Original post:Contra Kriss On Nerds And Hipsters

Table of contents:

1: Comments By The Author Of The Original Post
2: Comments With Strong Opinions On The Definition Of Nerds, Geeks, Etc
3: Comments About Collecting
4: Comments Insisting That Sports Are Good
5: Comments About Enjoying Things Vs. Building Identities Around Them

1. Comments By The Author Of The Original Post

Sam Kriss writes a response on Substack Notes (starting here). After agreeing that “nerd” has many conflicting definitions, and overall agreeing with my thesis, he writes:

this is a nice account of things, and it very neatly gets around my tendency to make a lot of invidious judgements about quality. instead of talking about good things and bad things , you can use the much more parsimonious and quantifiable categories of popular and obscure. it makes a lot of sense. but i’m still not fully convinced […]

as i said, i don’t think scott and i really disagree on all that much here. near the end of his piece, he mentions that he’d once considered naming his car after something from tolkien, but he’d rather die than name it after something from the mcu. why?

» Is it just that Marvel feels optimized to make you like it and buy action figures, and liking it and buying action figures would make me feel like a little puppet being jerked back and forth by the Disney Corporation?

my answer, for what it’s worth, is: yes. personally, i’ve never really been into tolkien all that much; i’d rather skip the simarillion and go straight to the mabinogion. but like with sport, there’s clearly something there. scott - i assume - likes tolkien because of its literary and imaginative qualities. the mcu doesn’t have those; all it has is a set of puppet-strings, and an insistent demand to be liked. for some people, that’s good enough. we all need some crutches for our self-identity; we want to like things. but when too many people like things simply because they’re there, the quality of those things will inevitably fall off a cliff.

scott asks if it’s necessarily bad to base your identity on cultural products. adorno would call this the fetish-character in culture, and he was not fond of it. but despite being a slightly crotchety adornian, i don’t really think it is - not all the time, anyway. unfortunately, the crucial determining factor - as unsexy and unscientific as it may be - is an attention to quality.

I have trouble figuring out my response to this. On one level, I emotionally intuitively agree with Sam that some things are higher quality than others (in a way where even very popular and well-liked things like MCU can be near the bottom of a quality totem pole), that this is a useful concept, and that it helps explain different facets of criticism and fandom.

On a rational level, I’m less sure. Suppose we took the Ant-Man movie, translated the plot into concepts that would make sense in medieval Welsh, and wrote it up in the style of a Mabinogion myth - The Tale Of Albanaidd Hir, The Warrior Who Could Turn Into An Ant (ironically, Sam Kriss is probably the single person alive most qualified to do this). Then we showed a dozen real Mabinogion stories plus our fake one to an intelligent, good-taste-having person who had never encountered either story before. Would we expect them to say “Wow, these stories are great - except that one about the ant warrior, that one’s total garbage, just an utterly valueless myth, doesn’t speak to anything in the human spirit at all”?

I can think of a few possible ways to treat this experiment:

  1. Take it at face value; maybe Sam expects the taste-having person would have this opinion, and if they didn’t, he would retract his claim that the Mabinogion is higher-quality than Ant-Man.

  2. Admit that it would be indistinguishable from other myths, but say that the quality of the Mabinogion is in the style, language, and pacing, not the plot (but most English-speakers enjoy the Mabinogion in translation or summary; does that detract from this claim?)

  3. Admit that it would be indistinguishable from other myths, but say that the amount of violence you would have to do to the Ant-Man plot to make it sound like a Welsh myth would essentially involve writing a completely different story which had only a vague relationship to MCU, and for all we know maybe that completely different story would be high-quality.

  4. Admit that it would be indistinguishable from other myths, but say that the “quality” of the Mabinogion comes from something outside the text, like the fact that it’s old, or that it inspired a nation, or that it takes effort to engage with.

My lack of a good answer to this experiment makes me reluctant to make too much hinge on abstracted “quality”, separate from “ability to make many people very much enjoy the thing” or “competence at execution” (both of which the Marvel movies have). The Ern Malley hoax, where lots of people who supposedly had good taste were tricked into declaring something high-quality when it superficially appeared to have the characteristics of high-quality things (mildly incomprehensible, used big words, written by someone who toiled in obscurity and died tragically) makes me even more doubtful.

My cynical null hypothesis is that we call competently-executed things tasteful/high-quality if they require a lot of erudition to understand and make good class markers, and throw them in the trash with the MCU if they’re easy to appreciate and make terrible class markers.

