the “geeks are oppressed by high culture” myth hits its apotheosis

So I’ve made the actual argument many many times, and you’ll ding me for linking to some random Tumblr, but this is too perfect. At Pyrrhic Comedy, there is this picture of a bunch of tween types in the Rijksmuseum, checking their cell phones instead of looking at The Night Watch. The big reveal is that they shouldn’t be judged because they are actually using the app for the museum. Which, OK, whatever.  Great. That’s the kind of lame, fortune cookie “wisdom” that the internet ladles out endlessly. Peep the text:

“That’s what irritates me about this particular strain of elitist dickwankery. Explain how exactly it says anything negative about me if I care more about Dragon Age: Inquisition than whatever that painting is. It’s a pretty painting, sure. Of some guys, I guess. They’ve got hats, and the lighting is nice. But I can think of a dozen vistas in DA:I that were just as pretty. What else is that painting supposed to offer me? How is it relevant to me? Who are those dudes? Why should I care?

Elitist intellectuals keep insisting I should care about things like this painting, and sneering at me when I don’t, but why should I?”

This person, who has the mental faculties necessary to operate a computer, is claiming that “elite intellectuals” are constantly pressuring him to appreciate Rembrandt.

Rembrandt!

We’re not even talking about, like, you should  try a black and white movie sometime. We’re talking about Rembrandt. Let me ask you, denizens of the internet: are you finding it difficult, these days, to get away from that constant pressure to appreciate Rembrandt? Do you find yourselves deluged under all of the Rembrandt coverage online? Do you feel left out by the constant in-depth conversations about Rembrandt on Twitter? Are you getting a little tired of all those Rembrandt-based memes and reference humor? Does your daily browsing experience involve constantly having to click away from heavy-handed Rembrandt coverage, frustrated with the endless stream of bloggers and aggregators, taking advantage of the latest Rembrandt-related fads? That Rembrandt clickbait! So incorrigible! I mean, lord knows, video games are currently a purely niche aspect of our culture, one that you barely hear about in journalism and commentary, which totally aren’t economically dominant or critically ascendant. Rembrandt, on the other hand. That’s the gravy train.

Take it from someone in the actual higher education system: there is way, way more video games in academia now than Rembrandt. I like video games fine, I really do. But if I didn’t, I could not function in the contemporary humanities. To the degree that any subject can be hot in the humanities under current labor conditions, video games are as hot as it gets. They’re getting job lines and conferences and special issues of journals. And in the way this dynamic always goes, there’s still this persistent notion that video game people are disrespected. It’s the same old two step: “my preference for geek art and media puts me at the heart of the culture and the economic engine that exists to serve it, but I still don’t feel respected, so therefore I’m oppressed and you have to put up with all of my bad behavior.” And as this gentleman is once again demonstrating, facts simply have no bearing whatsoever on this dynamic. It doesn’t matter how ignored and marginal the “high culture” you deride is, or how ludicrously praised and popular the “low culture” you celebrate is. You always get to posture as the underdog, and to treat being the underdog as a get-out-of-jail-free card for acting like a jerk.

Rembrandt!

63 Comments

  1. But associating virtue with how people act instead of how other people act towards them is hard and confusing!

  2. It would appear liking art or whatever, that challenges you in some way, is the new philistine. Cool. At my shit job I’m routinely asked by my co workers how I read certain books on my break. Not why, mind you, but how. All these guys are video game and comic book obsessives. I don’t mind. I learned a long while ago that people like what they like and that’s fine.

    However, what is insufferable, are these privileged upper class types whining and moaning about a lack of respect. I wish I could violently shake them by the shoulders and roar “Stop it. Stop it. Stop it! You live in a major city for Christ sakes! You have culture at your finger tips! Art galleries, obscure holes-in-the-wall, music venues frequented by every conceivable band or artist that wouldn’t be caught dead where I live. You have it all! And yet you complain about a lack of respect? A lack of respect for so called ‘nerd culture’? What?”

    I’ll never forget when you mentioned in a post that people go to art museums ironically. Surely there is no God.

    1. >It would appear liking art or whatever, that challenges you in some way, is the new philistine.

      I’d phrase that “claiming to enjoy experiences that are not a form of hyper-stimulus,” though the ideas may be functionally interchangeable. Most people seem to have a moral intuition that entertaining themselves with things in the “drown yourself in noise/sugar/pleasure/loot grind/etc.” category is in some way wrong, but since those things are nigh-objectively enjoyable they’re of course hugely culturally prevalent. This results in people feeling extremely guilty and insecure about their media consumption, and I think it’s a major factor in why they go off like Freddie’s complaining about.

      1. Huh? Would you care to break it down a bit more? I’m not that smart. If I understand you correctly you’re saying that people know, in some kind of intuitive sense, that what they love is the intellectually equivalent of junk food for their minds. Sure, it tastes good, but isn’t very nutritious and leaves them mildly ill. When others point it out it drives them to lash out knowing still, in their heart of hearts, the truth in their interlocutor’s thought.

