I started writing this column two years ago, and then again a year ago. No, really it’s in my iPhone notes. I’m a preemptively nostalgic sort of person, it’s not cute. At those times, my own personal zeitgeist must have seemed clear to me. Self-satisfied and obnoxious as these shriveled up column introductions read to me now — written bathed in the smug, warm glow of a coherent sense of self — their existence indicates to me that even within them, I knew these moments wouldn’t last.
Anthony Fantano, David Longstreth of the Dirty Projectors and Hua Hsu of the New Yorker think that indie rock is all out of ideas. Hsu writes, in an article called “Parquet Courts and the Uncertain Future of Indie,” which examines Parquet Courts’ latest release, that “it can seem a little beside the point to play rock music that aspires to sound like rock music” and ponders if there’s any “conceptual heft” left to the idea of an indie musician.
This is a story that’s been written over and over again over the past few months: indie is on its last legs. Critics and artists argue that Mac DeMarco and Parquet Courts and and Car Seat Headrest’s music is tired, uninspired, and reaching backwards into an older musical ethos for a sound and a feeling that today, is extraneous. I agree.
On Sunday night, Casey Affleck stood on the stage of the Oscars wearing a very nice suit and a very nice beard and a very nice ACLU ribbon on his jacket, and accepted the Academy Award for Best Actor. A number of journalists have written detailed accounts of Affleck’s sexual intimidation, harassment and physical assault of Amanda White and Magdalena Gorka on the set of his 2012, I’m Still Here. You can read the entirety of Gorka’s lawsuit here, and an excellent analysis of the controversy here. Whether or not you knew that Casey Affleck was a sexual predator, the members of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences assuredly did, and still decided that his profoundly middling performance as a very sad janitor was worth more than women’s dignity. Personally, I am still waiting to see a film so good that it is worth legitimizing sexual violence in order to reward it; a movie more compelling than my own humanity.
As an arts writer, they tell you not to beat dead horses. We are told, when we get the keys to a one-bedroom flat of internet article space to dispose of our thoughts in, not to belabor on topics where debate is no longer generative; where a cultural consensus has been reached, or all viable arguments have been made. When Kim comes out with receipts incriminating Taylor for using Guys-Kanye-Called-Me-A-Bitch-Troops-Assemble feminism for personal gain, we are not supposed to shout into the crowded internet void about it, because the internet is a highly effective instrument that responds at hyper-speed to such events — and there are literally offices full of 20-something bloggers in every major city paid to sit around and wait for stuff like that to happen, and produce appropriately snarky takes on it. So, if you’re not one of those people paid to stare out at the internet and write that first “Taylor Lied and Here’s Why She’s The Whitest and Lamest Feminist Who Ever Lived, Who Gives Me Existential Doubt and Acid Reflux About The State of Feminism” article — don’t. I’ve shouted a lot about indie rock in the past few days.
There was a great deal of hand-wringing about the dearth of protest art being made over the course of the 2016 presidential campaign, and after the election of Donald Trump. These hand-wringers, however, appear not to have looked very hard at all. Reverend Osagyefo Sekou and Jay-Marie Hill met on the frontlines of a 2015 Movement for Black Lives protest. After being pepper sprayed arbitrarily by police at the demonstration, where activists were demanding the release of an illegally detained 14 year old, Reverend Sekou helped wash the toxins out of Hill’s eyes. Several weeks later, they would title themselves Rev. Sekou & the Holy Ghost, and release their anthemic record, The Revolution Has Come.
The emotional lives of girls are mainly myth and diagnoses and constellations and made-for-TV movies and bathroom stall graffiti, at this point. Girls’ pain is held at gunpoint by competing narratives of attractive, elegant frailty, attention-addicted poseuring and wound-dwelling melodrama. When a girl speaks about the way she feels, we quietly select from a finite archive of stories tell us who that girl is and why she feels like that — which is why you’ve probably heard a woman explain something she felt to you, clarifying, “but it’s not like that.”
The hyper-representation of female pain in our culture has rendered it a moot point. We can’t just be ourselves; we have to choose from IMDB’s Top 70 “Memorable Female Characters.” We can’t really just be ourselves, we can only be Anna Karenina or Sylvia Plath or Bella or Hillary Clinton or Jo or Katniss or Mimí or Precious or Lisbeth or Alaska or Scarlett or Sula or Carrie or Daisy or Elizabeth. Female pain is played out.
I love The Chainsmokers and I’m bitter about it. I love them the way I love reality television: deeply and wretchedly, gluttonously and gloriously. I love them the way you love a boy who doesn’t know you exist. I’m bitter because The Chainsmokers bought their fame with aural scourge, “#SELFIE,” a pseudo-gesture at cultural critique (about like, image culture or something) that did it’s real work as a femininity-bashing reduction of women to jealousy, narcissism and mirror-primping chatter. I’m bitter because Drew Taggart and Alex Pall are spokesboys of a thriving subculture of Alpha art bros, aka standard edition bros disguised in floral button-ups and Nike Frees, dripping with entrepreneurial smugness; the EDM analogue to the nerds with god complexes who start a successful business exploiting a market trend, care a little bit about their product (they refer to their music as “topline” or “deliverables”) but a lot about making stupid amounts money and being very famous.
For about a day now I’ve been entertaining writing an article about moshing: Some kind of article-y feminist critique of or spatial-political inquiry into the act of a kinetic mass of bodies violently jumping up and down, and deliberately slamming into each other. “Mosh pits! What an Interesting Phenomenon,” I thought. “Wow! What a good column topic! Very Fraught!
When a woman goes crazy in a movie or on TV, we greet the sub-plot with a sigh of comfortable familiarity. Our intellectual subconscious breathes an “ahhhh.” We relax. We see what’s going on; we likely knew all along. As cinephiles and society-existers alike, we have been dutifully trained to unconditionally accept that a woman having lost her mind is a highly plausible explanation for her doing or saying, well… anything really — and also that such a turn of events is a Dark, Provocative and Highly Legitimate plot-thickening cinematic juncture.
“Happy came to visit me, he brought cookies on the way.” Mitski softly spills out the words in a ghostly, vibrating mumble, over a quick, blasting automatic weapon-esque drum machine pulse on her single “Happy” — the second pre-released track from her forthcoming, sophomore sum, Puberty 2. The track is a beautiful mystery: a queer, sad, riddle of a song. The track recounts the memory of a visit from Happiness (who goes by male pronouns) who laid her down, told her it would all be okay, then vanishes while she’s in the bathroom, leaving a mess and reminders of the visit in his wake for the singer to clean up. In the song’s three brief verses, Mitski crystallizes the intoxication of happiness — the everythingness of small moments, the sun-filled room, cookies and tea with a lover — and the violent hangover of the come-down, the desperation to get it back. However, the most haunting emotion on the track, is Mitski’s apathy about the whole affair: that she is not heartbroken, screaming or crying: just a little bit sad, as she quietly cleans up the debris: “And I turned around to see/All the cookie wrappers/And the empty cups of tea/Well I signed and mumbled to myself/Again I have to clean.”
As it turns out, ambivalence about heartbreak is much sadder than heartbreak by itself.