Lucky, lucky Los Anglicans. Your cup runneth over: Tarkovsky festivals, the approaching Hollywood Forever film season, Kenneth Anger screenings… and soon, an encore presentation of Birdemic: Shock and Terror:
Only last month, Cinefamily housed the drunkenly enthusiastic world premiere of this cinematic Tour de Farce. The screening was hosted by Tim and Eric in cahoots with Severin Films, who turned the entire West Hollywood theater into “a temporary aviary with epic displays of Birdemic special effects, props and costumes that… put the Smithsonian to shame.”
Some background on the film from Severin’s official press release:
Birdemic, described by [writer/producer/director] James Nguyen as a romantic thriller, is a horror/action/special-effects-driven love story about a young couple trapped in a small Northern California town under siege by homicidal birds. Birdemic also tackles topical issues of global warming, avian flu, world peace, organic living, sexual promiscuity and lavatory access.
Nguyen, a 42-year-old Vietnamese refugee, wrote, cast and shot the film over the course of four years using salary from his day job as a mid-level software salesman in Silicon Valley. The film pays homage to Hitchcock’s The Birds via location shooting in Mission Bay, California, as well as an appearance by star of Tippi Hedren. When rejected for an official screening slot at Sundance, Nguyen spent eight days driving up and down the festivals nearby streets in a van covered with fake birds, frozen blood and Birdemic posters, while loudspeakers blared the sounds of eagle attacks and human screams.
Severin’s executive producers took one look at Nguyen’s labor of love and bought the rights to Birdemic for the next 20 years.
After the premiere screening last month, Nguyen and Birdemic co-stars Alan Bagh and Whitney Moore stayed on hand for a lively Q&A session with their soused and roaring public. They laughed, they cried, it was better than Cats. Now, thanks to popular demand, Birdemic is hitting the open road. Screenings are scheduled in thirteen cities across the continental US, starting April 2nd. Not since The Room or Troll 2 has a film been so poised for Ironic Hipster Fan Luv.
Hey… can we talk about Ironic Hipster Fan Luv for a sec?
Or not. In fact, I’m going to put the rest of this post under a cut, because I honestly don’t know if its ouroboric tone will be interesting, or merely irritating, to the majority of our readers. If you’re not already rolling your eyes with your arms folded across your chest, I invite you to read on!
Ironic Hipster Fan Luv is a term I use to describe the phenomenon of large groups of fairly young, fairly shrewd people latching onto certain “naive” or “unsophisticated” creative works, and lavishing them with an oddly self-conscious, obsessive, yet backhanded, praise. Such luv is often expressed with elaborate, even theatrical group PDA in the tradition of Rocky Horror. Only something’s… off. A little bit mean-spirited, maybe? Or just painfully self-conscious.
Recently, Matt Fraction shared a link to a brilliant edition of The Best Show where radio host Tom Scharpling fields a satirical call-in from a reigning hipster prince of Williamsburg. Take a listen (bit starts at 1:14) and tell me if the guy’s jeering, wretched “it’s so awesome… I mean, retarded… I mean, awesome” diatribe isn’t definitive of Ironic Hipster Fan Luv in every way.
Before going any further, I gotta ask: what do you think a hipster is, anyway?
In his widely read Time Out article Why the Hipster Must Die, Christian Lorentzen posits that hipsters –in the modern, non-Beat vernacular– are those who “fetishize the authentic”.
They trawl for signifiers from all of the “fringe movements of the postwar era—beat, hippie, punk, even grunge”, drawing on the “cultural stores of every unmelted ethnicity” as well as queer culture. Then they “regurgitate them with a winking inauthenticity” and well-developed sense of irony. [via]
Pop Matters writer Rob Horning hypothesizes that hipsters are the “embodiment of postmodernism as a spent force, revealing what happens when pastiche and irony exhaust themselves as aesthetics.” LAist editor Elise Thompson conjectures in her passionate op-ed piece Why Does Everyone Hate Hipsters Assholes that hipsters are “soldiers of fortune of style” who grab whatever’s trendy and wear it for a while –both literally and figuratively– without giving much thought to what the style really means. She laments:
They don’t seem to subscribe to any particular philosophy or to have an allegiance to any particular genre of music. Whatever it is, as long as it is the latest and the coolest and the hippest, they have to have it.
I guess what it comes down to is that once upon a time, we had really good cake. It was good and it was good for you. We were waging a war agains Reaganomics, nuclear weapons and the Star Wars defense system. We had a solid left-wing agenda. We had seen the scars of Viet Nam and learned from them. We were picking up the mantle that the hippies dropped when they all bought yuppie “Beamers” and became “the man”.
