Trout Fisting In America #23 – Something WIld

My favorite movie ever made is Something Wild. Ten years ago I probably would’ve said Harold & Maude. Ten years before that I might’ve said Grosse Point Blank. And ten years before that I would’ve probably said Breaking Away (great bicycle movie about US class differences—go watch it). Five years before that I was five years old and Star Wars had just come out and Star Wars wasn’t just my favorite movie, it was everyone’s favorite movie. It was also my favorite sheets, curtains, pajamas, and t-shirt.

I finally got to see Something Wild on the big screen last week as part of a two-film Jonathan Demme retrospective at my local art-house cinema. I hadn’t watched it since I wrote this thing a couple years ago comparing/contrasting it w/the better-known Blue Velvet—after doing a critical deep-dive on something I usually need some time away from the thing. It’s like E.B. White (I think it was him) said about comedy being like a frog: you can dissect it, but the frog tends to die in the process.

Anyway, seeing Something Wild again, this time on the big screen filled me w/so much joy & sadness I thought I’d overflow, that I might just turn to liquid in my seat and flood the cushion w/tears. Because you know how it is, the longer you hold the emotions in, the greater the velocity of their flow.

Why the joy? Because it’s as beautiful a picture of a free integrated multicultural America as you’ll ever see committed to film (excepting the fact that all the leads are white, of course). In this America the song ‘Wild Thing’ functions as part folk song, part national anthem. It’s a song everybody knows. And the scene where Lulu & Charlie & the car full of hitchhikers take turns singing the verse is the purest, most aesthetically beautiful vision of America I’ve seen.

I was 14 in 1986, the year Something Wild came out, and I can say that in 1986, the 60’s were remembered as this mythical time, a time when anything seemed possible. At the time I thought that was a bunch of bullshit. For all the stock footage of hippies frolicking in the park, most people in the 1960’s were tight-assed sexually-repressed crewcuts, and the music I listened to at the time, even more mainstream stuff like Suzanne Vega, Tracy Chapman, REM, U2, Midnight Oil, and 10,000 Maniacs were more socially conscious than anything the 1960’s charts coughed-up. Throw in underground stuff going on at the time like hip-hop, punk, UK Indie, etc. (all of which is represented in Something Wild’s soundtrack) and the baby boomer insistence back then that their generation had the ‘real music’ that ‘meant something’ and 80’s stuff was all fluff sounds as hollow, stupid & smugly self-congratulatory as most things that generation says.

And yet for all that, the 1960’s were a time of expanding possibilities, and the 1980’s were a time of contraction, of increasing repression, Seen in that light, Demme’s film comes across as both a rebellion against the current world and a requiem for a world that was quickly vanishing. The fact that the world kept on spinning further into neoliberal fear & self-consciousness & surveillance both govt. and self-, only makes the film more beautiful, more moving.

Demme’s version of freedom doesn’t deny the possibility of danger, the possibility of death—it can bring you Lulu but it can also bring you Ray—but the alternative, trading your freedom for the promise of security and/or comfort, means a spiritual death so complete that to even spend a single day in that state isn’t just a waste of your time on the planet, it’s the betrayal of a beautiful gift you’ve been given. The message I take from Demme’s film is Let go, feel how good it is to be alive.

America is a vastly different place than it was even 20 years ago. 9/11 and the internet changed it completely (and the fact that both payphones & the twin towers are featured so prominently in Something Wild should be enough to convince anyone that idea like the collective unconscious are probably real). The America depicted in Demme’s film, an America that for all its flaws he’s obviously in love with, doesn’t exist anymore. For that matter, neither does Jonathan Demme.

The people in the film exhibit a lack of self-consciousness in their movements, in their speech, that feels jarring—people don’t live this anymore. Instead we exist in an age of meta-narrative followed by meta-meta-narrative and so on into dialectic oblivion to the point where simple narratives have ceased to exist. Our behaviors, our mannerisms, are so sculpted by medias both social & mass, endlessly shaped & fragmented over & over, that it’s hard to know what a ‘self’ would even look like.

We’re so busy thinking about ourselves that we’re forgetting to live.

I’m getting off-track here. All I’m saying is that the America in Something Wild no longer exists. It’s as much a time capsule as a movie. And while I won’t deny there are positives to living today—go ask any queer person, or person of non-binary gender if the 1980’s were a more free time—even within your fringe subcultures, modes of expression are fiercely regulated. And while we might engage in wilder acts, more extreme models of behavior, it doesn’t mean we’re any more free. We live in a surveillance state—partly created by the govt., partly created by ourselves. The legacy of 9/11’s aftermath is then-White House spokesman Ari Fleischer saying that ‘all Americans need to watch what they say, watch what they do.’ And we do. The government watches us, we watch each other, and most importantly we watch ourselves. We even watch ourselves watching, watch ourselves being watched, an endless culture of observation.

Watch what you say, watch what you do. Deviation from the majority is a threat, an offense, an aggression. You can fall in line or you can get the fuck out, or go find a group where your out-of-stepness is in step—and then make sure you fall in line there.

In this day & age it seems like everyone (including me, obviously) is a would-be cultural critic rushing to comment, to bestow their take, to evaluate what everyone else is doing. But of course the flipside of this hyper-analyzation of culture & each other is that we can’t help turning the knife in on ourselves. And while a little self-reflection can be a good thing, too much of it can paralyze. It can induce crippling self-censorship & endless anxiety. And then we see a lack of self-consciousness in others as a sign of stupidity, or naivete, or as an affront to our way of living—where do they get off being so self-confident. All you ever have to do is color outside the lines and every single person who got told as a kid that they needed to color inside the lines, that heard—as my father used to say—if they weren’t going to do it right then they shouldn’t do it at all, is going to come after you w/a vengeance. We live in a society where people pride themselves on knowing the rules—rules in this case referring as much to social norms within any given culture/subculture at any given moment as any specific govt. statutes—and in demonstrating their knowledge of these rules to each other as a way of gaining acceptance. Even the snarkier, more ironic corners of twitter require a group that knows you’re being snarky or ironic. If you write something that plays dumb and someone responds w/something dumb in return how do you know whether or not they’re just playing along w/your ironic dumbness?

This isn’t a society; it’s a blender filled w/neurotic ping-pong balls incapable of loving themselves or each other.

Something about conformity. And fascism. And my fear for the future.

But yeah, anyway, Something Wild. Great film. Try not to weep.

 

Trout Fisting In America appears here every Tuesday. We’re going to keep going until we reach #50, or until the Trout begs for mercy. You can check out previous installments HERE.

About ScottCreney

Scott Creney lives in Athens, Georgia. He is the author of "Dear Al-Qaeda: Letters to the World’s Most Notorious Terror Organiztion".
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