Wednesday, 17 April 2013
Harmony Korine’s ‘Spring Breakers’ is the sweetest of fizzy drinks. It satisfies me (you) immediately, but in the process rots my (your) teeth and corrodes my (your) soul. In other words, it corrodes the material entity taken within this metaphoric construction to be designated by the term ‘soul’, as that originally pure lump of matter – such as, indeed, a tooth, or teeth – which, in this drink-mixture, rots to a degraded or destroyed object subjected to irreparable damage. I say irreparable, though it might perhaps be repairable through a healthy dose of the high culture-meets-low culture nostalgia-fusion-fest that is the current David Bowie exhibition at the Victoria & Albert Museum: when Pop / Art was really as sophisticated as you like. As my life. As if.
In any case, this lump, our consumer’s soul, is so pure that it is easily injured: and this is the reason that it could not cope with that sweet thing, Harmony Korine’s sweet thing, so deliciously sweet on first encounter but yet so wrong for it. (The bad feeling after a regrettable one-night stand, another trite comparison.) Here, the soul functions as a material object whose health would thus suffer under the unhealth of wrong-trash assault. But even if the previously dematerialised and aetherial substance-concept, the soul, is figured as material object, as rotting tooth in flavoured, carbonated-water liquid-refreshment-product, it is not the material reality of an actual body under the compulsion of economic stricture and restriction. That body gotta save its pennies for the big blow-out, rob a store, filmed at a distance through the get-away car door. By contrast, the sense of ‘aesthetic value’ possessed by the possessor of the soul is that of the contemplative slow burn, the appearance of capital b beauty through studied and ass-clenchingly pleasurable austerity or through a more ‘artistic’ excess, ‘tasteful’ decadence, high culture or couture in the liberal-artistic dwelling-places of the ‘justified’ rich, that would allow them to maintain their sense of oppositionality to the economic order of which, in fact, they are inextricably a part. By contrast to that, the aesthetic value sought by the actual body under economic stricture, the body ogled and eye-ball-undressed by our Bowie connoisseur even as it is condemned, trivialized, dismissed and degraded by that connoisseur, by our wounded soul-man or soul-woman aesthete – the aesthetic value that this body seeks (a body which, in its perceived shallowness, does not have a soul), is precisely that of the instant high of the fizzy drink, the can of coke or the line of coke, the shot glass in the dark. To which we have been comparing Harmony Korine’s film.
Both the aesthete-viewer’s soul and the gazed-at, appraised body of the spring-breaker-trash-humpers are constructions of wires and wireless, the glow of the ironic-celeb app on the website www.guardian.co.uk, the rolling news feed, the twitter buzz of quasi-political aesthetic reflections. Both equally unreal, both the substance of some daily human’s daily life. Further, this conception of the soul as some deeper aesthetic or moral centre is something equivalent to the lifestyle-ethics by which one’s participation in systems of economic injustice is assumed deflected, rising above the smelly or gleaming mass on 100 % organic wings. It is class hatred masquerading as hatred of spectacle-degradant and sexist celebration, post-teen flesh-parade as some kind of parodied gap-year heaven. Where that gap is a gap, not between a lovely educational past and a bright and distinguished educational and career future, but between the boredom of some small school days and the continuing depression of a life spent not being Kim Kardashian, spent not being Britney Spears, spent not being the arm-candy of some caricature of a rapper, tripping or gliding in peerless golden high-heels down the endless red-carpet of life. The maintenance of hope against hope, unfulfilled aspiration as life-condition.
Korine’s film might, at first, be understood to be an alternative to this lifestyle-‘ethics’ and -aesthetics of contempt, as the not-unsympathetic presentation of white-trash bling in a form of identity-assertion both reflecting and defying the ‘reduced’ circumstance of relative economic poverty. Die Antwoord meet Iggy Azalea. ZEF. Spring Break Forever. Indeed, in both ‘Spring Breakers’ and ‘Umishi Wam (Bring Me My Machine Gun)’, Korine’s short film centred on Die Antwoord, a trash-aesthetics of semi-comic violence-as-rebellion hints at some perversion of the class-motivated desire for revolutionary action. Yet, whereas Die Antwoord’s victim is a racist- and class-contemptuous middle-aged South-African, the victims of the girls’ final killing spree in ‘Spring Breakers’ are a group of gangster / rappers, black men whose blood must be spilled in some kind of equivalence to the virginal blood those girls have earlier spilled in James Franco’s orgasmic swimming-pool. This blood must be spilled in order to allow the girls to return to their ‘normal’ lives, both penetrated and penetrating, fuckers and fucked. The simultaneous reality and unreality of this sacrificial violence is absurd and not like-life, movie violence as movie violence as in any Tarantino movie. Similarly, the sexual politics of the gangster / rappers may be problematic and thus in some perverse, movie-logic manner ‘justify’ their deaths. Yet we might note that, in the case of Franco’s white gangster / rapper mentor, we are supposed, it would seem, to find the same sexual politics creepy-endearing. As in what your friends and peer reviewers have been telling you for the past few weeks: JAMES FRANCO IS THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS FILM. Yeah, I wanna be a G, like he. Etc. The sexual and economic assertion of the Spring Breaker girls, then, occurs through phallicized violence-robbery, holding up diners and banks, taking the sexual upper hand (in one scene, they force Franco to suck off his own handgun), but most importantly, it occurs at the expense of the nameless and near-faceless black victims who populate the film’s climax for a few seconds, as blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameos whose only function is to be shot and to fall to the ground. One oppressed group must always suffer at the expense of the other. No white college-jock is harmed, only those whose ‘aspirational’ lifestyle is the mirror image to that of the Spring Breakers and their white-trash mentor. Violence is turned inwards against those with whom the perpetrators should be in solidarity, not outward against cops or rapists or the upper-class rich. The Spring Breakers are what the Red Army Faction have now become, all politics removed or locked up in those prison-cells which Meinhof and Ensslin still inhabit as the heaven of political defeat. In shooting their hordes of black victims, they might be said to shoot themselves. And we sit and we cheer them on.
One of the two Spring Breakers who carries out the final killing spree is called Candy. Candy is that which the pervert offers his victims as temptation. Candy is that which you shouldn’t love, but do, that which you can’t stop eating. Korine wants to be that pervert, with none of the responsibility or wrongness or guilt this implies; he wants his film to be a guiltless binge in which the anticipation and ironization of guilt cancels itself out. Guilty pleasure becomes capital p pleasure, the guilt-free buzz of the stuff you stuff your mouth with at the pick ’n mix, all you can eat and you won’t ever feel sick. Which brings us back to our sweet opening gambit.
The banality of the metaphoric equivalence by which Korine’s film is compared to a fizzy drink is equivalent to the banality of the film, its visceral raunch-girl sexism, its ultimately racist aesthetics of weirdo music-video violence which grinningly turn a Janus-face to its two audiences, equally embracing the pure bubblegum-fizz of its giddy, brightly-hued party aesthetic and the knowing ‘critique’ of that aesthetic. As such, it is, like Andy Warhol’s Campbell’s Soup Cans, a marketing triumph, in which the art object poses as both the critique of the mass-produced commodity object and its ultimate embodiment, laughing all the way to the gates of heaven, the banker’s paradise where forever and ever James Franco, the hired entertainment, will serenade us with Britney Spears anthems, and his virginal backing girls will dance round his piano with their chic pink masks and post-teen bikini’d flesh, against the most beautiful of sunset skies. And this is exactly what ‘I’ require.