Hipster Cat in a Hatby Brandon Edmonds, image by We Are Awesome / 11.05.2010
American indie scamp, Harmony Korine, wrote Kids – a movie still worth seeing for a budding Rosario Dawson and the real-feeling drift of burnt out summer days – and since directed a handful of other films, each with occasional moments of skuzzy beauty, including his new one Trash Humpers (involving pensioners simulating sex with rubbish bins). At the Toronto film festival recently, according to Salon.com, Korine responded to a 20-something hipster, in a jaunty retro trilby, who’d asked what Humpers was supposed to mean, by firing back, “what’s your hat supposed to mean?”. It’s a quip that takes us deep into the difference between my generation, Generation X, and yours… Generation Wonky Hair.
The trailer for Trash Humpers.
For us, questioning was fashionable. We had grunge and rriot girrl. For you, fashion is beyond question – looking critically is less critical than “the way you look”. Not even American Imperialism (and those telling Twin Towers) can get you away from the (media)mirror. In which you only ever see a consumer who needs to be better and be someone. I grew up listening to Pavement and the Pixies. You listen to everyone who ever made music ever, at least once, on shuffle. I had Keanu Reeves. You have Ashton Kutchner. I had Winona Ryder. You have Lindsay Lohan. I had a walkman. You have you know. I had Seinfeld. You have Dane Cook. I cried when Kurt Cobain died. You could give a shit. I remember when REM were good. You could give a shit. I had graffiti. You have Facebook. I saw TV shows, you watch as re-made movies. Alannis Morrisette sang about it badly, imagine life without it, you’re drowning in it, please god make it stop: Irony.
What isn’t pregnant with irony to you? Nothing is what it is. Multiple meanings are the unstable co-ordinates of your waking life, your half-life, your second-life, your life-life. I remember the excitement of Windows 95. That strange emotive whirr and ping of the connecting box. It sounded like the future. You would rather lose an arm than go back to dial-up. We had OJ, who got away with murder. You have George Bush Jnr. We had a Presidential stain on a dress. You have a horny Hotel Heiress on tape. We had fanzines and Xerox copies. You have the iPad. We had coffee and dogs. You have coffee and blogs. We mourned the “death of originality”. You have Justin Bieber. We had BMX. You have yoga. We had junk bonds. You have bank bailouts. We had the rich. You have the super-wealthy. We had couture. You have knock-offs. We had Mandela. You got JZ. We had Atari. You win.
When Korine, who’s 37, asked the impudent 20-something hipster what his hat meant, he was engaging in something quite endangered, if not lost: wit. Wit isn’t the same thing as snark. Snark fuels flame wars. Snark is one dimensional and mean-spirited. It’s ugly. Wit is enlivening and spirited, it encourages engagement, thrives on response, whereas snark wants to triumph, to conquer debate, to be the last one standing on the battlefield of broken truths. Wit was Cobain on the cover of Rolling Stone with a T-shirt scrawled with the line “corporate magazines still suck”. Snark is writing in the comment thread at the end of this article that blowing his head off was the best thing he ever did!
Wit is more likely when people still believe in alternative ways of organizing the world, beyond market domination, beyond corporate capitulation. Wit needs a lightness of being. A buoyant quickness unburdened by doubt. That is why Cobain hit home for Generation X as hard as the John Lennon killing did for Baby Boomers. It was living (dead) proof that the guy we thought believed enough for all of us, a guy hard-wired with integrity, didn’t even have enough of the stuff to bring up his own daughter. It was heartbreaking.
The closest you’ve come, Generation Wonky Hair, to a generational martyr is Heath Ledger. The Joker. His witty performance as an hysterical, cross-dressing, facially scarred, materially indifferent (he sets a colossal pile of cash alight) terrorist is the most powerful image of yourselves you’ve ever been given. The Joker is free. Terrifyingly free and his freedom is radically dangerous to all the powers that be. He listens to nobody. He is loyal to nothing. He is the Ground Zero of your subjectivity. Heath Ledger’s performance is an invitation to imagine yourselves from the beginning, outside of History, outside of all the shit you’ve inherited: the broken planet, the empty ideals, the faded glories. The Joker is your chance to do and be something original – entirely self-determined. That it takes ultra-violence and a massive personality disorder to be someone these days, is less your fault than theirs, than mine, my generation, and the idiots before us. Everyone else. Start blaming us more. Get angry. Leave your hair alone and look around. It’s a mess, yes, but it’s your mess. The joke isn’t funny anymore, and it doesn’t have to be on you.
Opening Image © and courtesy We Are Awesome.