        If so, I’m not so sure. I think these critics feel very little guilt in liking pop culture and shitting on those that like other forms of art and culture. Or perhaps, it comes from the fact that they likely have their position of influence due to socioeconomic factors rather than intelligence and despise those who make them feel stupid. To which I repsond to these privileged snowflakes, “deal with it”.

        Or something. I’m now too sure of much of anything. Especially since my thoughts aren’t exactly coherent.

        1. I agree with your take. I don’t think we need to assume that the defensiveness comes from such people inwardly knowing they’re doing something wrong and inferior – or that everyone somehow has the same underlying innate sense of priority. (The assumption sounds a bit like a Christian evangelical assumption that people who don’t believe in God, evolution, etc. are rejecting those things because they are avoiding looking at their sins in God’s clear light.) The problem doesn’t even depend on there even being anything necessarily wrong or “low” about computer games.

          You suggest a defense of a felt privileged position. I suspect something more universal or more equal-opportunity . . . just, an ego drive to minimize the importance of anything they’re not interested in – or to insist that what they’re not interested in deserves that lack of interest. We want our senses of priority, proportion, and priority to be right and complete, and to have been right and complete all along. There’s a drive to defend this felt/assumed state of things while thinking absolutely as little as possible about whatever we take as somehow conflicting with it, which makes for strangely idiotic arguments from people who have all the mental machinery and knowledge to do good thinking, or just bald statements that we don’t care about X and that anyone who does care about X is wrong and offensive. Active lack of interest that takes up arms is really just animal grunts. When carefully and correctly identified, it deserves no respect whatsoever. It might be the single most directly stupid thing our heads do.

          1. > I don’t think we need to assume that the defensiveness comes from such people inwardly knowing they’re doing something wrong and inferior – or that everyone somehow has the same underlying innate sense of priority.

            It may not be the only explanation, but I think it’s the more compelling explanation. That some Dragon Age player has an extreme emotional reaction to it being implied that Rembrandt is worthwhile makes no sense in a vacuum, but much more sense when you see the same flavor of vitriol being hurled at people who read books that aren’t pre-digested YA fiction, and even internally at gamers who play slower-payoff genres like grand strategy games. In short, the pattern I see is a reflexive condemnation of anything considered “dull” or not immediately fulfilling, and the insecurity motivation becomes immediately obvious once that pattern’s identified.

            And you don’t need to assume innateness of morality for this, which seems like it might be the point you’re getting hung up on. Of course our intuitions are shaped by family and culture.

  3. I think the issue is that would be raised is that, more broadly in “popular culture”, it is taken for granted that Rembrandt is of a higher calibre of art than videogames. Videogames are held at an arm’s length in the sense that it is often treated outside of popular culture symbolically, still (even though it is definitely inside of it in terms of business etc). I think the treatment of Gamergate in the NYT, for example, reflects this: it’s said that “videogames” has a problem with women, as a separately existing insular sphere, rather than society as a whole. Think: could we say that “film buffs” have a misogyny problem, and would it be notable for “film buffs” to get front page coverage on the NYT? I don’t think so. Videogames are not ingrained as a default medium in the same way that music and film are. Not yet, at least. This doesn’t take away from that Tumblr being stupid, mind you, but I do think there is an argument in how videogames are used as a lever to position oneself as holy.
    Also, Bourdieu. Lots and lots of Bourdieu.

    1. Well, your first point may have value to it, but it’s a *very* different critique than “Help I’m being repressed!”

      As to GamerGate, let me ask you something. Find me a group of film buffs who have sent death threats and viciously harassed female movie critics. And who have done other awful things like doxxing people who disagree with them (not *unique* to GamerGate people, but I don’t see film buffs doing that). And then when they get called out they whine like little ninnies “No it’s actually about ethics in film criticism!”

      Then and only then will your argument pass the laugh test.

      1. Exactly. Anita Sarkeesian, for example, didn’t face a gigantic river of misogynistic bullshit, doxxing, and online terrorism when she was doing the Tropes vs Women work on films. It wasn’t until she turned her eye to video games that it started happening – hence why it’s pretty obvious there’s a huge problem in the video game community with it.

      2. Because no women ever got harassed by pro-Anita Sarkezian crowd. Wait, Liana Kerzner complained about it just yesterday http://metaleater.com/video-games/feature/why-feminist-frequency-almost-made-me-quit-writing-about-video-games-part-1 Another journalist, Georgina Young complained about the same, through I can not find those tweets now. Note that both are neutral on gamergate thing, they just disagree with Sarkezian openly.

        Multiple pro-gamergate women had to drop out due to harassment, doxxings and one due to implied threat against her children. What about that comic creator whose employer got harassed due to her comic? (Plebcomic, she lost job and then gained it back due to support campain.) The difference is that gamergate women are on the bad side and are therefore considered legitimate target. They do not matter so their harassment is not reported on.

