April 07, 2008

Saturday Morning Nihilism

I hope I haven't sent anyone into Nicolas Cage withdrawal lately. Rest assured that I'm going to see the series through--I've just been awfully busy these past few weeks (presently finishing up a piece about the execrable "Bionic Woman" for the mothersite), and a few major points in a discussion about The Rock have to be rearranged now that I've finally gotten my hands on the Criterion edition with the attendant commentary featuring Cage himself.

Anyway, on to less pressing matters. I've been trying to wrap my brain around this live performance of "Duck Hunt" from Anime Boston 2008 that's been making the rounds on YouTube:

If you owned the old "Super Mario Bros."/"Duck Hunt" NES cartridge back in the day, I think it's impossible not to succumb to a smirking nostalgic twinge when that music blasts through the auditorium and that dog jumps into the grass. Now, I'm not particularly versed in anime, but I've watched enough Cartoon Network to recognize the characters contained herein; the general tone of the sketch and the reactions from the crowd teeter uncomfortably between laughter at basic recognition and cheering with base satisfaction when notoriously obnoxious characters are shot. It opens up a line of discussion concerning one's personal sense of sophistication: the testosterone-laced "Dragon Ball Z" seems to be a target of ire for its repetitive nature (and, I suspect, for coloring perceptions of anime as childish nonsense in the eyes of nonbelievers), but what can you say about a commentary on the perceived puerility/immaturity of certain properties when the basic argument boils down to "I wish that I could shoot the fictional characters who annoy me so they'll shut up"?

What bothers me most about this sketch, however, is how these jokes build up to the final rimshot, a full return to "Duck Hunt" that ultimately serves to emphasize the uselessness of the whole thing. Any comprehensive parody of the game is obligated to shoot the dog, the genesis of that joke being that everyone who has played this golden oldie for more than five minutes has attempted to do so. It's also the intrinsic problem with this exercise, and invites the question: we already know everything there is to offer here, so why we are even talking about "Duck Hunt" at all? I think there's something to be said about giving voice to a video game player's frustrations (find the time to sit down and watch Super Profane Mario Bros., which is actually kind of brilliant for its presentation of the fruitless search for internal logic
), but coupled with the anime non-references, I daresay there's something actively dangerous about this sketch and how it doesn't bother to challenge how you feel about anything. It's something somehow better and worse than the "Family Guy" ethos--it doesn't just feed into an empty sense of nostalgia, but attempts to regurgitate the very experience of "Duck Hunt," the very idea of being an anime fan, for your approval, by conforming them to the desires and opinions that you're supposed to have.

However, once again I'm forced to throw the spotlight onto my own dubious tastes, because I've recently discovered the phenomenon known as YouTube Poop: videos haphazardly edited together from various found-footage sources into a loud, annoying mess, sometimes lyrical but more often incomprehensible. Saturday morning cartoons from the early '90s are a popular target ("Super Mario World," "Adventures of Sonic the Hedgehog," "Dexter's Laboratory") along with viral video standards ("Chocolate Rain," Chris Crocker) and clips from Philips' disastrous CD-i games based on the "Legend of Zelda" and "Super Mario Bros." series.
The moments closest to coherence usually arrive in the form of very obvious pseudo-jokes about sex and shit; the bottom line is that they're childish, but more often than not I laugh myself blue when I see one.

Here are a few typical examples. Part of the "appeal" of these videos lies in randomly mucking with the volume as well, so I strongly suggest you practice caution in watching them so that you don't blow out your ears and/or speakers.

To wit: a lot of screaming, slow motion and fast-forwarding at random, scenes rendered as infinite loops, and bits of dialogue bleeped out to sound like curse words. So what's the difference? Don't these videos constitute the same form of generic hostility to be found in that "Duck Hunt" video--stuck in a state of nostalgic arrested development, obsessing over the flaws in something that you don't even like, conforming entertainment to an objective standard, and repeating the same ancient jokes ad nauseam? (How old is that "SNL" Butabi brothers sketch, anyway? Fifteen years?) Perhaps so, but somehow these videos are a lot more confrontational about your responsibility as a (non-)discriminating viewer, placing themselves on precisely the same level of entertainment as the targets of parody.
It doesn't matter that YouTube Poops don't make sense--all the better for it, really, since you're probably not patrolling YouTube looking for anything substantial. Why, exactly, are you still watching the same shit that you watched more than a decade ago as a child? The only point behind YouTube Poop seems to be that we freely ingested a lot of crap when we were children, that we freely ingest a lot of crap now, and the unstoppable advent of YouTube has more or less offered all of us the opportunity to wallow in that same crap with a conscious disregard for quality control. They're nihilistic, generally hopeless in an Idiocracy kind of way, and not something that I can really agree with, all things considered--but I can't help but laugh at the defiant absurdity of it all, even in the face of copyright.

