My current running joke is that I’m going to complete my pop culture trilogy by following up on Awkwardness and Why We Love Sociopaths with a volume on creepiness. Surely this means that I will wind up writing it eventually, as I seem to be doomed to be taken in by my own jokes. (A sidenote — I have another running joke about how I should write a book entitled Bonhoeffer: A Religionless Interpretation. That will be fun.)
The concept of creepiness is less clear to me than either awkwardness or sociopathy, however, and so I have made it a point to try to talk it through with various audiences. In one conversation, we focused on the way creepiness focuses on a certain bodily excess, starting with the classical figure of the “nerd,” with his exaggerated glasses, ill-fitting clothing, bizarre posture, bad skin, etc. We then moved on to the classic SNL character “Pat,” whose ambiguous gender was a paradoxical way of highlighting his or her bodily existence, making us obsessed with Pat’s genitals precisely by hiding them so completely.
On another occasion, the focus was on comedy in the Andy Kaufman vein and the various creepy Adult Swim shows (above all Tim and Eric’s work). Here there was a sense that they exceed awkwardness because they may or may not be aware of the inappropriateness of what they’re doing — i.e., they might actually be insane.
In a more recent discussion, the paradigm was rather the creepy guy who falsely believes himself to be a seducer. There was also the question of whether women could be properly creepy in this category, and we wondered if the proverbial “cougar” is the exception that proves the rule — a woman turned creepy by being masculinized.
So I’m sure that you all will have completely different ideas as well.