The Hipster Chronicles # 1: A Walking Cliche

This is going to be one of those ‘geez, my life is fascinating’ sort of posts.  Brace yourself.  I live in Edinburgh–a glorious city, beautiful, gothic, that drives me completely insane 9 days out of 10–and, this being Scotland, it was something of an event when the sun shone yesterday.  Not only did the sun shine, but the wind had sunk to a light spring breeze, the sky was totally clear, there was no chance of getting all four seasons in one day, as there usually is in Edinburgh.  So as I am on ‘vacation’ from grad school, so to speak, I betook myself to the Meadows, a public park in the middle of the Old Town.  There I witnessed what happens on a sunny day in a place known for its continuous greyness.

It seemed that the entire city turned out to picnic in the park.  There were people juggling, boys on unicycles, crowds of students with those little barbeques you can buy at Tescos, couples sleeping, children playing, bicycles inexplicably and dangerously traversing the crowd.  I laid down on a nice sunny patch of grass, had my lunch, opened my book, turned on my music and settled myself in for a few hours of existential contemplation.

The problem with existential contemplation on a sunny day in Edinburgh is that you begin to consider, naturally enough, your existential self.  Which I did.  It happened when I sat up to remove my shoes.  In a flash, I saw myself, sitting there on that green expanse.  And I did not like what I saw.  I saw a twenty-something girl in Levis, H&M tank top, wearing worn down red Converse with no socks, listening to folk music on her iPod, iPhone tucked into her back pocket.  I saw a girl drinking an organic smoothie while reading ‘American Psycho’, eyes shaded against the sun by her horn-rimmed, retro sunglasses, head propped up on a messenger bag with pins that read ‘Peace: Back By Popular Demand’ and a picture of Che Guevera.  I saw (and I tremble as I write this): a hipster.  The only thing missing was a pashmina and skinny jeans.

Allow me to rephrase that: I saw a fucking hipster.  Because I, like the rest of the civilized world, do not like hipsters.  They are false creatures of darkness who use ‘ironic’ ironically.  They move in packs, like werewolves, and listen to bands you’ve never heard of just because you’ve never heard of them.  They ride unicycles…and there is nothing I irrationally despise more than the unicycle (it defies all laws of God and Man, but let’s not get into that).  They are pop-culture leeches and they have usurped all the good things, like Godard and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and acoustic guitars.

And I am one.  Joanna reassured me that I could not be a hipster if I wasn’t doing any of the things I was doing ironically.  But of course, I am ironic by nature.  I’m a sarcastic, snarky film snob.  And isn’t not doing something ironically that  you should be doing ironically by extension ironic? The irony of being un-ironic in an ironic setting? Dear.  God.

Kerouac defined the hipster of the 1940s, but went on to say that there are a million and one false hipsters out there.  There’s an excellent quote from ‘Desolation Angels’ about this, but I can’t find it.  And now I’m referencing Kerouac and my cliched nature is complete.  Fuck.

In my defense (from myself), I actually want to read American Psycho.  I have a Che Guevera button because I respect him, and I have read some of his work.  I love my Cons, and my iPod, and my iPhone Caligula.  Levis fit me, and they are not artificially distressed.  I was drinking a fruit smoothie in an attempt to get my 5 a day.  If anything, I am a sincere hipster.

How very ironic.

Scre4m: How Meta Can You Get?

Within the first five minutes of the new Scream movie, I was giggling uncontrollably.  Ensconced in my seat at the front of the theatre next to a whole row of twenty-somethings, my little cinephiliac mind flooded with endorphins.  I felt positively giddy.  Because the Scream franchise is among the cleverest out there, a self-aware product trading at once in parody and real slasher film aesthetics.  And Scream 4 (or Scre4m, apparently) goes to a place that the others only hinted at.  In a phrase, it goes beyond postmodernity.

