METAMERICANA: James Franco’s ‘Let Me Get What I Want’ Proves Once and For All That the Kid’s All Right

METAMERICANA: James Franco’s ‘Let Me Get What I Want’ Proves That the Kid’s All Right

this year, Hollywood superstar James Franco will come out with a new film whose
animating concept is so confusing it takes an entire article to explain and
contextualize it. 

what happened: a few years ago, Franco listened to some songs by The Smiths to
help him write poems that he later compiled into a poetry collection entitled Directing Herbert White. He then turned
those Smiths-influenced poems back into Smiths- and poetry-influenced songs. He
then gave those songs to high school students in Palo Alto and asked them to
translate the songs into a third creative genre—cinematic screenplay—and based
on the resulting screenplays, he and his band Daddy (yes, he has a band) wrote an
album’s worth of new Smiths-, poetry-, and screenplay-inspired songs. The
student screenplays have now been produced, and, with the aid of songs by
Daddy, comprise a film called Let Me Get
What I Want

You can watch the first music video to emerge from this project here.

upshot here is that Franco has engineered a compositional process that mirrors the
way culture moves in the Internet Age: from one genre to another, with each
successive genre translating (and also mistranslating) the same source material
in its own way. The best part is that not only is Franco letting us see the
results at each stage in the process, but his “final” product—a film and its accompanying
soundtrack—offers us both listenable music and watchable film, making it not
only a suitably complex concept-driven artwork but also a likely entertaining
one. If avant-garde literary artists and filmmakers are pissed at Franco, as
they usually and currently are, they have a right to be—but only because Franco
has a (to them) unimaginable budget, not because the ideas Franco is working
with are subpar. They’re not subpar; frankly, they’re pretty great. It’s not a
popular thing to say, but it’s not a difficult position to defend. If the late
novelist David Foster Wallace once criticized the American postmodernism of the
1980s and 1990s as “hellaciously un-fun,” and in doing so prophesied the
imminent demise of postmodernism (and its poster-child irony) as a generative
cultural paradigm, young artists like Franco have taken the hint and begun
producing avant-garde art that’s at once cerebral and a visceral delight.

lauding Franco as I do here, don’t misunderstand me: plenty of writers and
filmmakers are coming up with ideas just as good as Franco’s, they’re just not
coming up with as many of them all at once, and in so many different genres,
and all while living a life in the public eye that’s equal parts “hounded
celebrity” and “pariah for every disappointed artiste-cum-barista from Seattle
to D.C.” Those who hate Franco’s art, and the (to them) obscure motivations
that drive its production in such copious volume, are the sort of artists who have
always hated those who step outside anticipated roles. These artists often find
ways to double down on the status quo without seeming to be doing so—they
maintain their bohemian street cred even as they strangle in its crib any
audacious innovations in art. In the end, though, Franco’s critics are
profoundly misunderstanding what they’re critiquing. They believe themselves
superior to Franco as artists if they can (variously) write a better screenplay
than Franco, write a better poem than Franco, and so on—when in fact Franco’s
creative persona has nothing to do with quality per se, and everything to do with the new byword in the arts:

coordinates multiple genres, discrete disciplines, and disparate
resources in a way the
rest of us can’t, not only because we’re poorer but because, generally,
not as smart or creative as Franco is within his own context—that
context being
a life of limitless resources, staggering visibility, and a restlessness
many celebrities deal with through moral sloth or gestural
charity work. While it’s true that much of Franco’s smarts and
creativity are
attributable to him being wealthy and famous enough to know and
collaborate with some very smart and talented people, even here we must
that the ability to aggregate talent is both rare generally and
rare among the Hollywood elite—even as it’s perhaps the most critical
skill an
artist can possess in our present age of collaboration and
intertextuality. Postmodern dialectics have given way to metamodern
dialogue, and Franco knows it.

other words, given his local and cultural contexts, Franco is, conceptually
speaking, hitting the ball out of the ballpark nine times out of ten. His
projects, both Let Me Get What I Want
and its immediate predecessors,
are conceptually astute even when (sometimes particularly when) they fail as
individual artworks. Is Directing Herbert
a particularly good book of poetry? No. Is it any good at all? Not
really, at least if we judge it using conventional standards of craft, form,
and imagination. But the concept behind the book, that being to have a famous
person unabashedly write earnest poems about what a celebrity’s life is
like—which, judging from American culture, is all anyone wants to know about
celebrities anyway—is ingenious in its way. We didn’t get that kind of fan
service from Jewel, or Billy Corgan, or Leonard Nimoy, or any of the other
Hollywood darlings who’ve decided to try their hand at poetry. Franco writes
poems entirely responsive to who he is to us as well as who he is to himself,
and in making that difficult and perhaps unintentionally selfless decision he’s
exhibited a sensitivity to context which, surprisingly, even today’s most
multi-generic artists seem to lack. Indeed, American poetry—by way of
example—has repeatedly made national headlines over the past couple years for
its brazen commitment to giving exactly no one in America what they want, for doing
almost nothing to write verse that reflects the culture in which it’s being
written, and meanwhile—on top of that—for arguing loudly about how it’s
preposterous to expect it to do otherwise. Franco has made a different
decision, and in the context of his cross-generic career it’s clear that that
decision was motivated by the actor’s artistic vision rather than financial
gain. Franco doesn’t need the cash, after all.

for the Franco hate to stop. Viewed at the level of a career rather
on the level of individual artworks, Franco is Hollywood’s most
daring, and multi-faceted artist. Hating on him is not only easy to do
but also
easy to justify as coming from a protective instinct—that is, the idea
that the
arts must be protected from the intrusion of dilettantes like Franco. In
the anti-Franco madness is as retrograde, conservative, and reactionary
as any
inclination we find in the arts today. It says that not only should we
all stay
within our generic and subcultural boxes, but that delivering
results is always preferable to displaying uncommon (even if only
intermittently winning) daring. In fact, the reverse is true, a premise
which Franco is the poster-child. In light of the age we live in, and
explorations of genre and how artists live and interconnect that should
happening right now across all genres, the truth is that James Franco is
as intelligent and creative as any of his peers, and perhaps much more

Seth Abramson is the author of five poetry collections, including two, Metamericana and DATA,
forthcoming in 2015 and 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate at
University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also Series Co-Editor for
Best American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.

METAMERICANA: On Crispin Glover’s Epic Performance Art

METAMERICANA: On Crispin Glover’s Epic Performance Art

1987 and 1995, actor, musician, and author Crispin Glover gave America
one of the longest-running and most inscrutable performance art projects
of the postwar era, and did so on one of the largest stages available
to any performer in the States: late-night television. Even now, twenty
years on, the exact nature and purpose of Glover’s project is
unclear–as it’s been deliberately left unclear by its creator–even
though anyone with access to the Internet and YouTube can trace each
stage of the project’s development. What we find, when those individual
and temporally far-flung stages are combined, is an exemplary piece of
“metamericana” that may well have been decades ahead of its time.