        Of course, we are still ignoring harassment of males that happen as often and as viciously. Harassment was here before gamergate. Harassment was here before Anita Sarkezian. The only difference is that Anita Sarkezian uses her harassment to silence all criticism of her work – all the while crowd supporting her does very same things. I would like you to find a single tweet where she speaks against that harassment – it does not exists.

        Finally: gamerGate was not even about talking about Anita Sarkezian until she came out of nowhere claiming that her pre-gamergate harassment was somehow done by gamergate. It was not about her.

      3. If i went around suggesting that the Parent’s Television Council was sending me death threats, represented a harassment campaign against me, and must disband – even if the Parent’s Television Council had in fact been critical of my works, and if a couple fundies had sent me death threats – I’d be regarded as at best someone with a serious ax to grind.

        If Anita Sarkeesian says the same stuff about Gamergate, she’s regarded as a brave victim of the evil gamers and an absolutely credible source. And I would argue that this has a lot more to do with the media’s willingness to stigmatize gamers as dangerous individuals – a stereotype that’s been with us since at least Columbine – than with any inherent problems in either Gamergate or the gaming community.

        If you go to a gamergate forum you’ll find a lot of criticism of Sarkeesian and others either writing in or perceived to have close ties to the gaming press, but the activism you’ll find is in the form of writing advertisers about those press outlets’ wrongdoing and publicizing information about them, not sending bombs.

        Any group of people large enough can find assholes who send death threats. A quick google search for “death threats” turns up someone getting sent them over boundary issues in little league baseball – but there’s no corresponding demonization of baseball fans as dangerous or suggestions that Jackie Robinson West should be allowed to keep its current boundaries because someone threatened to kill their coach.

    2. There has been plenty of writing about misogyny in publishing and film, actually.

      I’m glad that the wider culture is still able to take for granted that Rembrandt is of a higher caliber of art than video games. I hope I don’t live to see a time when that is no longer true.

  4. What else is that painting supposed to offer me? How is it relevant to me? Who are those dudes? Why should I care? Elitist intellectuals keep insisting I should care about things like this painting, and sneering at me when I don’t, but why should I?

    What’s weird is that if they weren’t rhetorical or whatever, these questions could be answered with enormous, joyful enthusiasm by almost any art history nerd (which I guess is the wrong kind of nerd, an elitist intellectual.) Take them literally, and they’re asking for better arts education.

  5. I’m always a bit confused by these rants — I mean, yes, it’s true that academia/media are not pushing Rembrandt on the masses, that ‘geek’ culture is largely ascendant on the Twitter feeds you’re reading, etc., but that’s not what these people are talking about, I don’t think.

    What this Tumblr guy is talking about is that lots of people in academia or the NYT still either explicitly state that Rembrandt is greater art than DA:O or condescend to people who see video games as greater art. You, for example, are a person in academia who is doing this, in these posts. These people have internalized the snobby condescension that they’ve experienced at various points in their lives (it really does exist, not sure why you keep saying it doesn’t), and are rebelling against it. Most online media outlets are staffed by people in their 20s/30s so you do see a lot of pro-geek stuff, but condescension about video games definitely exists — I have personally heard it from professors in my program.

    Or I guess, exactly what the commenter above said: “I think the issue is that would be raised is that, more broadly in “popular culture”, it is taken for granted that Rembrandt is of a higher calibre of art than videogames. Videogames are held at an arm’s length in the sense that it is often treated outside of popular culture symbolically.”

    I understand you’re really excited that you got 50 words published in some dark corner of the NYT website on this topic, but I’m not sure how deep of a point it is, really?

    1. What this Tumblr guy is talking about is that lots of people in academia or the NYT still either explicitly state that Rembrandt is greater art than DA:O or condescend to people who see video games as greater art.

      No, they don’t. Cite them! Quote them! Find me an NYT piece that says “Rembrant is greater art than Dragon Age”. You say it’s explicit, so explicitly show me. I mean, the NYT posts far, far more stuff about the critical value of video games today than they post about the visual arts, so even if you could find an individual piece doing what you’re saying is explicitly done, it wouldn’t change the point. But it doesn’t matter: you can’t find someone explicitly saying “you must like Rembrandt,” because such an idea is absurd on its face in contemporary culture.

      I am here asserting, with full confidence, that neither the person who wrote this nor you have ever received any pressure, explicit or implicit, to like Rembrandt, and that neither of you have ever been sneered at, by anyone, ever, for not liking paintings from any artist or era. I am here saying that this claim is not true.

      You, for example, are a person in academia who is doing this, in these posts.

      No, I’m not. In fact, literally the only stance on video games of mine in this piece is affirming my very-real love for video games. Which is exactly my point: people like you are so fact-resistant that you invent these claims no matter how much evidence is brought to bear to demonstrate that this disrespect is itself an invention.

