest, if anyone saw GrindHouse in the theater, you’re a geek and know what the Drafthouse is.)  The corner of the internet that Harry created is no different than Patton’s friend who discovered Asian cinema and would bring them all cheap VHS to watch.  Oswalt is lucky to have those friends who did discover things on their own.  But what about those thousands if not millions who didn’t have that friend?

Which brings us to Part 2.  It is not easy to become an otaku at anything.  It takes work to hold your own in a conversation, build up a collection, and find others who share your passion.  The larger the city, the easier it may be.  But what of the legions of fanboys with only the internet to link them to the joys that are just over a century of geeky culture.  It is only thanks to the internet, and to everything being available in an instant, that geek culture can flourish.

First of all, there is a need to separate the “otaku” or “geek” tag from anything that wouldn’t have fit into that category a short time ago.  One can be a reality show otaku.  But that’s not what Patton was talking about when talking of geek culture.  It doesn’t matter if you’re crazy obsessed with baseball, politics, knitting or snowmobiles.  Easy answer for “then what does belong?”  If you walk into a convention and think, what the fuck are they doing here?, it doesn’t belong.  So, other experts aside, what does that leave us with?  Generations of people, much like the kids at Patton’s lunch table, who are talking about geeky things with each other and thankful that because of the internet we are legion.  And we are a legion with cash.

Think back to your childhood and teen years.  Or to mine, or Patton’s or Harry’s.  To be a child with instant access to everything Star Wars, or Adam West Batman, or (before Cartoon Network) any anime at all.  Manga isn’t published in correct right to left form because the publishers guessed there might be a market for it.  No, its because of the obsessive downloading and fan dubbing and overseas orders.

I’ll go to work today and no one will be excited for Green Hornet.  No one else will watch Big Bang Theory.  And somehow, there will still be no one who has read Harry Potter.  So no, Mr Oswalt, it is not everywhere and it is not easy.  But should any of those people ever want to learn about Wolverine or Captain Kirk and I’m not around, thank God for the ease they will have in becoming an otaku on the subject.

But what really pisses me off is that if this was all that easy I would be able to get a copy of Famous Monsters of Filmland!

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