Tuesday, May 25, 2021

so be it

Sometimes the things we loved in our youth don't hold up.  One of my favorite movies as a teenager was, of course, Heathers--for all its mean girl preppiness, Winona Ryder's sarcasm, and Christian Slater's psychotic hotness. Later, as an adult, it seemed to take itself far too seriously--to be too aware of itself. .  To be so over the top (and this is probably what was intended.)  But by the time I was in my 30's, mopey boy nonsense just annoyed me and school violence, which was this vague abstract to me in my teen years, became all too frightening as a real threat. It wasn't funny or entertaining to me anymore.  I still love Winona Ryder, but this is not my favorite performance of hers.  As for mean girl sliciness, Jawbreaker was better.  Mean Girls, a decade or more later, did it better with more heart. Sometimes its hard to enter a space you loved as a teen as an adult and this movie was a serious case of that problem, despite, at one point, being a able, with my friends, to recite the dialogue on command.  

Around the same time I saw Heathers, another Christian Slater film was hitting the theaters, and if Heathers seemed a last gasp of the 80's, Pump Up the Volume was a prelude for the 90's.  This film is not as readily available on streaming, nor did I have a dvd copy, so it's something I was almost afraid to revisit and ruin--something I loved as a teen but wouldn't age particularly well..  I became aware of the soundtrack before I ever saw the movie--I was already a Concrete Blonde fan (who got some radio play)  and their cover of of Leonard Cohen's "Everybody Knows" was being talked about (where I'm not sure--teen mags, fashion mags?  Whereever it was we got our info pre-internet?) So I bought the soundtrack and made note to check it out when it hit video. (My movie going funds were mostly limited to the second run $2 theatre, where it never played.) The soundtrack also boasted bands I was becoming marginally aware of like The Pixies and Soundgarden.

When I finally saw it, of course I loved it.  Not just for my shirtless crush and his angsty ways, but it felt important somehow, though I wouldn't have been able to articulate it at the time. It was required viewing at slumber parties with my friends.  Not only was it a culture shift in terms of attitude and music (within a year or so, Nirvana's popularity would rise out of the northwest like a wave and even mainstream radio wouldn't be able to ignore it. ) But also a zeitgeisty moment of young Gen X-Gen Y anxieties as the Reagan/Bush era breathed it's last sighs. If the 80's, at least in middle America, was a time of conformity for most of us (mall culture, Top 40 radio, glossy teen magazines.), the 90's boasted something new and this film captured it.  For a lot of teens, it was a switch from that perfect 80's gloss to something more subversive.  Sassy magazine leading the way, it was accessible even to the uncool and uninformed-- zine culture, shifts in fashion and entertainment.. It happened slower in the midwest than on the coasts, but it was happening. (In 1992, my Florida hailing roomate arrived with a NIN CD I rpomptly dubbed and listened to over and over again.) Even my sister, who was just hitting high school hung out with art class kids who listed to bands like Sonic Youth and Smashing Pumpkins and made zines. Back in Rockford, I wore a lot of black and hippy skirts and put blacklight posters I bought at Spencers at the mall.   While a couple years before, I'd listened to Mariah Carey and maybe some trashy hair bands, my music collection now sported Hole and Mazzy Star.  I put away the Madonna and listed to Tori Amos ( "alternative" music now being a marketable commodity.) 

Culture aside, it was a weird moment.  I remember watching Tipper Gore's pursuit of the music industry and the 2LiveCrew censorship debates. There was a lot of 1st Amendment and NEA dustups. (so much so I thought I might want to be a constitutional lawyer for one brief moment.) In an age where the FCC and other government agencies still had the reigns of dissemination, I would not have predicted the internet and their freeing, only because it didn't seem possible.  The ripples and viral-ness of the  movie's pirate radio dj-dom, in a decade, would become the early bloggers and myspacers and internet heroes. Spreading beyond zines and radio broadcasts, everyone had the opportunity to have a voice and to be heard, something that may seem surprising to Millennials and Gen Z-ers who've been swimming in it much longer. 

Of course, while it seems cool and is definitely a spurrer of the sort of DIY spirit of the affected generational group and an opening up of culture, such freedom of voice and platform is probably also what allows hate groups and nonsense to spread just as easily.  If you can, and do indeed, say just anything you want on the internet (truth or lies) there might be consequences, which this movie reinforces at the end, where the dj is arrested but his listeners take the helm and start their own stations with their own things to say. When you consider Gen X's role in the development of the internet, in the media and platforms that sprung up from the ashes of the early 90's, it totally makes sense. 

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