The Null Device

Daniel Clowes speaks

An interview with underground comic author Daniel Clowes, in which he talks about a number of things, such as the pitfalls of hipster parents trying wrongheadedly to introduce their kids to interesting culture (and, in the process, making it deeply uncool):
I think about that a lot with my son. I don’t want to inflict the stuff I like onto him. He’s only eight, so right now I could get him to like anything, pretty much, but when he’s a few years older I really don’t want him to respond to anything because I like it too much or not enough. I want him to sort of find his way into his own stuff, so it’s something I have to constantly modulate. I don’t want him to associate this music with me, I want him to discover it on his own and then I’ll go like, “Well, I happen to have all their records!”
In short, you may be hip and credible, but once you have kids, your position as a parent will, in the eyes of your kids, be like antimatter to all the cred you have carried forth from your bourgeois-bohemian extended adolescence. And so, a generation is produced to whom Black Flag and Pavement will be as naff as, say, Engelbert Humperdinck or something. Or, in the post-loungecore, post-Yacht Rock age after irony has folded in upon itself, perhaps it's the act of having opinions about music that will carry a patina of daddish uncool, with record collections and discographies being inherently cringeworthy; perhaps, to the hip kids, music will be, as Jarvis Cocker put it, like a scented candle, a ubiquitous low-value commodity beneath caring about.
And now is the era of the Cool Dad. I know lots of parents who I just think, like, “God, if my parents had been like that I would’ve been into all this cool stuff.” Luckily they weren’t, so I discovered all that stuff on my own and they sort of disdainfully shook their heads at the stupid stuff I was interested in. But there are a lot of things that I don’t respond to. I’m not into video games, so I can just see my son becoming, like, a video-game tester as his job or something. Developing video games.
Clowes touches on the mainstreaming of comic-book/nerd culture:
When I was in high school, if I’d gone up to a girl and said, “Would you like to go read some of my Thor comics with me?” they would’ve just thought I was the lowest form of human life. That would’ve been so unimaginable. I was actually on the subway in New York and saw this, like, Attractive Teenage Couple, and the guy was like, “Hey, wanna go see Thor tonight?” and the girl was like, “Yeah, yeah.” And I just thought, that is just blowing my mind that that is happening right in front of me.
And touches on the way that, by reducing the amount of friction required to discover something, the internet has reduced the value of merely knowing about cultural products as badges of belonging:
I could tell you right now about some obscure filmmaker and you could know more about him by midnight than I would’ve been able to find out in 10 years when I was your age. But I don’t know that it would mean much to you unless you really connected to the guy and kept following it and doing more and more research. It’d just be like, “Yeah, I know about that guy,” and then you’d move on to the next thing. There’s something about having it be like a mystery that you have to solve and figure out that really connected you to this weird culture back then.
It also used to be like, you’d buy an album by a recording artist and there’d be one or two good songs on it, and there’d be all the rest that were just kind of to fill up the album, and you’d work your way through that and learn to like the other songs after a while, and then you’d wait till the next album came out. And now it sort of feels like everything is all the greatest hits. You learn about a musician and you immediately can figure out what their 10 greatest songs are, and you just listen to those and you don’t experience the full breadth of their failures and mishaps and all that stuff. I feel like that’s how all culture is. And I’m as guilty as anybody else now—if I hear about an author or something I go straight for their most well-known book and read that first, and, you know, I don’t have that experience of kind of building up to that. You don’t wanna read the rest of their books after that because you figure, “Well, I’ve already read the best one. It’s not gonna be much better than that.”
The interview also touches on the settings of Clowes' works, the aura of alienation in his characters, and his aesthetic formative experiences having been a reaction to the cultural upheavals of The Sixties:
As a kid I loved the look of the early ’60s, kind of the pre-hippie era, just the haircuts and clothes and the way women dressed, it was really appealing. And then all of a sudden people started wearing, like, filthy clothes and messy hair and stuff. That seemed really hideous and horrible to me. It definitely relates to what was going on in my life at the time because, as with many kids who grew up then, my family was just disintegrating while all that stuff came in, so it represented this chaos that was entering my life. But I still have an affection for that pre-1968 look, that kind of saturated Technicolor look. That seems like the real world to me, or like the way things should be.

There are 5 comments on "Daniel Clowes speaks":

Posted by: acb Thu Dec 29 18:44:29 2011

Which prompts the question: if anyone can know about (obscure band/author/filmmaker) in 15 minutes of Wikipedia/YouTube research, what will replace putting in the hard yards of finding out about these things as a peacock-tail-like indicator of commitment to a subculture/mindset? If there's no way of differentiating the hardcore from the evanescent shoals of hipster tourists trying on a costume for a week, how will those not on a first-name basis with other members of a scene prove themselves worthy of entry? Will we see some return to trial-by-ordeal as seen in outlaw subcultures ("tattoo your face to make it impossible to pass in straight society and/or commit some conspicuously antisocial acts and then you're in")?

Posted by: Greg Thu Dec 29 21:04:28 2011

The Onion article they refer to illustrates one way in which cool parenting can go wrong ..,26132/

But in general I think kids are simply good at seeing the flaws and hypocrisies in their parents' pop-culture belief systems.

Posted by: Greg Fri Dec 30 00:11:38 2011

"if anyone can know about (obscure band/author/filmmaker) in 15 minutes of Wikipedia/YouTube research, what will replace putting in the hard yards of finding out about these things... ?"

Perhaps subcultures will have to become like teachers and learn how to detect the "lite research" that Wikipedia enables?

Wiki-plagiarism by people unwilling to put in the hard years is rife. An Australian politician was recently caught basing his overseas-trip-report on WP ( Students rip it off for essays ( Book authors have been caught nicking from this irresistibly easy source (

The trend is towards universal access to mobile Internet. Maybe we have to let go the idea that possessing knowledge that most people don't is a status marker?

Posted by: Ech Sat Dec 31 03:38:11 2011

It's quite exciting to see how little interest in culture such as music is left when that culture, thanks to new information technologies, loses all its potential to serve as a means to distinction. If we're really entering an age where it is not sufficient anymore to like the right bands or live in the right city (Williamsburg or Friedrichshain) to feel superior to the people you want to separate yourself from, then maybe this lead to people being less shallow and actually put some work into becoming interesting. That would be the end of the Hipster, who is inherently a follower, or consumer, pretending to be a creator.

Posted by: unixdj Sat Dec 31 11:54:40 2011

Greg: > Maybe we have to let go the idea that possessing knowledge that most people don't is a status marker?

Yeah, maybe we as a culture should start distinguishing between taste and obscure knowledge again?

Or maybe we should distinguish between deep and shallow knowledge. Oh wait, we already do -- it's easier to impress people with an interesting discussion about your area of expertise than by dumping facts about obscure bands. Either that, or I don't talk to enough hipsters.

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