Patton Oswalt Calls for a Pop Culture Ragnarok

This article is from the archive of our partner .

AUTHOR: Patton Oswalt, writing in Wired.

SUBJECT: How the Internet has made nerds of us all.

WHERE YOU MIGHT KNOW OSWALT FROM: His stand-up comedy, which includes riotous bits about NPR, the genesis of religion, and George Lucas and the Star Wars prequels.

HOW ELSE YOU MIGHT KNOW HIM: As the voice of Remy, the rat in Pixar's Ratatouille.

CLEARLY: Oswalt has a healthy respect for pop culture.

HIS REFLECTIONS ON A 1980S ADOLESCENCE: "I was too young to drive or hold a job. I was never going to play sports, and girls were an uncrackable code. So, yeah--I had time to collect every Star Wars action figure, learn the Three Laws of Robotics, memorize Roy Batty's speech from the end of Blade Runner, and classify each monster's abilities and weaknesses in TSR Hobbies' Monster Manual."

THE TERM FOR THIS: Otaku, a Japanese word that "refers to people who have obsessive, minute interests--especially stuff like anime or videogames. It comes from a term for 'someone else's house'--otaku live in their own, enclosed worlds. Or, at least, their lives follow patterns that are well outside the norm. Looking back, we were American otakus."

AH, BUT NOW, THANKS TO THE INTERNET: "Everyone considers themselves otaku about something--whether it's the mythology of Lost or the minor intrigues of Top Chef. American Idol inspires--if not in depth, at least in length and passion--the same number of conversations as does The Wire. There are no more hidden thought-palaces--they're easily accessed websites, or Facebook pages with thousands of fans."

HOW THE INTERNET HAS RUINED JAPANESE-NAMED CATEGORIES OF NERD CULTURE: "The problem with the Internet... is that it lets anyone become otaku about anything instantly ... We're all just adding to an ever-swelling, soon-to-erupt volcano of trivia, re-contextualized and forever rebooted."

NEW (OSWALT-COINED) REPLACEMENT TERM: "Etewaf: Everything That Ever Was--Available Forever."


Everything we have today that's cool comes from someone wanting more of something they loved in the past. Action figures, videogames, superhero movies, iPods: All are continuations of a love that wanted more ... Etewaf doesn't produce a new generation of artists--just an army of sated consumers. Why create anything new when there's a mountain of freshly excavated pop culture to recut, repurpose, and manipulate on your iMovie?

WHICH MEANS: "The coming decades--the 21st-century's '20s, '30s, and '40s--have the potential to be one long, unbroken, recut spoof in which everything in Avatar farts while Keyboard Cat plays eerily in the background."

OH GOD, OH GOD, IS THERE NOTHING WE CAN DO? "We've got to speed up the process. We've got to stoke the volcano. We've got to catalog, collate, and cross-pollinate. We must bring about Etewaf, and soon."


We start with lists of the best lists of boobs. Every Beatles song, along with every alternate take, along with every cover version of every one of their songs and every alternate take of every cover version, all on your chewing-gum-sized iPod nano. Goonies vs. Saw. Every book on your Kindle. Every book on Kindle on every Kindle. The Human Centipede done with the cast of The Hills and directed by the Coen brothers.


Pop culture will become self-aware. It will happen in the A.V. Club first: A brilliant Nathan Rabin column about the worst Turkish rip-offs of American comic book characters will suddenly begin writing its own comments, each a single sentence from the sequel to A Confederacy of Dunces. Then a fourth and fifth season of Arrested Development, directed by David Milch of Deadwood, will appear suddenly in the TV Shows section of iTunes.


We'll have one minute before pop culture swells and blackens like a rotten peach and then explodes, sending every movie, album, book, and TV show flying away into space. Maybe tendrils and fragments of them will attach to asteroids or plop down on ice planets light-years away. A billion years after our sun burns out, a race of intelligent ice crystals will build a culture based on dialog from The Princess Bride. On another planet, intelligent gas clouds will wait for the yearly passing of the 'Lebowski' comet.

MEANWHILE, ON EARTH: "All that we'll have left to work with will be a VHS copy of Zapped!, the soundtrack to The Road Warrior, and Steve Ditko's eight-issue run on Shade: The Changing Man."

IN CONCLUSION: "Etewaf now!"

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.