Glover has always been an idiosyncratic and even downright strange man,
and he still is today. In 1987, however, Glover’s quirks were far less
well-known, as besides a forgettable Friday the 13th appearance and a single high-profile role–as the George McFly (both the younger and older versions) in Back to the Future–he’d only been featured in a single movie (River’s Edge) that more than a handful of American moviegoers had seen. And in fact Glover was left off the second and subsequent Back to the Future movies for a reason: he had ideas of being a genuine artist, an ambition of which the director of the Back to the Future
films, Robert Zemeckis, has never been accused. (Zemeckis, among a
number of high-profile, high-grossing thrillers, also produced the Paris
Hilton vehicle House of Wax.)

only 23 in 1987, Glover had already published a novel and performed in
several low-budget art house flicks. He’d also begun writing some
bizarre music that would later feature prominently in his performance
art, which for the purposes of this article I’ll refer to as The Crispin
Glover Project.


The Project began in 1987, with Glover’s publication of a novel called Rat Catching. Possibly the first metamodern novel–it was written a decade before David Foster Wallace’s Infinite JestRat Catching was a pre-Internet remix the likes of which America had not yet seen (at least in its popular culture). What Glover did in Rat Catching
was take a public domain text–a 1896 manual for how to catch and kill
rats–and alternately blacked or whited out large sections of it to
create his own storyline. Sentences were also rearranged at will, and
captions to the many pictures included in the original manual were
altered; finally, Glover’s name was sloppily affixed to the title page
over the name of the original author.

Rat Catching
is an astounding and disturbing book, one that simultaneously
deconstructs an existing text and constructs from it a new and only
partially related one. It juxtaposes deconstruction and construction in a
single “reconstructive” literary act. Importantly, the novel was
eminently readable, even if the purpose behind its deconstruction of a
rat-catching manual–or even the purpose of the novel Glover replaced
that manual with–was unclear. Rat Catching was therefore not so
much a degradation of language conducted with a political point in
mind–as is typically in the case with work we identify as
“postmodern”–but a re-purposing of language made with no obvious
critique in mind, or at least no evident critique, but only the desire
to create something new and unforgettable.

At the same time that Rat Catching was being published, Glover was finishing up work on Rubin and Ed,
a low-budget film that (unbeknownst to Glover at the time) wouldn’t be
released for several more years. It was in this context that Glover made
his first appearance on the David Letterman show, an appearance still
regarded as one of the strangest five minutes in television history.


July 28, 1987, Glover, sporting glasses, unusually long hair, and
platform shoes, conducted a five-minute interview with Letterman–if it
could be called that–before Letterman walked off the set in both
disgust and (he would later indicate) a fear for his personal safety.
Here’s a clip of Glover’s first appearance on Late Show with David Letterman:

that Glover answers most questions while looking into an unknowable
middle distance, seems either scared or anxious (it’s not clear which),
and begins his descent into outright lunacy only after a woman in the
audience–many now believe her to have been a plant–begins heckling
him. “Nice shoes!” the woman shouts, and everything quickly deteriorates
into madness.

the early stages of his "breakdown," Glover seems to be raising the
question of how the media covers celebrities (he takes out a wrinkled
newspaper clipping to opine about it, and certainly appears to be
dressed as someone other than the celebrity he was and is) but at no
point does any real commentary or critique materialize. What Glover
does, instead, is nearly fall off the stage and then execute a possibly
impressive and certainly violent-looking karate kick.

a commercial break, Glover is nowhere to be seen; Letterman implies he
was kicked off the set. Letterman’s bandleader, Paul Schaffer,
speculates–in a moment of (for him) unusual candor and insight–that
the whole event was a “conceptual piece.” Letterman isn’t so sure, and
seems genuinely put off by Glover.

Nevertheless, he agrees to have him back on the show a second time.


second visit to Letterman’s program was as strange as the first, but in
an entirely different way: Glover is meek, harmless, and giggling, in
fact giggles so frequently that–coincidentally–he never has to answer
any of the host’s questions about his first appearance on the program.

short version of what’s happening: Glover, again without Letterman’s
knowledge–let alone permission–is controlling the interview. He does
so in a way that’s so confusing to the audience that they start booing
Letterman, not Glover, when the former makes repeated fun of the
latter’s demeanor, twice threatens to assault his guest, and repeatedly
implies that he’s about to throw Glover off the show again.

you can see in the video above, when Letterman asks Glover to explain
his first appearance, Glover refuses to say whether the clothes he wore
during the appearance were his “real” clothes or merely props. He
giggles uncontrollably and asks Letterman, “Well, what did you get [from
it]?” when the host asks him to explain his previous visit. And yet, as
odd as Glover’s words seem, everything he says to Letterman could
readily serve as a description of one brand of metamodern art: that
being metamodern art inspired by the writings of university professor
Mas’ud Zavarzadeh, who coined the term “metamodernism” in 1975:

Says Glover:

(1) “It’s self-explanatory…kind of…”

(2) “There it was, or there it is…”

(3) “I feel like I shouldn’t say anything [about it]…”

(4) “I wanted it to be this interesting kind of thing that would happen that people would find interesting…”

(5) “The point…was [to create] interest…”

(6) “It was going to go to a different point…it wasn’t going to escalate, it was going to go down into a newer [sic] state…”

literally leaning forward in his chair to get an answer to his
questions, never gets any answer at all. “What was the point?” he asks
Glover repeatedly. But Glover, who in fact was not then (and is not now)
an obsessive giggler, and who’s widely perceived as an intellectual and
creative genius by his peers and many fans, offers no answer because
the answer is already right in front of Letterman and the audience:
Glover has used language and bodily performance to get and keep the
attention of an audience, but has done so without any evident purpose in
mind. He shows Letterman, that is, that attention is the currency of
contemporary America–a maxim that would be infinitely enhanced in
veracity and utility after the popularization of the Internet–and that
the primary value of the most successful attention-seeking art is not
that it critiques language or culture through Modernist constructions or
postmodernist deconstructions, but that it removes viewers from their
own lived realities.

Glover asks Letterman, “Did you find it interesting, in one way?”,
Letterman shakes his head “no.” Yet that answer is belied by the fact
that the host invited back his troublesome guest just days after his
first appearance–and would invite him back repeatedly afterwards.
Glover is so interesting to Letterman that his interest manifests as an
intense aversion he associates with disinterest.

see the same phenomenon at play on the Internet today: we follow and
discuss with an eerie obsession those we claim to dislike and even be
viscerally put off by; we give additional attention to people we
consider superfluous by way of writing at length about how they deserve
no attention; we follow types of art we detest with an even greater
intensity of attention than those we claim to be enamored by; we even
write critiques of that art in which we simultaneously claim that it has
no effect on its audience and note that everybody just can’t stop
talking about it. Again and again we see art that seems higher-brow and
more intricate and laud its qualities and even, specifically, its
memorability–but see no self-contradiction in our analysis when it
later fails to excite much ongoing attention at all. It’s almost as
though we know very what type of art finds clever ways to gain and hold
attention in the Internet Age, but need to half-heartedly construct
narratives in which we assure ourselves that it’s otherwise.

other words, when we encounter metamodern art or personalities we often
unwittingly consume the very paradoxes they and their art perform.


episode of Letterman’s program, for decades, has been either funny or
not, either instructive or not, either “real” or “staged,” either “good
TV” or “bad TV”–except
for those nights Crispin Glover has appeared on the program, and the
few times that others interested in Glover’s creative vision have aped
his methods in the same venue.

