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Outside, Not Looking In

Outside, Not Looking In

If you haven’t heard, and how could you not hear by now, Comic-Con International is raging in San Diego this week. Hollywood has arrived in force to launch its new slate of fantasy films to an audience of true believers. So, perhaps, instead of letting this event pass without mention—what could I possibly add to the news being generated moment by moment over 3,000 miles away– you’ll permit me a couple of words to properly acknowledge my age and the nature of my cultural condition.

I am 38 years old and, I am suddenly convinced, absolutely, 100% culturally irrelevant in modern day America.

I have never read a volume of the Harry Potter series, nor have I been moved to pick up one of the Twilight novels; I assumed they were written for people roughly 25 years younger than I. I did go to see the first Harry Potter film, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, on opening night in 2001 and, while I was mildly entertained by the man who spilled a giant tray full of chicken nuggets, popcorn and two enormous red slushees all over the woman (presumably his wife) berating him for arriving late (and for this I will forever love you, Regal Ewalk cinemas), I have never really understood the obsession surrounding the Potter films.

For me, an outsider with a mild curiosity about the literary phenomenon, the film was insular and self-referential, the narrative reduced to shorthand, a series of checked boxes that (I assume) made sure to cover all of the narrative highlights with a wink and a nod to the converted. It was like watching an oil change when you (like me) know nothing about cars; someone waves a long stick in your face and asks if it looks alright to you and you say “yes” because you don’t want to appear to be an ill-informed asshole.

There was nothing wrong with Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone that wasn’t wrong with a million other movies that didn’t connect with me, but this movie seemed to come with an obligation; You had to be in on the story before arriving and you had to love every minute of it!. While I did enjoy the audience’s squeals of delight at the recognition of their favorite characters and situations, I was sufficiently bored by the movie’s lack of magic and wonder to not bother reading any of the books or see another Harry Potter film. I have tried, over the intervening years, to catch some of the Harry Potter movies as they rake in the cash on cable and network television, but I’ve only managed grab a few minutes here and there (A troll in a bathroom? Gary Oldman in jail? Ralph Fiennes impersonating the Emperor from Return Of The Jedi?), and I’ve never found anything to inspire or convert me to an awareness of this story’s greatness.

I know Harry Potter is not featuring at Comic-Con (that is so 2007), but you get my point; I’m old.

This past June, on a trip back home to see my family, I sat down on the floor of my father’s living room and, at the insistence of my stepmother, watched the first 40 minutes of Twilight before falling asleep (I never fall asleep watching a movie). Once again, I just found little to inspire me and this time, my own expectations were high; I am very much an admirer of Catherine Hardwicke’s films and have long considered Kristen Stewart to be the finest actress of her generation (she’s blown me away ever since we had the film Speak at the Nantucket Film Festival all the way back in 2004). As a romance and a vampire film, I found Twilight deeply conservative; which aspects of this story set the imaginations of young readers on fire? Where was the lust, the rebellion? Perhaps in a world flooded with sexual images and a constant barrage of meaningless chatter, the unconsummated sexual urges of two inarticulate young people pass for sexy. Whatever floats your boat.

Just Do It.

And so, as Comic-Con International rages on this week, I am filled with the awareness that my concerns and interests have fallen on hard times in popular culture. I know that it happens to everyone, the dreaded moment when you look around you and suddenly, you’re, well, old. Try as I may to get interested in the ideas and stories that dominate popular culture, it’s clear to me that, at 38 years, I have aged beyond the demographic that matters. And while I have never been wild about most popular entertainment, my generation had Star Wars, MTV and a seeming promise to itself to never grow up. At 38, almost all of my school mates from 20-30 years ago are on Facebook, almost all of them still engaged in popular and youth cultur on some level. We are the generation that gave birth to the internet, to punk rock and hardcore, to rap music. Even still, now more than ever before, modern culture, specifically entertainment aimed at a younger demographic, things with which I I used to try and keep up, well, it all seems more distant and more foreign, remote, detached from my own tastes and concerns.

I would never want to come across like an old man pissing on the excitement of young people; I couldn’t be happier than when I see a kid with a Harry Potter book open in front of her, oblivious to the world around her. Clearly, these stories were never meant for me. At the same time, it is an interesting feeling to be on the outside looking in, wondering if it is time or my own experience that has pulled me away from the things that seem to be capturing so many imaginations.

But then, just as feel a pang of regret, I am reminded of what it was like these past few weeks to watch the world venerating Michael Jackson as some sort of creative genius, the same man whose music and commercialism stood for everything I loathed in my own teenage years. At that time, the majority of commercial, Regan-era youth culture felt as if it was openly hostile to my conception of the world; it was hard not to take every shitty pop song and crappy, feel-good teen comedy (no, not the good ones) as a personal affront. How could you live during the Cold War under the national delusion that was Ronald Regan and not feel that the whole world was a big hoax? Today, Bush-era flag waving nonsense aside, it just doesn’t burn for me like it once did.

And while I am now inclined to take everything (and film in particular) on a case-by-case basis, to take the time to make up my own mind, it might be that once again the world is going crazy in praise of, well, shit. I’ll probably never know, because I no longer have any interest in placing my own rather irrelevant sensibility up against the ever-changing tide of youth worship; I’d rather celebrate what I love than rail against popular tastes, like some sort of Clint Eastwood on a dilapidated front porch. All of which is to say, as Comic-Con continues to thrive, trailers are debated, projects unveiled, and the kids line up to make eyes at Robert Pattinson*, I am happy to be on the sidelines, knowing what all the fuss is about and, for once, not minding that it has nothing to do with me.

* True story, my wife is just finishing her work on Remember Me, the new Robert Pattinson project. As I understand it, he is like a prisoner, with screaming girls and photographers hounding every step he takes. The production has been dogged by constant screaming and the sound of camera motors buzzing every time he steps into plain sight despite the fact that he is working on what appears to be a very heavy drama. I have to say, I don’t envy him at all, poor fella.

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