Ferris Spielby Brandon Edmonds / 08.02.2012
There are generational instances that make you want to put your head in both hands and muffle-scream, “Why? Why? Why?” They are acts so vile and ill-considered, so nakedly commercial, that they instantly reveal your peers to be exactly the same spineless money-whores you once defined yourself against.
For Baby Boomers it’s everything that happened in the 1980s. Reagan, soda wars, Huey Lewis & the fucking News. Making Phil Collins matter. Springsteen’s ass shaking in front of the American flag while Panama was invaded. The decade was infamously soaked in anti-social greed. “Kill the poor!” spray painted in financial districts. Easton Ellis’ Patrick Bateman, the 80s serial killer who conducts impromptu seminars on the semiotics of Whitney Houston songs while stroking the mutilated vagina he keeps in his gym locker, was the poisonous fruit of the abandoned dream of sixties togetherness. A rich neoliberal killer obsessed with luxury labels. Clinton playing the saxophone in Raybans, channeling Belushi, on Saturday Night Live while bombing medical installations in Somalia is about as disgusting as the boomers get.
For Gen Y it may have been when Arcade Fire green lit their songs for beer commercials, Justin Timberlake switched to acting, or Natalie Portman couldn’t say enough nice things about The Shins in Garden State. Google censoring itself for China. Jack Black devolving into a gurning turd for hire. For millennials, well, selling out is automatic in this austerity era. There is no alternative. Monetizing what you’ve got is the only way to survive. Millennial culture is consumed and trashed online before it blooms into anything especially lasting while the stuff that gets into mass contexts is run through stringent product-testing until the possibility of subversion and surprise is bled dry.
It’s why the ‘Is Lana Del Rey Real or Manufactured?’ debate mildly rippling through early-adopter web cognoscenti circles is so wearingly redundant. Most kids can’t and don’t want to notice the difference between an image and actual talent. Why separate them? It’s all the same anyway. Fizzy shit like LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” bobs up against Adele’s big-feeling stadium thumper “Rolling in the Deep” in the same barrel of iPod apples. The difference between being authentic in music and selling out was a relevant material concern for about eleven seconds in the blues era when Robert Johnson was plucking and fucking at the crossroads. And even then he had a persuasive brand-myth about selling his soul to the devil. Then again when a Jewish kid born in Duluth, called Robert Allen Zimmerman, strapped on a guitar and re-imagined America. But was it folk?
Now the tide of turnover, the puke of PR, is slopping further and further up the pristine shores of my own Generation X. Slackers were the nineties hipster. The go-to media term of the day for anything young people seemed to be doing. Never forget mainstream media is largely owned and churned out by old guys. Old guys riddled with resentment. We love to arrest new things in the glaze of old things we’re more comfortable with. We’re all stuck in the infantilizing loop Mathew McConaughey’s immortally laconic creepazoid in Dazed & Confused (1993) outlines: “That’s what I love about these high school girls man. I get older, they stay the same age. Yes they do. Yes they do.”
Anyway slackers sat on the couch a lot thinking about maybe getting up and sniffing the milk carton. They’d seen through the corporate grind but they didn’t really know what to replace the heart-attack inducing rat race with. So they sat on the couch a lot. Opting vaguely out. And their patron Saint was a guy called Ferris Bueller in a 1986 John Hughes movie. In it a high school kid bunks school and has a cool time with friends without paying the consequences. He is one of the few people in cinema who get away with it.
Bueller was a pro-active slacker. He got off the couch and made shit happen. He proved you could run rings around your parent’s old values (honesty, hard work, self-denial) while getting hot girls into the pool with you. Opportunities befell him. He was golden. He ditched school and had one of the funnest days in movies. He turned a street parade into a big showstopping dance number. He bent the world to his offhand will. Ferris was the alpha male you wanted to hang with. Generous, imaginative, casually brilliant and a natural born life-enhancer. He paved the way for the nineties drop out thang. Ferris once meant a lot to me. I wanted to be Beuller. His smarts, his gusto, his harmless deceits. He inspired me.
And now… he’s done a fucking Honda commercial.
Mathew Broderick, married to the worst thing, besides the Taliban, to happen to feminism in the nineties, Sarah Jessica Parker, redoes the plot of “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” to enhance the sales of a giant car company. This time though he’s shirking responsibility and having a day all to himself by duping his agent, who is essentially his employee, rather than his parents. And he’s clearly filthy rich, lolling in an elegant bedroom worth millions. Ferris grew up to be part of the 1%. It retroactively shits on the rebel glee of the movie. Though in a way Wall Street financiers operate just like Ferris. They also do whatever they want without getting caught. I may as well have taken life cues from Gordon Gecko.