We had the Minutemen. We had the Descendents. The Ramones were all still alive. The fashion was fun, and goofy, and like bandannas in our back pockets, it let us know who each other were. It helped us find each other in a hostile society.
It was fucking cake, and the blue hair and the cartoonish clothes were just icing on the cake.
I think the reason people hate the hipsters so much is that they only have the icing. And who wants to just sit down to a big bowl of icing? It makes your teeth hurt.
Does her excerpt remind you of anything? Joshua Ellis voiced some personal observations of similar cultural shifts in an essay published in Issue #04 of Coilhouse Magazine: Children by the Millions Wait for Alex Chilton. [Which was also posted in full on the blog a couple weeks back, and now, thanks to a surprising turn of events, can be downloaded as a PDF from the official Pixies website.]
Another Wiki-cited social commentator, Zachary Kamel, calls hipster culture “fashionable nihilism.” Viewed from either side of a Vice Do’s and Dont’s column, that seems like an apt assessment. Yikes.
Is it true? Have the more insecure, oversaturated and jaded among us moved beyond shouting into the void to merely snickering at it? Or worse yet, shrugging? This is the way the world ends, not with a bang, but a “meh” in a mesh hat?
It’s no wonder no one ever wants to admit they’re a hipster. Have you ever met someone who was proud to wear that mantle? (If you have, well, wow, I’m impressed. That’s like Irony³.) Hipster is a bad word, a damnation, a label intended to negate the dismissive and jeer the mocking. Nobody wants to admit they’re insincere on a bone-deep level.
But, as sharper tools than I have said before, “I’m rubber, you’re glue!” Meaning, if you’re overly quick to slap that label on others, there’s a fair chance you may be one yourself, or cynical enough to be a kissin’ cousin.
A clarification: if you’re a fan of the Shaggs’ music or Judith Scott’s sculptures or Walter Potter’s taxidermy dioramas or Henry Darger’s saga of the Vivian Girls, and you’re pissed that I’d call you a Bad Bad Name for it, please relax. That’s not what I’m talking about when it comes to Ironic Hipster Fan Luv. If you’re a hipster for appreciating “unselfconscious” art because you think it’s refreshing and inspired (as opposed to “stupid” or “retarded”), then I’m a hipster, too. We can be hipsters together.
Or… not? A love of offbeat fare should not an automatic hipster make, should it? I was discussing hipsterness with some friends the other day; one of them chimed in with this:
Here’s my general problem with hipsters: a fundamental part of their existence (perhaps the fundamental part) is mocking something other people genuinely love, while attempting to take that thing away from the people who genuinely love it.
Back in the old days, [we] just identified protohipsters as people who thought they were just too cool for the room, but kept showing up, anyway.
Maybe an obsession with art brut doesn’t make one a hipster, as long as there’s no sniggering or aloof posturing involved. But what about kitsch and camp? If you want to duck that dreaded label, are the tchtochkes off limits? No Remains of the Day lunch box for you? No McPhee catalog? How about a love of “so bad it’s good” fare that’s so ridiculous, you can’t help but giggle? Or, alternately, something so culturally outdated and foreign, or even just plain certifiable, you’d need to have lived off the grid in a cave your whole life, or atop some pristine, DIRECTV dish-free mountaintop, not to catch a whiff of the irony? When and how does the love become too tainted?
What to say, what to do, when this tainted love has been a time-honored tradition among me and mine ever since our fervent Public Access TV bootleg tape-trading days? I’m always cautious in how I present this love to others, because there’s a fine line between laughing with someone, and laughing at them. More rabid group displays of Ironic Hipster Fan Luv tend to obliterate that line, publicly and painfully. (Ever go to a Wesley Willis concert? ‘Nuff said.)
I have trouble believing that anyone who creates sincere, vulnerable art purely out of a desire to communicate enjoys being picked apart, or worse yet, outright mocked for it in a public sphere. (See Mark Borchardt’s blitzed, heartbreaking rant in American Movie, where he voices this fear of exposure directly to the camera lens that’s been documenting his artistic struggle for months.)
As a documenter of culture, does it make a difference that my championing the likes of Mark Gormley and Fred & Sharon Spencer and Shooby Taylor stems not from a desire to mock or debase, but from genuine fondness and a hunger to share creative output that, albeit wonky and guffaw-inducing, is also delightful to me because it feels so pure and unaffected? Am I, too, guilty of fetishizing the authentic? Alas, there can be no doubt: the answer is yes. Should I stop? Would Mark Gormley want me to? Would Fred or Sharon? Regardless, should I have done my small part to protect them by not talking about them online, where a majority of individuals will offer them nothing but a pointed finger and a Nelson laugh?