      I understand you’re really excited that you got 50 words published in some dark corner of the NYT website on this topic

      This is the second time I’ve ever linked to that piece on this website, and I did it alongside a half-dozen other things I’ve written on the topic for unpaid blogs. I actually entered the word “geek” into the search bar of this here blog, and that’s how I thought to include it. I suspect that, in fact, you have a stronger emotional reaction the fact that I got published in the NYT than I do, as evidenced by this comment. I left that little post behind months ago. Why are you still carrying it around?

  6. “But I can think of a dozen vistas in DA:I that were just as pretty.”

    In the early days of the internet, I can remember people making similar statement about Ocarina of Time.

    I love video games, but I don’t see when or how one title finally escapes the cycle of ephemera and obsolescence. I re-installed Bioshock last year – a first ballot choice for a game who’s excellence would live on like Stonehenge – and was shocked at how dated it looked and how lousy it played. I mean, my opinion of Brahms has shifted over time, but I’ve never revisited his work and thought, “Fuck, this is unlistenable.”

    Games like Team Fortress 2 and some MMOs receive dynamic updates and are still nice to play years later – but they feel like a ship of Theseus paradox. Can it even be said that you’re playing the same game anymore?

    1. “art” is of course too baggy a term for this. Often, I think especially, if we look to think of Art as a cultural monument (a monument of moment that is both a kind of summing up of an era and perhaps a sign post of what might come), we seek for something that is OF the human but seems to exist outside of it on some other level. Something that can be a view to a moment but eventuates in a seeming universal response to the experience of living.

      Any number of folks will argue with me if say I think Moby Dick is the deepest and most enduring book of American literature–of American imagination. But it will also not be read by very many people unless forced to in an educational setting and then still probably not have any effect on them but some negative one. Moby Dick meant nothing to me until I had lived long enough and thought enough, and perhaps been disillusioned enough to finally be able to hear its singing. And it keeps on teaching me the way words work.

      This is where it seems impossible to translate this kind of experience into the video game world of pop cultural mega-commodities that are intended to be immediately immersive by design. I’m guessing here, because MarioKart is about as deep as I go, but a game that is recalcitrant to audience acceptance seems a design flaw where profit is concerned.

      And indeed, we can say this WAS Melville’s design flaw as an author of books he intended for sale.

      “Why should I care about this?” is always a fair question, but one that can only be answered by the “I” asking it. You have to come to a book, or a painting, or a piece of music, especially if it speaks with a foreign tongue (either out of the past or out of another culture), prepared to even see a tiny sliver of an opening to send your self through to meet it. That of course takes time.

      Which reminded me, strangely, of this about “time” being on the side of “right” and “justice”: When Henry Ward Beecher, arguing the slavery question a few years after Mardi [Melville’s third book], declared that “Time is her [slavery’s] enemy. Liberty will, if let alone, always be a match for oppression,” Frederick Douglass replied. “With a good cow-hide, I could take all that out of Mr. Beecher in five minutes.”

    2. How Brahms is played has also changed over time, I bet. I don’t know much about that, but I know it’s true about Grieg after listening to his own piano roll recordings! I’d describe it as hyper-romantic + twitchy. No modern classical pianist would get away with playing like that.

      Bioshock I’ve never played, but complaining that it looks dated sounds a bit like complaining that Rembrandt isn’t photography. I can, and do, regularly appreciate 20-30 year old games.

    1. An opinion that is years old, that he largely walked back in the ensuing years, coming from someone who is dead.

      1. I’ve never seen the walkback and I followed his blog fairly religiously, 5 years is not ancient history, and are you saying that sentiment no longer exists or is no longer commonplace?

        I’m a white middle aged IT guy who has never been completely up to date on pop culture or felt I needed to defend my videogame playing time, it just seems the idea that videogames as low art, or not even art at all is a pretty commonplace idea. Not that they aren’t popular, or fun, just that they are more Jackie Collins then Fyodor Dostoyevsky…

        1. I’m saying that Ebert is from a decidedly older school in this opinion, that he was roundly mocked for that opinion, and that precisely what preserves the impression you’re talking about is the people complainibg about it. And I’m saying that by any rational measure, video games are so dominant commercially and increasingly critically, it makes no sense to define public perception of them by a condition that you say you don’t like.

          1. It’s very possible the culture is changing/has changed, and I just don’t see it/haven’t really looked for it…

            Now if you could just tell my wife I’m partaking in the artistic revolution of our day and not just wasting time on my tablet I’d certainly appreciate it…

      2. He didn’t walk it back.

        His later writing on the topic was “I still believe this, but I should never have said so. Some opinions are best kept to yourself.” Which is about as non-retractiony as a retraction gets.

        1. You realize that having to point to an individual person demonstrates the weakness of your opinion, right?

  7. have you seen ‘rembrandt’s j’accuse?’ i can’t decide if it’s completely loopy or just sort of loopy.