But emotionally I’m not ready to accept this. Emotionally, everyone who likes things more prestigious than what I like is a snob who’s faking it, and everyone who likes things less prestigious than what I like is a boor who doesn’t understand true art. This probably isn’t literally correct but I don’t know which of those two beliefs to abandon.

Back to Sam:

maybe a better way of summarising my position is that nerds like things in a way that’s orthogonal to quality. let’s take an example of something that’s both very popular and widely agreed to be good – say, the poetry and plays of shakespeare. if you wanted to identify yourself as someone who liked shakespeare, there are actually two ways of doing this. you could deeply immerse yourself in the study of shakespeare, and even become a shakespearean actor or a professor of tudor and jacobean theatre. or you could change your twitter avi to a picture of shakespeare, take plenty of selfies while reading hamlet , wear the t-shirt, and get in endless feuds with people who prefer marlowe or jonson. in fact, you could go down the latter route without ever actually reading any of his plays. (there are a few people who do precisely this.) these are two different ways of intensively liking something. and i think it makes sense to say that while the first example does not make you a nerd, the second one sort of does.

Okay, this one feels more like cheating. I’m imagining a two-by-two square:

…where Sam fills in the northwest and southeast squares, then claims a correlation, draws a line, and points to high-status/deep-engagement as a single unified concept.

But the southwest square could be “writes a wacky Shakespeare fanfiction, Romeo & Juliet II, in blank verse and period-appropriate language”, and the northeast square could be “publishes a dissertation on some irrelevant aspect of word frequency changes across English plays to prove something about linguistics”.

And then having conflated these two things, he goes on to conflate a third thing, Shakespeare vs. Marvel. I’m not up to date on what goes on in academic literature departments, but Freddie de Boer says they’re increasingly offering “Spiderman Studies” classes in attempts to stay culturally relevant; probably Spiderman professors engage with Spiderman on the same deep level that Shakespeare professors engage with Shakespeare.

If we made this a cube - high-status vs. low-status forms of engagement along one axis, Shakespeare vs. Spiderman along another axis, and deep vs. shallow engagement along the third - would anything be left of the “nerd” cluster as Sam describes it? I’m not sure.

2. Comments With Strong Opinions On The Definition Of Nerds, Geeks, Etc

There were many of these. One common theme was that in the 70s, “nerd” was almost synonymous with “person who is only into unpopular things”, for example sci-fi, comics, and RPGs, all of which were unpopular in the 70s. Then those things became very popular, but the people who were interested in them still get called “nerds”. So now people like Kriss use “nerd” almost synonymously with “person who is only into popular things”. So we have a word which denotes either interest in unpopular things or interest in popular things, depending on who’s using it and when they last updated their lexicon.

In the 70s, it was more reasonable to group “interested in math and computers” and “interested in sci-fi and RPGs” together, because both were unpopular and tended to involve the same group of socially maladept young men. Now math is still hard and unpopular; computers are hard in the sense that it’s tough to learn programming languages, but universally used and beloved; sci-fi and RPGs are very popular, and the typical sci-fi fan is closer to a socially-adept albeit “quirky” young woman. If words are hidden inferences, the inference represented by “nerd” - that sci-fi fandom, interest in math, interest in computers, maleness, poor social skills, and nonconformity with mainstream interests all go together - is now thoroughly false, dooming us to conversations like this one. Attempts to repurpose the several different words used to refer to the math/sci-fi/awkward/unpopular cluster to represent different aspects of its successor clusters have mostly failed.

Sample comments from this section:

Coagulopath writes:

To me, being a nerd requires a degree of swimming against the cultural tide.

It’s weird and unpopular to be into trains, so the fact that you are indicates you have a bit of character (or are socially oblivious, which is also kind of endearing).

The problem (and I think Kriss alludes to this) is that nerd stuff went mainstream in the past few decades. Of the 10 highest-grossing movies of the 2010s, 6 are Star Wars or Marvel films. There’s no longer any sense that nerds are the underdog.

But what does it say about you when you wear a Star Wars shirt? You’re pledging allegiance to the biggest, most popular club imaginable. Is that a brave stance? Those people always make me think “if you lived in the SW universe, you’d be on the side of the Empire”.

In general, I am creeped out by effusive public adoration for things that are near-universally loved. Like The Beatles. Or bacon. Or dogs. Or science (Neil DeGrasse Tyson’s whole shtick). Regardless of how I feel about those things on the object level, there’s no glory in joining a culture war when you’re signing on to the winning side.

