Media, culture, and politics from an aesthetic-materialist's perspective.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Sublime Hipster of Ideology

This little ditty is something of a post-date, given that it initially came out at the end of summer, but I thought it merited posting: Zizek rails against Kung Fu Panda:
If you ask me for really dangerous ideological films, for ideology at its purest, I’d say Kung Fu Panda. I saw it five times because my son likes it. The movie is extremely cynical in that you know they make fun of all this ideology, of Buddhism and these things, but the message is even though we know it is not true and we make fun, you have to believe in it. It’s this split of you know it’s not true but just make like you believe in it.
I think Zizek could have gone further to denounce the actor who provides the voice of the panda, Jack Black. I'm no fan of this guy -- his "comedy" musical group, Tenacious D, is a travesty, and his antics are about as subtle and funny as a Dane Cook set -- and his recent movies are testament to exactly what Zizek is talking about here.

Take the woeful Be Kind Rewind (dir. Michel Gondry), where the "magic of moviemaking" by indie artists in the hipster set is extolled through the most contrived of Hollywood conventions: local boys make good, independent business takes on corporate encroachment, black men (Danny Glover's and Mos Def's characters) lend "authenticity" and street cred to Jack Black's buffoonishness (the gang's last film is a biopic of Fats Waller's life). It's one of those paradoxes of belief where we know that Be Kind Rewind is a (modest) Hollywood production (New Line Cinema) but are supposed to will ourselves into believing that it allies itself with amateurs, bohemians, and outcasts. Race, and specifically American blackness, is one of the primary metaphors that Gondry enlists to suture this ideological link.

Gondry is also the director of the concert documentary Dave Chappelle's Block Party, which I actually enjoyed. But given his use of race and "black music" in Be Kind Rewind, I have to wonder to what extent Gondry isn't just another white hipster boy riffing on African American culture to shore up his own artistic credentials. Need I mention the work of Wes Anderson here? A paper on the circulation of black and brown characters in Anderson's films -- The Royal Tenenbaums, The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, The Darjeeling Limited -- has yet to be written.

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