Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Whitest Kid You Know

(Seen for the White Elephant Blog-a-Thon.)  

1.  10 Tracks of Wack:  Kickin' It Old Skool (2007, Harvey Glazer) is a painful, painful movie.  Not because it makes the easiest, laziest jokes every single time, or because it's full of stupid plot points, although it's that too.  No, it's painful because it revealed that I have something in common, deep down, with Jamie Kennedy.  

2.  There's nothing wrong with the premise.  Hell, I kinda like the premise.  1986:  12-year old Justin loves breakdancing and 12-year old Jen, and wants to win the big talent show with his crew but has to defeat his nemesis Kip in a dance-off.  He tries to seal the deal by doing a super-tricky move, and ends up falling off the stage and into a coma.  Twenty years later, he wakes up to find his parents in debt, his friends mired in mediocrity, and Jen betrothed to Kip.  Can he win the big dance contest with his out-of-shape friends, against a new generation of dancers, breaking to a new generation of music?  

3. It's hard to be a white, male, middle-class rap fan and not feel on some level that, as much as you might love the music, that you're always on the outside of it.  A slight inferiority complex.  Am I really getting it?  It's like there's an invisible circle around the music, and it's not impermeable, but it's damn uncomfortable to stay there.  To stay there is to be conscious of one's whiteness, and white people don't like to be reminded they're white.   In one of the funniest and truest moments in Office Space, Michael Bolton rocks the Geto Boys while driving to work, but turns it down when he passes a black man on the street.  Michael enters the circle and then quickly, quietly, exits.  

4.  You have a thirty-two year old protagonist who's just woken up from a coma, and the last thing he remembers is being twelve.  Do you a) show the moment when the protagonist realizes that he's now an adult, that his life has irrevocably changed, that his body has irrevocably changed?  Or b) blithely ignore that, cut from your bearded and groggy protagonist to your now clean-shaven and fully-recovered protagonist and go straight for the "MTV doesn't play videos anymore" joke?

5.  Jamie Kennedy is two years older than me.  He's made a film -- written and directed by others, yet it feels like an intensely personal project -- where the old triumph over the young.  In one scene, an old homeless man (filling in for Kennedy -- don't ask) literally pisses on some young black krumpers.  In the final battle, Kennedy has to out-dance a kid -- a kind of prodigy, cocksure in a way I don't remember kids being, real or cinematic, in the 80s.  He's of his time.  The kids I grew up with turned into the so-called Generation X, the first slackers.  To display that kind of confidence, that kind of arrogance -- it wouldn't happen.  But then, at that time, we were listening to Arrested fucking Development.  

6.  Why don't I keep up on rap music?  Why have I drifted so far from it?  1986:  Run D.M.C.  Beastie Boys, License to Ill.  Whodini, "Fugitive/Funky Beat".  That's where it starts for me.  That's where it started for a lot of white guys my age.  That's where the memories are.  It's easy to say that once it got all gangsta, we fell away from it, that we were only in it for the "fun", but we listened to N.W.A. too.  So that can't be it.  Is it simply because it's a young person's music, and we are no longer young?  Nobody in America wants to admit they're too old for anything, least of all self-proclaimed music fans.  

7.  I can't even get my head around the scene where Justin's friend Aki (Bobby Lee) refuses to get back into the crew and proceeds to lay out what is essentially the entire history of racist Asian caricature in film, only to take it all back.  

8.  Logically, your protagonist, having spent twenty years of his life in a hospital, will not have any clothes at home that fit him.  You're making a comedy, so you think it would be funny if he walked around in the kind of cheesy and iconic 80s outfits that people who lived in the 80s didn't actually wear.  (You'd be wrong -- it wouldn't be funny -- but that's not the point.)  Do you a) show your protagonist going to some kind of ironic, "Hot Topic"-style boutique, maybe spar with some emo sales clerk and actually buy his outfits?  Or b) just put him in whatever the fuck you want, a new outfit for each scene?

9.  Michael Rosenbaum, who plays Kip, the villain, is the secret hero of the piece.  He's a prick, yes, but he's an adult.  He responds to the prodigy's unearned swagger by spraying breath freshener in his mouth.  He's contemptuous of Justin and his manchild routine, as he rightfully should be.  That he's the only actor that appears to be alive to the possibilities of performance is probably not coincidental.  

10.  Do us aging white guys hold onto 1986 so hard because we feel rap moved away from us, or did rap move on because we held on so tightly to it?  Columbus sails here and "discovers" it, much to the bafflement of the Native Americans.  A signal that started in The Bronx finds its way, eight years later, to Modesto, CA and we claim it as our own.  Justin wins the contest, "our" music and culture winning over "theirs".  Stupid fucking white man.  


Scott W. Black said...

This movie has already, thankfully, faded from my mind, but as I remember it, breakdancing had fallen from favor by 1986. Maybe I'm wrong. But white kids certainly didn't dress like Michael Jackson in 1986

Kza said...

Oh, you're absolutely correct -- it's completely ahistorical. The whole thing is more about an old white guy's nostalgia about the 80s than anything real, but you know, so many targets, so little time. :-)

Steve said...

Had a circle moment the other day going to renew my driver's license. I've got Fishscale playing and I'm driving into Peekskill, and as I get closer to the DMV I get that feeling that maybe a violence-averse white boy shouldn't be blasting "Kilo" in *ahem* this sort of neighborhood.

There's an even stranger set of hang-ups involved with being an indie/underground hip-hop fan. Since a good portion of that scene's shining stars are white guys, it brings up a question: Is the underground less color-fixated and more democratic? Or is it merely co-option writ large?