In some ways, admittedly, the slasher film has run its course.  The knife-wielding psychopath isn’t really all that scary–the first Scream traded more on references and pastiche than in real scare tactics.  The Millennium did not require motives, but today horror films are  faced with a public that is not easily shocked or frightened.  Your typical Western audiences are so accustomed to the tortured terrors of the Saw Franchise, Hostel I and II, and the whole bevy of torture porn that ups the ante for pure shock with every new installment that a dude in a mask with a knife just does not provide serious shocks.  The Scream movies depend on an audience aware of the so-called rules so sharply laid out in the first installment: virgins survive, sex, drugs and alcohol kills, the blonde always dies, the multiple red-herrings, and that all-important final scare when you think it’s all over.  How then to cope with an audience that struggles to be shocked?

Well, the answer is simple.  Don’t shock them.  Entertain them.  What Craven is good at–has always been good at–is providing the jump factor, the pure enjoyment of waiting for the inevitable bloodbath, of betting on who will survive to the final act, who could be the killer, and what that final twist will be.  The darkness of the subject is lightened by the fact that it’s all a joke, a massive prank that the audience is in on.  For all the blood and guts, it’s still funny and we’re meant to laugh at it.

Scre4m merrily acknowledges the changes in technology that the other films did not have to address.  There are cell phones, Twitter, Facebook, iPods and iPhone apps, digital cameras, live streaming and web cams.  There are hyper-aware film geeks to lay out the rules–namely, that all the rules have changed–and to subsequently comment on them.  There are films within films, references to reboots and remakes, the veneration of the original, a whole pop cultural world the audience can recognize, relate to, be versed in.  There’s also an edge of commentary, amid the gleeful mayhem.  Cults of celebrity and the public lives of every individual are fixed securely in the viewfinder, right before the knife tears out their innards.  The film recreates the genre for the generation raised in the Millennium, a group able to surf the waves of metanarrative without ever stopping to have it explained.

Which brings me, finally, to my criticism of the critics.  I’ve already read several reviews of Scre4m that claim, among other things, that the film is for a generation afraid to be frightened.  Yes, it is addressed to us, the smart-asses, the hipsterish masses so aware of our hyper-reality that we seem incapable of existing offline or disconnected.  While the high schoolers of the original went to Blockbuster, we buy DVDs and mp4s, download music and hold four way conversations over multiple cell phones.  But we’re not afraid to be frightened.  We’re frightened all the time.  We’ve been told, for years now, that there are a million things to be afraid of, and the media, the government, Mom and Dad and the whole consumer culture trades on our fear.  Can you blame us if the psychokiller in a ghost mask doesn’t quite scare us? That we laugh rather than cringe at the obviously fake entrails or the crushing of bones? Or that we take open and obvious pleasure in the flaunting of the rules of horror that the makers of Scream themselves created? In the face of such overweaning terror, we either despair…or we laugh.  It seems to me that this generation has chosen laughter.

Nearing the end of the film, one character expresses to another:

“Wow.  That’s just so meta.”

“What?”

“I dunno.  Something I heard the kids say.”

We’ve gone round the bend, past meta, past postmodern, into an unknown land the critics have no word for.  Welcome to the Millennium.  Motives are incidental.

Snoopy was the greatest unsung writer of the last generation

Everybody has a blog.  My grandmother’s cat has a blog.  Actually, that’s a lie.  My grandmother doesn’t have a cat.  But if she did, and if said cat were of an outgoing nature, a creature of publicity and remarkable sufficiency–say, perhaps, a Siamese or American Tabby (none of your self-centred Scottish Folds)–that cat, you can be assured, would have a blog.  So, now I have a blog.  I’m not quite sure why.  I’m certain that it will largely be used to subject my friends to what ravings they do not hear from me on a regular basis.

It will also be utilized for me to make noises about what movies, books and television shows I think are underrated, overrated and never rated at all; what authors are idiots and not worth the money they earn, and what authors have been needlessly and sadly forgotten.  What directors ought to be shot of cannons, and what directors deserve greater veneration.  And finally, of course, this blog will be used for shameless self-promotion as I attempt to actually get my own fictional work into print.  Not to mention the promotion of my exceptionally talented and neglected friends.

I have titled this blog ‘Suddenly, a shot rang out …’ because I find it amusing.  And because that best sums up my own writing style: a little snarky, a little romantic, a little violent and a little … Snoopy-ish.  If Snoopy didn’t write those five words first, he certainly wrote them best.

So, it was a dark and stormy night.  Suddenly, a shot rang out …