Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Cult of the Nerd

I used to think things that were unreasonably popular should be avoided at all costs. The list, when it was originally composed in my freshman year of college included:

dave matthew's band
robert de niro
star wars
chinese food
White Baseball Caps

To name just a few. All this misdirected loathing despite the fact that radiohead, which i deified at the time, were roughly just as popular as DMB; i hadn't yet seen any of Bobby's earlier films (taxi driver, raging bull, et al.); I'd already seen and liked Star Wars when I was very little; I'd never even actually tried Chinese food (even I don't really know how that was possible) and had a hair-cut that really in all honestly should have been kept hidden 'neath a cap.

Yet these things were popular for a reason. DMB is user/radio friendly (and totally crapped all over a bunch of Chicago River tourists); Bobby, despite his late career mistakes is unquestionably brilliant; Star Wars is like totally a parable of our times, man; Chinese food is delicious; and fashiony things, well i can't quite explain those.

Then there are things that people purposely like because nobody else likes them. I guy i work with told me recently who purposely reads obscure novels not because of their possible worth, but just because nobody is reading them. Being skeptical of the howling masses is one thing, being a contrarian ass is another.

And yet somewhere in the middle, are pop-culture pieces that always deserved more, but ended up getting relatively less attention than one might have guessed.

These things/phenomenas are sometimes classified under the 'cult' heading, and end up being all kinds of misunderstood. Mostly, because cult tv shows, movies, music, and art suffer from the downsides of both the tremendously popular and the universally despised. Fans of cult things make the products in question seem more ubiquitous than they really. Think of a politician with very loud and sometimes offensive proponents. The quality of person spoken for somehow gets muddled up behind a tidal wave of hot air.

As such cult phenomenas suffer from an odd form of over-under exposure. People who know nothing about the product are put off by the reverential behavior of the proponents, figuring that they would have gotten into it if it were really that good. And a particular breed of fan(atic) might feel like the show they love isn't loved enough and act even more rabidly devotional, feeding a uroboros-like cycle of cult supply and demand.

All this is on my mind because of the show "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and one of my best friend's perfectly reasonable/unreasonable avoidance thereof.

"Buffy" is a good example of a cult hit, although it might even have transcended cult at this point as some of the show's key points have entered a more broad cultural lexicon. yet its fans are typical of other cult fans, "whedonites" may as well be a synonym for disturbingly reverential fan-children. Its one thing to admire and another to blindly worship. But i can attest to the show's quality, I've seen every episode and never really spoken about it in a public forum until now. So, like, my devotion is reasonable then? whatever.

The point is I have a somewhat unique perspective. I watched the show's first few seasons in high-school, then watched nothing for years--I watched virtually no tv shows in college. The show went on without me and quietly ended while i wasn't looking (the nerve I tell you). However, I recently found myself renting the entire series, disc for disc, from netflix. Along the way I got to both remember why I had liked it in the first place and then find new reasons and ways of appreciating it that i wasn't capable of before. And I'm not the only person who might not fit the bill of a Whedonite--I happen to know of a stodgy old professor here at the University who is a complete nut for Buffy, and you would never know it from the look of them (or the subject matter they teach or from they themselves, assuming they'd rather not want underclassmen to know a few things about themselves).

So what did we learn here today, class? Skepticism is good? maybe! You can't judge a tv show by the quality of fans it pulls in? Um, sure! Buffy totally roxxorz!!!!? Er, yeah, all of that too.

Labels: , ,


At 5:59 PM , Blogger oline said...

i wonder what brought this on...


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home