So I ask you: is nostalgia an inherently worthless venture? At what point does snarking at "bad" media become self-destructive? How much can/must comedy rely on the familiar in order to be successful? Did Superhero Movie somehow contain a few jokes that were actually funny?


Patrick /Berandor said...

I'd say the similarities between Duck Hunt and YouPoop are that I could watch neither video till the end.

Love Gorilla said...

Sadly, as great and fascinating as some anime actually is, the western fandom itself has the issue of being severely retarded. There's some truly fantastic anime coming out of Japan - The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya being one of them, and Death Note to some extent being another - unfortunately, intelligent conversation goes out the window pretty quickly due to an idiot fanbase who worships basically anything as long as it's anime (like the fucking godawful Bleach) and then proceeds to draw out this insipid fandom to all new levels of stupid. Anime conventions are the worst: yes, you're missing the fucking point if you're dressing up and performing the SOS Brigade dance, losers. Dragon Ball Z is, by the way, extremely underrated - the fact that said fandom has rejected it as never-ending mundanity is a clear sign that they never understood what the hell they were watching in the first place.

You and me, Ian. Sometimes we're operating on the same wavelength. YouTube Poop can be the shit. Here's a couple of favourites of mine:
Peppermint Poop
The Ghostbusters Sure Like Rosebuds

Additionally, I'm quite fond of this piece of shit right here:
Octocat Adventure 1

Did Superhero Movie somehow contain a few jokes that were actually funny?
No. I'd go so far as to say Superhero Movie made Meet The Spartans - previously the worst experience I've had in a theater this year - look like There Will Be Blood. Anyone who's unlucky enough to have seen the thing got any idea why it's so mean to Stephen Hawkings, of all people?

Kyle Puetz said...

Agree with your comment about anime in general, lg, but Death Note's translation to the screen is just far too static, the mind games between Kira and his pursuers become engineered to the point of absurdity, and the early promise of moral ambiguity is decimated early on in the series as Kira kills without regard to innocence or guilt so long as it suits him.

Love Gorilla said...

I can't disagree with any of that - Death Note's intriguing premise is quickly squandered in light of a cat-and-mouse mind game between its two protagonists which goes off the deep end in leaps and bounds. Despite this, it manages to be consistently thrilling and compelling, as well as dark and unpleasant, which is where I think it manages the only real subtext and discussion of morality it can: Light's nutbag egotistism and hatred of seemingly everyone - even losing family members leads to not caring in the slightest - ends up being his undoing. He's not a God after all, only a serial killer, and even his relationship with Misa Amane can't redeem or save him due to being just as manufactured and manipulated as everything else in his life (this is noted in the hopeless anime ending, rather than the original bullshit manga conclusion). Although the manga is superior for the most, I really like this ending, and the ultimate consequence of Light's actions.

Dave Gibson said...

Nostalgia is psychological junk food. On a hot summer afternoon, sometimes junk food is just what you need; but too much of it will probably kill you. Ironic nostalgia is even worse. “appreciating” something solely for its presumed badness or laughable archaic qualities, is smug at best and downright perverse at worst-- but, I do think this sort of stuff is a rite of passage for the faux-nihilists who graduate from college every year (myself having been one of them) and are mostly just virtual versions of the rambling, drunken conversations which go on in every dorm in North America. Ed Wood festivals begat Schoolhouse Rock tee shirts begat Nintendo “parody” and so on. Overuse of nostalgic signifiers in popular culture (and politics) speaks to the calculated intellectual laziness and sub-literacy of the most pervasive offenders. Comedy must rely on the familiar in order to be successful—that’s why sitcoms are set in bars, workplaces and suburban homes. However, the “comedy” in something like Family Guy does not spring from the situation or the characters, instead the familiar sitcom scenario is merely a prop for endless pop culture riffing, requiring only simple recognition for the punch line. (I’m thinking of Homer Simpson missing a Stephen Wright musing, then upon explanation from Lisa he laughs: “Jokes! I get jokes!”)

Bill C said...

Anybody read the first few pages of BUSH, Oliver Stone's Dubya biopic?

Four words: Hi. Lar. I. Ous.

Check 'er out. It's authentic, by the by, so don't get cute, turdblossom.

jer fairall said...

Speaking of superheros and scripts, McSweeney's just posted Michael Chabon's proposed Spiderman 2 screenplay.

Rick said...

Anyone have any opinions on Snow Angels?