Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Nowhere (1997): The Downfall of Generation X, Part 3 (Abandonment)

Nowhere (1997)
dir: Gregg Araki

And so it comes to this.

Gregg Araki went for an avant garde French New Wave meets The Real World aspect in Totally F***ed Up to show the independence of the subcultural teenagers. In The Doom Generation, Araki went for more of a film school student atmosphere where it felt like the students were trying to become commercial, but just on their way. And, with Nowhere, Araki decided to make a movie that felt full-on Hollywood television. Described as 90210 on acid, Nowhere is the final step in the death of the subcultures that belonged to Generation X.

Gays, 1997

I've said earlier that I consider 1997 to be the pivot point in gay pop cultural breakthrough. Not that gay culture didn't exist before 1997, but that with Ellen coming out of the closet, the real world was forced to finally confront the gay identity in a mass-produced, aimed-at-everybody television show.

Alternately, 1997 was also the year that Gregg Araki went from gay-identified to bi-identified, and started dating Kathleen Robinson publicly. It should be noted that Kathleen Robinson is Lucifer in Nowhere, and their relationship probably started on the set.

On the other hand, since Totally F***ed Up came out, Bill Clinton had passed two notorious bills that were only repealed in the past couple of years. In December of 1993, Clinton signed into law DADT, "Don't Ask Don't Tell" which prevented gays from serving openly in the military with punishment being dishonorable discharge and denial of benefits. And, in 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) was passed, preventing the federal government from recognizing gay marriages which might be presented in the future.

Even with those federal restrictions passing, the gay train was full on the move, and the gays were starting to pick up speed in the culture by 1997.

Independent Cinema and MTV

By 1997, the independent scene that was fledgling in 1993 had picked up full force to be the "indie" scene. Kevin Smith, who had directed 1994's Clerks had gone on to do Mallrats and would release Chasing Amy in 1997, starring then semi-unknown Ben Affleck. Richard Linklater, who had made the influential Slacker would move on to do Dazed and Confused, Before Sunrise, and SubUrbia. MTV's The Real World stopped being about people interacting with each other, and in season 5 (1996), they were starting to cast for maximal drama and also assign season-long jobs or group tasks.

Basically, the experimentation had started moving towards traditional narrative. Dazed and Confused, and its predecessor, American Graffiti are by far the more experimental things in the lists, and they influence Nowhere in all kinds of ways. But, everybody is moving less for the subject and more for the commercial. Richard Linklater would fumble with SubUrbia and 1998's The Newton Boys before returning to his world with Waking Life and Tape.

Subculture Ate Itself

By 1997, Bill Clinton had been elected twice. He was seen as a more progressive President, and coming off 12 years of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, he was more progressive. He was more about social programs, but also about balancing the budget, which neither Reagan nor Bush were interested in. Besides that, MTV had finally gotten in on the political game with their Rock the Vote campaign where they had pop culture icons going on television and telling people to vote for Clinton.

In the meantime, kids were tired of being angry all the time. Since the dawn of punk, this reaction against the era of the hippy had been raging against the machine that they couldn't figure out. But, with Clinton's success, it was finally time to take a chill pill and start bringing in the mellow. Dave Matthews Band would come onto the scene in 1994 with Under the Table and Dreaming, and in 1996 would follow up with Crash, scoring megahits with both. In 1997, The New Radicals would put out the happiest fucking song, You Get What You Give, which is actually a really good song. Barenaked Ladies were starting to come online. And, youth pop culture was pushing away from the Nirvana and Nine Inch Nails sounding bands to embrace a new happy.

In the meantime, Nine Inch Nails had only released The Downward Spiral in 1994, and wouldn't release another album until 1999's The Fragile. Marilyn Manson would take the face of goth industrial and bring it to the shock-addicted mall masses with Antichrist Superstar, shocking all of the parents in the process. Industrial in general started moving away from the metal influences to the dance floor influenced, and the brooding started to disappear.

The goths were dissipating and folding themselves in with the new bubblegum crowd. There was a more accepting tolerance of the dark ones as being the artistic ones, and the crowds started mixing for big mash-ups of happiness.

Generation X (1965-1978), Cuspies (1979-1985), and Millennials (1985-2001)

1996 was also one of the final years that the "core" Generation X babies turned 18. Given that the core can be defined from 1978 through 1984, it's hard to say, but the years 1979-1985 has always been termed "cuspies." But, 1996 and 1997 were the death of Generation X for the longest time, and then they started transitioning into the Millennials.

The Millennials are reacting to the two generations before them.  The first is an obvious direct reaction to the nihilism of the Gen X youth, where Gen X wanted to reject everything around them. The Millennials wanted to accept everything around them. But, they also were reacting to the impact of the Boomers, and realized that the leadership around them still sucked, and that everything needed to change. The Millennials were raised to take charge of the everybody and have the balls to believe that they were the best.