  8. I don’t think Freddie is 100% correct here, though he’s much closer to 100 than zero. I spent several years in a college atmosphere and did on rare occasions run into the snooty attitude about “high” art vs. “low” art, but it certainly was not ubiquitous or disabling. And some of it was self-imposed; a nagging feeling that I really ought to read this or that “great book” even though I didn’t want to.

    There’s a different attitude I’ve run into far more often; disdain for expressing any admiration for “high art.” Get into a conversation with your friends/family/co-workers about favorite movies, for instance. If something by Fellini or Kurosawa happens to fall in your top ten list it’s a virtual guarantee you’ll get ridiculed right to your face.

    1. If I’m carrying a copy of War and Peace, there are many people who will immediately think “pretentious asshole.” And their right to do so is affirmed by our culture. It is perfectly permissible in 21st century life to be aggressively disdainful and contemptuous about people who like so-called “high art.” To be disdainful and contemptuous about people who like so-called “low art” is to be placed on a continuum of bigotry.

      I mean, look at the post I linked to here. Why is that guy allowed to insult people who like Rembrandt, when the very thesis of his piece is that people who like Rembrandt have no right to insult him?

      1. He is not insulting people who like Rembrandt, he is insulting people he perceives as insulting him:

        “Elitist intellectuals keep insisting I should care about things like this painting, and sneering at me when I don’t, but why should I?”

        No where does he say anything like “people who like Rembrandt are stupid” or “People who like Rembrandt have no right to insult me” he is merely saying that people who sneer at him because of his tastes are wrong, a perfectly valid stance, last time I checked.

        1. Actually, if you bother to actually read his entire post, its whole premise is that his preferences are superior to those of people who might prefer Rembrandt. And, as I made very clear, the whole point is that those people don’t exist, and if some tiny number of them do, they are totally culturally outsiders, and the people who exist to serve and honor his own preferences have the entire weight of capitalism at their backs.

          1. Actually, i did read his entire post and, no, his point was not that his preferences are superior to those who might prefer Rembrandt. He does exactly what you did, confirm somewhat weakly that you have no real hatred of the subject at hand, or even a mild appreciation. Compare:

            You: ” I like video games fine, I really do.”
            Him:”It’s a pretty painting, sure. Of some guys, I guess. They’ve got hats, and the lighting is nice. ”

            Going even further, you push back on a commenter who claimed that you were expressing your preference to Rembrandt over Video games:

            “You, for example, are a person in academia who is doing this, in these posts.

            No, I’m not. In fact, literally the only stance on video games of mine in this piece is affirming my very-real love for video games.”

            The author of this tumblr could say exactly what you just said, that the only stance he took on Rembrandt is his appreciation of it.

          2. But the fact of the matter— you know, facts? reality? evidence? — is that there is no pressure to like Rembrandt in our society! That’s the entire point! You are completely fact resistant on this issue, just like so many others. There is literally nothing that can happen, no piece of outside evidence or event, that can compel you to say, “you’re right, we’re not actually oppressed.” It is an entirely non-falsifiable stance. And the reason is that you guys don’t want to not be oppressed. You prefer to complain. You find it more fun.

          3. Im fact resistant!? Really? Im fact resistant for not backing off a claim I never actually made? No where did i claim that I or anyone else is oppressed, or under any pressure to like Rembrandt. I was merely pointing out that you were misrepresenting the tumblr person’s argument, a fact which you conveniently ignored in your zeal to accuse me of ignoring the facts.

            You claim that “no piece of outside evidence or event, that can compel you to say, “you’re right, we’re not actually oppressed.””. Really? Ok here goes, you’re right, he (im not much of a gamer so im not going to say we) are not actually oppressed. I think that ‘oppressed’ is an exaggeration on your part, but hey, thats just me.

            But do go on. Do lecture me about the facts while ignoring them yourself. By all means, tell me about reality while simply imagining what you would have liked me to say. Wag your finger at me about evidence while inventing out of whole cloth what I believe.

        2. I think, “why should I care about this thing that you like” is at least mildly insulting, isn’t it? Rather than, “not my personal taste, thanks.” It’s also a bizarre way to approach art. Whatever it happens to be that you personally like, did you demand from somebody objective criteria for liking it before you decided to like it?

          1. Mildly, perhaps. But again, in this context, he is insulting those he perceives as insulting him. The “why should i care about the thing you like” is directed at “sneering” “Elitist intellectuals”, not Rembrandt fans generally.

            Now, maybe those sneering elitist intellectuals dont really exist, or are unimportant, but i dont see all Rembrandt fans as his target here.

      2. Do you even need to ask this?

        Man, fine art is a class marker. Whatever else it is, it is that. Lots and lots of people struggle themselves through War and Peace because they want to be the kind of people who have read War and Peace. It is the taint of class ambition. It’s often hard to decide if someone really loves it on its own merits, or is just a social climber.

