I’m going to call out the most important film of the decade, and that movie is Paranormal Activity. We’ve still got two movie months left of the 2000’s, but Paranormal Activity crystallizes the decade’s most revealing cultural truth:
White people got boring.
This is a movie where the starring couple seems to have absolutely no defining personalities except for their whiteness. The girl is an English major – which between 1 to 10 on a White scale ranks about an 11. Her defining cute move in the opening of the movie is to play with drum sticks like she’s a cockblocking Joey Kramer from Aerosmith. White girls love to point drum sticks at their boyfriends and say no. It’s like a rock n roll sepulcher. Meanwhile, most of the movie is shot from the eye of her boyfriend, who may have the least qualified job skills to ever hold a camera – he’s a daytrader.
There is literally no effort to distinguish these two Mad Libs from any other (twentysomethings) with (finalcut) making (youtube films) in America. They emote in calibrated bursts, icily studying really fucked up shit in their house with Starbuckian remoteness. A door opens by itself and they are slightly miffed as if their latte were too warm.
All in all, the most racist, stereotypical depiction of white people since Survivor Season One. The ghosts didn’t want her soul. They wanted to crack Kanye West jokes with her.
There was a time when white people were not boring. This magical era was called the 80’s. The heyday of the wisecracking white male action hero (Stallone), or the coked out social climber (Tom Cruise), or a metaphorical combination thereof (Michael J. Fox in Teen Wolf).
No one could kill someone without a one liner Shane Black wrote on an inflated breast, and no depiction of an exciting stock sale could be acted without Oliver Stone‘s post Chinese hooker glow.
For white females actresses, they were the most desirable women in the world with simply no ethnic equivalent. There was simply no studio endorsed African American/Latina answer to a Brooke Shields or or Melanie Griffith or Julia Roberts.* For white males, it was Golden Era of larger than life male personalities in their prime in all their shades: Bruce Willis’s Jersey Blue. Harrison Ford’s Yellow corn-fed shucksiness. Robin William’s Psychedlic Rainbow. Jack Nicholson was so dementedly WASP he wore white make-up in Batman and permanently plastered his entitled smile. White people had personality. It was an era where whiteness was embraced and celebrated to the point that an Austrian with a scary Aryan accent became the defacto roided king of Hollywood.
*Lynda Carter aka Wonder Woman was actually half Mexican, but I didn’t know that until 2007, so she’s disqualified. Also it was through Wikipedia, so it could be bullshit anyway.
It was an era where white people were literally Gods, culminating in the ultimate charismatic white male who ever walked the earth – Ronald Reagan. And then, it was all downhill from there.
Because in the 90’s, white people started getting, well…weird.
They started doing things like shooting themselves (Kurt Cobain) or even worse, singing on stage and cryptically shaking their heads (Eddie Vedder). Shaking for yes? Shaking for no? No one could figure it out. White kids thought that was cool. Grunge was born.
There is a train of thought that in the 90’s black music and culture shifted from cross pollinating pop culture to dominating it, and as a result white culture became more fringe. As the rise of Snoop and Puff Daddy and Will Smith lobbed a grenade into the gentrified pop cityscape, a part of the white audience moved out further to the burbs and started new colonies. Hence the rise of indie films, music, food, or a combination of all three.*
But that kind of thinking is way too smart for me. So I will blame it on one thing:
A generation of white actors followed in her bland robot footsteps. The 2000’s were dominated by measured, calculated act-o-thons. I call this The Fincher Curve. It peaks at Fight Club in 1999 where Brad Pitt’s Tyler Durden is the de facto most charismatic white male of that decade, and then Fincher gives way to experlty measured performance pieces – Panic Room, Zodiac - and returns to Brad Pitt who is now a quite old man child cradled in the arms of Cate Blanchett’s Oscar statue (great flick btw).
It was as if white people wanted to be boring, ashamed of their excess in the 80’s, mistrustful of the nail that stuck out. White people prophetically were Turning Japanese (I don’t think so).
The most awesome white people in existance were being shunned by their own. Tom Cruise was castigated for being too awesome. Upstart wacko Ben Affleck’s head was too potato shaped, and his sexual infraction too Puerto Rican.* Nic Cage was actually handed the white death sentence: the charge of hamming it. He was having fun on screen, and in the 2000’s, white people do not have fun. In their place, a grim Batman, a deadly serious James Bond, Viggo’s stoic Lord of the Rings, Matt Damon’s smileless Jason Bourne.
*But mostly it was the potato head. White people prefer craniums to be shaped like a UFC fighter’s.
It is as if the white population is suddenly at odds with itself. On one side is a new truly multicultural America, filled with loud mixed people and music and spicy food, Britney & Justin, Pink & Gaga, in a sexualized world of bright clothing and an endlessly repeating 808 track, and everyone is invited to dance. On the other is Radiohead (and you just don’t get it).
As any internet chatboard seems to attest, the only criteria for “credibility” actors is that these actors are not talented, good looking, and funny at the same time. Essentially, they should not be Will Smith.
It seems the coolest white people today are gay, yet when the gay community finally got their shout out in Brokeback Mountain, the two white gay lovers were the most serious, boring gay people ever depicted on film, and to be honest, in actual human history. No proto Gaga or Kylie soundtrack. Just an Equadorian Indian on a xylophone - music I imagine the daytrader boyfriend of Paranormal Activity might try to score his movie to, if Spielberg didn’t put his foot down and smite his ass with a kick into the lens.
I miss Tom Cruise. I miss Nic Cage. I even miss Potato Head. I will go further and say bring back Bruce Willis when he kept cracking jokes about how shitty rap was, except make them clever this time – have Diablo Cody write Die Hard 5. And where the fuck are you Meg Ryan? Your movie relationship with Billy Crystal was trailblazing comparatively in the 80’s – afterall he had a Jewfro. Let my Shia go. It’s time that the non boring white people get out from the large chip Neil Young placed on their shoulder. Seriously, Neil Young sucks.
It’s time for regime change.*
*I’m looking at you, Richard Corliss.