Tolaughoftenandmuch writes:

All this is so different from when I was a kid. I was a nerd because I was intellectually curious, bad at and disinterested in sports, socially awkward, and had a computer hobby (owning hardware C64 ->8088 ->286, writing programs in Basic, being a BBS SysOp). Cultural interests were irrelevant to my nerd status.

In terms of exactly when nerd interests started becoming popular, Ghatanathoah writes:

I also wouldn’t say that nerd stuff only went mainstream in the last decade, it’s not like the first 3 Star Wars movies were obscure arthouse pictures. I think the reason Marvel took off is just innovations in storytelling: movie producers finally figured out a way to adapt the gloriously arcane and convoluted lore of superhero comics in a way that could appeal to mainstream audiences in addition to nerds (much how George Lucas figured out how to get mainstream audiences to love the space operas nerds had been enjoying for decades before 1977).

And Melvin writes:

Comic book movies had always been pretty popular.

Superman was the top grossing movie of 1979 despite coming out in 1978. Superman 2 was the second top grossing movie of 1981. Batman was the second top grossing movie of 1989. Batman Returns was the top grossing movie of 1992. Batman Forever was the top grossing movie of 1995. Spider-man was the third top grossing movie of 2002 (behind Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter movies).

That’s about all I can be bothered looking up right now but you get the idea, superhero movies have been popular since the 1970s.

Kaitian writes:

I think being a nerd requires being a bit socially clumsy about your interest, and talking or signalling about it in situations where most people don’t expect it. So being a nerd about completely mainstream stuff like pop music or football is not possible, that’s just fandom. Being a nerd about very well known and relatively well-respected stuff like classical music or birdwatching is rare, because most people who are classy enough to care about the thing in the first place are also classy enough to know when to shut up about it. But comics? Star trek? Power metal? They have fairly low barriers to entry and most people don’t care about them, so there’s plenty of opportunities to bring it up to people who don’t want to hear about it.

So that’s why I think nerdery usually attaches itself to the typical targets.

J.R. Leonard has as good a terminology proposal as anyone:

I think what’s missing is that Kriss uses “nerds” as his foil, but what he’s talking about would better be described as fan culture.

Deiseach teaches us the etymology of “geek”. The very distant etymology is from German gek , a relative of “cackle” → geck , a fool/madman (who was presumably cackling all the time). But this comes down to us through the early American institution of the geek show. From Wikipedia (cw: disturbing):

Geek shows were an act in traveling carnivals and circuses of early America and were often part of a larger sideshow. The billed performer’s act consisted of a single geek, who stood in the center ring to chase live chickens. It ended with the performer biting the chickens’ heads off and swallowing them. The geek shows were often used as openers for what are commonly known as freak shows. It was a matter of pride among circus and carnival professionals not to have traveled with a troupe that included geeks. Geeks were often alcoholics or drug addicts, and paid with liquor – especially during Prohibition – or with narcotics.

More obvious but I went surprisingly long without realizing it: “fan” (as in “sports fan”) is just short for fanatic.

3. Comments About Collecting

The veteran collectors in the comments said that my theory (the Internet makes collecting too easy) was only a small part of the decline. The bigger part is that most coin collecting begins with the wonder of finding a rare coin in your change, and most stamp collecting begins with the wonder of finding a rare stamp on your mail, and the rise of credit cards and emails means people aren’t handling coins and stamps as much in their daily lives.

Tom Metcalf writes:

I’d guess many coin collectors got their start being patient enough to sort through change to see if they had e.g. a wheat cent or silver dime, but first of all, who pays with cash and gets change, and the chances of finding something collectible are orders of magnitude smaller than, say, the ’90s. And stamp collectors would have started saving the stamps on mail sent to their house, but how frequently do you get stamped mail anymore?

My 79-year old father goes to stamp shows, because one of his hobbies is to buy sheets of old but common unused stamps for less than face value. They are still valid postage, and then he uses them to personalize the stamps he puts on letters he sends to various people. And most of the other people at stamp shows are about his age. He does have some stamps he thinks are interesting that he’s held onto, but the dealers at the stamp shows think they’re common and uninteresting. So there’s a decreasing number of stamps that might be “worth something” and a net loss of collectors in the hobby, and then every time a collector dies and his heirs have no interest in his collection and that many more stamps make their way to dealers who now have one less buyer.

Too bad “sending paper letters with vintage but still valid stamps” never caught on with the hipsters.

