Thursday, August 26, 2010

Olde School: THE NOTHING THAT REFLECTS: Post-Postmodernism and "Crank 2"

Roger Ebert recommended this blog article on the movie Crank: High Voltage and post-postmodernism. Both of which seem horribly wrong headed at first glance. And for better or worse, I'd read it three times before I began to get an inkling that there was something to its arguments (or that it was actually making an argument).

What I understand so far is this: where postmodernism expresses the "tragic dimension of modernity," post-postmodernism asserts that "nothing matters anymore." Where the former "reifies modernism with its sense of humor", the latter "does not laugh for or at us." One is a red giant, the other a black hole. The postmodernist is a "critic," the post-postmodernist a "crank." Pure noise. Grand Guignol standing in for detached absurdity.

And so we can read stuff like this:
Yet, Post-Postmodernism is not any of those old styles ('Surrealism,' 'DaDa,' or any of that) from the European ancien regime, but is simply indeed, "mash-up" and nothing any more pre-supposing than that. If late Tarentino often slips into a mawkishly backward-gazing Postmodernism ("Kill Bill") then Tarentino's good friend and fellow 'grindhouse' autuer, Robert Rodriquez is far less mawkish about race, identity, and essence, as would be any colored man with good sense who must deal with the vagaries of artistic expression within the cut throat Hollywood system. At any rate, Rodriguez seems more certainly a direct influence on Neveldine's and Taylor's style than Tarentino is. Witness the offensive bathos of Tarentino's "Jackie Brown," workerly talents of veteran actors Pam Grier and Samuel Jackson notwithstanding. Rodriguez's far more laconic, more polymorphously perverse style (for he presents violence in a filmic world that suggests a cold medium where Tarentino's implied medium is more pubescent, breathless, and hot). Rodriguez's cinematic sensibility is closer to that of Nev and Tay than to that of the more adolescent Tarentino. One need only consider that Rodriguez's embodiment of female sexuality and eroticism is the fulsome, fecund Salma Hayek, while Tarentino's embodiment of female sexuality and eroticism is the homoerotic, flatly androgynous and vaguely Aryan Uma Thurman. Not that Nev and Tay's choice of bland blonde, Amy Smart is any more colorful than Thurman, but one simply notes the obvious similarities between Neveldine/Taylor and Rodriguez, where ouvre are concerned.
Which is to say, that the hothouse atmosphere of Tarantino's postmodern imagination is sickly and closed-off from the world. It is nerdy and weak. Rodriguez's post-postmodernism by contrast is robust and virile, and encourages participation through its recklessness and thoughtlessness. It's High School. Glee for people who misunderstand Nietzsche.

(And of course while Tarantino pines for Uma, Rodriguez always gets the girl. Jocks win.)

Violence, cinematic violence, in this view, has no tragic dimension. It neither wounds nor redeems. It cannot transform, it only metastasizes. Post-postmodernism therefore simultaneously plays with and destroys our ability to organize ideas. It gives us too much. It overproduces, overgenerates. We can formulate any number of associations, catch countless inside jokes, navigate six degrees of referentiality, but when there is no organizing principle, no disputed truth, no symbolic order, there is nothing to be learned. The play of meaning never ends, the story has no satisfying resolution. And in the end, if we have lost the primordial wound, then there is nothing to heal, nothing to overcome. So on with the vivisections!

Like all anti-art, it reminds us of the vitality, indifference, and ugliness of the world outside our heads.


Because not only is the imagination here secondary and fanciful, but it seeks to brutalize and bully us with its post-post-post-ness. It is ecstatically cruel, and not really all that good. What people really respond to is the unseriousness of it, the over-the-top-ness of it. It is drunk on its own stupidity and cheapness. But so is everything else in this culture (from the Palins to Youtube to Jersey Shore), so who needs it?

The unwitting celebration of the what-the-fuck-edness of it all is not an aesthetic. It's just the internet. It's cable. It's the Tea Party. Every soul-crushingly infantile meme, mash-up, and LOL.

So we need more art, more glamour, more existential angst. Not less. We need more shows like Mad Men and Deadwood and yes even comedies like Party Down where tragedy permeates everything, the language, the time and place, even the furniture. We need something that reminds us that the nightmare of history is still one from which we'd like to wake up.