Sharknado and the Hipster Horror
Lessons learned from my summer of watching terrible horror movies.
I am tackling my cultural ignorance one step at a time, and so I between asking my friend for recs and cruising Netflix’s streamings, I feel pretty certain I’ve learned a few things about really bad horror movies.
And it got me thinking, watching Sharknado 2 make—forgive the pun—a splash all over social media. I mean the movies I class as the PBR drinking ironic horror movies that SyFy has become known for. They are the new B Movie, but they are getting primetime airings. And it got me comparing them with the movies (most of them admittedly terrible) I was watching.
Mind you, I have nothing against hipsters. Right now, it seems trendy to eyeroll at Look at This F***ing Hipster stuff. Here’s my take: The hipster was originally supposed to be a commentary, talking back to a consumer, mass-produced culture, but it’s become the very thing it professes to hate — insincere, a posture, a pose, and worse? A commodity.
It’s a stance, one that is aloof and distant and mocking, and that’s the gaze I am using here in discussing this particular proliferation of bad horror movies.
When I plunk down cash to see a film, I am emotionally wide open. I am basically handing my emotions to the director and saying ‘have your way with me, big boy!’ When I walk out of a movie having felt nothing, I am disappointed. I don’t mind movies that make me think—I like that, obviously, considering what I do—but if I just wanted a thinking experience, I’d’ve read a nonfiction book, you know? I got to movies for the emotion, for the ‘ride’. Take me on a ride, don’t just preach to me. That’s my stance on all art, really, dinosaur that I am.
And I don’t want be the cool kid leaning up against the gym wall at the dance sneering at everyone else trying to have fun, which is what I think hipstermovies do. It’s like…why did you come here at all? OH to sneer at people.
Well, guess what, hipster-against-the-wall—those people out there that you’re making fun of? They are having FUN. Ever tried it? Probably not. Because there’s always an element of putting yourself out there when you’re having fun. Fun is related to risk, I think. Someone can ALWAYS make fun of you.
Hipstervision tries to insulate themselves from mockery, by a) being the mockers and b) never putting themselves out there. The whole front is that they’re too cool to care—about clothes, drinks, anything. Too cool meaning ‘above you’, while they pretend to revel in the lowest of low culture. But even that reveling, as Syfy movies kind of demonstrate, is kind of snotty, a sort of looking down their noses at us, and laughing at us.
David Foster Wallace wrote an essay about how irony is killing America. I don’t think he’s entirely right, but I think of him whenever I run into this emotional distance, this refusal to be touched by anything. As though having emotions makes you stupid, as though wanting to laugh with, instead of at, someone is a sign of weakness.
Ironically (strangely?) what it’s done is its made movies too ‘safe’, this hipsterism. Everyone wants to go laugh at Sharknado, so they can get their superior sneer on, but the thing is, the movie itself becomes self reflexive to the audience, like it’s asking itself, ‘is this hipster? can we throw more irony into this? can we make the acting worse? can we make the special effects cheesier?’ And this reduces the power of a movie to take us somewhere. It has to be ‘safe’, it has to stay within a narrow confine of what is allowed, what is recognizable of the genre, the same way the hipster culture has become reduced to fedoras, PBR, and skinny jeans.
But, you see, the old B Movies were terrible not because they were trying to be hipster terrible. They were terrible because no one could act, the special effects budget was like ‘lunch at Arby’s’, and the camera man couldn’t afford a stabilizing rig. And despite their low budget terrible (as opposed to the high budget terrible of modern hipstermovies), they were trying. They were experimental, they were pushing boundaries. They often say that lack is the source of creativity. I mean, look at Star Wars, with that limited special effects budget Lucas had, and then look at the more recent trilogy, with bajillions spent on C Gen. Which was more creative? Which was more fun? Yeah, obvious, right? In trying to solve a low budget problem, he came up with creative solutions. Beyond that, they had a message. Yeah, sometimes the message was ‘we’re trying to dupe you out of money’ but they were trying to do what I think movies should do—trying to get you to feel something. Sure they were histrionic about it sometimes, overdoing the ‘frightface’ and the too-coral colored blood, all, but they were honestly trying to get you to feel something. Some emotion, not that hipster sneering distance of modern movies.
I wish Hollywood would go back to that—trying to make me feel something—scare me, make me fall in love, make me angry. Don’t just give me visual spectacle (there’s some Baudrillardian hyperreal in here I swear, or a Freudian fetish, repeating ever more hollowly the power that doesn’t exist, in an attempt to capture some trace of the Real), or fancy stunts with no narrative and no emotional connection to the people. Work for my heart, not my wallet. Make me engage, don’t reinforce my distance.