On Gooniness or why Stephen Bond was right to get off the internet and stay off

I've been thinking a lot about gooniness as a concept in the wake of the possible death of Something Awful, and I've come to the conclusion that it predates and will post-date the site the concept got its name from.

I should probably start out by saying that when I say "gooniness" I don't mean by it what goons mean by it. When goons call a person or behavior goony, they have in mind what a lot of people mean by "neckbeard": a slobby, asocial, nerdy person who is probably on the autism spectrum, though this last part is generally left unsaid. This isn't what I mean by goonyness, though the act of simultaneously including oneself in a loathed group and defining oneself against it is a very goony act.

A goon is a specific kind of nerd with an identity crisis. Whereas your generic nerd defines his, her, or themselves by their elitist media consumption(for instance "I am a Star Wars fan" or "I am a Trekkie") the goon does the same thing, but for a set of art with more cultural capital(at least in the 90s and early 2000s, before nerd culture became mainstream culture and when gooniness first formed). The goon is thus a sub-type of nerd that thinks they have transcended nerdiness.

A good example of gooniness, made all the better for, as far as I know, never having been on the SA forums I'd like to bring up semi-popular retired blogger Stephen Bond. Bond, for those not in the know, was a man who blogged throughout 2000s and part of the early 2010s and gained a small following mainly with articles like this and this articles where he, while not wrong, does the quintessential Goon Act of claiming he's transcended petty status games by proclaiming that he's the best at petty status games, and everyone else can barely play. If you agree with him, you, the reader, get the rush of being in the same upper echelon he's in, and you feel all the more intelligent for being above the supposedly intelligent people.

Bond's career as a media critic can mainly be defined as a desperate struggle to separate the acceptable forms of his nerdiness from the bad unacceptable forms, that someone, somewhere might make fun of him for(gooniness can be defined as the lurking fear that someone, somewhere, thinks you're a dweeb). The Rosetta Stone for his obsession can be found in two blogposts: Objects of Fandom and Camp, Kitsch, Trash.

In these Bond lays out his theory of the nerd and what they like by first separating art into two groups, what I'll call Safe Art and Nerd Art. Safe art is art that most people agree is good, whose cache as cultural capital is unthreatened and stable, like Raiders of the Lost Ark, a movie most people like, but which does not have a devoted fandom, or an artist like Bach, a composer most people know is important but who doesn't have a devoted cult. Nerd Art is art that has a FANDOM(something Stephen Bond, though he likes some nerd art, wants you to know he would NEVER participate in). Bond thinks that what separates Safe Art from Nerd Art is that Nerd Art has some element to it that constantly threatens to be incredibly bad. What lies unsaid here is that Nerd Art is the kind of art you could make fun of someone for liking by taking out of context elements and sneering at them.

For the moment we'll entertain Bond's distinction though it's worth noting the strangest part of it: That while Bond can conjure up a fair amount of examples of Nerd Art, he struggles to name more than three examples of Safe Art, and has to fill in the gap with Newton's theory of gravity which is non-artistic work of scientific creativity by a person who Bond would definitely sneer at were he alive today: a cranky nerd who doubled as a theologian. It's also worth noting that while Newton's Theory of Gravity might not have its fans, the Theory of Natural Selection definitely does. Presumably there's an aspect of truly monumental badness contained within Darwin's theory of natural selection.

With the following blogpost, Camp, Kitsch, Trash, Bond appears to have realized that he's opened up a can of worms with Objects of Fandom: By admitting that there is something to admire about Nerd Art he's left open the possibility that he himself, might be a nerd. To protect himself he separates Nerd Art into three categories: Camp, Kitsch, and Trash

Camp is the good kind of Nerd Art the kind Bond feels safe liking: the kind that by virtue of its extravagance, turns its threatening nature into a virtue and is thus harder to make fun of. Camp is Nerd Art turned Safe Art, and it's important to notice that Bond redefines Raiders of the Lost Ark to be Camp. With a wink, the jibes of that someone, somewhere, who thinks you're a dweeb can be turned into the useless criticisms of the philistine who doesn't know it's SUPPOSED to be that way.

Trash is art that isn't trying all that hard to be something worthwhile(by Bond's standards) and has negligible cultural capital. It's important to note that Bond describes trash as "most of the art people get exposed to in their lives". BECAUSE it's what the normies like on more or less the same level Bond does, and because the normies aren't nerds, liking or disliking trash is pretty safe and does not threaten Bond with hateful nerdiness.

Kitsch is what gets Bond's goat: Kitsch is bad art pretending to be the kind of art that gains one cultural capital and to Bond's chagrin, films like Forrest Gump and the Matrix have even managed to gain a certain level of cultural capital. Kitsch might confuse a nerd or a cringe normie into thinking they're on Bond's level when they like things like Disney cartoons, the film Amadeus, The Silmarillion, or Britpop when in fact they're beneath him.

