Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kidulthood


Some while back, Infinite Thought expressed a combination of concern and digust over the “pyjamasation” of the West. IT saw the constant push towards increasingly casual clothing, the kowtowing to King T-Shirt-&-Sneaker-Combo, as an emotionally-crippling nostalgia for childhood: that carefree era before monkey suits & high heels. Yes, it’s bad to see a bulbous-bellied babyboomer in bermuda shorts sipping a juicebox – but is it worse when it’s a twenty-five-year-old?

More recently on Jodi Dean’s Zizektacular blog, there was a conversation (apparently since deleted?) about the etiquette of stupid questions – that not calling a spade a spade serves only to coddle and infantilize students. Something I didn’t mention at the time, but now wish to address is: what about giving the audience what it wants?

There seems to be a depressing epidemic of Peter Pan syndrome sweeping the West. It’s plain to see in mainstream culture: just catch My Super Sweet Sixteen on MTV. Yes, I know their target is that patented teen/“tween” demographic, but then tell me from whence come all these foghorn-mouthed narcissists in their early/mid-twenties who star in those other obscene “reality”/lifestyle shows. (Speaking of the convergence of the imaginary and the Real…) For further evidence, please note the popularity of Dane Cook, Family Guy, the films of Judd Apatow, etc.

More disturbing to me is the prevalence in the underground – the supposed haven of the media-saavy, the convention-snubbing, the culturally curious, the aesthetically-sophisticated, weirdos, freaks, and progressives – of a pervasive, escapist infantilism. I’m very tempted to lay the blame at the feet of my favourite whipping boys, Animal Collective. Their music is kindergarten-teacher chipper, their voices like an animated musical, their subject matter twee and nonsensical. (What the shit is a “Peacebone” anyway?) None of which is by accident: the lads have admitted that “Magic and childhood and music-making are three things that just have a way of coming together, at least for us.”

But it’s giving them too much credit to claim they single-handedly invoked a sea-change in underground rock. Perhaps the problem is future shock. Those in their mid-to-late-twenties are the last generation to have come of age before MP3s, reality TV, blogs, and YouTube – which means we were the last generation whose pop culture lingered long enough to foster an emotional attachment, before the instant obsolescence of the information age. Now, all our childhood idols are being stripped (or stripping themselves) of their mystique: Satan’s minion, Glenn Danzig, self-caricatures on Cartoon Network; Ice Cube takes Disneyesque doofus dad roles even Eddie Murphey (no longer delerious, just desperate) would turn down; Ah-nold swapped his cinematic cool for political capital. MTV’s aforementioned reality shows are the worst offenders, having reduced modern Hercules Terry “Hulk” Hogan, alpha-thug Xzibit, and the Prince of Darkness, Ozzy Osbourne, to domestic rubes. It’s the yin-and-yang of reality TV: if normal people can be celebrities, then it works both ways. But the result of this urge towards excessive self-revelation is that super-human mythos is impossible to maintain.

Which brings us to Pitchfork-approved party-starters & professional man-children Dan Deacon and Girl Talk.

Deacon’s latest release is the Ultimate Reality DVD, a dizzying video mash-up of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s filmography (by Jimmy Joe Roche) set to a day-glo symphony of Nintendo-style synth squiggles. Deacon & Roche’s mission is plain-stated: to pass off their "psychedelic subversive conceptual Mash-Up" as "a mandala projected from the third eye of suburban back yards, cracked drive ways, and dusty VCR's.. the dawn of this post-postmodern age" – that is, to reconstruct their shattered modern American folklore by regressing to the wide-eyed wonder of a six-year-old sat in front of the TV. They want to enjoy the full thrall of unmitigated fantasy, and Superman can only exist if you believe a man can fly, so it’s back under the blankey we hide. Sure enough, fellow Wham City citizen Jim "Grgl" has remarked that Deacon’s appeal is that "he really lets them feel like infants."

Meanwhile, ex-tourmate Greg “Girl Talk” Gillis is the thousand-samples-per-minute king of mash-ups. His brand of regurgitated hip-hop comes bite-sized and aims for the ass, never the head or the chest. Consequently, he’s been accused of robbing hip-hop of its essential anti-authoritarian aggression. But this isn’t censorship for the sake of dance-floor levity; this is a studious whitewashing (no pun intended) of hip-hop’s history, a self-induced amnesia to forget the threat ever existed. Gillis has no doubt seen The Wizard of Oz: once the curtain is pulled back, the man behind it can’t escape his own smallness. Eminem’s won an Oscar, Ice Cube can make a whole movie without capping a single motherfucker, and Snoop’s encouraged an arena to “give it up for the Bedwetters.” It’s damned hard to recall what danger they ever posed. Rather than deal with disillusionment, Gillis prefers to reimagine hip-hop as a foot-stomping LP pile-up that bids no more than to bust a move.

But I can’t discuss these two clowns without immediately recalling an Onion headline: “Adulthood Spent Satisfying Childhood Desires.” What kind of sociopath wants to return to a time when the Tooth Fairy was real, or dancing like a drunk giraffe qualified as rebellion? What kind of art forgoes insight and enrichment for sugar-coated regression? My digust with Animal Collective, Deacon, and Gillis (among others) springs from the same roots as Dean’s contempt for indulging stupid questions: that it shields us not only from discomfort, but the truth.

Yes, rock has always suffered from developmental self-arrest. But rock is most rewarding when it transcends simple-minded black/white contrarianism and reckless hedonism. (Anyone who disagrees would probably argue that Meet the Beatles and Pablo Honey are better albums than Revolver and OK Computer, and fuck that.) This isn’t some condescending aesthetic privy only to the old & busted. When I was 19, I bought the buzzed-about sophomore record by …And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead. I sold it back three days later, ‘cuz I already owned Bad Moon Rising. But what conclusively killed my enjoyment of the record was the ersatz anthem “A Perfect Teenagehood.” Here were grown-ass men in their late-mid-twenties, still pissed at their parents and shrieking “FUCK YOU!” ad nauseum like petulent pubescents. This music was emotionally retarded – and I was still a teenager at the time.

2 comments:

tyler said...

You think this youth obsession started with Animal Collective? What about Jonathan Richman & the Modern Lovers, Beat Happening/K Records etc? These people really defined that aesthetic, like 30 years ago.

Seb said...

Oh, you're absolutely right. But I left them out of this particular piece because, generationally speaking, the folks currently abuzz about AC, Deacon, et al. couldn't have been more than 10 years old during the K Records heyday. Calvin Johnson's 45 years old, and as influential as he's been in the past 15 years, he's no longer the current model for regressive pop culture.