That Charlie Sheen thing didn’t last long, did it?
From approximately early January (I can’t be certain of the exact begin date considering a search of the AV Club’s archives turns up 164 answers to the query “Charlie Sheen”) when the country learned of Charlie’s crazy substance abuse superpowers, his desire to create a porn family, the tiger blood, winning (duh!), and all the other seemingly unbelievable (read: Holy shit, this is actually happening in reality?!?) until about – what, May at some point? – when CBS announced Ashton Kutcher as Sheen’s replacement on “Two and a Half Men” we were all fully within the crazy Charlie Sheen vortex.
Think about the elements of this story for a moment. You’ve got the star of the #1 sitcom in the United States, hookers, cocaine, Twitter, the president of the #1 network in the United States, something called “vanity cards,” porn stars, an eager public, and professional publicity exploiter Dr. Drew all involved. It’s a huge fucking story, but lasts only 4 months.
Why? Our culture churns and burns this stuff at a clip thought previously unimaginable and turns the page like a meth addict reading a manual on how to smoke meth more efficiently. The Charlie Sheen thing left with barely a whisper about Ashton Kutcher as the new star of the nation’s #1 sitcom, and was promptly shown the door by the revelation that the most recent former Governor of California, not to mention star of no less than 7 movies that grossed over $100 million, banged his house maid, fathered her child that is the same age as one of his children whom he had with his wife, and is currently trying to make some sort of Terminator reboot. This event, it bears mentioning, is greeted with a mere shrug among the people I know despite it being abstractly the biggest political/celebrity scandal in over 10 years.
What’s the point of all this? Weirdness is dead. I am simultaneously shocked all the time, and yet surprised by nothing. Our culture has reached satiation point and there is nowhere left to go. Good luck.
Back in December Patton Oswalt wrote an essay for Wired called “Wake Up, Geek Culture. Time to Die.” In it, he argues with the sheer volume of culture available at our fingertips at all times, the terms “nerd” and “geek” have been stripped of all their original meaning. Geeks used to be classified as a species who relentlessly sought and consumed all the available texts of their given passion (comics, sci-fi, the work of David Cronenberg, underground British punk rock, whatever) and lived (at least) a half step outside of mainstream culture. The texts pursued by geeks were not readily accessible and therefore had a smaller following.
Oswalt argues that thanks to the internet, we live in a new state of being, handily christened by Oswalt ETEWAF: Everything That Ever Was-Available Forever. No one’s a geek or a nerd anymore because no one has to work hard at being a hardcore fan of anything, ever. Thanks to Netflix, you can digest all four seasons of “Mad Men” in less than a month. You can read about 3 articles on newly launched Grantland.com and get up to speed on fawned over and highly regaled former sports newspaper “The National.” Or you can do as Patton Oswalt himself notes and head over to the AV Club and read their Gateways to Geekery piece about subversive, speculative fiction writer Harlan Ellison and be up to speed on his impressive oeuvre in less than 20 minutes.
What’s my point? With the death of geekery comes the death of subversion, and subsequently, the death of weirdness. And since we have access to Everything That Ever Was-Available Forever, there is no filter anymore. Everything makes it to our eyeballs in this day and age. You’re just as likely to be relatively aware of the newest episode of “Mike and Molly” on CBS as you are to be aware of “a post-apocalyptic Western adapted from a series of Korean graphic novels about a vampire-hunting killer priest” (the movie Priest, released just over a month ago, starring Paul Bettany).
No one can demarcate their nerd obsessions anymore, because obsessions are mostly superficial badges you choose to wear in order to self-identify to strangers. Hi, I like World of Warcraft. Greetings, I’m a hipster who would have Stephen Malkmus’s babies if I were able and could continue wearing this ironic mustache I think is hilarious. Geek obsessions are essentially meaningless now since everyone in the entire world can know basically everything there is to know about your dumb little world in less than half a Wikipedia article.
And since there are no geeks anymore, there is virtually nothing even mildly classifiable as “weird” either. I’m a regular viewer of “Tosh.0” on Comedy Central, and while I recognize the act of watching jackasses embarrass themselves on film is not a new concept – this show is basically “America’s Funniest Home Videos” updated for the 21st century – I remain amazed at what we can watch on basic cable anymore.
The most recent episode features two teenaged boys getting into a fight with a massive dildo, a group of shitheads each attempting to eat a pound of butter, and a cake in the shape of a dead baby (among other things). On “Tosh.0’s” close (and lame) cousin “Web Soup” I watched a guy drink a shot of puke.
None of these things, while amusing to whatever extent, were particularly troubling for me (ok, the guy drinking the puke was a bit tough to watch). Thanks to shows like this, writing roughly half of our 97 Happy Fridays where we scoured the internet for links every week for over two years, knowing what goatse.cx is and why you should never search for it (double goes for “Tubgirl”), and living in a world where you can get yourself featured in a Microsoft commercial for crying while you look at two rainbows, I am fully tapped out in being shocked by anything.
I basically wake up expecting weirdness, and get it. I heard about Schwarzenegger and wasn’t the least bit surprised. More alarmingly, I didn’t even care. Growing up, and now living, in a culture where Clarence Thomas, Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, Bob Packwood, John Edwards, Larry Craig, Mark Foley, Anthony Weiner, and about 100 other guys I can’t recall off the top of my head, all found themselves embroiled in sex scandals, has left me numb.
I work in public relations and intersect with local, state, and sometimes federal politicians often. At first I was surprised, then dismayed, by how many of the guys I liked and respected were diddling someone on the side. It’s not a few isolated incidents, it’s damn near everyone. What is it about politics that turns these assholes into such juvenile horndogs? Short answer: Probably succumbing to a perpetual motion machine of adulation from hot 23 year-old staff members attracted to power, but I digress.
I’m not surprised when rumor has it Gov. Bill Owens either impregnated a woman who now lives in Wyoming or diddled any number of people on his staff while he was Governor of Colorado. Nor am I surprised when Miguel Cabrera or Shin-Soo Choo get a DUI during spring training. That’s not to say I’m cynical, I’m equally nonplussed when good things happen.
It’s just that my capacity for weirdness has expanded to the point where I can’t feel anything anymore. Nothing surprises me. I should have been aghast when Shit My Dad Says became an actual network TV show, but the whole thing had an air of inevitability to it that I just hoped the show wouldn’t suck (It did). When I find out Hollywood is somehow trying to make movies out of toy company Wham-O’s products Frisbee, Slip ‘n Slide, and the Hula Hoop, I wonder why it took so long to get to making movies around products after exhausting every fucking comic book, 60s, 70s, and 80s TV show, classic cartoon, and pretty much everything else out there already. I look forward to five years from now when the Mrs. Dash movie arrives and blows us all away with deliciousness.
For better and for worse, we live in a culture where literally nothing is impossible and everything is on the table. Bill Simmons coined a term several years ago called “The Tyson Zone.” He posits that one enters the Tyson Zone when someone can tell you any rumor about that person, you automatically assume it to be true. I think the world has entered the Tyson Zone, and it’s killed my ability to be shocked.
So whether Charlie Sheen claims to have tiger blood running through his veins, or we sit and wait for that breathtaking movie about the Slinky, I’ll raise nary an eyebrow at any of it.
Because anything is possible. And we’re all worse off for it.
Born: Whenever Jesus walked on water
Died: The debut of the show “Sister Wives” in 2010.
16 Jun 2011 E Dagger