Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Little boy blue

Noting the concurrent rise of fey troubaours of the adolescent consciousness, Matthew Wilder skewers the likes of Wes Anderson, Jonathan Safron Foer and Conor Oberst in this extremely entertaining essay. Wilder contends that these constitute a new iteration of the male artist, which in a Thomas Frank-like touch, he dubs "LittleBlue SmurfBoy™--after the fetish of [their] patron saint, Donnie Darko, the most sensitive and martyred of [their] kind." Wilder seems right on target when he points out "the salient LittleBlue SmurfBoy™ trait--the endless running of fingertips over Stuff I Really Really Like." Making lists of the the commodity junk that aspires premature nostalgia passes for art only because we are all desperate for means to redeem the endless amount of time we spend consuming, in amassing trivial data about particular niches in the shopping world. Their catalog of obervations ring true and as rejected and forgotten items once improbably and perhaps pointless beloved, the nostalgia objects resound with the poignancy of that birthday card your mom bought you that showed just how little she really understood you. Nostalgia for old consumer junk is a breath away from being an emotionally devastating critique on how commodities have intruded into the most intimate relationships we expect to ever have.

But I don't understand Wilder's longing for Maileresque bluster and surly pugnaciousness and dick-flexing to return to cultural discourse. Hasn't he ever heard of Chuck Pahlaniuk? Then again, maybe that hack is so popular because he's filling the underexploited niche Wilder yearns to see saturated. Wilder laments the "safety" of recent pop culture, but he's neglected the genres where over-the-top oneupmanship occurs. Navel-gazing McSweeneyites do not constitute the whole of public discourse on the arts, and hipster auteurs are not the only artists. Wilder rightly directs his critique at edtors who don't cultivate writers who will call bullshit on crap like Coldplay and Bloc Party and champion more challenging fare, but such fare is out there in abundance.

Also, Wilder's prose partakes of the same look-at-me hipness, the overheated verbal ostentation, the cryptic concision and allusiveness for its own sake, that characterizes the people he criticizes. This kind of prose hates deliberative thought, and scorns the notion that an idea might require more than four words to be put across. It expects the reader to be as hopped up and impatient as the writer seems to be, and that state of mind is conducive only to blanket-statement reactionary dismissals. The goal of such prose is to make a showy splash, which is the same trait that is so infuriating about Oberst and Anderson -- they undermine the serious themes hey stumble on because they are so eager to show off precociously. Show-offs never seem to believe or care about anything, because you have the impression they will change their ideas to suit what will make the biggest impression. I was left thinking the same of Wilder's conclusions, that they were cooked up to seem outrageous rather than being heartfelt. But what is "heartfelt" anyway -- post-structuralism did away with such a notion.

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