How’s the Future Look?
I’ve just spent the tail end of a sunny morning with the blinds down watching David Cronenberg’s ‘The Brood’ (1979).
I watch a lot (A LOT) of horror movies and am pretty inured to the mechanism behind their production. But on occasion, I really wonder about the minds behind them.
We might ask ourselves if David just needs a hug, or therapy, or if filmmaking is his therapy or wonder where he gets this sick shit from.
But we don’t fear him. We might wonder if he is a portent, or a signal that under Western decadence is some serious decay…a zeitgeist of autosarcophagy…but we don’t fear the man.
But how do we feel about Odd Future?
Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All, the LA hip hop collective raps about rape and prescription drugs and vomit and defecation and faggots and serial killers and anything else likely to push your buttons.
So, are they something to fear?
They would be really easy to dismiss if they weren’t so talented.
Compared to movements of the past that covered a lot of these subjects liberally like gangsta rap or death metal (Floridian or Scandanavian), what makes Odd Future distinctly different is a lack of focused aggression. They’re not lacking in violent imagery, but somehow their prolific pictures of amorality are too cartoonish and fractured to reflect the danger of traceable anger. Running through the lyrics of Odd Future is a deep catalog of transgressions. So deep that it feels beyond reality and far into fantasy. The kind of fantasy that moves horror from an emotional state to a genre.
When gangsta rap especially came onto the pop cultural radar with records like ‘Straight Outta Compton’ and objections of every kind were flying through the media, we had a great demonstration of how eager people are to feel threatened by art. After we witnessed the P.M.R.C Senate hearings, but before Andres Serrano’s ‘Piss Christ’ helped unhinge the NEA, artists like Dr. Dre and Ice-T were in the media ‘defending’ their work – sometimes claiming that they are reflecting the harsh realities in which they live, sometimes saying that it’s all “just” lyrics.
Sometimes the easiest way to defend art is to say that it’s “just art” and sometimes the easiest defense is to say that nothing has genuinely been created: you can’t blame the mirror.
But doing both seems either confused or lazy.
Have you ever seen that tshirt (the last time I saw one was at the art supply store Flax in San Francisco) that says, in 90’s art school scrawl, “Art Can’t Hurt You”?
What the hell do I want with art that can’t hurt me? No, not a need for the physical violence of Survival Research Laboratories, I’m talking about the need for art that isn’t resolutely impotent.
I think that what makes Odd Future so disturbing, perhaps more than an SRL show, is how slippery they are. They are antagonistic, but of what? Rebellious? Certainly, but against what? They demonstrate ‘fear of the unknown’ because despite all the verbiage, they are difficult to know. This chaos reminds me of the moment I found most disturbing in ‘Apocalypse Now’. For all of the violence in that film, I am most haunted by the exchange:
Kurtz: Are my methods unsound?
Willard: I don’t see any method at all, sir.
Odd Future’s decentered methods also remind me of an early interview with John Holland of SALEM in Butt Magazine. The interview was less an exchange of ideas than a demonstration of bleakness. Like a subject from Larry Clark’s ‘Tulsa’, or a character in Harmony Korine’s ‘Gummo’.
Is anything as unsettling as a bunch of kids who not only don’t share your aspirations, but don’t seem to have any?
Certainly the difference between Cronenberg and Odd Future is racial. How we fear a group of African-American teenagers is very different from how we fear a white, Canadian film director. But perhaps it is also one of capital. The budget for a Cronenberg film is so grand that it imbues a certain awesomeness and sick grandeur to his work. However, if we look past Tyler The Creator’s recent signing to XL, the Odd Future kids are young and unhinged. They perform the danger we feel from people who might have less to lose than us. While they share in the lineage of gangsta rap an excessive urban provocation, it somehow feels more like the earliest moments of punk (both US and UK). Nihilism. I’ve always found that late-seventies punk’s most political gesture was its apolitical veneer. Decidedly detached, ironic, parodic rejection.
Nihilism is a very destabilizing force. Confronting a void is a kind of violence. When we are confronted with genuine nihilism, we are tempted to reject it and create meaning. I think it’s analogous to giving a suicidal friend a reason to live – it’s not a time for us to genuinely question life’s meaning ourselves, but a time to knee jerk someone out of emptiness.
So perhaps Odd Future is a sort of mirror. Not a reflection of the clichés of pill-popping, homophobic, violent youth, not a reflection of some harsh urban reality, but a reflection of where our culture’s morality breaks down. Odd Future Wolf Gang Kill Them All aren’t “about” crack or basement torture parties. They aren’t “about” anything. They are a mirror that, if you gaze into it for too long, you see what you most fear: a spinning moral compass, ethical emptiness and a loss of meaning.