I love this movie. Is that such a crime? Is it? IS IT????
I have White Guilt. Not just for all of the horrible things white people have done to other races in history, but because I see my white, middle-class, twentysomething “hipster” culture reflected back to me in ways that make me cringe. I love Where the Wild Things Are, Moleskine notebooks, grammar, black people music that black people don’t listen to anymore, and have been an unpaid intern. I have bangs, bad memories of high school, practice yoga, admire the work of Michel Gondry, and want to hold an 80s night party on my 25th birthday. I feel guilty about it. According to Stuff White People Like, Adbusters, and other self-aware pantheons of pop culture, I’m as white as it gets. And I may or may not be shades of hipster. This is still up for discussion.
I do, however, love my indie music. The more obscure, the better. And I like to keep it to myself. As soon as something becomes popular, it breaks my heart. I know this is just another aspect of my unfailing whiteness, but this whole “counterculture going mainstream” thing really grinds my gears. I want to be unique in a culture that parodies uniqueness as a popular trend.
I will admit, somewhat begrudgingly, that I totally dug Garden State and the Zach Braff-selected soundtrack. Imagine how distraught I felt when I stumbled upon this article in PopMatters with the beguiling title, “Bored New World: How the Zach Braff Prototype is Slowly Killing American Music.”
Chris Milam makes the point that American music these days lacks the grit and pain of earlier drama kings Sid Vicious, Eddie Vedder, and Kurt Cobain:
I saw something different in Nashville, and I saw it more and more: soft-spoken singer-songwriters mumbling timidly into their guitar as dozens and dozens of hipsters listened and nodded. These kids sang like they have nothing to prove, and something to lose, and crowds contentedly humored them.
A few years later, Natalie Portman popped headphones onto Zach Braff’s head and said flatly, “This song will change your life.” The resulting sound was not only that of carefully composed dullness (thank you, Shins), but of a million wealthy white kids investing in dull acoustic music to soundtrack their own romantic melodrama. Youth culture is now practically sponsored by iTunes and Starbucks, and if that’s not a class statement, I don’t know what is. Every commercial features acoustic meanderings with a whispering, confessional androgynous voice. Entire movies are soundtracked by the supposedly self-aware acoustic stylings of Joe Latte. Percussion and humor are nowhere to be found. Neither is a pulse.
He has a point. It hurts, like lemon juice in a cut, but he has a point. I’m assuming that what he means is that these are without “teeth,” a term my boyfriend uses arbitrarily (Kid Rock, for example, has “teeth” in his opinion while Rush does not. Whatever), and one I take to mean passion, life, and originality. If Milam is looking to indie/singer-songwriters as the basis of his critique, he should look no further than artists such as Bon Iver, Andrew Bird, My Brightest Diamond, and even Snow Patrol (yes, Mr. Milam, Snow Patrol), who display just enough “teeth” when necessary.
I would also argue that there was a time and place for punk rock and grunge. That time is over. Thankfully. In a world where there’s nothing new under the sun, where anarchy and glorified teen angst are passe, where are musicians to go but the messes and intricacies of our inner lives and relationship turmoil? What if my generation just wants to sit back and relax because it has realized that protests and sit-ins accomplish nothing? What if we’re just so damn tired of all the evils in the world that we want to escape from it in our music?
Another passage that had me cringing:
Maybe the most troubling aspect of this entire phenomenon is not even the art itself, but instead its newly adopted audience (people who can’t relate to self-meditation, but want to). In our current climate, if you have access to a Facebook page, you have access to creating the World of You. Also available is the soundtrack to the World of You. And even if you have better things to do, or other things to worry about, or generally more fruitful endeavors to pursue, the newest escapist fashion requires that you lie in your bed, windows drawn, pop in your iPod, cue up Snow Patrol or the Navel Gazers, or the Weeping Gentlemen, or whoever, and “change your life” with Natalie Portman. Then everything’s smooth and dull and gravy. Why buy into your own life when you can buy into the natural privilege and self-entitlement of someone else’s? Where the American dream was once to actually become something from nothing, it’s now to imagine being something instead of nothing. Why make things better when you can just pretend they are?
There are parts of me that agree with you, Chris Milam, but you’re treading a little too closely to my life. You’re deepening my white guilt and making me feel badly about the things I love.
As my old pastor used to say, “If you can’t say amen, say ouch!”
I love The Decemberists too. Dang it!