Art writes:

The widespread adoption of email created a world where a letter is almost certainly junk mail or a bill. Nobody looks forward to hearing from a good friend from across the country now when picking up the day’s mail. If letters are not interesting why would stamps? The same for coins. Nobody uses cash, and getting a pile of coins with no significant value (inflation) is just an annoyance. These objects have passed into irrelevance. Still, it seems like some little pieces of joy and wonder have passed from our lives.

Nathan Savir writes:

I collect coins and I think the description of the hobby (and its putative death) isn’t quite right.

1. Rare coins are in fact hard to find, even in today’s internet world. They are usually sold in auctions, which might happen online, but still not that frequently. It’s not unusual for examples some specific rare coin to be sold only once every few years. If the coin is also obscure, it may not be prohibitively expensive, so this kind of situation isn’t the sole province of rich people.

2. One area of collecting is to get all the rare items. Another is to get all the minor varieties of a common item. These varieties may not be very rare, but it still takes a lot of effort to be able to distinguish them and to find them. Some collectors will obtain large numbers of relatively common coins and sort through and scrutinize them to try to identify interesting varieties.

3. An important part of collecting is getting good deals. This is surely a lot harder than it used to be because sellers can more easily figure out what things are worth and you won’t find something grossly underpriced in a random antique store as often these days. But filtering through buckets (or online listings) of large numbers of coins can still be fun and lead to spotting good deals.

So I think there is room in the hobby for nerd-like behavior (per your definition). I would argue the decline of the hobby is more due to competition from other similar hobbies (a generation ago you could collect stamps, coins, baseball cards, or rare books/comics - now you can collect beanie babies, Pokemon cards, NFTs, funko pops, action figures, etc.). I think stamps have suffered more than coins because stamp collecting has more of an aesthetic component (which has faced stronger competition) while coins have a historical element that is less well replicated by collecting newer things. This difference isn’t obvious in the google trends graphs you posted but I believe is observable from looking at prices of stamps vs coins.

I asked Nathan what coins he collects that are still tough to find, and he gave the example of this Yuan dynasty coin from 1350. I guess if you want to be a collector in 2023 you need to go hard.

Arrk Mindmaster writes:

I used to collect US coins from every denomination, year, mint, and variety (such as large and small date 1960 pennies). It was kind of like a treasure hunt, knowing you could find something in circulation that was actually more valuable than most people thought it was.

I lost interest in the late 1980s sometime, when I found the volume of new coins dwarfed older coins. For example, for Lincoln pennies, they used to make a few million per year, then a few tens of millions. In the 80s, they started making about 5 BILLION each, and it started drowning out all of the old coins, which basically stayed the same value.

This comment snapped some things into place for me; I collected coins as a kid in the 90s, and older coin collectors would talk as if you could spot some pretty rare things in your pocket change. But I had much worse luck, and it’s been years since I’ve even found a wheat cent in circulation (even when I was a kid this would happen occasionally). Maybe coin collecting is dying not just because we don’t use change, but because our change is less likely to have interesting coins in it. Another victim of mass money printing!

The new state quarters sort of fix this, but other commenters express contempt for this. It feels like the transition between old myths (which one can enjoy) to the Marvel Cinematic Universe (which corporations are begging you to enjoy in a pre-approved way) - now that the Mint wants you to collect their coins, it feels kind of slavish to comply.

Other people point out that the collecting of things other than stamps and coins is still going strong. Drethelin:

Collecting has not in the slightest died out. People collect more things than ever, like sneakers, funko pops, vintage cars, guns, antique ceramics, anime figurines, magic cards, etc.

Some people also brought up NFTs - are there lots of people who truly enjoy collecting NFTs, aren’t just in it for the investment value, and have kept up through the crypto bear market?

4. Comments Insisting That Sports Are Good

Aris C writes:

It’s a little glib to dismiss sports as bad, isn’t it? Athletes display extreme skill, sometimes transcendent. I don’t think watching people push the limits of human ability is obviously bad.

When I said sports were bad, I didn’t mean this as a final value judgment. I meant that, by our usual standards of entertainment, sports are bad. Imagine a sitcom which had several thousand episodes, each with the exact same plot (some people try to get a ball from one side of the court to the other). At some point, surely most people would stop watching! I appreciate the something something human spirit, and I’m happy to know that, somewhere in the world, sports are happening. It’s just the decision to actually watch them that confuses me.

5. Comments About Enjoying Things Vs. Building Identities Around Them

Many people complained that some combination of me and/or Sam Kriss were denying that anyone can ever enjoy anything except as an attempt to “gain status”.

