A few weeks ago, I was having drinks with two working girls who were doing menial jobs to pay the bills and continue pursuing their own artistic interests. They both had Master degrees, and I, as a current undergraduate, was horrified at their own difficulties in getting the artistic career that they wanted. “Oh don’t worry, you’ll be fine,” they laughed at my worries.
Around the same time, I also did a quick list called Movies for the Modern Graduate. Well, here’s some more. It’s pretty much a bit of an ineffective way for me to come to terms with my own graduation, and hey, maybe some movies will help.
Reality Bites (1994, Ben Stiller)
Apparently Reality Bites is the anthem for Generation X, but this slacker film consists of similar themes that even struggling millenials would face today. Trying to find a career, love, friendship and your own self-identity – after all, are we really going to be somebody by the time we’re 23?
Yet, Reality Bites is such a quintessential ’90s film. Slap the next teen who squeals, “I’m a ‘nineties kid!” because the ’90s had so much going on than Tamagotchi and Power Rangers. The ’90s wasn’t as great a period as your nostalgia goggles puts it, and Reality Bites proves it: MTV, a camcorder, gratingly cheesy daytime shows, Winona Ryder at her peak (she’s such a babe), Big Gulp, grunge bands, floral dresses, smoking in public places indoors (unheard of today???), yuppies, $75 “hip hop” headbands, the rise of reality TV, psychic hotlines, television as the leading form of media etc.
I really admire how the film just comes off as truly sincere, and devoid of irony or cynicism. It’s something author David Foster Wallace urged for, a New Sincerity movement consisting of artists who were a “weird bunch of anti-rebels“. Surely, all characters on the film very much give into consumerist desires, and they still seek validation or money from their parents. The conventional love triangle is fluffy, somewhat contrived, but I think it’s a risk that New Sincerists take: “To risk accusations of sentimentality, melodrama. Of overcredulity. Of softness”. Wallace is so on point about this, it almost hurts –
“…[artists] who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction. Who eschew self-consciousness and hip fatigue. These anti-rebels would be outdated, of course, before they even started. Dead on the page. Too sincere. Clearly repressed. Backward, quaint, naive, anachronistic. Maybe that’ll be the point. Maybe that’s why they’ll be the next real rebels.”
Reality Bites totally captures this sentimentality that I think is no longer available in the world of today that consists of satirical newbites and irony-laced media events (I am trying my best to think of a recent movie that would have traits of the New Sincerity – help?). So, would Reality Bites help twenty-somethings of post-2010? For me, it didn’t affect me as much as Liberal Arts did (a delightful film for literary nerds) but Reality Bites decently represents a bygone era that fresh graduates of today can still relate to.
The Bling Ring (2013, Sofia Coppola)
Some might call this an odd choice, but The Bling Ring is great to show aspiring graduates what awaits them in the “real world” – people your age who are rich, vain and amoral. It’s like this joke (loosely used here) by Louis CK, that when you’re twenty, you’ve spent two decades asking people for other things, like education and money, and you’ve never done anything for anyone ever. The world doesn’t owe you any favours…so why not rob a celebrity’s mansion? At least 80% of the film is doing just that – teenagers robbing. Apart from the frivolity in pole-dancing at Paris HIlton’s private club, the film interestingly begins with footage shown from security cameras that invites viewers to participate and fundamentally submit to the authority of surveillance (how very Big Brother). But I think It’s only at the later half when it exhibits some potential to highlight the undercurrent of vacancy that the teens and the society embody.
The Bling Ring never outwardly criticises or sympathises what the teens go through, but it plainly shows a society that tells youngsters to strive for something that is ultimately out of their reach. The lines between “normal” culture and media/celebrity culture have blurred. Individuals’ aspirations and hunger for fame, materialism etc. have become socially acceptable. This demotic turn signals the infiltration of a media into a nihilistic society, so where does this put us fresh grads? Maybe that all our selfish ways are due to a need to “have it all”?
Media ethics aside, The Bling Ring is pretty enjoyable and the ending pays off a steadily paced film. With a neat soundtrack, The Bling Ring showcases our own obsession with living fast, dying young and how bad girls do it so damn well.