I’m losing my patience for trivia worship. I don’t have a mind for holding facts — at least not facts about popular culture. I’m a goddamn encyclopedia for pet behavior and grammar laws, but I haven’t found my flock of fellow bird & word nerds, yet. If geeks are excited about counterculture, then why do I only ever hear them exchanging social affirmations? Do you know about this? Do you know about that? Do we fall on our knees for the same gods?
Real eggheads study an obscure or challenging subject and revel in the love of knowledge. Media culture geeks are just like any insecure high-schooler who wants to be part of a clique that’s big enough for safety in numbers but exclusive enough to be “cool.”
Yes, we’ve decided that a certain amount of geekitude is cool. But, no poindexter is standing on a table, reciting arcane theorems and getting all the ladies at the parties. People are doing what they’ve always done, and that’s dish news and check that everyone knows the what-what of the happening, socially shaming people who can’t get with the program. What’s changed is that the never-ending internet has given us more what-what to sputter over our red cups. Almost anything goes as long as you have a little tribe of other geeks who are into your geek kink. And you do have a little tribe. You’ve seen them somewhere on Tumblr.
I understand, I really do, that having a common lexicon is a short cut to establishing shared experiences. But if you go on and on about Naruto, and I don’t know jack about Naruto, what am I supposed to do? Pretend I know what you’re talking about so I can skip on the noob history lesson? Change the subject? Point out that you’re a fucking nerd?
In a perfect world, I’d tell you I don’t know jack about whatever-his-face guy-with-a-rune on his headband (at first I thought it was blue-arrow-forehead child. Don’t act shocked, they’re both animated kids shows and I’m not a kid). Don’t give me a history lesson, I’d say. Instead, share an experience or an insight you gained from watching the show.
Do you really need to figure out which episodes we’ve both seen? Why can’t you just tell me what it all means to you? How it compares to your daily life? How it’s improved your relationship with your daughter? Why do I have to partake in this pissing contest that is proving I know enough about your geek fantasy to belong in your geek fantasy?
This trivia spouting infects everything with a fandom, music appreciation included. Particularly, I don’t know how to react when a person knows more about my favorite band (Queens of the Stone Age)* than I do. I don’t know all the names of all the band members, though I’m certainly familiar with their discography. I can sketch out a list of songs for most albums with decent accuracy. Not that I care — I’ve just listened to R, Songs for the Deaf, Lullabies & Clockwork enough friggin’ times to know.
So, when this guy knows some obscure trivia (historical dates, formation of this or that) about my QOTSA and I yawn and pretend I know Josh Homme held this or that concert for his dead friend because I’m a bit embarrassed at my lack of expertise for my self-proclaimed “favorite”… when this guy goes off on some story I frankly don’t care about (don’t get me wrong, I’m impressed he’s retained so much information on his not-favorite-band), I’m realizing I need to just say: “Hey, thanks for teaching me something new, but what does it all really mean to you?”
When he gives me his baffled response, a “what” or a blank stare, I elaborate, “I don’t really care about the trivia. I care about the music. And I care about the music because of the band’s particular influence on my family, the way the shows I’ve attended shaped my understanding of rock and live performance and human appreciation for both. Tell me about an event you went to, how you felt, which beer you drank, how much sweat stained your t-shirt.”
I’ll tell you I first saw them when I was 17, with my dad in Austin, Texas. People there thought maybe he was robbing the cradle, because I dressed a bit too stylish and they didn’t know I was his daughter. I stood on my tiptoes to watch the longest drum solo I’ve ever seen, in a tiny venue called the Rose (it’s a lot like the Casbah, if you’re familiar with that), for “Feel Good Hit of the Summer.” I saw people smoking weed and carefully looked to my dad for an appropriate reaction, as I’d never seen the stuff before.
Don’t recite some band drama you picked up in your readings — some trivia that has nothing to do with you. Make it personal. Make it you. Bands are bands and some are better, but I’m not sitting in a spa with Josh Homme so what do I care if he wrote this or that song in this or that city? Unless, of course, *you* lived in that city.
What I’m trying to say is, I coasted through my history classes because they weren’t *my* story. I’m much more interested in humans right in front of me than humans that are “popular” enough to make it to the books or the silver screen. I’m more interested in you. Tell me a tale, and make it one I can’t watch on TV. Tell me something I don’t know.
As media expands, these little clusters of allegiance to external narratives (Did you watch the new Game of Thrones? Are you into Attack on Titan?) might just fall apart. Lifespans of trends are shortening as the fire hose of popular media keeps pouring. We can’t keep up with everything. Certainly, established common ground makes us feel less alone. But I hope that the growth of communication technologies connects us such that we don’t need these superficial obsessions to lope along in a conversation. We could download in instants what someone else has already digested (here’s an emotion/dream/experience I had — let me transmit it to you in a microsecond so you know what I mean) and instead of validating that we’re on the same island of thought, examine and compare our reactions in the same moment. Make meaning, not just chase meaning laid out before us for us to follow like helpless human eyes scan a constantly flashing, changing TV screen. Quit worshiping trivia. Create your own legends.
*P.S. I’m going to the show in SF on the 17th! Will I see any other San Diegans there?