Just finished reading Ready Player One by Ernst Cline, which is an incredibly fun and fast-moving thriller about a deceased billionaire who hides the clues to his fortune inside a virtual reality world and the team of plucky kids who attempt to find it (while battling a ruthless mega-corporation all the way, of course). Very much worth reading.
The weird thing about the book, though, is that the billionaire is really into 80s pop culture (because he was a teen in the 80s) and the key to finding his fortune–billions upon billions of dollars + control of his company and his virtual world–depends on being your mastery of 1980s video games and movies. Which the book, and all of its main characters, seem to think is just super cool. Like, of course, it’s a geek’s dream. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there was some legitimate reason to watch Monty Python 147 times? Or to play Atari games until your thumbs fall off?
Like, at no point in the entire book does a single character stand up and be like, “Umm, isn’t this weird and unhealthy? None of this stuff is really that important…”
And I’m not saying that the book should have contained that, but it just goes to show, the book is serious. It, on some level, really does believe that 1980s cartoons and video games and movies and music are, I don’t know, what. That they’re safe and vibrant and better than reality, and that if you really like them, then you’re obviously some kind of superior person.
That’s the premise of the whole book, after all. The reason that the main characters can solve the puzzle and the evil corporation can’t is because the main chars are real fans, and the evil corporation isn’t soulful enough to really enjoy awesome stuff like that.
And it seems like more and more popular novels use ‘liking geeky stuff’ as a code for ‘this is a worthwhile and special person.’ I’m reminded, for instance, of the Leila Sales novel I recently read, This Song Will Save Your Life, where the protagonist really liked all this older music: the Pixies and the Strokes and stuff. Which is cool and all, but…liking old music doesn’t make you a better person. It doesn’t make you more worthy of being loved. Why is it that you never read a kid’s book where the protagonist is really into One Direction or Taylor Swift? How come you never read a novel that’s about someone who doesn’t like to read? I mean, after all, most people in the world don’t enjoy reading. Are we so profoundly alienated from them that we’re unable to imagine that people who don’t consume our preferred media can still have vivid and complex mental lives?
There is something very sad and impoverished about the view of human relations that is promoted by lots of popular novels. Sometimes it seems like novels have forgotten that there’s a deeper sympathy of souls that can arise between two human beings. We already know that two people who really like old movies can come together and talk old movies and have a fantastic time and feel connected to each other.
What we forget, though, is that friendship and love aren’t about shared interests. They involve a sense of connection and understanding that goes deeper than that. They’re about…a…a…a sense of fascination with each other. And that loving the same geeky shit really does nothing to provoke or prolong that sense of fascination. All it does is give you something to talk about once in awhile.