being a nerd has always meant being a machine for liking things

Via yer man Jay Springett, a gloriously excoriating piece of writing by Sam Kriss.

After quoting a Warhol interview snippet which ends with Andy agreeing with the interviewer that Pop Art is all about “liking things”, and that liking things is being like a machine, “because you do the same thing every time. You do it over and over again”, Kriss states:

This is the secret manifesto of the nerd. The greatest lie the nerds ever told us was that being a nerd had something to do with being unpopular, being uncool, being outside the cultural mainstream, being unusual, being creative, being funny, being different in any way. Andy Warhol was cool, this slight shy serious closeted bespectacled nerd who lived with his mother; possibly the coolest person to have ever lived. He was popular; nerds have always gravitated to the popular; nerds have always delighted in the flat infinity of the Same. He liked things. Being a nerd has always meant being a machine for liking things. The nerds were the messianic faithful, awaiting the incoming of the algorithm. Waiting to fuse themselves with machines. To live in a world where you could like something simply by pressing a button. Waiting for the utopia where let people enjoy things is the whole of the law.

But as Baudrillard concludes, ‘not everyone has the good fortune to be a machine.’

And a chord was struck, you know? A bunch of chords, in fact, all through this essay.

“An excoriating piece, Paul? That’s something to celebrate, is it?” Sometimes, yes, I think maybe it is. To be clear, I think the paradigm of let people enjoy things was borne of good intentions, but it has demonstrably resulted in a deluge of crap. There’s good stuff in there, but it’s more jetsam than flotsam: hard to find, harder still to get a hold of.

To say so may seem like middle-aged curmudgeonliness, or perhaps just simply mean. Kriss again:

It’s not enough that the things they like are, by definition, globally hegemonic, blotting out any other form of mainstream cultural production—if there is even one person who still tries to consider things by some measure of quality, it’s like a needle sticking sharp in their side, a constant tiny unbearable pain. Any kind of judgement feels like a personal attack against the individual nerd, which it is. It feels like a form of discrimina[t]ion, a coded bullying, which it is. It’s the imposition of an entirely foreign system of distinctions: like trying to give a mark out of ten to the sun. Why are you judging? Why are you hating? Why do you keep saying these things are bad? Nerd culture is never bad, because it’s not attempting to be good. Its only function is to exist.

It is to be regretted that we use the same word for the selective process of taste and quality in culture that we use for the prejudicial judgement of people based on things over which they have no choice, e.g. their ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender. The latter form of discrimination is reprehensible. The former, by contrast, is perhaps the simplest possible definition of culture: not exhaustive, certainly, but surely essential.

I find myself wondering whether, in abolishing the latter in hope of losing the former, the former has in fact been unintentionally relieved of its most important counterweight.



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One response to “being a nerd has always meant being a machine for liking things”

  1. anonymous avatar

    Still from Michael Radford’s film version of George Orwell’s novel 1984 This blog post is mainly concerned with the overlapping and/or adjacent spheres of hauntology, folk horror, the weird/wyrd, and other related subject areas, but the conclusions can probably be expanded to other disciplines.

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