This segues into the fact that gooniness, and Bond in particular, are, despite their generally left-wing social and economic views, cultural conservatives. Bond is scared of the marauding thugs who applauded scary violent art like The Sopranos or Taxi Driver over nice wholesome art like Citizen Kane or Tosca and he's more scared that some people, people who use big words and write for prestigious publications think that there's something worthwhile in such icky violent scary kitsch. Bond is scared that people like Quentin Tarantino, a big auteur director, can dare put learning about 70s trash cinema on the same level as that time Bond spent learning to appreciate freeform jazz. He's mad at people who think there's anything to like about any song released after 1986. He's even mad at the critics who put the reader over the artist who he tries, hilariously, to paint as right wing(ask any real right-wing media critic what they think about the death of the author and what you'll hear sounds a lot more like Bond than he'd like to admit

Goons are the Harold Blooms of the nerd world: People who, in a certain context were once progressive but nowadays more and more seem like a sad irritating relic reduced to screaming at kids today. The lesson one should draw from this is less that the nerd act of defining oneself via elitist media consumption is in fact, good, but more that the art one appreciates defines the contours of ones character less than people like Harold Bloom or Stephen Bond would have us believe. Watching Star Trek Deep Space Nine does not, in fact, make me a better person than people who watch Big Bang Theory, and someone who admires Beyonce is not a lesser person than someone admires Handel. The key thing is not to throw out the idea of good art and bad art, but to throw out the idea of "my" art and "their" art while we're throwing out "high" art and "low" art. The borders of camp, kitsch, and trash are so malleable their use as Bond defines them is basically worthless for anyone who isn't Stephen Bond.

In conclusion, relax calm down. I won't judge you for reading Brandon Sanderson, and you shouldn't judge me for reading Herman Melville, and we can have a productive discussion about why we like what we like and broaden our horizons without being such fucking goons about it. 


  • I've learned to tolerate drama...except on the boat
    okay this is just one thing but

    nerd culture becoming mainstream culture has frankly been pretty terrible, because it's propelled the worst kinds of nerds - like, not the ones SA obsesses over or whatever - into positions of, like

    actual influence

    also is it me or did the old country have a lot of what you call gooniness in its ranks
  • edited 2020-06-29 19:15:09
    There are more things on heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your philosophy, Horatio.

    Myr I don't know how to tell you this but I think you've just accidentally written like a good thinkpiece.

  • My dreams exceed my real life
    Anonus said:

    okay this is just one thing but

    nerd culture becoming mainstream culture has frankly been pretty terrible, because it's propelled the worst kinds of nerds - like, not the ones SA obsesses over or whatever - into positions of, like

    actual influence

    also is it me or did the old country have a lot of what you call gooniness in its ranks
    Yes, yes it did.
  • Darkness is ever the herald of dawn.
    I like both Sanderson and Melville.  I admit, I read more Sanderson than I do Melville, but Sanderson is dear to my heart because of the age I was when I first found his works, and our shared background gives the philosophy and themes of his works a certain context which made me feel like his were the books I would write if I could write well, that his works were by someone who got it.

    Which makes it frustrating when other fans of his works don't get it, and act like they do.  Those guys are super tiresome with their enthusiasm and bad interpretations, and when you add that to the point that Sanderson's work clearly isn't for everyone, I can get why people would judge you for liking it. 

    I guess it's kind of what the pre-generation-4 MLP fans felt about the MLPFIM fandom.
  • “I'm surprised. Those clothes… but, aren't you…?”
    This was well-written and well-considered and I'll probably have more thoughts to share about it when I'm not deliriously exhausted.
  • I definitely agree that this was well-written and is very interesting to read.

    This phenomena reminds me of a recurring topic in the anime fandom, "anime elitism", which involves stuff like certain people declaring themselves to be the arbiters of "good taste" vs. "shit taste" and declaring how certain shows fit into these categories.

    Though, sometimes this devolves into its own set of memes thus forming a self-parody of said "elitism" anyway.

    I was actually originally thinking of posting, in response to this thread here, "this is just another examle of media elitism", but then I realized that "media elitism" isn't a term I've actually heard before, though, speaking generally, it's a phenomenon I've certainly seen before, as the idea of equating social respectableness of different works to the actual "worthiness" of those works and/or the people who like them.

    But I guess what's new here is two things:
    * that this is being applied to works that aren't just part of modern contemporary pop culture, but are sort of more "classical" works
    * the emphasis on opposition to works that challenge the elitist's sense of superiority (i.e. the "kitsch" category)
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