The Crispin Glover Project was designed to overleap poles of thought and affect like “real” or “staged” in order to
create a space in which all poles are simultaneously present and
absent. Glover’s performances on Letterman are both funny and not, and
therefore end up being neither; they feel like bad television but have
the staying power all good television has; they’re ambivalent on the
question of whether they’re “real” or “staged,” and for this reason are
impossible to forget. After all, we tend to remember those experiences
that most wrench us from the known and comforting–often calling these
experiences “sublime”–and the Crispin Glover Project was intended to
show that concept-driven art can create these experiences better than
any other method.


believes, as do a certain strain of metamodernists, that in the
Internet Age the most important civic quality we can all develop is an undirected attentiveness--a
paradoxical state in which we’re ready to believe things and act on
beliefs that are normally outside our experience of the world. If we can
learn to be most attentive in those moments we’re most out of our
comfort zones, we can begin acting in the world in a way that isn’t
bound by the same conventional thought that hasn’t worked out for many
of us in the past. We might therefore call Glover’s apolitical art
“preparatorily political.”

Glover ends his second appearance on Letterman by showing the host a
series of art objects that make no sense whatsoever, both Letterman and
the audience are rapt: not because what they’re looking at is garbage,
but because they don’t even know what they’re looking at–and Glover’s
explanations of each object are just plausible-seeming nonsense. If
postmodern deconstruction asks us to so minutely dissect meaning and
performance that there’s literally no end to the levels of precision and
distinction we can produce, Glover’s metamodern art asks us to do
precisely the opposite: accept that there are things we cannot know or
understand, but see also that this "not-knowing" can, paradoxically, be a
powerful preparation for future action.

Glover’s third appearance on Letterman’s program, much like during his
second one, he giggles and stutters demonstrably less the moment he’s
asked about his current art projects instead of the The Crispin Glover
Project. In fact, not only does Glover dress “normally” for his 1990
interview with Letterman–continuing his trend of dressing progressively
more conventionally with each appearance–but in fact only stutters or
giggles whenever Letterman asks him about a topic he wishes to avoid.
When speaking of other projects, Glover acts as any other guest might,
and speaks with great clarity and focus. But one thing he doesn’t
do is answer any of Letterman’s questions about the Project; instead,
he deliberately runs out the clock on his segment by telling a story
that superficially might, but also might not, have anything to do with
his first appearance on the program. And once again, Letterman gets
booed on his own show for his abrupt treatment of his guest.

above video is worth watching not only for Glover’s continuation of his
performance art project, but also because it marks the debut of “Clowny
Clown Clown,” a Glover song–with accompanying video–that is neither
"understandably bad" to the point it can be made fun of, nor good enough
to admire. Instead, like the rest of the Project, it’s basically
inscrutable. It deconstructs linear narrative into incoherence, but does
so with such a naive commitment to creation and self-expression that it
seems every bit as Modern as it is postmodern. The crowd loves it, and
boos Letterman when he calls Glover “Eraserhead” at the close of the

Here’s the full music video for “Clowny Clown Clown”:

to the song without watching the video and you’ll see that, in fact,
it’s just a rather silly but conventional (and in fact linear)
narrative. The lyrics even make mention of “Mr. Farr,” the character
Glover may have “played” during his first Letterman interview. “Thinking
back about those days with the clown,” sings Glover toward the end of
the song, “I get teary-eyed–and snide. I think, deep down, ‘I hated
that clown. But not as much as Mr. Farr.’” The meaning here isn’t hard
to interpret at all, despite the video’s attempts to make it seem
opaque. (A reasonable read would be that Glover is speaking of the three
roles he plays: the “I” is Glover, the “clown” is
Glover-as-performance-artist, and “Mr. Farr” stands in for one of the
many Hollywood acting jobs Glover has taken on. Glover hates not being
able to be himself in public, but he’d rather act the clown–someone
simultaneously midway and "beyond" his actual and acting selves–than
merely be remembered for the characters he’s played on screen.)


The coda to the Project is Glover’s last performance art-related appearance on Letterman,
in 1992. Again Glover refuses to justify or explain his first
appearance on the program, or even to tell the host whether he was
wearing a wig on that (by now) infamous night. “Why can’t you just
answer this?” asks an agitated Letterman. “I mean, if it’s a wig, it’s
fine, but if it’s not a wig, it’s fine. Either way.” In fact,
Letterman’s need to know the answer suggests that he can accept either
of two opposite possibilities–a sign of maturation on Letterman’s
part–but that he still can’t accept not knowing whether either of these
possibilities is the “real” answer to his question. “Sure, it is fine,” says Glover, refusing to say more.

most telling statement by Glover in the video above is this one: “I
like to leave it…mysterious. Well, here’s the facts: I’m wearing a wig
in the movie [Rubin and Ed], and I look exactly the same in the
movie as I did when I was on the show.” Though Letterman acts as though
his interrogation has yielded fruit, in fact this is yet another
non-answer: Glover merely restates the facts as everyone agrees them to
be, refusing to either deconstruct or synthesize them on anyone else’s


all of this, we have to remember the behavioral oddities of the role
that made Glover famous, and for which he’s still best known today:

you’ve watched the video above, you’ve probably noticed the key to The
Crispin Glover Project, which is that, by and large, the entirety of the
Project comprises Glover performing an amplified version of George
McFly in public. For years.

Here, below, is Glover as he actually
is, explaining to two radio hosts what acting as George McFly–and
being remembered almost exclusively for that role–taught him about

Per Glover, Zemeckis was able to convince viewers of Back to the Future II
of a lie–that Glover was in the film, when in fact he was not–simply
by giving them what they expected to see. In response, Glover found a
way to use the very same character Zemeckis was manipulating to give
viewers of David Letterman’s television show something they couldn’t
possibly expect. One might even say that Glover offered America the
opposite–in both form and effect–of propaganda. (He also, in an
interesting historical note, sued Zemeckis for misuse of his image–and

here’s Joaquin Phoenix stealing Glover’s idea nearly twenty years later
and (in a show of real gall) doing so on the very same television

here’s the most talked about celebrity in America right now, Shia
LaBeouf, wearing exaggeratedly ragged clothing and stealing from Joaquin
Phoenix stealing from Crispin Glover:

no coincidence that LaBeouf’s seeming point is the same one we might
glean from Glover’s project: that new media destroys, if we permit it
to, both the reality-artifice spectrum and many other polar spectra
besides. Which frees us to free ourselves from these limiting spectra as

the next twenty years, we’ll hear a lot about art that is
simultaneously sincere and ironic and neither, naive and knowing and
neither, optimistic and cynical and neither. While two of the theorists
presently associated with metamodernism, Tim Vermeulen and Robin van den
Akker, originally described such art as “oscillating” between
conditions traditionally associated with Modernism and
postmodernism–for instance, sincerity and irony, respectively–their
view has changed in recent months. Now, they, and other metamodernists,
are more likely to note that metamodern art permits us to inhabit a
“both/and” space rather than merely the “either/or” spaces deeded us by
the “dialectics” of postmodernism.

