So here’s this Mallory Ortberg post about lying about having read books you haven’t read. Ortberg:
It is possible, I suppose, that you are the sort of self-actualized person who has never once pretended to have read or seen something she hasn’t in conversation, and that you are never anxious about your social status, and the idea of dissembling is simply alien to you, and you laugh a silver-throated laugh at the very idea of pretending to have read a book when you could simply say “I haven’t read it” because life is a constant process of learning for you. Perhaps you are that kind of person. I wish you joy and have no interest in speaking any further with you.
I want to put it to you that this post is indicative of the whole Geek Grievance Industrial Complex I wrote about here, even though it isn’t specifically about geek culture, in that it is a perfect example of liking things against other people — and here, culture as only an oppositional force. It’s pure, Tea Party-style culture of resentment, drawing strength and pleasure from railing at an imagined elite.
The pretense of this paragraph, and of the piece, is that there is some sort of social or cultural benefit that accrues to people that have read a lot. This is, frankly, nuts. Look at the comments! They are absolutely gleeful in the discussion of what they haven’t read. They rush to “confess,” not pausing to consider the fact that people who actually have to confess things don’t enjoy doing it. They talk about guilt as if anybody involved in that enterprise feels any guilt at all, when the whole thing reeks of self-satisfaction and pride. The notion that not reading literary fiction is some sort of reason for guilt or shame is just not supportable by any rational examination of our contemporary culture. This is the point that I refuse to stop making: people pretend that there is some sort of social pressure to “eat your vegetables” when absolutely all of the social pressure is actually directed towards being one of the people who complain about the pressure to eat your vegetables. It’s a culture of confessors, not a culture of prosecutors.
Since that piece in the New York Times came out, and long before it, people have accused me of all manner of bad faith, of hidden motives, of trying to enforce my taste on others…. But in fact all I’ve ever asked is for what pop culture and fandom fans say they want: the right to like what I like. I have, actually, read Infinite Jest. I didn’t like it much, actually. But either way, it’d be nice if my liking or not liking it was just allowed to be that, an honest expression of genuine preference rather than some feint in a social war where we fight to establish our greater value. The notion that saying “yeah I read Infinite Jest” is necessarily some sort of brag just cannot withstand the slightest scrutiny. In fact, because of the pressure to treat these acts of confession as some sort of secular sacrament that all decent people take part in –or risk, as with Ortberg, people having no further desire to speak to you — I think the opposite is the case. You would think that, if the social pressure people complain about existed, you wouldn’t have 800+ comments of people joyfully defying the pressure.
I don’t need people to like what I like. I don’t even need them to respect, in some abstract sense, that I have separate tastes. What I would like is a world in which I don’t have nefarious motives ascribed to my tastes, where I am allowed to simply say “I like this and I don’t like that” without someone immediately popping up to claim that I only say I like those things to appear smart or cultured. The top comment on that Toast thread says, “this is not a venue for you to go ‘OH BUT YOU REALLY MUSTTTTTTT’ at people, we are here for HONESTY.” We are here for honesty: in other words, we are here to have our own preferences and choices affirmed, and we will specifically affirm them by responding to your claims of other preferences by calling them dishonest. What a horrible limited, narrow aesthetic world to live in.
Just like what you like, and stop legislating what I have to like through your complaints about a social pressure that doesn’t exist. The only people perpetuating the notion of a guilty pleasure are the people who say that they are made to feel guilt. Just let go. Look at the new world around you and let go.
(I even like War & Peace. I’m eviiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiil!)