Here’s a harsh lesson, might as well learn it before you’re on your death bed: if you’re the kind of person who consumes a lot, yet you neither share what you consume or enrich anyone’s life with said consumption, the problem isn’t with the unwashed masses who don’t get it. The problem is with you.
See, I’m the kind of person who likes to indulge, overthink, and explore things (provided I can afford it). Latest blockbuster/oscar bait/art house/”indie” movie playing at a movie theater? I’m there. A restaurant name-dropped in the Village Voice or some other rag? Sign me up! Music? I’m willing to jump into something different. That’s how I discovered James Blake, the community of ccMixter and Death Grips (ok, James Blake is not THAT innovative, they’re clearly inspired by R&B, Dubstep and other stuff. Plus, Fantastic Mr Fox and others have been doing similar shit for a while…but damn it, he’s cool).
But wait, there’s more! Books? Well, I’m not much of a fiction reader (I mean, I recently read “Neuromancer”. Awesome as shit. “This Book is Full of Spiders” by David Wong? It’s ok, I guess), but I do spend a LOT of time at the library, looking in corners of the past, some overrated, others obscure. Comics? Well, I have a friend to thank for introducing me to the awesomeness of Miles Morales as Spider Man. Plus I’ve read Maus, Persepolis, Epileptic, Akira, hentai- I mean, lots of manga…and Barefoot Gen, so there’s that. Gaming? Hell yeah! Love browsing Good Old Games. Oh, I do play newer titles, like Metro: Redux for the PS4, which is…ok. I mean, Metro 2033? Pretty damn good, but Metro: Last Light feels like it is held hostage by it’s own generic FPS traits. Sure, the atmosphere is still there, but it’s more obvious than ever that you’re on-rails the entire time. Plus, the game’s side character, Anna, starts out strong and brawny at the outset, winds up fridged one moment, and then she’s just a generic damsel who…ok, nevermind on that.
Here’s the thing: how, exactly, does one measure how much of a person one is because of such consumption? Who can ever gain the “right” to measure one’s worth in such a way? Furthermore, does such consumption really guide one in life, make one a better lover, a better friend, a better philosopher or even a better artist? Sure, one prefers to think of themselves as a good person when they attend an orchestra, travel to a place they haven’t experienced before, or treat a plate of exotic food like they’re Anthony Bourdain mixed with Indiana Jones (so…basically Anthony Bourdain, if his writing is any indication). But that brings up something else: initially when one does something new (or at least something one likes), initially one is all, “Wow, this is great”. Soon, one asks, “What does this do for me, exactly?”, or more to the point, “Why am I doing this?”
The answer to that “Why?” can say a lot about a person…on the inside. Outside, in the “real world”…not so much. One doesn’t exactly look “photogenic” while browsing dusty vinyl records, looking for rare comics on Ebay, or comparing scenes from 70s porn movies while high…but that’s not what I have a problem with. I mean, I’m a century away from Abercrombe or Ebony magazine material, myself.
No, my real contention is with the snob. The one who treats consumption not as a selfish urge (that would at least be sympathetic)…hell, snobs aren’t even the kind of person who has “standards”, because that implies genuine self-respect, self-love. Snobs treat the act of consumption, if not life in general, like a game. These people seem to have it in their heads that they’re waging a war on the masses. They’re the kind of person for whom love of a medium, work, genre, category, philosophy or even creed is below the dream of them being above someone else, no matter how much they protest. One usually encounters them while waiting in line for a movie screener, wandering through an art gallery, going to church, or drinking at a bar…but the internet has made these people your neighbors. These are the people who give consumption a bad name.
I’m not shitting on consumption in general (despite the title of this piece), but neither am I going to be all “above it all” just because I say some edgy bullshit, acting all high and mighty while the rest of the populace has no choice but to live on Nestle foodstuffs…then having the gall to craft some apocalyptic vision of The Cultured Us rising from the ashes of The Unwashed Who Don’t Think Like Us (oftentimes, the only difference between consumer culture and religious fundamentalism are the clothes and music…or maybe I’m splitting hairs). That’s the kind of person that pisses me off. They should piss any decent human being off, because…ok, it’s one thing to go off the edge and piss people off because of what you’ve done, what you’ve said, or because of how you spend your time compared to other people (even if the latter is none of their fucking business to begin with). It’s another to misunderstand Nietzsche and think, “Maybe this painful loneliness and my curmudgeon behavior means I’M the right one and they’re not.” Just…no. The people I look up to and learned from probably irritated the fuck out of at least one person because of their research, outreach, obsessions and conclusions. Sometimes we really are irritating.
Other times, it’s because some people just don’t like that, almost to the degree that they’re willing to hurt other nerds, even when we’re not hurting anybody (ok, the writer of The Pervocracy hurts people, but that’s consentual). That’s life…but that doesn’t mean that one has to become the bully as a result. Nerds like myself often believe they will be the ones to end the cycle of pain just because they hone all of their resentment and lash out the hardest, like in a fucking Dragon Ball Z episode. It doesn’t work that way. Pain spreads, no matter how sharp you aim, how smart you think you are, or how honed your rhetoric is…in the end, you’ll wind up staring at an empty, dusty husk that used to be you, and no one will love you…not even if you know what Brie cheese actually is, as opposed to the compromised stuff they sell at supermarkets.
On the other hand, there are awesome people who are big consumers in their own way, and they’re not assholes about it. Jonathan Rosenbaum (Movies), Somecallmejohnny (Video Games), Nathan Rabin (Also Movies), Ami Angelwings and others of Escher Girls (Comics), The Pervocracy (BDSM, Not Safe For Work)…hell I JUST mentioned Alton Brown on my last piece. These are people who are detailed, helpful, and have no problem sharing their obsessions and insights with others. Maybe one will disagree with them, maybe they will make mistakes, but one can’t say that they’re unkind (unless the situation calls for it).
No matter what, however, whether you’re changed for the better or worse, whether you apply your experiences or just go on to the next “interesting” thing like Netflix teaches us to do…consumption is a way of life. It’s not a bad thing…as long as one realizes the limits and the costs. Problem is: most people don’t. Most people are taught to never think about the limits and the costs. We’re taught that salvation is a purchase or retweet away (and I say this as a massive Twitter user). We’re taught that somehow through our rampant consumption, we’re making the world a better place just because it’s honed somehow, not because we actually think about stuff…hence we have #KONY2012 one moment, and the absolute clusterfuck of GamerGate the next.
In a society where one is deemed worthy based on how much they “contribute to the economy”, more than they are for their insight or even their own action, there is no choice but to consume. To not consume in this world is to be dead, and if that latter choice seems desirable…I can’t blame you. But if we’re going to be stuck in a world where people sell us the same shit over and over again but with different labels, where we’re hyped every single fucking year by pointless bullshit, and where the concept of value is nothing more than a con we buy into for the sake of “culture” (if it ever was anything else)…we have to start making noise. Meaningful noise. Noise that goes beyond the surface of things, even if all we’re doing is discussing the themes of a Terry Gilliam movie or going off about how Chipotle is fake “Mexican Food” for racist hipsters.
Don’t be afraid to overthink, explore, and indulge. Just try not to be an asshole.
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