Sunday, April 29, 2012

Sitting on a Dock, Watching the World End

In light of a really rough week and a seemingly-endless string of terrible dates, the possible subject of future writing, I feel the need to begin this post by taking stock of a few sources of stabilizing optimism:

1. I don't sleep all that much anymore, but I'm managing to stay (mostly) on top of both my reading and gym-going habits, despite my entry into the work-day grind.

2. In spite of the occasionally soul-crushing (and usually racist) nature of my new job, the strains of political and economic thought it has forced me to engage have opened for me much more nuanced understandings of some academic arguments about politics and culture. Between my job and increasingly-frequent social outings in DC, where the general etiquette is "BE AS OBNOXIOUS AS POSSIBLE ABOUT YOUR POLITICAL BELIEFS,"  I'm finally able to locate myself within the political narrative that Lisa Duggan traces in The Twilight of Equality?. All of this is really just to say that I am still learning.

3. I recently saw The Cabin in the Woods, which is in serious competition for the title of "smartest horror movie I've ever seen." More on this point in a second.

4. Whether through my own sporadic efforts, Roxie's deeply energizing and critter-affirming optimism (for which I remain boundlessly grateful), or Historiann's repeated refusal to put up with anyone's bullshitte, the blogosphere continues to offer me intellectual sustenance  and emotional fortification.

Now, on to The Cabin in the Woods. This post got a little lengthy, but lie to me and tell me that you read it.

Anyone who's had a conversation with me for longer than thirty seconds knows that Will Danger loves loves loves horror movies and would go even gayer than usual for Joss Whedon, who wrote Buffy the Vampire Slayer, among other things. That being said, Joss hasn't actually produced anything of particular merit lately. Dollhouse fell pretty flat, and I've never been in love with Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog. Nevertheless, Whedon's newest movie, The Cabin in the Woods is one of the smartest/most entertaining horror movies I've never seen. I want to take this opportunity for my first sustained crack at thinking through horror movies.

SPOILER ALERT. SRSLY GUYS. I haven't held back any plot details. Read at your own risk.

Of course, the plot gets a little hokey. Joss leans into science fiction pretty hard, presenting a mysterious company of scientists whose sole job is to stage horror-movie rituals, where they kill off co-eds in an effort to keep "the ancients" from waking up. From what I can gather (some of the details are deliberately vague), these mysterious ancients (old gods who used to rule the world, but are now sleeping) require a horror-movie body count to be appeased. In this case, the slaughter-worthy breakfast club includes a Slut, a Jock, a Brain, a Stoner, and a Virgin. At the movie's end, the Stoner has managed to survive and the main character (the archetypal Virgin) is tasked with killing him, in order to save the world. She ultimately refuses, the ancients wake up, and the world starts to end just as the credits begin rolling. 

There are some pretty straightforward readings of this meta-narrative available, but I don't want to spend too much time on them, because they're pretty readily available and kind of boring (I hesitate to pass over them entirely, just because the straightforward and seemingly self-evident are seldom so). Among other things, it appears that the audience is meant to identify with the Company that stages these horror movies. The film's meta-narrative becomes less stable and less straightforward the longer I spend thinking about it, but in its more brilliant moments, I think the film questions our attachment to horror movies, horror's broader role in culture, and the kinds of narrative violence unleashed by our uninterrogated attachment to the conventions of horror.

The movie's most interesting moves, however, come in the last five minutes. In the film's final scene, Dana and Marty, (the Virgin and Stoner, respectively) are sitting on some stone steps, passing a cigarette back and forth and apologizing to each other as the world comes apart around them. I love how much the scene comes to resemble this image, a kind of "relax and watch the sun set" moment, except Whedon substitutes a sunset for the end of the world. I find the moment's calmness wonderfully interesting. Literally apocalyptic thought it might be, this moment indicates a resolution to the movie's suspense and is free from the tension that otherwise pervades horror movies. Though perhaps a generous reading, I think this moment has genre-redefining potential. What would it mean to end a horror movie with such a moment of calmness, clarity, and (most importantly) safety -- especially when the trope is typically to end a horror movie with a "final scare," in which we discover the villain is still alive and kicking, often at the expense of plot/narrative coherence.

In this scene, the Stoner also apologizes for ending the world. I’m absolutely enthralled both by the idea that ending the world is something that you would apologe for (why bother?) and by the idea that destroying the world is something for which you can be forgiven.

