Waiter, This Awesomesauce Has Gone Sour

As long as I’m already irritating geeks anyway, I may as well go ahead and post this too. It’s a sub-part of the previous essay, but I didn’t want to go into detail on it there and open up a second front.

Let’s talk about AWESOME. It’s a word that turns up a lot on nerd discussions, and unpredictably, it’s a word that’s been bugging the hell out of me. This is not because I usually think the thing being discussed isn’t awesome (though it usually isn’t), but because of what the word represents. It sort of sums up The Nerd Condition in a way that, previously, only the phrase “Mint in Box” could.

“Awesome” isn’t just a term replacing “cool”, “neat”, “rad”, “hot”, “sick”, or any other number of slang terms to represent something that impresses the viewer. It has more in common with “win” than any of those, because it is designed not to establish an opinion, but to intercept and eliminate opinion. Awesome is also the equivalent of “Fuck yeah!” It’s not intended to be a point of view but a declarative statement.

Awesome is what happens when you aim directly at the amygdalae of geeks. Stuck for a creative moment? Bundle up a couple of nerd references and shoot them straight into the pleasure and nostalgia centers of the nerd mind. The result will be Awesome, which means only that you have delivered a sufficient jolt of recognition to the viewer.

In this way, Awesome is the enemy of the good, where by “good” I’m referring to having a sort of long-lasting quality that elevates something above the mediocre or merely existing. Awesome things may be good, and sometimes are, but that’s often by accident. Awesome doesn’t need to be good and trying to be good will usually not result in Awesome. This is because for something to be good there has to be a level of cognition. It has to be analyzed for quality. Awesome drives through all mental barricades and heads straight for the emotions. As a result, Awesome is a hairtrigger, and this is why declarations of Awesome can come in droves. Like a crack addict, the Awesome addict requires constant Awesome stimulation to function, and any kind of reasoned critical response wastes valuable time.

Since Awesome is the enemy of the good, it’s friend of the bad. As long as it’s awesome, who cares whether or not it’s any good? It makes no difference, and if you try and point out any lack of real quality the typical geek will stare blankly at you, unable to say anything other than, “but…but…Awesome!

Purveyors of movies, comics, books, and other geek media are more than aware that they have a direct route to the nerd brain and are happy to exploit it. Throw enough standard junk onto a screen or a page and the Awesomes will follow, no other work needed.

In this way the culture gets degraded to the level of, as I said before, the id of a 13-year-old boy. The goal is no longer to produce items of quality, and succeed or fail at that, but just to get that initial squeal of delight (and hopefully cash) from nerds who are overjoyed at seeing two or more things they already liked presented next to each other in some way. (This is also how something like Inception, which was a perfectly fine sci-fi thriller, gets deified for being brainy and cerebral because it bothered to aim slightly higher than Awesome.)

Awesome being the standard more or less puts the kibosh any more nuanced discussion. Since Awesome is recognized as being a worthy goal in and of itself, it makes no difference to many nerds whether or not the item has any value beyond that. Even basic questions like, “Did the plot make any sense?” become meaningless because, you know, Awesome.

Like “win” and “fail” and “meh”, “Awesome” now serves a purpose for me of knowing that what’s being expressed here isn’t of any value and can be overlooked. It’s just clutter. And that’s why it bugs me.

(Here, I’ll save you some time.)

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9 Responses to Waiter, This Awesomesauce Has Gone Sour

  1. Jeff Rients says:

    I’m not sure I’m totally onboard with this opposition you seem to be setting up between Awesome and Quality. I’ll readily agree that a lot of crap gets a free pass because it is awesome and that a lot of quality material is ignored due to lacking the sufficient quantity of awesomeness needed to grab the attention of folks. But there are clearly better and worse examples of pandering to my inner 13-year-old.

  2. notamilhouse says:

    I doubt you’re going to get much flack on this one as it articulates and argues the point of your complaint in a way that other post did not – it seemed like a longer version of “fail” and “meh”.

    A key issue si fandom has overwhelmed nerd/geek culture and while the groups overlap they aren’t the same. A fan likes/fetishizes one thing – classic nerd/geeks like something in relation to other deep interests. As in there’s a difference between a art nerd and comic fan who loves Bill Sienkiewicz in part for referencing Gustav Klimt, and a comic fan who at most knows Klimt as someone who’s paintings resemble panels from Elektra assassin. To quote Milhouse: “I’m not a nerd; nerds are smart.”

  3. aaron says:

    I feel I need to take a slight issue with an oversimplification; I believe what you’re talking about is the “because it’s Awesome” phenomenon – which is very different. Describing something that is legitimately “Awesome” as such, with explanation, should be perfectly acceptable I would think. It’s when that word is used as the explanation itself that it becomes a problem.

  4. Dave says:

    Aaron, I’d say that depends on the explanation. If the explanation is, “Because it’s a stormtrooper on a lightcycle firing a gun that shoots Cthulhus at the Joker” then we’re back where we started.

  5. Chris Sims says:

    GenuineQualityHospital.com was taken.

  6. Dave says:

    Awesome Hospital is genuinely awesome in every sense of the word.

  7. erik says:

    So “awesome” now means “this makes my nerd nipples stand up.” I’ll be sure to use it accordingly.

  8. Bill S. says:

    I’ve appreciated both this and the previous post, and wholeheartedly agree. “Awesome” is such a big idea, a word to describe something that (for good or for ill) inspires awe. To have it applied to every instance of “Gorilla-Batman punching Zombie Hitler” just renders the word more and more insignificant.

    That said, this is something that I’ve been guilty of in the past. I try to be mindful of it, but sometimes geek-reflex takes over.

  9. Scott says:

    Good God, man! Pay. Attention. To. Something. Else.

    This feels like the equivalent of someone who runs a comprehensive online fantasy baseball league penning not one, but two whole screeds about what imbeciles MLB fans are, what with their irksome lingo and and tired enthusiasms.

    “I don’t know what, short of simply abandoning all my interests and taking up stamp collecting, I could do.” Well, since you can’t manage to skim or ignore the stuff that irks you, maybe, yes, throw away your computer and take up philately, or, at the very least, STOP SOAKING IN NERD CULTURE ALL THE TIME IF YOU HATE IT SO MUCH. Jen Trenchant and Dan Coyle summed this up nicely in the previous “argh nerds goddamnit” post.

    Just a thought.