“Both/and” means transcending
the poles that have been thought to dominate our lives ever since Plato
devised the term "metaxis" to describe this condition of moving
perpetually between opposites. By comparison, “either/or” means that
everything is a zero-sum game and can never be otherwise. On online
discussion boards, for instance, "either/or" dialectics prompt us to
believe that others can only agree with us or oppose us, to understand
us in our entire selves or be deliberately and permanently foreign to
us; there’s no room for partnerships in which not all perspectives are
shared, let alone partnerships in which participants’ goals but not
their values are in common.
If the ultimate ambition of metamodern art, and metamericana generally,
is to help us discover what the “and” in “both/and” could possibly
mean, we must credit Glover with being one of the pioneers in that
historically important search.

Seth Abramson is the author of five poetry collections, including two, Metamericana and DATA,
forthcoming in 2015 and 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate at
University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also Series Co-Editor for
Best American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.



years ago, at the height of Beatlemania, The Beatles released a
black-and-white film depicting their lives as rockstars in 1964. The
Oscar-nominated A Hard Day’s Night
took a quartet whose superstardom was positively cartoonish and
depicted it in gritty terms, delivering a clear message: The Beatles were now fame’s prisoners. As the band once put it in helping A Hard Day’s Night
scriptwriter Alun Owen encapsulate their experience in the public eye,
“our lives are a train and a room and a car and a room and a room and a
room.” Owen’s film depicted the Fab Four trying to
escape—unsuccessfully—from those geographic and spiritual

it’s 2014, and we’ve come entirely round the bend: the gritty realities
of rock stardom have been so carefully detailed in decades of tour
documentaries and biopics that bands now long to fictionalize themselves
the way The Beatles finally did in Yellow Submarine (1968). But where Yellow Submarine
was an animated musical fantasy with comic overtones, popular culture
today allows for the intervention of comic fantasy only where the
cynicism of the music industry is implicitly acknowledged. In other
words, in the 2010s we get the alternately dark and sublime Plastic Beach,
a fan-constructed musical fantasy (published online just over a year
ago) that takes animation clips released in conjunction with the
Gorillaz album Plastic Beach
(2010) and orders them sequentially to create the album the "band"
itself likely intended. As of last month, well over 4 million people
have viewed Plastic Beach
on YouTube, and that number seems certain to climb much, much higher as
the film’s value as a High Art/Low Art hybrid is more widely

It’s only appropriate that this generation’s A Hard Day’s Night
be partly a piece of fan fiction–even if its component parts are all
band-produced. In a world of remixes, mash-ups, photoshopping,
virality, and spinoff memes, each of us can participate in our
collective culture-making project much more than sixties Beatles
fanatics ever could. And it’s only appropriate that it be Gorillaz
who come in for this sort of cinematic treatment, as from the start
Damon Albarn and Jamie Hewlett (the real-world duo behind the four
animated bandmates comprising Gorillaz) have been exploring how
conspicuously aestheticized realities often channel our contemporary
reality more clearly than gritty realism.

It won’t do to say here that Plastic Beach
was largely meant to be watched by citizens of Colorado, Washington,
Oregon, and Alaska—states whose voters recently made possible watching
this film in a state of benign intoxication—but it is important to note that Plastic Beach
is a “happening” more so than a linear narrative. There’s
unquestionably a well-storyboarded storyline at work (in fact, you can
read the whole thing here), and that narrative self-consciously echoes A Hard Day’s Night, as the
four fictional members of “Gorillaz” flee the trials and villains of
the civilized world to cut a new album on an island composed of
congealed first-world trash. However, the larger throughline here is that the
best music today is at once silly and skin-deep and raw and urgently
political. Plastic Beach
is therefore half archetypal “musical fantasy” and half a politically
committed statement about institutionalized violence and environmental

certainly doesn’t start out that way. It starts (following a brief 3D
fly-by of the Gorillaz studio on “Plastic Beach”) with a hilarious
homage to Yellow Submarine: Snoop Dogg dressed like a fifth Beatle from the cover of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,
standing before an animated yellow submarine lifted straight from the
Beatles’ 1968 film. Snoop Dogg deserves credit for delivering here an
acting performance so inscrutable that after forty views of the clip you
still won’t know if he’s taking himself seriously or not.

for certain is that the lyrics of the Snoop Dogg/Gorillaz collaboration
“Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach” belie the light-heartedness
of the attached visuals. “The revolution will be televised,” says Snoop Dogg, reversing the famous proclamation of seminal rapper Gil Scott-Heron, “and
the pollution from the ocean.” After urging “kids [to] gather around”
and hear his message, Snoop tells them, “I need your focus; I know it
seems like the world is so hopeless. It’s like Wonderland!” Which is a
pretty good summary of the Plastic Beach of the film, Plastic Beach the
album and film, and Gorillaz themselves: a Wonderland of
hopelessness that entices and even genuinely pleases with its fictions
even as it obscures its dark realities. We’d call the whole thing
cynical if it wasn’t so earnest about its political commitments. We’d
call it morose if Albarn and Hewlett weren’t so clearly having the time
of their lives animating the four fictional members of Gorillaz.

members of the band are distinct and memorable. There’s 2D (lead
vocals, keyboard, and melodica), a kindhearted and hapless waster whose
naive immersion in this cartoonish Limbo suggests a sort of everyman
Millennial. There’s Murdoc Niccals (bass and drum machine), a likely
Satan-worshipper whose nihilism and oily creepiness implies an
unthinkable penchant for violence just beneath the surface. There’s Noodle
(guitar, keyboard, and backing vocals), a Japanese girl whose tweener
otherworldliness seems simultaneously born of innocence and a possibly
alien consciousness. And there’s Russel Hobbs (drums and percussion), intended
by his creators to be hip-hop made flesh—so much so that this kind,
protective older brother-like figure can actually channel the ghosts of
former hip-hop superstars and inflate his own size to Iron Giant-like

There’s no point in detailing all the shenanigans these four get into in Plastic Beach,
except to say that they involve machine guns, warplanes, Snoop Dogg,
cruise ships, giant manatees, ghosts, a pirate ship, a fleet of
submarines, a giant, a killer-robot version of Noodle, Bruce Willis,
sportscars, a terrorist organization known only as “The Black Cloud,”
and a devilishly well-conceived, gas mask-wearing, black-cloaked villain
named “The Boogieman.” What brings it all together, however, is first
and foremost the music—hip-hop soaked in a pop-tart reduction—and also
its political message, which (briefly summarized) is, “Stop killing each other and the planet, assholes!”
Plastic Beach is, at its heart, a rhetoric-conscious seduction. If A Hard Day’s Night asked us to wake up to the dark recesses of popular culture, Plastic Beach
is the allure of popular culture challenging us to “just like that,
wake up!” (lyrics from “Welcome to the World of the Plastic Beach”). Although we’re drowning in a 24/7/365 Wonderland of manmade stimuli, this very immersion can allow us to see our current dilemmas
with new eyes.  Albarn and Hewlett understand that living in the present
cultural moment is like having to force yourself awake–daily–from a
dream that’s 50% sublime and 50% a nightmare. Is a dream like that
better classified as entirely nightmarish, or is it somehow worth
inhabiting in the moment and worth remembering clearly later on? The
answer is: both. And that makes the interaction of the dream state and the
reality we find in Plastic Beach an existential question whose resolution is of dire importance to us all.