This decision to end the world is where The Cabin in the Woods most approaches queerness (Importantly, I'm not actually arguing that Cabin is a queer film, only that this moment hinges on a queer sensibility and contains mostly-unrealized queer potential). In the beginning of this scene, the Company's mysterious director (played by Sigourney Weaver, no less) lays out the Stoner's options pretty well: "You can either die with them, or you can die for them." He is going to die either way, the crux of his decision is whether or not he wants to take the rest of the world with him. This is pretty much a no-brainer, right?

The twist comes when both the Stoner and Virgin refuse this choice, opting to destroy the world, rather than to save it (This choice seems particularly strange for Dana, who opts to die AND destroy the world, rather than kill Marty. Her life is actually still at stake, here). I'm enthralled by the movie's determination to make the wrong choice and it's insistence on choosing the un-chooseable option. In his disavowal of correctness and his determination to fail in saving the world, Whedon opens up a host of previously unthinkable cinematic possibilities, the most immediate of which is that, paradoxically, failure might be the most successful option. This makes me feel much better about the fact that this post itself might indulge in failure.

Seriously, you guys. Go see this movie. Even if you hate scary movies, the writing really, really shines. Joss Whedon is back, y'all. I'm even managing to garner a little excitement for his version of The Avengers coming out this summer.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Drowning, Resurfacing, and Being Entirely Unable to Find Kansas on a Map

My life is undergoing a radical restructuring, and change is always difficult to blog. I've imagined several incarnations of this post, the titles of which were things like "How my Liberal, Hippy-Dippy Education Taught me Everything I needed to Know About Doing Your Job," "How Blogging Got me a Job Working for the Devil," and "Everything I Needed to Know about Life I Learned from Blogging." As I put fingers to keyboard, though, my thinking feels much less stable than it did when I was only dealing in possibility. Isn't that always the case? With these various potential posts floating around my noggin, I begin by saying that Will Danger is being forced to adjust his privacy settings.

I have news, dear readers, that will partially explain my recent absence, and then immediately make you stop reading my posts: Will Danger got a job.

What kind of job, you ask? Where would a comic book-reading, pop culture junkie like you get a job? Are you ready for it? (Hint: You're not)

I work for the most conservative book publisher in America, who for blogging purposes I'll simply call Big Red. That's right. I get up every morning, put on a suit (a suit!), hop on the metro, walk past a picture of Ronnie Reagan on my way into the office, and sit down at my desk, where I have Ann Coulter's phone number hanging on my wall. My weekends are spent trying to wash the taste of the Devil's dick out of my mouth. [Sample experiences: I think there's a copy of Donald Trump's new book on just about every desk in my office. I also caught a coworker with a book entitled The Terrorist Next Door. Dorothy Gale has nothing on me.]

I'll give you a moment to recover from your initial reactions, most of which I'm sure were very violent and/or visceral. As you reassemble your smashed keyboards, return from your various vomitoriums, and try to reign in your laughter, I'm going to continue to muse about privacy in the face of the professional world. Most simply put, I don't know what I can write about anymore. Obviously, I have some very, very strong feelings about this bizarre right-hand turn my life has taken, but my ability to think through them is compromised slightly by the fact that I was hired based on my experience with the blogosphere. No need to reread, you read that sentence correctly. They've visited New Queer. They took one look at this ongoing farce and decided that I was the editorial assistant for them. [The fact that my anemically-funded, queerly-slanted education in the humanities has more than prepared me to do this job is perhaps a topic for another day.]

And so, I am unsure to what extent I can blog about work. I'm going to err on the side of safety for now, but I will say the following: if there's any terror running through your heads about the state of my life (and it's obnoxiously narcissistic of me to assume that there would be), it's running through my head as well. I don't take my titular "drowning" lightly. Good or bad, I'm gonna need some more time to assemble anything coherent about my newly-found case study in American conservatism. But I am writing through my frustration as best I can, in less public spaces. 

In spite of what I may look back on as the specific moment where my life went wrong, I have to keep the following in mind: I am (finally) employed. I'm getting out of my apartment, which after the last few months, is something I will never again take for granted. Better yet, I'm writing (ghostwriting, mostly), researching, and actually publishing. Occasionally,  my job resembles that of a professional blogger. Even if it comes with a healthy conservative slant, I'm being forced to be politically present in a way that I never quite have been before, and in this sense, I can see this job being great prep-work work for graduate study in public affect/political theory/public sphere stuff. I am more obsessed than ever with the mess that's America.

All of that being said, of course, I am still being required to make ideological and moral compromises, the likes of which I will be required to account for, should anyone ever attempt to take stock of my life. Nancy Botwin and I could probably have a sit-down to discuss the fact that we both know where our efforts are leading us. I cannot say for sure if I'm doing what I should be doing, or what I'd like to be doing. All I can say definitively is that I'm doing something, which at this particular impasse, I have to label a good.