I was talking to Foster Kamer yesterday about my post on Childish Gambino when one of my colleagues forwarded me Seyward Darby’s critique of Zooey Deschanel, and somehow, the combination of the two things made me realize that I feel essentially the same way about the giant-eyed gamine Hollywood phenomenon and the hip-hop collective from Los Angeles, Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All: I’m just really bored by what they think are meaningful efforts to break the mold or challenge norms.
My problem with the actress du jour has to do with a message “New Girl” pushes implicitly, but incessantly: that the measure of a person’s character—the test of what makes him or her nuanced and compelling—is the magnitude of endearing personality quirks…It seems she’s confident, though confidence is defined largely as wearing fake buck teeth to a wedding and picking up a guy with the line “Hey Sailor.” And I guess you could say she’s passionate, though our only clues are that she sobs over Dirty Dancing after her boyfriend cheats on her and sings to herself—even making up personal theme songs—anytime, anywhere. And it’s possible she’s creative, but the only evidence we have are things like her personally concocted version of the Chicken Dance.
There’s something weird about the sense that quirk, or the right of women to be as girly as they please, are somehow under attack. When New Girl, the show that’s making Deschanel a national star rather than an object of niche hipster-worship came out, I wrote that I had no idea what the show was making a stand for. Was the defense of Deschanel’s quirkiness meant to be a a rejection of gender norms? The right to wear hillbilly teeth at a wedding doesn’t demolish the female beauty complex, especially when you do it wearing expensively maintained hair and a gorgeous dress—instead, it’s the kind of thing models do in spreads precisely to call attention to how beautiful they are otherwise, and it buys into weird, classist assumptions. Access to dentistry is a big health issue. Similarly, I don’t know of any organized campaign against the right of women to like Dirty Dancing. It’s entirely possibly that my non-quirk privilege blinds me to deep and endemic prejudice against people who have as their highest value the right to be a little wacky, but I’m reasonably confident that I’m not missing something.
Similarly, I don’t deny that Odd Future has a right to be mad about things, whether it’s that Tyler’s father is epically awful, or racism, or how much it sucks to be a teenager. But the collective’s antics, whether they’re beating down photographers or treating service workers terribly, aren’t related to any of the things they could possibly be angry about. I’m not shocked by it: people who unexpectedly get a lot of money and attention aren’t guaranteed to act like saints or with great dignity, no matter where they come from. I’m bored by the idea that it’s supposed to be meaningful, or rebellious, or anything other than, as Steve Albini put it, “It’s being an asshole about being an asshole.” And Zooey Deschanel is being adorkable about her own adorkableness. They’re both endlessly self-referential systems that we’re being told are supposed to be about something larger.