        The latter doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re faking it, exactly. You can become a genuine expert on Tolstoy, but still not shake people’s suspicions about your elitist motives. And maybe sometimes people’s suspicions are justified!

        Academia’s interest in computer games is viewed with suspicions for similar reasons. I don’t think you’re faking your interest in games. I certainly don’t think you do it just to appear “more in touch with the common man”. But to some degree you – like virtually all academics taking computer games seriously – are looking at it from the outside. Your life story is very different from Tarn Adams’, or Markus Persson’s, I bet. And some people engaging it from the outside, the subculture is damn justified to be suspicious about.

        This is very different from if you were talking about, say, classical music. That is a subculture that belongs to academia, in a sense. It’s a tradition that lives and propagates itself in conservatories. When academics write about classical music, for good or bad they tend to write from the inside, or in any case from somewhere very close to it.

          1. It’s just pretty much the Field of Cultural Production, though. I think it’s more default in popular culture that High Art has presumed intrinsic value over videogames. That is, everyone can look at a Rembrandt and say, oh, it’s pretty, and it is universally acknowledged that it is an Important Thing in a way that is not yet with videogames (I mean Jesus, one in every five journal articles still has issues using games vs video games vs videogames vs computer games). There’s a presumed universal appeal in Art (and music and film, I think) that is not yet present in videogames. This is the way I think it is still “excluded” (except obviously not oppressed because lol) from being simply “default”, that is, having assumed instrinsic value in popular culture in the same way that music and film and art is. Games are viewed generally as a pasttime – but not necessarily something you would say is on the same plane as taking in Art. People really into videogames are “weirdos”, in the same way that classical scholars are, but there’s the assumption that the classical scholar is unearthing some esoteric knowledge and not jerking off in his mom’s basement like the gamer. This doesn’t mean “normal” people don’t play games (I mean mobile gaming is pretty much at saturation point), but the games they play are not considered Art-worthy. And a lot of this to do is “videogames'” fault, in so strictly policing this identity of “gamer”. I don’t think it’s mutually exclusive with this newfound thinkpiece culture or the rise of game studies that you’re talking about, as well: this is driven by the fact that there is money on the table, in terms of cultural capital. In saying “gee these things have value, [look at everyone not appreciating them]”, video game scholars/people into videogames are asserting their own cultural capital by this pasttime as Art.

          2. What wing?

            Yes, it’s assertion, but I had thought it wouldn’t be controversial assertions (you make plenty of assertions yourself). We do thing because we enjoy them, sure, but we also do things to fit in and gain access to places we’d like to be. Sometimes more of the one, sometimes more of the other. When random internet commenter expresses his indifference to Rembrandt, don’t you think that has something to do with signaling?

            “High art” has raised suspicions about ambition and insincerity, for so long as there has been a high art/popular art divide in the general public. When you look at a lot of stereotypical modern art, and listen to a lot of contemporary classical music, it’s sometimes hard to believe they weren’t DESIGNED to provoke that reaction. I mean, “Can they really like this? It sounds like 25 minutes of a depressed bee swarm!”

            You’re complaining about this suspicion as if it was unreasonable. But it isn’t. All subcultures with even a hint of prestige somewhere really do have their posers (a word which, merriam webster informs me, was first recorded in 1869.) although it may not be nice to call anyone in particular that, without a very good reason.

          3. You are an absolutely perfect example of how so many whining, crying geeks react to my arguments. You take my point, find yourself unable to address its actual substance, then wildly moving the goal posts to try and prove an assertion that has nothing to do with my point. The entire point of my post is that the notion that this urge is widespread or powerful is totally indefensible in the modern world. And you completely prove my point that, in fact, what’s happening here is not that people who like video games want to defend their right to enjoy that art, which absolutely no one has any resistance to. Instead, you want to bash what other people like, while simultaneously insisting that everyone else respect what you like.

            This insecurity is so pathetic. You guys are the bullies now. You are the 800 pound gorilla. You control our culture. You get everything you want! Why are you still crying?

  9. Why should I care about Rembrandt when this new entertainment product is available at a reasonable price right now? Surely the manner in which I choose to spend the next 20 hours of my leisure time eclipses to irrelevance every other thing made by humans before this moment in history? It’s not enough that I enjoy myself with this disposable entertainment object before moving on to the next one — I also have to be able to tell myself, when it’s done, that my time was spent just as productively, that I’m just as enriched, as if I’d read one of those novels that they assign in Lit classes or if I’d gone to the museum and looked at some dusty old paintings. Quit telling me I’m being stupid, imaginary authority figures whose voices I hear bubbling up from my subconscious!

    Also, I demand that people quit unfavorably comparing Cheetos to kale. I happen to like Cheetos!

