Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Movies: How much does knowing you suck excuse you from sucking?

What does one write about Monster Island, the Jack Perez (of Mega-Shark Versus Giant Octopus "fame") helmed MTV-produced made-for-TV oddity that pits a gaggle of youths against an island populated by stop-motion animation giant insects and Adam West?

Honestly, this thing is barely a movie, so I feel it's only fair that I barely write about it. The most interesting thing about Monster Island is the unintentionally philosophical question it's existence raises: How much does knowing you suck excuse you sucking? This isn't a purely hypothetical question. Regular readers, God forgive them, will know that we here at ANTSS refer to this as the Byrne Problem, after author Anthony Burgess (yes, of Clockwork Orange fame, but he wrote a lot of other, better stuff too). To sum up: Burgess's last book, Byrne, consisted of the fake autobiographical epic poem of the supposed worst poet in the world. That sounds funny, until you realize that it means reading through 150 pages of the intentionally worst poetry ever written. At no time during this trudge through these 150 pages of utter crap verse do you think Burgess isn't on the joke. He knows he's creating bad verse; that's the point. The idea is that knowing he knows will somehow make what's universally admitted as excruciating somehow less so. Still, you've got to read 150 pages of shit. So, how much does knowing you suck excuse you from sucking? Entire careers have been based on the idea that the answer is "100%." Zack Snyder, I'm looking at you. (Not to be confused with people who don't know that they utterly suck; Day of the Woman, I'm looking at you.) Smack dab in the Byrne sweet spot, you'll find Monster Island.

I'm hesitant to review MI, as I feel that gives it too much credit. So, instead, I'm going to extract some observations from my notes. That's right. I take notes. He says as he indignantly pushes his glasses further up the bridge of his nose.

Two random points.

1. MTV gets props for presenting themselves as heartless exploiters of young people. It would have been enough if MTV had simply allowed their staff to be depicted as shallow, heartless dicks willing to put young lives on the line for a quick buck - which this movie totally depicts them as being - but they actually take it further. Central to the plot of the film is the idea that teenagers would be totally stoked to see a concert by Carmen Electra. Even in 2004, this alone was enough to push the film clearly into sci-fi/fantasy territory, no giant bugs necessary. The oddly brilliant twist is that, later, giant ants (no relation) kidnap Carmen to sedate their human slave population (long story). In drawing the parallel, the film basically suggests that the entertainment MTV peddles isn't just exploitative, but actually part of a control system meant to keep you a slave of the colony. Kudos to everybody involved for the lucid moment. That you buried it in a made-for-TV movie that all of maybe twenty people saw, eh, not so great. Still, lollipops for everybody involved just for doing it.

2. Whenever a film targeted at the mainstream, no matter how hopelessly as may be the case, has to include the taste of an indie music slob, there's always an interesting conflict between the visual and the audio. The perfect exemplar of this is the film High Fidelity. The cats in that flick are supposedly the ultimate in music snobs, but the first time we meet Jack Black's character - a character so music obsessed that he regularly chases away customers by insulting their taste - he's grooving on Katrina and the Wave's "Walking on Sunshine." A spiffy little song to be sure, but hardly the signifier of obscure, elitism. Throughout the whole film, we get, again and again, bizarro cop-out music choices. When Jack Black tries to take over the store's stereo from the sad sack mumbly dude, we learn that the sad music he was trying to play was Belle and Sebastian. That's as indie as it goes. The rest of flick rest clearly in common knowledge. When the shop staff debate esoterica like what's the best first track of the B-side of an album, they land safely in Clash and Stevie Wonder territory (not to diss either of those, 'cause they're great). Who is the favorite musician of the indier-than-thou record store owner? The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. Don't get me wrong: the only boss I ever listen to is Bruce - as me spotty employment career more than attests to. Still, it's kind of weird.

(Okay, as a I'm-no-hipster device, sure. When I was a college DJ, the head of the station was a brutally hip woman - so indie her shirts don't fit - who swore that she was the biggest Madonna fan; but it was bullshit, she deployed this po-mo hyper-intellectualized version of Madge as a defense against the charge that her profound love of intentionally inaccessible math rock was some classist affectation. It's the same reason modern hipster doofuses professes to love Beyonce. But we all know it's bullshit. Own your hipster elite douchebaggery and be done with it.)

Anyway, I bring this up because there's an important scene in MI when our hero, a perfectly insufferable self-righteous dick of a indie boy, thumbs through the CD collection of Carmen Electra - and that's not a euphemism, though the phrase "thumbs through Carmen Electra's CD collection" sounds dirty because of Carmen Electra - and decides, despite the fact that she's whoring out (metaphorically this time) for MTV, she must be okay. The pivot point: Radiohead and the Ramones. Seriously? Why does this kid have the taste of 37-year-old man? What's the point of being a snotty music snob kid if you have to worship at the altar of your parents' balding over-the-hill hipster's music tastes?

That said, the whole scene has an unintentional patina of nostalgia: how long before digital music effectively kills the tradition of secretly checking out a potential sexual partner's music collection for hints as to their suitability?


Adam said...

Might you understand someone's musical tastes nowadays by taking a squiz at their phone? Or does that cross too many personal boundaries, putting it on the wrong side of the Private Diary Event Horizon?

Sarah said...

Adam, etiquette tends to state that looking through someone's phone is a bad idea. I don't think it would take long for anyone to turn into that woman from that Chappelle's Show sketch with "I don't like people fucking with my phooooone!"