On Subcultures

I was reading this elaborate (and reasonably fascinating) piece on the financial mechanics behind Phish (the jam band, as opposed to the ice cream with the little fudge fish in it) and by the end of it, I felt almost sad for not really caring about Phish on a deep personal level. I feel similarly about LARPing. This is not a reasonable thing to be made sad by. What it reminded me of, honestly, was Edith’s piece about Kreayshawn in New York Times Magazine two years years ago. If you missed it, it is basically a very wise treatise about the nature of death and the loneliness of aging out of the cultural zeitgeist, but it’s also about Kreayshawn. I will quote from it briefly:

The Internet is basically like being at a house party and trying to find the bathroom and opening up a door to a room where a bunch of kids are playing a game or doing a drug or having an orgy (metaphorically) or something and you get all flustered and say, “Oh, my God, I’m sorry!” and they all look at you like, “You pervert,” and you quickly slam the door shut. Everywhere you go on the Internet there are rooms you don’t understand, people playing games you don’t know the rules to, teenagers doing drugs you’ve never heard of and can’t even pronounce. And you just walk through the halls of this house party, aging in fast forward, until you open the one last door at the end of the hallway and it’s Death. Ha, ha.

The difference being, of course, that Phish and LARPing aren’t, per se, cool. The people who do them certainly think so, or have attained that magical state in which you do not care about being cool at all. In the wider culture, however, if you mention you’re a huge Phish fan, the reaction of your listener is more likely to be “cooooool,” as opposed to “COOL.” But there’s such a marvelous allure to being utterly and totally interested in something that a certain group of people is really into and no one else cares about. I mean, to go back to that piece about Phish:

Some people in this world love Phish more than you can possibly understand. This author’s wife is one of those people. As a compromise, one Phish song was selected to be performed during the dancing portion of this author’s wedding reception. When that song came on, half the dance floor cleared out. They stood to the side and stared with befuddlement as the other half of the attendees danced to a slow, strange, and seemingly undanceable song. The Phish fans were in rapture because their favorite band was blasting through the speakers and they knew that if Tweezer was performed now, that Tweezer Reprise would make an appearance at the after party.

Doesn’t that sound just a little wonderful? Wouldn’t it be a little great to mill around to a weird, undanceable song, making eye contact with the other people who were really into that song? Anyway, halfway through the Phish article, I went on YouTube and decided I was going to get into Phish, so that I could make eye contact with Phish fans at weddings. It didn’t work. I specifically picked concert tapes to watch instead of studio songs, because Phish fans are very clear about that, and it really just didn’t work for me. And it’s not like I don’t like drugs, either. I love drugs. Or did, because now I am a mother and all mothers live in the untouched parlor from Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Farmer Boy, sipping tea and embroidering things until they go to the great high-waisted jeans store in the sky.

There are people who respond to other people having fun in ways that are alien to them with inexplicable rage and contempt. This is, honestly, one of the worst things you can do to yourself as a person of something resembling character. I kind of do it around things like Burning Man, which is silly. Obviously, if people really love Burning Man then they should just burn their little hearts out with great joy and abandon. And we should remember that other people probably feel this way about things we like. If you’re a Doctor Who fan, and you’ve ever tried to show someone an episode of Doctor Who, and it’s been a dismal failure, and they’ve tried to get YOU to align yourself with their vaguely snide amusement by saying things like “so, I assume the special effects are deliberately bad on purpose, right?” or “wait, how many of these have you SEEN?” or, worst of all “how does anyone stand the Doctor?” then you should know better. Perhaps the single greatest summation of this concept being “don’t yuck on someone else’s yums.” LARPing is a perfect example. I don’t do it, but on face value, if nothing was cool or dorky yet and we had to decide which was which, who wouldn’t want it to be cool to get dressed up in period costume and run around in the woods playing with swords and horses and armor? Here we are, expending tons of time caring about watching Game of Thrones (as I assuredly do), which is totally socially acceptable, when there are actually people getting accidental cardio in the process of physically doing something outside which reminds them of shows and historical eras they find interesting. Perhaps the LARPers and the Phish fans (I’m sure they have a weird name for themselves) really have it all figured out. Teach me.