I would answer first that yes, I think most behavior has some status component (although it may be a small component, mixed with genuine enjoyment). But also, it doesn’t seem mysterious that some people eg like Star Wars , or even love Star Wars. What seems mysterious to me is when this expresses itself as desire to buy thousands of dollars of figurines in the original boxes, or memorize the stats of every class of ship in the Imperial Navy, or something else which doesn’t seem very fun on its own merits.

I’m not criticizing others from a place of invulnerability here. When I was ~14, I got really into Star Wars , and aside from reading all the Extended Universe books - some of which were genuinely very good - for about a year I spent all of my allowance and a good fraction of my free time obtaining Star Wars collectable cards associated with an M:TG style card game (which I never got around to playing). My parents probably still have them somewhere. I cannot at all retrace what led me to do this, but I appreciate commenters’ less cynical explanations. For example, enchantingacacia writes:

I think it’s honestly sort of funny how non-nerds seem to genuinely not understand that a nerd’s identity becomes about [thing] because they like it so much, not the other way around.

Sometimes you encounter a thing—let’s say it’s Minecraft, because why not—and it’s just such a positive experience for you that you take every possible opportunity to keep thinking about Minecraft, even when you’re not playing. You collect every scrap of information you can find about Minecraft and you compose your own original Minecraft-related songs and you decorate your room with blocky little figurines. You get into a virtuous cycle where talking and thinking about Minecraft is so rewarding that you keep enjoying all these secondary activities long after you’re bored of actually playing Minecraft itself. You look out for opportunities to meet people who’d enjoy talking about Minecraft with you and make a bunch of friends with whom you mostly talk about Minecraft, and your friends and family start seeing you as “the Minecraft guy” and they get you a Minecraft hoodie for Christmas cause they know it’s a safe pick.

This is the obvious and intuitive explanation! There’s no need to get fake-deep about “ah, they got into Minecraft so they’d have something to construct their identity around”: it explains nothing, and consistently makes incorrect predictions about the internal experiences of Minecraft nerds. It’s only virtue is making people feel better about being annoyed by those weirdos who won’t shut up about Minecraft.

It’s possibly that I have unusually low social motivation (genuinely, what does it mean to “construct your identity” and why is it something people would be this comically desperate to do?) and am typical-minding, but, uh, I wonder if there’s any group closely associated with “nerds” who are also known for having low social motivation? I think it’s a tad more likely that people like Kriss are typical-minding, and constructing elaborate social motivations for people who just like stuff regardless of what people like him think.

This is a good comment which avoids buck-passing-style “I enjoy it because it’s fun” explanations.

Along the same lines, odd anon writes:

It is only among nerds that enthusiasm for something corresponds to learning more and more about it. That’s the core element here. Non-nerds who like something do not feel any need to read up on it, to know more and more.

Of course, the producers of content notice when their audience are nerds, and they start to produce content built more for those who obsessively learn every detail. Comics can start “rewarding” readers for noticing some obscure thing. A game series can have an elaborate continuity, or a zillion details to memorize. Content that either “leans into the fandom” or simply naturally has too much for non-nerds to easily pick up, can rapidly become nerd-only, thus solidifying boundaries. And sure, there are the personality correlations, attributes most nerds also have, including being STEM-y and lacking social skills. Combined, a nerd ended up being an unpopular thing to be.

Ghatanathoah is less patient:

Both Kriss’ essay, and Scott’s response to it, remind me of the “Evil Cannot Comprehend Good” trope from TV tropes, except replace “Evil” with “Very socially motivated people” and “Good” with “Less socially motivated people” (although honestly both sets have a lot of overlap). Both essays seem obsessed with finding some deep, social reason why hipsters and nerds behave the way they do, like the supervillain who is telling the hero that they are “Not So Different.” They literally can’t comprehend the idea that someone could actually like something, so they try desperately to find some way that liking things isn’t something people actually do. People couldn’t actually like Star Wars, sportsball, the MCU, or the Beatles, they must be liking them to achieve some social goal like forming an identity or seeking status!

This is one of the two giant flawed assumptions that invalidates the theses of both articles (the other one, of course, is the assumption the the MCU is bad, when it is, in fact one of the human race’s greatest artistic achievements*). If you assume that it is possible to like things for non-social reasons, or even in addition to social reasons, hipsters and nerds make much more sense. The reason that nerds like both popular stuff like the MCU, and less popular stuff like postage stamps is because they don’t care about if something is popular, they care about if it fascinates them. Whether that thing is popular is orthogonal to how fascinating it is.

