I went to n+1‘s “What Was the Hipster?” panel discussion at the New School on Saturday, but went away a bit unfulfilled. There was little evidence presented that hipsterism is over, that it was a concrete product of specific historic moment, and no coherent theories for what might supplant hipsters. The participants never really made much of an effort to establish a stable definition of what a hipster is, despite n+1 editor Mark Greif’s valiant effort in his opening remarks. He wondered if the white-trash-worshipping 1999 model of the hispter (the one that wore trucker hats, listened to redneck music, and oozed an aesthetic derived from a largely hypothetical and imaginatively reconstructed 1970s rec-room amateur porn) was the hipster qua hipster, the only one deserving of the title, the way those from the late 1950s and early 1960s who fit the Maynard G. Krebs caricature were the only actual beatniks, and the San Francisco arrivistes in the 1967 were the only true hippies.
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Recently I finished reading the young reader’s edition of Greg Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea (2009). The original, ‘adult’ version of the book still tops the NYT bestseller list. Since the book is ultimately about the education of children in poor villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan, it’s wonderful that this text has been adapted (by Sarah Thomson) for younger readers.
It’s become the most contentious scene in a film loaded with controversial content. It’s more argued over than the sequence where doped up mall cops beat several defiant teenage skate rats with their own boards, or when our hero shoots up, or when his mother passes out in a drunken stupor, or when an overweight deviant runs full frontal and completely buck naked through a suburban store outlet. Still, when all is said and done, the single most scandalous moment in Jody Hill’s mean-spirited masterwork Observe and Report has to be the date (and eventual rape?) between Anna Faris’ ditzy make-up counter clerk Brandi and Seth Rogen’s bi-polar mall security guard, Ronnie Barnhardt.
The set-up is as follows: after months of literally stalking the poor cosmetics gal, Ronnie finally gets Brandi to agree to a date. It’s a haphazard arrangement, one the little lady clearly forgets. After spending several hours on her front lawn, Ronnie finally sees a completely drunk and rather rumpled Brandi exit an SUV filled with men. As she waves them off, she’s shocked that he is waiting for her. Still, a date’s a date, and the two head off to a wild night of shots, shots, and more shots. In between, Ronnie tries his best to woo the scatterbrained little Miss, but she’s not even interested. When he pulls out a pill bottle filled with mood-altering prescriptions, Brandi immediately demands some. A few more slugs of tequila and a couple dozen tablets, and she’s semi-comatose.
Cut to the next sequence, and both are stumbling out into the night. Brandi vomits a little, and Ronnie picks her up and eventually takes her into her house. Another cut, and our hero is humping the holy Hell out of his seemingly unconscious date. Brandi is indeed unresponsive - that is, until Ronnie stops, clearly having second thoughts about screwing someone who’s so non-responsive. Immediately, Brandi screams out, demanding that her partner continue with what he was doing. Punchline complete, we move onto the next sequence. Brandi and Ronnie eventually talk to each other, but the subject of a supposed sexual assault never comes up.
Now there are two ways to look at this seminal scene. The first is rather perfunctory. Ronnie, seeing an opportunity, took advantage of the situation and literally raped Brandi. She was so out of it that she didn’t know what she was doing - curse-laden response or not. On the other hand, there is a sentiment circulating among moviegoers and film critics that this young woman represents something other than your typical comedy chanteuse. She’s clearly loose in both her virtues and morals, taking any opportunity to lure males into her web of wanton needs (as we see later on with a certain police detective). It’s part of her identity, something she flaunts over and over again in the film.
So on the one side is the argument, complete valid and wholly defendable, that Faris’s character is so inebriated, so overloaded with drugs and alcohol, that there is no way she could have ever given consent. Even the moment when she wakes up in mid-coitus and screams “who said stop mother*cker” is not meant to be a kind of tacit agreement. Nothing she did before, during, or after the incident excuses Ronnie’s behavior, and when the deed is done, it is a crime and reprehensible in its nature. Nothing in the film, not the tone or the style of humor should excuse such behavior. Even in a narrative which turns perversion into a literal “running” gag, the abuse of women is never, ever acceptable, funny, or fodder for cinematic satire.
On the other side of the fence is the feeling that, within the context of the movie as a whole, as part of Hill’s insular universe of full on fetid freaks and disturbing geeks, Ronnie’s actions are simply par for the course. He is seizing on an opportunity that he clearly feels he’s entitled to, and would not be banging away on Brandi unless she somehow indicated it was all right. Ronnie is not really a bad guy. Instead, he’s psychotic within a standard medical definition and while reduced to delusions, he rarely if ever acts on them. Until he goes on an all out drug binge with buddy Dennis he doesn’t indulge in his many make-believe daydreams. So why would the situation with Brandi be any different - especially when we see that there is some manner of remorse or reassessment on his part.
So which is it? Rape, or the reality of dating circa 2009? As with anything Hill has to say, the meaning is not clear. Feminists have the right to be angry, especially when a mainstream Hollywood movie offers such a backward vision of male/female fornication. But is Observe and Report really saying anything new? In this Girls Gone Wild dynamic of brazen openness and complete lack of shame, should a drunken slut bear any of the blame? It’s not a question of that horrid old excuse “she had it coming.” It’s more of a mirror on where society has sunk since women were empowered to ‘take back the night.’ Clearly, had Hill meant the scene to be something akin to pure sexual assault, Brandi would have been treated like a piece of dead meat. Ronnie would have ridden her relentlessly and relished in the act without a single moment of regret. The next day, our chunky hero would have walked into the department store, smirk on his face, and winked at the woman as she cluelessly stared back.