Seth Abramson is the author of five poetry collections, including two, Metamericana and DATA,
forthcoming in 2015 and 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate at
University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also Series Co-Editor for
Best American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.

METAMERICANA: TOO MANY COOKS Is a Political Statement Worth Hearing

METAMERICANA: TOO MANY COOKS Is a Political Statement Worth Hearing

The argument for the recent viral short Too Many Cooks
being a postmodern parody is easy to make—too easy, in fact. Sure, on the face
of it, Casper Kelly’s eleven-minute video for Cartoon Network’s “Adult Swim”
viewing bloc is a deconstruction of the opening credits often found on
cheesy 80s sitcoms, police procedurals, and sci-fi knock-offs. And yes,
the fact that the running conceit in the video is the power that language has
over us (the actors’ names, which appear beneath them in the usual way of all opening
credits, ultimately become a terrorizing force more human than the humans
they’re attached to) does tend to support the claim that the
postmodernist principle that we are all constructed by and in language is in play. But Too Many Cooks is mixing together too many opposite inclinations, effects,
and plot structures to be adequately described as “postmodern.” Instead, it
seems to intend, as so many Adult Swim videos do, to be inscrutable rather than
analytical, contradictory rather than instructive, and simultaneously
deconstructive and constructive rather than merely deconstructive.
all its fragmentation—the video moves rapidly between
television subgenres, even as it endlessly recycles the same theme song
slightly different lyrics each time)—Too Many Cooks has a story to
tell that’s surprisingly conventional. First, there’s a villain: a
cannibalistic killer who’s introduced early on, whose name isn’t known,
motives beyond bloodlust are inscrutable, who’s frightening in
appearance, whose
early victims are caught unawares, who understands his local environment
better than any of the good guys, and who towards the end of his
homicidal spree faces a “final girl” (an attractive young female more
canny than all the victims preceding her).
Sound familiar? It should, as it’s every horror movie ever made, other
meta-commentaries like Scream or Joss
Whedon’s A Cabin in the Woods. Too Many Cooks even features hapless law
enforcement, as several police officers fail to notice the killer even when
he’s literally right under their noses.
Just as it has a fairly conventional villain, Too Many
has a hero whose placement is conventional even if certain of his
descriptive particulars are not. Smarf the Cat, described by The New Yorker
as the product of “Alf mating with a cat rather than eating
one,” is
introduced early on in a way that makes him endearing. Smarf has special
gifts that
others don’t immediately see (e.g., he can shoot rainbows from his hands
lasers from his eyes), has an apprehension of danger that exceeds that
of law
enforcement and all the other good guys, and in the end kills the
villain but is
gravely injured himself. Smarf’s role in Too Many Cooks is undergirded
by such a human inclination that it belies the fact he’s the only
non-human in the video: he’s trying to put everything back to normal.
“Back to normal,” in
the terms of the world of Too Many Cooks, means finally ending the
opening-credits loop all the characters in the video are caught up in;
Smarf, though grievously wounded, does
this by pressing a giant red button, after which he appears to die.
But—surprise!—he doesn’t die. In fact he’s fine, though the
cliff-hanging ending of Too Many Cooks suggests that Smarf’s still
caught up in the cycle of danger we’d assumed he’d escaped. All of which
should surprise no one,
as it’s exactly how the hero of a conventional horror film is dealt
So why are so many commentators in major media (including not just The New Yorker, but also The Daily Beast and others) referring to "Too Many Cooks" as postmodern, or using terms common to postmodernist literary theory
(like “parody”) to explain the operations of Kelly’s intricately networked art-house flick? The
answer seems to be that “postmodern” is the term we use habitually, even
instinctively, for things we don’t understand and don’t really care to. Too
Many Cooks
is blindingly fast in its transformations, and
repeatedly obscure in its deconstructions of iconic images and ideas, so it
must be “postmodern” in some way—that is, beyond our understanding.
In fact, the new avant-garde in the arts, and particularly
in the visual arts, very much wants to
be understood. It wants you to be able to follow with little difficulty what
you’re seeing, even as the effect it has on you pushes you simultaneously
toward several internally contradictory extremes. Too Many Cooks is at once funny and
horrifying, mesmerizing and cloying, exhilarating and depressing, filled with
obvious references to popular culture and entirely disinterested in whether you
can catch even a fraction of them. If it seems in a sense ironic—as it clearly
does take a dim view of the formal constraints that typified 80s
television programs—it’s also earnest enough to want to give you everything you
expect from a fantasy: a villain, a hero, a plot, some tragedies, some
emotional manipulations, and a resolution that both satisfies and keeps you
guessing about what could come next.
“Classic” postmodern art emphasizes that meaning falls apart
at every critical juncture, and therefore usually requires specialized academic
training to fully interpret and appreciate. If and when it seeks a popular
audience, it does so to shock, distress, or otherwise disgust its viewers; even
Andy Warhol’s paintings, while easy enough to “get” on a first look, were
intended to provoke anxious debate over what is and is not art. Too Many
is a different breed of artwork entirely because it requires little debate
regarding its central premise but still provokes significant emotional anxiety among
its viewership. If postmodern literature usually sends us running to our scholars for assistance, Too
Many Cooks
is much more likely to have you singing its theme song in
the shower. We’ve moved from a time when avant-garde art wanted to
unsettle our
minds to a time when it wants to unsettle our nerves and give us
immediate pleasure simultaneously. What’s at stake in this
movement from the postmodern paradigm to what’s lately being called
“metamodernism”? It’s a good question, and by now there’s enough visual
art like Too Many Cooks out there that we do well to consider the
omnipresence of contemporary art that ostentatiously combines opposing ideas in a way most of us can’t
readily process.
Metamodern art like Too Many Cooks is trying to
do an end-around past those institutions we once turned to for communal
sense-making: mass media, the academy, and non-academic "experts" within
their subfields.
When Too Many Cooks was released, everyone began forwarding it to
else via social media and email, whether or not anyone doing the
forwarding had
yet processed their emotional reactions to the video. The currency of Too Many
became attention itself, not understanding, and the power to pass
on that currency resided in any person with access to the Internet, not
just those specifically empowered with cultural capital (for instance,
higher education) to tell everyone else what’s worth sharing and viewing
what isn’t. If we live in a time of great cynicism about media,
academic, and
of course political institutions, art that’s designed to virally
infect all of us with emotions we can’t process is subversive by definition.
Consider the way Too Many Cooks moved through the culture:
it at once became a hot topic on The New Yorker, New York Magazine,
and CNN websites,
even as it was still burning its way through every discussion board on
countercultural hotbeds Reddit and 4chan. The disconnect between those
audiences—one attracted to High Art, the other, broadly speaking, to
Low—was so
great that Reddit and 4chan users were heard loudly complaining that
enjoyment of Too Many Cooks was being coopted by those whose values
and tastes they didn’t and can’t share.
In other words, Too Many Cooks was destroying class distinctions by
to basic human emotions all of us contend with, regardless of income,
education, or
institutional affiliation. To call Too Many Cooks mere parody when it
deliberately speaks directly to and about longstanding story structures
psychosocial conventions unfairly casts it as deliberately obscure. It’s
a strange thing: we
live in an age in which we treat as obscure that which is simple in
order to avoid
seeing that it’s our simplicities that unite us, and that we all
struggle daily to resolve contradictory ideas and emotions. Too Many
may suggest a worldview troubled by the overload of information
we all experience in the Internet Age,
but it’s also trying to remind us that, for now at least, we’re all in
the same kitchen
and eating the same food.

