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Of Being and Nothingness but Stylishness

I think that it was in Dave Egger’s HWSG where I read a line like “No one finds the lives of twenty-somethings interesting, except maybe other twenty-somethings.”

I remember thinking, Well, f*ck. I was twenty-five and working on a memoir about being twenty-three. Everyone I knew was living a coming of age story, self-medicating with flower remedies, discussing apocalypses, struggling to become naturopaths or cage-fighters or wildlife advocates or jugglers. The twenty-something narrative seemed just as important as any Carver short story or Updike novel about coming of age transition from the middle years to elderly, the flux of identity and energy of personal crisis.

After reading that one Egger’s sentence, I started developing a question that I am still trying to answer: what is the best way to demonstrate the confusion of the twenty-something, the coming of age story particular to this generation’s late adolescence lasting until we hit thirty-something or beyond?

Last week, Leyna posted that she didn’t understand 90% of the Tao Lin output, input, and quenched randomness. When she posted this, I’d already been talking to Pirooz Kalayeh, the director, about his film adaptation of Shoplifting from American Apparel. I’d just read the novella, and had posted about its sense of branded youth in the American corporatocracy. After viewing the trailer, my basic film knowledge led me to the conclusion that Pirooz was taking the French New Wave approach in his adaptation, since elements of the film stylistically include:

• Jump cuts: a non-naturalistic edit, usually a section of a continuous shot that is removed unexpectedly, illogically
• Shooting on location
• Natural lighting
• Improvised dialogue and plotting
• Direct sound recording
• Long takes

But I wanted to know more about content versus style, which wins in the representation of the twenty-something? Is French New Wave an accurate guide in how to present the twenty-something? I think it is, based on Antoine de Baecque’s list of properties:

• a film’s moral position should be in its form and style, not in an underlying social message in its narrative
• content is subject to style
• short sentences and “micro-realisms” are preferable to long discourses or discussions in film
• asking questions is more important than finding answers
• emphasize complexity
• emphasize confusion
• present what is real without trying to orient the audience

I asked Pirooz about the sledding scene, because it reminded me of A Hard Days Night, another French New Wave echo, and because the sledding sequences seemed to clearly demonstrate parts Antoine de Baecque’s list. Pirooz said took the actors sledding to give them

“a time to bond and exhibit some of the playfulness in the opening (the sledding happens in the opening sequence of the film) that would be carried on through the film. I also knew that there would be an innocence to sledding. I could simultaneously have the actors take a break and enjoy themselves, while the viewer could enjoy the act of sledding. It is an innocent thing. Sledding. It’s childlike and pure, and I wanted to have our cast begin the film by bonding together (outside the film), and also to allow the viewer to see them as painted figures/players who would literally be playing in the snow throughout the film with what our ideas of a film could be.”

Which was pretty much the answer I was expecting. Play. The spirit of youth. Whether its sledding or Egger’s Frisbee scenes or running on a skywalk or a trampoline dodgeball game, chaos and exuberance of play will probably remain in montage sequences and written scenes about the twenty-something.

The semi-autobiographical novella, and the thus film, I suppose, probably take place during 2005 (I’m guessing since the book was released in 2007), but there’s no mention of war or the Right, and only a hint of immigration politics during the jail scenes. Any large, moral theme is subjected to a smaller insight, a “little theme” about the spirit of youth. I asked Pirooz about whether he was presenting what would be called in French New Wave film courses a “micro-reality,” and he responded, basically saying that the internet already divides our reality, and to bring in pieces of actual life together with our internet representations of life presents the ripe opportunity to demonstrate the coalescence of our micro-reality.

Of course, a discussion of Tao Lin and his accomplishments would not be complete without mentioning the internet. Dude’s got cyber swagger. He’s a perfect example of a young author using social media & marketing strategies. In the same vein, the docudrama adaptation of Shoplifting was seeking funding through Kickstarter and now through IndieGoGo. I wonder if the funding will mostly come from twenty-somethings, who are interested in documentation of twenty-somethings, and who are the kind of internet-savvy Etsy buyers who would also be interested in these fundraising techniques.

So, Leyna and everyone else who doesn’t understand 90% of Tao Lin et cetera and ephemera and merch, I think that’s okay. When you look for understanding, you look at the content. But this is style, not content. Just like Egger’s HWSG, you can have gratuitous and contentless Frisbee on the beach scenes (or Pirooz’ sledding scenes) and mess with literary/film conventions, because playing with the conventions of form might be the way that the life of the twenty-something becomes interesting to the non-twenty-something.

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