Essays on Technology and Culture

Pop Culture Granfalloons

Pop culture, especially for us socially isolated dorks, is an easy granfalloon to call our own. You have a ready-made conversation topic, a sense of purpose, and a way to identify the out-group. As a geek of the old school persuasion, I get it. Somewhere in my piles of stuff is a beat up, yellow paper card signifying that I am an official member of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Information Club. It’ll be eighteen years, this year, since the day I got it in the mail from Minnesota. I have a similar, newer card, signifying my membership in Club DEVO, the DEVO Fan Club. That’s about the end of my formalized pop culture affiliations, though I have no shortage of informal ones—largely in music.

But these affiliations are starting to worry me. That worry is largely about the way online discourse occurs around pop culture. Especially when someone is critical of a particular piece of pop culture. You can’t say anything negative—or just counter to populist opinion—about something with a large, devoted fanbase in a public forum without raising the flaming ire of fans. Heaven forfend you make even a valid criticism, even of something you like, without being called out as a fake fan. And if you’re female, a person of color, or both, here come the rape threats.

Problems occur when the requirements to be part of the in-group increase. The more of a piece of pop culture you consume, the more trivia you can spout, more merchandise you can display, the truer a fan you are. For a new fan of anything, the requirements to join the in-group can become positively Sisyphean. And this is usually by design. It’s far from a new phenomenon, but the movement of pop culture from an interest to an identity has only amplified the territorial tendencies of geeks.

Which goes a long way towards why I’ve chosen to dial back from my geeky pop culture obsessions. I’m doing this in large part because I don’t like defining my identity based on someone else’s work, but also because I have seen the dark side of geeky obsession from both sides. Fandoms can become toxic, and it can happen on the turn of a dime. Just look at what happened recently in the Steven Universe fandom on Tumblr.

I’ve seen a short YouTube video linked when people discuss their disinterest in cultural granfaloons. It’s a mantra I’m trying to take to heart. Maybe you should too. Remember: “It’s okay to not like things! Don’t be a dick about the things you don’t like.” And don’t be a dick about the things you do like, as well.