  10. To get away from Rembrandt (!) a bit, it might be worth thinking about geek culture this way: Should you put your favorite video games in your dating site profile if you’re a guy, the way you would your favorite film, or your favorite show ? How would you be perceived? Or, to flip the genders, what about a woman that lists Twilight as her favorite book? There is a stigma people are aware of, and there are no shortage of people that will tell you that professing a love for Half-Life 2 means you’re not getting laid (which is a whole other weird thing). That’s not to say that films or Rembrandt (!) don’t have their own social signifiers, but that gets to a point that I know you’ve argued on this blog. That pop-culture is often a shorthand for your social value, and even a substitute for political thinking. I think it’s fair to separate something’s commercial value from it’s supposed social value and perception.

    And I do emphasize perception because, honestly, my best experiences on dating sites was when I unleashed the inner-geek. I do think people get too worked up about the weirdos that make these kind of petty judgments about someone. For as many people that make summary judgments about someone’s life because they played Final Fantasy, there are plenty of others that feel left out for not being a part of the geek common culture. That said, I’m well aware of how that stigma does exist.

    1. I dunno. I’m a classical musician by trade, and all my favorite music is… classical. But according to my dating profile, I’m a fan of Fugazi and GY!BE. I know what would happen if I admitted to preferring Boulez and Stockhausen.

  11. Rembrandt is racist. High culture is racist. The Night Watch is racist.

    Anyone who likes Rembrandt, high culture, or The Night Watch is racist.

    Wait, I could make the big bucks as a Gen Y tweeter/Gawker columnist…

      1. You just say that because you’re racist.

        Face it: The Night Watch is racist. Rembrandt was racist.

        Frans Hals was no doubt even more racist. Ingres was SUPER-racist.

        The Western high art tradition is racist.

        You were probably rooting for Beck during the Grammies, weren’t you? You need to check your privilege.

  12. Eh, in essence these people simply try to soothe their own conscience. That’s why you barely if ever see such things written by people who are not actually at a level where the media they enjoy consuming consciously registers as low-brow for them. You never see people who, without a hint of irony, without even a shred of self-awareness enjoy nerd culture, write such things. The ones who do are people who do know all the things wrong with nerd culture (as perceived by them or the group they belong to) and why it might be perceived, rightly or wrongly, not by an outside group but by themselves as being inferior to, say, Rembrandt.

    This is because these articles are actually a form of monologue. The lowly pleb enjoying fast food media with 0 value and the snobby elitist tut-tutting at them for doing so are one and the same person. It’s an entirely internal process, which it would have remained until now if it weren’t for the internet.

    Basically, imagine Edward Hyde tweeting/blogging/posting on tumblr about what a goodie two-shoes moral elitist jerk Dr. Jekyll is.

  13. I wouldn’t call it oppression (lol) but there is a large degree of disconnect between what “really” makes up geek culture and the the aspects of geek culture are explicitly talked about in the context of geek culture being mainstream. What that statement really means is “everyone plays video games in some context” and “everyone watches special effects laden sci-fi/fantasy movies/shows.” This is how we end up with stuff like “What is Twitch? A Vox explainer” for a site that sold for $1b and is the something like the 3rd or 4th most trafficked site on the internet despite the fact that “everyone” plays video games.

    And none of this is underground or subcultural or anything, of course, it’s just which aspects of a gazillion dollar industry made up of corporate behemoths marketers/tastemakers/etc. give a shit about talking up. One of my favorite examples to use here is Magic the Gathering, which more or less only gets referenced as “Oh yeah that thing I played for a month in 7th grade back in the 90s” when meanwhile it’s enormously grown into one of Hasbro’s (an S&P 500 component) biggest brands. Why Guardians of the Galaxy but not Magic? Honestly I have no idea. Neither of them are the little guy.

    1. Parents can watch Guardians of the Galaxy with their kids/teens. It’s a little harder to do that with most video games, or even Magic. If the whole family can enjoy it, it’s something everyone can enjoy.

      Not a full explanation to your point, but I actually think that’s a lot of it.

  14. “Why should I care?” Seriously? There’s a single word to describe this attitude: Ahistoricism.

    The fabulous artistic screenscapes of the gaming universe did not spring perfectly formed from the forehead of whoever founded the graphic card industry. It’s in the same class as Henry Ford’s “history is bunk” bon mot. It’s really stupid to denigrate old examples of whatever – artistic expression, in this case – in favor of a much more recent form which, while perhaps a significant achievement in itself, is dependent upon a long history of expression and a set of technologies which was not even imagined at the time of the archaic item in question.

    I’m not saying anyone has to “like” the Rembrandt, but it should be appreciated for it’s significance, import, and innovation in context. In that sense, it’s undeniably more important and significant than 99.9% of video games, just as it’s more important, and significant that 99.9% of paintings from it’s contemporaneous era.

    Lack of context, lack of historical awareness and sensitivity…explains so much of what’s wrong on all sides of today’s cultural and political debates. On the other hand, cf. Henry Ford, for example, has it ever been much different?