Seth Abramson is the author of five poetry collections, including two, Metamericana and DATA,
forthcoming in 2015 and 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate at
University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also Series Co-Editor for
Best American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.

METAMERICANA: Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR Offers Us a New Theory of Everything

METAMERICANA: Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR Offers Us a New Theory of Everything

nullScientists have recently claimed that a possible
“theory of everything,” an escape from our dreary four-dimensional reality, resides
in “M-theory,” an eleven-dimensional unification of all extant superstring
equations. As crazy as a mathematical maxim that resides in the eleventh
dimension may sound, M-theory is endorsed by renowned genius Stephen Hawking
and others of his ilk as a sort of universal codebreaker—what the alchemists of
old would have called the Philosopher’s Stone, and what religious people in all
periods have loosely thought of as God. If we presently feel bounded by our
limited understanding of the universe, M-theory would obliterate that sense of

Simultaneously, poets have striven for a similar
escape, only through words. However, they have not kept pace with their
opposite numbers in the sciences. This is in part because they’ve come to
believe themselves mathematicians’ competitors. For the last forty years, the
most innovative Western poetry has been so layered and nuanced that it has
written itself out of all sociocultural coherence. Not only is it no longer a
counterweight to the intricacies of science, it no longer speaks to the great mass
of persons now living. The belief that innovative poetries must be every bit as
theorized and conceptually indecipherable as M-theory is to most of us has
guaranteed poetry a marginalized place in our collective consciousness, if that.

Christopher Nolan’s new film Interstellar, which addresses both science and poetry in
implicit and explicit ways, offers us a possible “theory of everything”—one
in which the simple beauties of art are conjoined with the complex mathematics
of science in a middle space between the two, with that middle space
corresponding to the pathway from our collective reality so many of us have
been seeking for so long.

That scientists have always looked to the stars
(literally) and higher dimensions (figuratively) for the key to unlocking all
we can’t access is no surprise; the notion that poets have been engaged in the
same task from the very beginning of art is perhaps a more controversial
submission. Don’t the best poets find timeless ways to drill down on individual
words and phrases and ideas, rather than creating and testing out entirely new
realities through new forms of speech? A cynic might say so, but French critic
and theoretician Jacques Derrida said differently: he imagined that speech and
the written word could transcend spacetime. Derrida suggested that language can
outlive both its author and its intended recipient, providing
a pathway to unanchoring language from its moorings in time and space. The
much-vaunted “death of the author” Derrida’s (and French theorist Roland
Barthes’) work eventually heralded in Western literature was intended as a
freeing of language, not its imprisonment. So those who study and perform the
capacities and incapacities of language have always, in their own way, been
reaching for the stars—even if the way they’ve gone about it of late is to
surround their work with such a volume of theory and abstraction that it looks
and sounds to most like quantum physics.

“Love is the only thing we can observe that transcends
space and time,” says astronaut Amelia Brand (Anne Hathaway) to Cooper
(Matthew McConaughey) in Interstellar, and as cornball as that sentiment
sounds out of context, it happens to be true. Though “love” is a term that
should by all rights require the presence of two entities—an author and an
intended recipient who are both necessary if interchangeable—in fact love often
survives the separation of entities by space and time. We continue to love
those who’ve left us, whether they’ve left us figuratively (by emotional
detachment), geographically (by distance in space), or literally and finally
(by dint of death). So maybe Interstellar is on to something. The film’s
suggestion that just as quantum physics now resides in the fifth and higher
dimensions, so too must the simple emotions both art and life invoke in us, is
less a play on our heartstrings than an actionable suggestion for living.
Perhaps art and science were intended to take dramatically different paths
toward the same conclusion, not so much because each can independently come up
with a satisfactory answer to the problem of everything but because the two
jointly just might. If many of this decade’s newest forms of innovative art
find ways to juxtapose polar opposites like sincerity and irony or cynicism and
optimism, perhaps they ought to add to those generatively contending forces art
and science. Perhaps art must be as different from science as it can possibly
be—while maintaining a common purpose—in order for it to fulfill its implicit
promise to the species.

For much of its lengthy run-time, Interstellar
is a slow and quiet movie, but once it picks up it amps up its melodrama. The
film’s elegantly simple visuals are finally matched by equally simple
sentiments that run the risk of mawkishness. Yet somehow the film always stays
on the right side of that line. Perhaps that’s because watching four astronauts
seek habitable planets in order to save the species—a species, in the
near-future world of Interstellar, starving from food shortages and
choking on unpredictable dustclouds—is not, actually, something we can detach
ourselves from sufficiently to smother it with our cynicism and irony. So the
film’s final solution to the problem of getting astronauts decades out into
space and then having them send helpful messages back to Earth—the idea that
love is to art what gravity is to science, i.e. transdimensional—seems less
like treacly wisdom and more like something today’s creative avant-garde would
do well to consider.

In the realm of the scientific, increasing degrees
of complexity are welcome so long as they’re intellectually solvent; in the
realm of art, perhaps increasing degrees of simplicity should be welcome as
long as they’re spiritually mimetic—that is, as long as they trace human
experience as faithfully as the tenets of physics do. The late great David
Foster Wallace once predicted that the next authentic literary avant-garde
wouldn’t need tenured boosters in the academy to sell it, or pedigreed authors
to write it, or a sufficiently jaded populace to read it, as in fact it would
endorse just the sort of “single-entendre principles” that already guide our
lives (however imperfectly). Though the means of their operation is frequently
hidden from us, our guiding stars as civic and creative beings are still basic
principles like courage, integrity, charity, empathy, grace, kindness, and
inquisitiveness. These are not ideas we need to shroud in the coded language of
theory to enact; in fact, as important as these ideas are to the contemporary
arts—every bit as important as unfathomably intricate equations are to quantum
physics—they require no steeping in elevated language to remain fully

The final thirty minutes of Interstellar are as
strange a cinematic experience as you’ll ever have, so strange an experience
that their logic at times seems beyond the grasp of anyone but a Hawking or the
equivalent. But in fact the emotional and creative logic of Interstellar
is every bit as simple as its science is complex. This doesn’t mean that its
emotional and creative logic is less advanced than its science; instead, it
merely reminds us that the boundaries we need to push in art are not
necessarily those of science, even as the two are collaborators (not
competitors) in the development of a theory of everything. Just as the new
science looks absolutely nothing like the old science, however much it builds
on the discoveries of mathematicians long dead, our new art will look (and
read) absolutely nothing like our old art, however much it couldn’t have been
produced without the countless generations of poets and other artists who
preceded it and who reached for transcendence and fell short. Show me a theory
of the avant-garde in art as easily spoken and easy to understand as M-theory
is beyond my grasp and I’ll show you a step forward in time our leading lights
in the arts have yet to take.