That fascination makes them invest a lot of time and effort in it, which in turn makes it part of their identity. They weren’t trying to find something to form and identity first and picking Star Wars, identity formation was just a side effect. Similarly, hipsters probably just get bored with things they see frequently and want to seek out new things to be interested in. Making obscure things part of their identity comes second, if at all.

Also Ghatanathoah:

Scott asks if its ever okay to build your identity around liking a thing. I would ask if it’s ever okay not to? What’s the alternative, building it around social status games or large nonselective identity groups? It seems to me that liking something isn’t just a good thing to build your identity around, it’s one of the best things to build it around. After all, unlike social status games, you can like something without forcing other people to not like it.

This is a good question, well-phrased.

I think the traditional answer is that you should build your identity around social relationships (I’m the son of X, husband of Y, friend of Z), career, and maybe a few hobbies. I agree with this as far as it goes, but it doesn’t work for a lot of practical tasks - I can’t get common ground with someone at a party or start a conversation by introducing myself as the son of X or husband of Y - most people just won’t know X or Y.

Some people linked a Freddie de Boer post, Your Personality Has To Be Load-Bearing, which is generally good but I think has a similar problem. Obviously you should have a genuine and complex personality, but I worry a lot of people who talk about this will reject every specific aspect of personality because “it’s not, in itself, a full complex personality!”, but you can’t have a personality without building it out of specific aspects.

A lot of people’s default personality, if they just do exactly what comes naturally and don’t put any effort into self-presentation or cultivation, is to browse Reddit and play video games. Most people realize this on some level and try to cultivate some personality beyond this, but I think that makes it extra unfair to say “Just use your natural true self!” The natural true self is exactly the boring thing we’re trying to get away from in favor of becoming a more interesting person.

I’m trying to think if I have a personal answer to this. Part of my answer is the EA and rationalist communities. This has some downsides; I’m thinner-skinned about insults to these groups than I should be; some people might think I’m a fanatic. It also has some upsides; they embody real values I like, they try to make a difference in the world, they’re not consumer properties that make me feel like a corporation is pulling my strings. But my real answer is probably “I cheat by having a popular blog; this means you all know everything about me and I don’t have to fit my personality into a ten-second elevator pitch”. Maybe this is the traditional solution, from back when everyone knew everyone else in their community. It sure doesn’t feel adequate now, back when (non-bloggers) are constantly meeting strangers and having to communicate their identity to them quickly.

My internal hierarchy of things it’s virtuous to build identity around, which is probably a weird class artifact and which I absolutely don’t consciously endorse, goes something like:

  • Top-tier: Intellectual subfields, especially obscure ones or ones involving pure abstract math. If you can say “I’m really into trans-finite 8-dimensional Hoffdorf groups” and justify this with a discussion of how innately beautiful they are, you’ve got it made.

  • Upper-tier: Unusual political and philosophical movements that don’t intersect mainstream culture war fault lines. Unusual hobbies, like underwater gardening. Unusual art or music. Religion done in a classy way (eg you have a favorite theologian).

  • Okay-tier: Normal hobbies, mainstream art, literature. I Just Love My Spouse And Family (TM). Normal careers, normal religion, normal music.

  • Lower-tier: Overdone politics like hating wokeness or hating Trump, especially if you pretend they’re rebellious, contrarian, or make you special (except when you’re right; if you take a stand against Trump in rural Kentucky, or against wokeness in San Francisco, you can claim as much specialness as you want). Your race, sex, or sexuality, especially et cetera. Bands. TV shows. Any kind of corporatized mass culture institution popular enough to have a marketing team.

I don’t endorse this, and I think it’s based on what I’ve described elsewhere as an unfair and destructive pressure for quirkiness, but it’s what I feel on some gut level.

I said earlier:

My cynical null hypothesis is that we call competently-executed things tasteful/high-quality if they require a lot of erudition to understand and make good class markers, and throw them in the trash with the MCU if they’re easy to appreciate and make terrible class markers.

This list sort of matches that hypothesis. But applied to interests, it more obviously also sorts by addictiveness; not only are culture war politics and TV shows easy to enjoy, they seem to hijack your attention whether you want them to or not. Along with signaling class, the higher-tier interests signal willpower: ability to concentrate on difficult things when there are much simpler and more convenient alternatives. Maybe that’s part of the puzzle?