While of course I deplore that disaffected readers should be making even ineffectual death threats against critics with whom they disagree, I cannot join in the outrage that some of my respected colleagues are feeling toward the circumstance that permits such things to occur. I'll put it bluntly and shortly, using the unforgettable phrase of Marcelle Clements: the dog is us. We took this tool, the Internet, and molded it to our own ends; we rejoiced at its democratizing properties; we panicked when it started costing us livelihoods; and now we wanna bitch when poorly socialized assholes hijack it with their increasingly bizarre presumptions and proclamations of entitlement.
We called Jeff Jarvis, the Dr. Pangloss of digital culture, a prophet for his cheerily glib "everyone's a critic" pseud philosophizing. Devin Faraci, who represents an outlet called "Badass Digest" and who recently changed the bio on his Twitter feed to "Just happy to be here" after having something rather more incendiary in its place for some time before, had quite a nice little run as a swaggering new media tough guy, as have a lot of bluff know-somethingish anti-highbrows who don't bother to proof their copy before they go on panels gloating about how print newspapers soon aren't even going to be good for birdcage lining. This is your world, fellas. You like it?
Jarvis hasn't weighed in that I can tell. But Faraci doesn't seem to like it much now. Now that "spammers" are calling him a "cunt" and so on. (UPDATE: See Mr. Faraci's comment below. Clearly I am not being entirely fair in my estimation here. I'm not gonna mess with the rest of the copy because I think my larger point kind of holds regardless.) I'm not saying that Faraci asked for this abuse, or deserves it, but the stance he now adopts, accompanied by possibly preemptive primers on how to make what we'll call for the purposes of this consideration "fan culture" a kinder, gentler realm, strikes me as just a touch disingenuous. But I imagine maybe he can't help it. In his rather amusingly condescending "Take Back The Nerd" piece, Faraci sketches the Geek Triumphant: "The nerds have had their revenge. They’ve won. They got laser surgery and discovered Steve Jobs’ fashion sense. Most important of all, they’ve totally taken over the culture." Right. And now, having taken over the culture, Faraci wants the culture to have its Reformation, or maybe its Enlightenment. I'm not sure which and I'm pretty sure he isn't either.
Only here's the thing: it can never happen, because this thing called "fan culture" or "nerd cuture" or whatever it is you want to call it is largely predicated on emotional immaturity combined with a variety of willed cultural illiteracy. Fan culture doesn't say "comic books can be high art," it says, "comic books are the only art." And, further, "the film of the comic book must provide an analogous heightened experience of the comic book, and YOU, the person on the outside of our purview who is now being gifted with this artifact of AWESOMENESS, must fall into line and PRAISE this artifact and confer upon it the legitimacy it has always deserved but which YOU have been too blinkered by your own pretentious prejudices to recognize." That's what fan culture wants. That's what it demands. "Nerd culture" is Peter Pan as a brain-eating zombie.
Don't get me wrong here. I like (and consume") comic books, comic strips, graphic novels, and all of that, and I think the form has as much of a claim to legitimacy and greatness as any other. Back in the 1980s, I was friendly with the writer Elaine Lee and her artistic partner, the illustrator and writer Michael Kaluta. Their project at the time was a comic-book limited series called Starstruck, an exuberant multi-tiered fantasy about feisty female space jockeys that frustrated/infuriated almost as many readers as it delighted. It was dense stuff, both verbally and graphically, not all that ingratiating as comic books go, and I remember Elaine and Michael expressing frustration at various times over its reception and over whether it actually had any future as a publication. But mostly I remember their sheer excitement in the creation of the series. Both Elaine and Michael were incredibly conversant with every other form of art, and Elaine had this very distinctive idea/ethos wherein she aspired to create comic feminist art with stresses and accents she had picked up from the likes of Vonnegut, Altman and Pynchon. While they never said it out loud, you could tell that Elaine and Michael were not-so-secret sharers of the perspective of the great filmmaker Michael Powell: "All art is one, man!" I don't see this reflected much in the fan culture that some value so highly.
THAT splintered culture says: "This is the one art." Another splintered culture, the bourgeois middlebrow chattering class exemplified by an organ such as Slate, says: "Relax, you don't have to watch long boring movies with subtitles; Breaking Bad is TOTALLY art." And so on it goes, and will continue to go. And unlike Howard The Duck, we don't even really have the excuse of being trapped in a world that we never made.
One last thing: In my dismissive account of Internet-tough-guy-ness, I have likely stepped into a giant messy heap of pot-calling-kettle-black. Yes, I understand that I myself have swaggered in an oft-ridiculous way on this blog, on Twitter, on message boards and comments threads and more. There is much that I am sorry for, and a bit that I am not. I can offer nothing really credible in the way of excuses, nor can I credibly promise that I shall go now and sin no more.