Monday, October 13, 2008

Dark, Twee, Literary


I hadn’t realized until a few years ago that while Donnie Darko may be appreciated by people of various ages, it has a major, cultish fan following among people a decade or more younger than I. That’s fine with me, as the young folk could always use some 80s music and time travel (two elements of the film’s weird, complex tale of high school angst and possible schizophrenia — and for another very hip, clever use of time travel, you have to see Primer, the very realistic-feeling little indie sci-fi film my friend Chuck Blake showed me).

I wonder, with some concern, if Donnie resonates with the current crop of young adults for the simple, disturbing reason that it’s so emo/twee. I mean, Donnie’s basically a hero, in the end, by being almost completely passive and self-destructive, which just barely redeems his existence as a profound loser with family problems.

I don’t know if this decade’s childlike, effete passivity is such a good thing — though I have to admit I like it just fine when it causes things like this fragile-feeling video for the beautiful Stars song “Your Ex Lover Is Dead” (since they are Montreal-based, I’m counting on my friend Jacob Levy to see them perform there at some point and report). And not everything has to be an ad about manly beef consumption, of course.

If I understand music well enough these days to distinguish “twee” from “emo” (and I am not at all confident I do), I think the Stars video was twee, while the theme to Smallville — equally overwrought but with more of a wall-of-sound Hilary Duff-era constant, somewhat cheesy volume-barrage and almost grunge-like constant vocal wail — is more emo (generally a bad thing, I think, but I do like the Smallville theme itself, which suits the show and manages to still sound pretty hip over seven years in, as the series slowly but surely mutates into Lois & Clark).

Effete whining may not be the path to heroism in the real world, but it might be a short cut to some measure of gentleness and civility after a few increasingly coarse decades. Yes, the current version of Clark Kent seems mopey, but on the bright side, the Stars don’t seem likely to brutally slam-dance into me, which is nice. We aging and conservative punk fans need some calm and relaxation sometimes, obviously.

P.S. The Stars also remind me a bit of the (comparably youthful and often similarly clever-playful) literary-hipster folk who attend Todd Zuniga’s Opium literary readings, and you can see that for yourself by watching my friend Katherine Taylor and others read at one such event tomorrow night (Tuesday the 14th) at 7 at the Kitchen at 512 W. 19th.

P.P.S. Harder to musically categorize is this alarming, lobster-encrusted performance of “The Night [Chicago Died/They Drove Old Dixie Down/The Lights Went Out in Georgia]” by Von Hummer, pointed out to me by Gerard Perry, who also forwards this dubbed-over Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles performance.


--Brad said...

Smallville has gone on for too long. It should end. Perhaps a spin-off called “Metropolis” or something.

Todd Seavey said...

I think you’re already watching that spin-off! They just haven’t changed the title. They may even rationalize that “Smallville” can be thought of as Lois’s nickname for Clark and thus that the town itself need not even be seen in future episodes. If the ratings dip, _then_ maybe they relaunch with a new title — and a red cape.

I’m more alarmed by stupid-sounding plans for a series about Dick Grayson before he was Robin. The reason that makes no sense is that while Clark really was growing into the role of Superman when he was young, Dick Grayson was just a circus performer until — BAM! — his family’s dead and he’s adopted by Batman, who he’d never anticipated working with. Where’s the arc? Where’s the sense of destiny (prior to the final episode)?

And it sucks that much harder when you consider how _well_ a Smallville-style YOUNG BRUCE WAYNE show would work, showing how he went from orphan to trained fighting machine before finally putting on the cowl. Much cooler than being a boy circus acrobat and chock full of an awareness of destiny, not to mention plenty of money for travel expenses and an obsession with criminals. A Chris Nolan movie stretched to seven seasons wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

jenny said...

what the hell is “twee,” anyway? a strange euphemism for baby piss?

no, really. i want to know.

Todd Seavey said...

Pretty sure it’s New Wave-influenced, pop-like yet often art-school-clever recent music with gentle or girly lyrics and quiet, non-aggressive-sounding instrumentation, often employing “ethereal” female vocals.

Let me also add that _Gotham_ would work perfectly for a show about Bruce Wayne’s adolescence.

Travis said...

Donnie Darko has a cult following among young people for the same reason that The Breakfast club, Tim Burton movies and the Crow have a cult following among young people. Its about being young, angry, in love, and alienated from society, and that resonates with a lot of young people.

Donnie is somewhat passive and self destructive, but I’d say a bigger part of the appeal is his attacks on corrupt and oppressive institutions that he’s forced to live under. Public schools and moralistic small town communities are pretty tame as far as oppressors go in the real world, but those situations are familiar to a lot of kids.