Of course, arguing over Brandi’s semi-consciousness and automated permission may not mitigate the truth. But one has to deal with those illustrations as well. Is the fact that the character is seen carousing with several men prior to the date important? Is her desire to get liquored and doped up indicative of anything other than wanting to have a good time? Should we care that she let’s Ronnie take her home and into her house? And does the interruption and shouted sentiment really mean anything? Remember, the “it’s only a movie” defense does not apply with people poised to push their agenda. Heck, PETA is even asking the two decades old Pet Shop Boys to change their name to something less offensive to animals. Feminists clearly want this to be an example of Tinsel Town going way too far for something supposedly funny - and they may have a point.
Yet it’s not fair to make Brandi out to be completely innocent. Hers is a troubling public persona that should be condemned as well. Granted, one should never vilify the victim for the sake of the criminal, but what about everything else that makes up this girl’s personality? Her less than virginal approach to life? Her uncontrolled binge drinking? Her slutty skanky whore-ness? Again, just because you’ve slept with hundreds of men doesn’t mean you have the right to be raped. But does it also excuse a complete and utter lack of basic morality and human civility? Audiences are happy when Ronnie ends up with shy coffee girl Nell, someone who he’s built up a narrative-long relationship of openness and trust. When Brandi tries to get back in his good graces, Ronnie gives her a public kiss-off that centers on her sleeping around.
It’s all so complicated, and yet so crystal clear. Neither character is a saint, since that’s the way Hill creates his comedy. Both are equally flawed and have issues that should concern anyone on the outside looking in. Of course, via penetration, Ronnie becomes the aggressor and therefore the wrongdoer, while poor innocent Brandi can imbibe and indulge all she wants, and because she doesn’t shout “fuck me” before the smash cut, we assume she is being raped. Looking at the scene objectively, it’s clear we have a problem. But through the subjective eyes of both the world within Observe and Report and the society we exist in today, it’s hard to cement such hard and fast facts. Maybe this was Jody Hill’s intention after all. At least people are talking about his film, and in these days of mass marketing hoopla, any discussion is good for business. Or is it?
This close knit band does everything their way, whether releasing EPs in place of albums and bringing their kids on the road. Timshel Matheny and her brother, Keegan DeWitt, talk about how they do it.
In case you didn’t know, Billy Bob Thornton’s music career hasn’t exactly taken off. Though often marginalized in the same way that Russell Crowe, Bruce Willis, Kevin Spacey, and Keanu Reeves’ musical ventures have been, Thornton at least made a stab at something a bit more legitimate when he decided to form the Boxmasters: a swinging country-pop group that relies heavy on nostalgic “golden age” country production without giving too much consideration for the present. The result? Our own Charles A. Hohman gave the Boxmasters’ debut album the much-dreaded 1/10 score.
Some Hohman’s score this stems from the fact that Thornton—the band’s principal songwriter—often relies on base, juvenile humor to get his point across, unrelenting with the sheer number of vulgarities at his disposal, all in the name of supposed humor. Naturally, a “celebrity band” is going to take quite a drubbing from the press, and, as such, it’s up to the celebrity in question to do whatever he can to raise the profile of the group in order to get exposure. Now a few days after the QTV interview, many people know of the Boxmasters—but for all the wrong reasons.
Appearing on The Q Show on CBC, host Jian Ghomeshi happily introduces the Boxmasters, noting how the group has put out three albums of the past 12 months—two of which were double-disc affairs—and soon finds out that the band has at least three more discs already in the can. Things start off like a normal interview, but then, of course, Thornton has to open his mouth. Some of his stories are completely unrelated to the music-oriented discussion that Ghomeshi is leading the band towards, and Thornton, at times, becomes livid over the fact that Ghomeshi mentions his acting career. Best of all, however, is when Ghomeshi makes passing mention about how Thornton is passionate about his music, to which Thorton fires back, asking if he’d ask the same question to Tom Petty.
Confused yet? The world is right there with you. Ghomeshi, it should be noted, does his best to handle things, but also makes sure that the questions he’s asking—the ones that deal with the music, specifically—get answered. Thornton had absolutely no reason to become as introverted and cryptic as he did, which has lead to much widespread speculation that this strange interview (which achieves an Office-level of listener discomfort) is on par with Joaquin Phoenix’s infamous encounter with David Letterman a few months earlier.
The real question, though, is why Thornton chose to act the way that he did. Being irritated over something like mentioning his cinematic achievements is slightly forgivable (we’ve all had bad days, haven’t we?), but going on about building models for a magazine contest without once answering a question about the music he listened to when growing up—it’s curious, to say the least.
Yet was Thornton conscious of his actions? Does he know that behavior like this tends to generate more negative publicity than good word-of-mouth? (Or, to put it another way: does this appearance make you want to actually go out and see the Boxmasters live?) Strangest of all, however, is that the Phoenix and Thornton interviews are both based on the same thing: a noted Hollywood actor turning to a music career and doing a media appearance to promote it. It would be more of an epidemic were it not for the fact that Zooey Deschanel, Jason Schwartzman, and
Scarlett Johansson have all pulled off the transition without this wave of media-crazy—those albums have all achieved respectable amounts of acclaim, even.
So what is Thornton accomplishing with his antics? More importantly: why do we care? Until we get some answers, we can at least take solace in the fact that this train wreck is admittedly pretty fun to watch ...