Seth Abramson is the author of five poetry collections, including two, Metamericana and DATA,
forthcoming in 2015 and 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate at
University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also Series Co-Editor for
Best American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.

METAMERICANA: BIRDMAN Is the IRON MAN Finale You’ve Been Waiting For

METAMERICANA: BIRDMAN Is the IRON MAN Finale You’ve Been Waiting For


Rumor has it that Robert Downey Jr. will appear in Iron Man 4—and probably Iron Man 5—but
surely that particular Marvel Cinematic Universe franchise, however
lucrative, has to end sometime. Or does it? Does anyone doubt that Iron Man 10 would still earn its studio backers a truckload of coin? Maybe the question isn’t how many Iron Man
sequels (and, soon enough, prequels) can be made, but how long
the superhero genre Iron Man epitomizes can be the toast of Hollywood.
While it sometimes takes much longer than it should, American art genres do
evolve over time, and sooner or later American arts will evolve such that playboy
anti-heroes with mechanical or innate superpowers will get left behind.
What Michael Keaton’s Birdman makes clear is that even the end of superheroism would be insufficient to end the relentless onslaught of Iron Man
vehicles. This metamodern period in America may tire of
its superheroes, but the real question is when or whether our
superheroes will tire of America. So we can imagine, sometime in 2030,
an Iron Man 11 in which Robert Downey Jr. plays Robert Downey Jr., the former "Iron Man" of ten Hollywood films by that name. Iron Man 11
would be a superhero movie for the Age we live in, a movie in which our
collective exhaustion with spectacle would be conjoined with our
collective boredom at the absence of spectacle; in Iron Man 11
Downey would play both himself and Iron Man simultaneously, and from
minute to minute we wouldn’t know what the point of distinguishing between
the two really was.
But maybe we won’t have to wait that long.
In Birdman,
Michael Keaton—who played Batman in 1989 and 1992 films featuring the
Caped Crusader—plays, more or less, Michael Keaton. Sure, the credits
say he’s playing "Riggan Thompson," a washed-up celebrity made famous by
playing "Birdman" in three superhero films, the most recent being
(ahem) a 1992 release, but anyone over thirty watching Birdman knows full well this is Keaton-as-Keaton—or at least
a lightly tweaked version of the Keaton we believe Michael Keaton to
Say what you will, Michael Keaton’s career as an A-list actor basically ended with Batman Returns in 1992, a few roles (charitably, 1996’s Multiplicity and 1997’s Jackie Brown)
notwithstanding. So watching "Riggan Thompson" stage a self-written and
self-directed Raymond Carver adaptation on Broadway as a way of
"finally doing something honest" strikes about as close to home as it’s
supposed to. In other words, if Keaton’s fictional Thompson was the star
of Birdman, Birdman 2, and Birdman 3, this iteration of the Birdman franchise might as well be titled Birdman 4: Riggan’s Return, or Keaton’s Batman Returns Again, or, twenty years from now, Iron Man 11.
The film asks us to consider what happens when a
celebrity-cum-superhero tries to take off his Lycra jumpsuit, only to
find out that it can’t ever be taken off. Riggan is stuck as Birdman
both figuratively and literally, as playing the role has left Thompson
hearing the hectoring, hateful voice of "Birdman" in his head at all
hours of the day. He even believes himself capable of Birdman’s two
foremost powers: the power of telekinesis and the power of flight. (You
can probably see where that’s headed, though in the end Birdman surprises even on that score.)
But it’d be wrong to call Birdman
merely a "meta" superhero film, just as it would be wrong to call it—as
one might be tempted to do—a "meta" film about actors or a "metamodern"
film about how reality and fiction collide to form a higher order
experience that draws from both reality and fiction but is finally
neither. Like most films that try to capture a cultural moment in which
we’re equally attentive to, distracted by, enamored with, and
distrustful of all manmade stimuli—Birdman
doesn’t want to settle for being any one thing. Much like the Internet,
it has about forty messages it would like to deliver, and also like the
Internet, it would prefer to deliver them all at once.
film’s first message is that attention is power. At one point Riggan’s
daughter shows him a viral YouTube clip and says, "Believe it or not, this is power…" Birdman
submits that because attention in a fully networked world is in fact a
substantive good—it can briefly nourish the spirit of the sort of
temperamental, ego-surfing American our present Age has birthed—the
power that comes from being paid attention to is by no means an empty or
merely formal gesture. The second message Birdman
delivers is that admiration is not love, but because so many of us are
unable to make the distinction, it might as well be. A third message is
that choosing truth as an end-game isn’t the same as living truthfully. A
fourth message is that our eccentricities strengthen us in the long
term, but only by weakening us in the short term—thereby forcing a
confrontation, perhaps sooner than we’d like, with how unlivable our
eccentricities sometimes cause our lives to be. A fifth message we
encounter is that distinct artistic genres can never be confused for one
another, except when, paradoxically, they become one another—for instance, by making a film appear (as Birdman
is made to appear) to have been filmed the way a play is performed,
with a single tracking shot and in a single take. A sixth message is
that turning one’s faults into a narrative doesn’t bring one any closer to
transcending them, as all narrative is necessarily a reentrenchment of
archetypes rather than a recasting of terms. And yet another message
available to Birdman viewers is
that there’s a difference between popularity and prestige, between being
a celebrity and being an actor, between knowing how to interpret art
and knowing how to enact it.
There are several dozen more throughlines in Birdman,
all equally close to the surface of Riggan’s interactions with his
resentful attorney-cum-assistant (Zach Galifianakis); his resentful,
diva-like leading lady (Naomi Watts); his resentful, brooding, "purist"
male lead (Edward Norton); his resentful yet strangely hot-and-cold
ex-wife (Amy Ryan); and his stereotypically rebellious daughter—played
as a resentful sort of girl by Emma Stone. The point of all these
disparate messages—some internally contradictory, some merely
contradictory to one another—is that they be delivered all at once, in
an onrushing cacophony, making Birdman
at once a terminal superhero flick, a black comedy about celebrity, and
a metafiction about cross-genre acts of creative narration. It’s a
credit to its terrific ensemble cast that Birdman is a superlative example of each of these cinematic subgenres. 
It used to be the case that someone would say to you, "If you like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, you’ll love The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford."
In other words, if you like a genre you like a genre, or if you like a
movie you’ll also like its tangentially related contemporary update. Now,
a moviegoer is more likely to hear, "If you’re excited about the
upcoming, fourth-wall-breaking Deadpool movie, you’ll like Birdman; also, if you like the hardcore "meta" bent of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s Synecdoche, New York;
also, if you admire Michael Keaton’s ineffable, decade-spanning ability
to play Michael Keaton; also…" and so on. It’s fair to say, that is,
that the films that speak most effectively into and out of America in
2014 are those that give us everything we want all at once and with no
clear direction on what to do with it all. Not coincidentally, that’s
exactly how one might feel after having just been granted a superpower; or
having been granted an elongated career in Hollywood; or having just
been made the parent of a someday-to-be resentful child; or–and perhaps
this is really the point–having just been born into our collective
four-dimensional reality as a human. When we say a film is "metamodern,"
as we must certainly say of Birdman,
we are saying that it enacts the joining of Art and Life, or artifice
and authenticity, that all of us inherit merely by virtue of being
alive—and that it performs this elegant symphony of contradictions
without offering us any interpretation or any hope of reducing our
experience to a series of helpfully labeled micro-philosophies.
the end, Keaton-Riggan-Birdman gets his heart’s desire, or maybe he does;
embraces the hybridity of his self-identity, or maybe he does; makes good on the
promise of his natural talent, or maybe he does. He looks, in other words, the
way all of us do from the great height of higher dimensions of space and
time: like a simultaneously perfected and imperfect philosophical
vehicle who still has to put his Lycra jumpsuit on one leg at a