If, in fact, my guilt by dissemination drops the H-bomb on my head, will I find redemption in riding a penny farthing bike or playing the theremin (according to many, the kitschiest instrument there is, save the keytar) for no reason other than I unreservedly love doing these things? If I involve myself in “oddball” creative pursuits only because they give me uncomplicated joy on fundamental levels, with no trace of winky-nudgey, will my past sins of insincerity be absolved? Or does only further damnation await me because it’s not enough to be earnest when I’m also self-aware enough to realize how “quirky” my choice of activities appears to be?
What about loving creepy/goofy retro-satirizing humor? Does that alone make one a hipster? I wear tee shirts with unicorns humping on them. I think Lenora Claire’s Erotic Golden Girls art gallery phenomenon is fantastic. The schadenfreude of Keyboard Cat (non-snuff editions, anyway) makes me pee my pants a little, and I’ll admit it: I thought Napoleon Dynamite was hilarious. Am I damned for all time, branded eternally with that scarlet H? Should I give a shit?
Wait a minute, isn’t giving a shit enough to keep one from being a true hipster, those poster children of the dismissive shrug, the wan “whatever”? Maybe worrying that you’re a hipster is like worrying you’re insane– no one who actively, deeply questions their own behavior past a certain level could actually be that monstrous thing they most fear.
Do you ever stagger home from the pinball bar after a night of singing the theme songs from 80s sitcoms, secretly worried you might be a hipster, too? It’s okay, you can tell me. I won’t judge. Perhaps we should become allies, banding together as lepers. Like the supposed 80% of America’s adult population that furtively suffers from one form of herpes or another, let us take comfort in our diseased solidarity. We may be shunned, scorned, mocked publicly. But we are all, first and foremost, human beings, and we are legion. A silent, damned majority.
If one is to be damned as a hipster, who exactly does the damning? By what authority? Who are they to cast the first snark, er, stone? What if, instead of trying to deflect blame by scapegoating those around us with even more extreme hipster traits, we accepted the possibility that we might be hipsters, too? THE FIRST STEP TO RECOVERY IS ADMITTING YOU HAVE A PROBLEM. What if hipsterism could be combated and cured? Purged from the system, like syphilis? What then? Would you want to be cleansed? Or is the next phase of hipster cultural awareness to embrace it and revel in it? Will it become hip to be damned?
Is irony the new sincerity the new irony the new sincerity the new irony the nGAH SOMEBODY SLAP ME!
Phew. Enough hypotheticals for one day.
It’s true, I’m overthinking all of this. Still, I’m genuinely curious to know if this is a self-examining line of thinking that any Coilhouse readers have also traveled down. I can’t be the only one whose perception of certain cultural trends and customs has changed in recent years.
The internalized irony winds within me “as pleasant and relaxed as a coiled rattlesnake”. The same self-awareness that fuels my wistful escapist’s love for all things Camp and Wonky has deepened, and now I can’t help but see the inherent imbalance created by obsessive, tittering fan culture built up around “naive” work.
Isn’t it ironic, dontcha think? A little too ironic.
Here’s the bottom line in regards to Birdemic and group displays of Ironic Hipster Fan Luv: I feel protective of the creators who gift us (and they are gifts, no matter how you look at it– heartfelt creative expression is always a gift) with “so bad it’s good” fare. On the one hand, I’m glad that Nguyen’s making a profit off his hard work. On the other, I wonder if it doesn’t wound him on some level to know that folks love the movie because it’s so bad, it’s good. That he’s a Florence Foster Jenkins; an Ed Wood. (Then again, who knows, I could be selling Nguyen short– maybe he’s a culture-lampooning mastermind on par with the likes of Andy Kaufman, and laughing all the way to the bank.)
As much as part of me is curious to attend a live screening of Birdemic, a larger, arguably more empathetic part of me is certain that such an event can only turn into rabid frenzy of IHFL, and at the risk of sounding like I take everything way too seriously, that’s just not something I want to experience at its director’s expense while the man’s sitting in the very same room.
Still, I want to see the movie. Maybe when it comes out on DVD, I’ll rent Day of the Animals, Kaw, and Kingdom of the Spiders and host a movie night of my own. You’re welcome to join me. Just leave the Pabst at home, okay?