    Thanks for your site, Freddie. Always something interesting, if not thought-provoking. Now back to deadening my brain with India Pale Ale.

    — sixpacksongs

    1. “I’m not saying anyone has to “like” the Rembrandt, but it should be appreciated for it’s significance, import, and innovation in context.”

      A problem here, then, is that art studies are not very trustworthy when it comes to assessing significance, import and innovation in context.

      There is a double problem: on one hand, you have to be inside the culture to understand it. For instance, if you come from an outside perspective and see Populous (1989) or Dwarf Fortress (2006) for the first time, you’re probably not going to see immediately why they are important and influential. If you’re a strictly classical musician and hear My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless” for the first time, you’re not going to immediately understand why it’s important.

      You can’t identify importance with sales figures. Nor can you necessarily identify it with critical acclaim, because not all domains have a working system of criticism, and even when they do, critics can get things spectacularly wrong.

      And that brings me to the second point. Coming at a culture from the outside leaves you with many disadvantages. But being an insider has risks as well. The main risk is that you may have a pretty big stake in who gets recognized as influential/important. I can name a lot of extremely obscure contemporary classical Norwegian composers who were declared as “influential” within their own sphere of criticism, when they were around. Music textbooks still declare them as influential to this day.

      But they really weren’t. They didn’t even matter in their own microscopic niche. They were so un-influential that you have to go to library archives to even hope to find a recording of their music. And that is despite publicly funded orchestras, and record companies like Naxos that would gladly buy a recording off them (for a fixed price, no royalties…) no matter how obscure the music is.

      I think there are two valid approaches. One is to come from outside, like an anthropologist, and try to understand, not to judge. MoMA did that, and they identified Dwarf Fortress as an influential game. Not bad, in my opinion.

      The other is to be an insider, but to strenuously avoid conflicts of interest, and have an attitude of great humility with respect to popularity. For the “anthropologist”, disagreeing with popular (inside-subculture) opinion is no big deal, because he doesn’t really pass judgement on anyone anyway. But the insider critic does judge. He carries a lot more baggage with him, a lot more opinions on what he wants to succeed/be influential, which can cloud his judgment on what will. An insider critic with a minority opinion is often wrong. Which doesn’t mean he should censor it, but he should acknowledge it.

  15. What I’m not finding here is any attempt to propose the way one values or appreciates or learns or grows or understands…the human world from an experience of these two (to my mind very different) objects: a painting of historical and artistic interest and a video game. I think it’s fair to generalize these objects within their larger context.

    Which is to say, all that’s being posted are cultural markers or class markers or race markers or “the insider” or the academic or the gamer and so on.

    The post, of course, challenges an individual expression and extrapolates it to a cultural meme that I’d say reads something akin to the White Christian claiming “victimhood” in a country that is 80% White and Christian. The technologist being the Christian now I suppose (though the percentages are lower in terms of proselytizing perhaps, but not in terms of social immersion in a context–esp. with movies and games being almost a symbiotic product).

    And that seems only a kind of observable phenomenon.

    But what of the Art?

    If we say “I can’t understand why anyone cares about X” (or more aggressively, “who cares” means “only an idiot, in this current social environment–I almost used milieu there but worried over the consequences here–would value X…it has lost all meaning,” we may simply be pointing to a perceptual/cognitive language barrier. What if X who denigrates Y simply can no longer “read” meaning or value into it?

    What is Art?

  16. Hi Freddie, I really liked your post a few days ago, “the least helpful way to argue”. It stuck with me, and that’s why this current one struck me as funny — you’re exactly doing what you said people shouldn’t do:

    PyrrhicComedy is explicity citing and reacting to a photo circulated for the purpose of ridiculing people for not appreciating Rembrandt. Now you’re carrying out that “no one is arguing that” tactic: he’s reacting to a (visual) argument, and you’re responding that “no one” is making that argument he just pointed to.

    In that earlier post, you also skewered the dismissive response such an arguer would make if further examples were cited:

    >“oh, well, sure, that guy argues for X, but hardly anybody argues for X.” Or,
    even more often, some version of “nobody important argues for X.”.

    ….which you then used almost verbatim in response to someone mentioning Roger Ebert:

    >And, as I made very clear, the whole point is that those people don’t exist, and if some tiny number of them do, they are totally culturally outsiders

    and

    >You realize that having to point to an individual person demonstrates the weakness of your opinion, right?

    What I liked about “the least helpful way to argue” was that it acknowledged that people have the experiences they have, and argue from it — saying that what they’re perceiving isn’t real, even when examples are given, doesn’t leave any basis for continued discussion. It seems more constructive to say, “Yes, there exist Rembrandt snobs, but here’s why I think you don’t need to worry about them as much as you do”. Or, maybe, “Here’s something interesting you can learn from Rembrandt”.

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