But, we're not to the Millennials yet. In 1997, the first of the Millennials would be 12 years old. But, there were the Cuspies who would display traits of both generations, starting with the acceptance of everybody, but still keeping the rejection of leaderships. The Cuspies are a lost set of years with people directly saying that they were completely influenced by Gen X or by the Millennials.


And, so, here we are. Nowhere. The end of the trilogy. The movie where everything ends. Or, at least Gen X ends.

Nowhere is a cross of the widespread LA movie (a la Short Cuts), and the high school party movie (a la Dazed and Confused). Nowhere follows a very disparate, multi-racial, multi-aged fluidly-sexual group of teenagers as they go through their day in order to get to a party. They talk, fuck, do drugs, kill themselves, are attacked by aliens, do more drugs, and make their way to the culminating Jujyfruit's Party.

Unlike either The Doom Generation or Totally F***ed Up, the doom and gloom fatalism of the goth industrial subculture has been replaced with the more sunshiny bolds and pastels of the incoming happiness that would dominate pulp culture for the next decade+. Instead of Rose McGowan smoking, fucking, and cursing up and down the strip, we get Duval's black girlfriend (multi-racial relationship!), who is also dating and fucking other girls and guys, insisting that she believes that humans are made to love, and they should love as many as humanly possible while they can.

Of course, there are two dark sides to Nowhere. The first is the physical manifestation of alienation by having an actual alien come around and kill people. The first group he kills are three valley girls who are talking shallowly about who they're dating, fucking, and who's fucking who and not and...all that's left are their retainers. Then he kills Duval's male love interest in a locker room.

The other dark side to Nowhere is the incoming violence from outside pressures. The first is seen in the form of Baywatch hunk Jaason Simmons, who brutally beats and rapes one of the characters who had a crush on him. She doesn't tell anybody, and kills herself while watching a preacher on tv. The other is drugs, which leads Jeremy Jordan, who just had his nipple rings ripped off during rough sex, to kill himself in an oven after watching the same preacher.  The world is too fucked up to live in it anymore, can't deal. I'm outta here.

There is also sheer psychotic violence which leads one guy to beat another guy to death with a can of soup because he was sold cut drugs.

Everything feels amped up and ready for the darkness to finally come crashing down and leave. The final scene of Nowhere has the previously-vaporized male love-interest climbing into Duval's window and talking about their attraction. But, after embracing, the interest coughs blood, dies, and an alien emerges from his body, says "I'm outta here" and leaves through the window. The end.

Nowhere on its own is about the warnings of alienation, and the dangers of sin in the world. It's a blackly comic, surreal, and well executed take on the youthful wanton party scene twinged with warning signs about excess and nihilism. And, it's hilarious. As the most Hollywood of the Teenage Apocalypse trilogy, Nowhere is also the most successful in its attempts as subversive entertainment.

Teenage Apocalypse, Part III

What Nowhere is talking about, in the grand scheme of things, is the final breaths of a subculture that was on its way out anyways. The alien is the manifestation of all things negative with the subculture. The alien is the final Hollywood metaphor for alienation and despair.

But, even the alien ultimately leaves the youth. The alien decides that their new culture of total and unabashed love is too fucked up even for him, and he leaves Generation X to fight for themselves as they transition into the next generation, whose ideals are far different than what they've experienced.

Nowhere also is about the integration of celebrity and commercialization into all sectors of youth life. Everybody is played by famous or semi-famous people. Debi Mazar, Christina Applegate, Traci Lords, Shannen Doherty, Debi Mazar, John Ritter, and Denise Richards were all in this movie with varying sized roles. Rachel True had established herself in The Craft before playing Duval's girlfriend. The names were getting bigger, and they were out to co-opt you.

It should also be noted that this was the first instance where Gregg Araki used the title "The Gregg Araki film" instead of "a homo film" or "a heterosexual film." Araki would come out as bisexual in 1997, with the release of Nowhere, and in turn made a movie where every character has degrees of fluid sexuality. Nobody is purely gay, and you get the idea that most of the characters go both ways, if they wanted. Araki would explore this more in his next movie, Splendor.

In the end, Nowhere seems like Hollywood made a movie about youth going to a party, doing drugs, fucking, and sometimes dying. And, it is a goodbye letter to say how the world of the Gen X rebel is going to end. Not by committing suicide, but by giving in to the commercialization around them. By embracing themselves too much. And, out of necessity...because things can't stay the same forever. That would be boring.

Nowhere is the conclusion of the Teenage Apocalypse trilogy...or, is it?

Ed's note: This movie hasn't had a US release on DVD or blu yet, though I have seen it streaming. There is a UK release that came out in 2012, but no sight of a US release yet.

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