Seth Abramson is the author of five poetry collections, including two, Metamericana and DATA,
forthcoming in 2015 and 2016. Currently a doctoral candidate at
University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is also Series Co-Editor for
Best American Experimental Writing, whose next edition will be published by Wesleyan University Press in 2015.

METAMERICANA: Hawkeye, Normcore Avenger: A (Mellow) Revolution from Marvel Comics’ Matt Fraction and David Aja

METAMERICANA: Hawkeye, Normcore Avenger: A (Mellow) Revolution from Marvel Comics

nullSo-called “normcore fashion,” a bizarre combination of countercultural
radicalism and bourgeois complacency, is the only way anyone has found thus far
to re-envision mainstream culture as avant-garde. In normcore culture,
twenty-something hipsters who have already established their countercultural
bona fides by dressing in the uniform of their kind for years (think
thick-rimmed glasses, skinny jeans, sportcoats, bow ties, and brogues) turn
these customs on their head by returning to the white, upper-middle class clothing
stores of their youth. Thus, a herd of excruciatingly self-aware young people seems
to dress like either their parents or their suburban peers, and outside
observers are none the wiser about their intentions. Normcore is ironic to
those who know it when they see it, and painfully earnest to those who see
someone wearing clothes from The Gap or Abercrombie & Fitch and assume it’s
the result of thoughtlessness rather than design. Of course, the more generous
view of normcore suggests that those who subscribe to its fashion wing simply
no longer wish to be distinguished from others on the basis of their attire.
Better, then, to say that the wearing of jeans and tee shirts by normcore
aficionados is merely a “detached and knowing” decision, and not necessarily an
“ironic” one. But what happens to our hipster calculus when normcore culture
goes supernatural?

Superheroes are the hipsters of English-language graphic novels: discernible
almost immediately by their accoutrements, superheros may want to be like you
and me (hence, secret identities) but before long are sure to do something—lift
a car, shoot an eye-beam—that places them outside mainstream culture. They can’t
help themselves. And millions of us read about their exploits in comic books
because we, too, can’t help ourselves. Following the adventures of costumed
counter-culturists is the nerdy equivalent of sitting on a park bench
people-watching in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn. Which is why, when
comic book writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja decided to portray the
least-popular Avenger, Hawkeye, not as a bow-wielding badass but an
unremarkable, hoodie-wearing bro hanging around his apartment, it felt—to those
of us who enjoy comic books but are tired of their poor writing, cinema-ready
plotlines, and cutout characters—like something of a revolution.

Fraction and Aja’s Hawkeye depicts its titular character in his
traditional (at least since the Avengers movie) purple and black get-up on the
cover of its first two paperback collected editions. In both cases, “Hawkeye”/Clint
Barton—Iowan; former carnie; superpower-less master archer—is carrying his
trademark bow. It’s an intentional misdirection, as in the pages of My Life
As a Weapon
(collecting Hawkeye #1-5 and Young Avengers Presents
#6) and Little Hits (collecting Hawkeye #6-11) Hawkeye rarely
uses his bow and is almost never in his Avengers uniform. Instead, he putters
about his Bed-Stuy apartment and does, well, not very much. A breakdown of the
early issues:

Hawkeye #1: Hawkeye recuperates in a hospital, adopts a dog, attends a
neighborhood barbecue, helps a single mom avoid eviction, and buys his
apartment building so he can become its landlord.

Hawkeye #2: Hawkeye practices shooting his bow, attends a gala event,
stops a gang of petty thieves (but in a tux), and has a long phone call with a
young female protégé who has a crush on him.

Hawkeye #3: Hawkeye organizes his arrows, buys a new car, sleeps with a
stranger, and fights off some heavies hired by a slumlord who wants Clint’s
apartment building back.

Hawkeye #4: Hawkeye attends a neighborhood barbecue, gets interviewed by
the Avengers, travels to the Middle East, has his wallet stolen in a taxi, and
attempts to buy at auction an item that could destroy his reputation if it
falls into the wrong hands.

And so on. Clint virtually never gets into uniform, virtually never faces a
super-villain, never uses any superpowers, and views any excitement he
experiences as a distraction from what he really wants to be doing: hanging out
with his neighbors at rooftop barbecues and petting his adopted dog (“Pizza
Dog,” so named because this iteration of Clint Barton isn’t very witty, either,
so he simply names his dog after the mutt’s favorite food). In Little Hits,
the second Hawkeye paperback collected, the low-key vibe continues, and
if anything is doubled down upon by Fraction and Aja:

Hawkeye #6: Hawkeye sets up his stereo system, saves the world from a
terrorist organization (presented, however, via just a two-page pictorial
summary), argues with the maintenance man at his apartment building, attends a
neighborhood barbecue, fights off some slumlord heavies, watches TV, and
considers going on vacation.

Hawkeye #7: Hawkeye helps a neighbor move during a hurricane, and later
rescues him from drowning in his new basement. Hawkeye’s protégé Kate Bishop
attends a wedding, goes to a pharmacy, and stops a robbery in progress.

Hawkeye #8: Hawkeye deals with a new (and crappy) romantic relationship,
tries to fight slumlord heavies but ends up in jail, and complains about his
new girlfriend messing up his comic book collection.

While the news recently came down that the Fraction/Aja Hawkeye series
will come to a close with issue #22, the fact remains that this writer-artist
duo has given us an entirely new way of thinking about not just comic books but
ourselves. There are a number of things Hawkeye does in this series that no one
without superlative archery skills could do. However, these acts of heroism are
overwhelmed in both number and vividness by the roster of things Clint Barton
does in Bed-Stuy that nearly any of us could do: make an effort to meet
and befriend our neighbors; help someone move or avoid eviction; finally unpack
our boxes and set up our new apartment; adopt a stray; or make a property
investment with an eye toward making the lives of others a little less bleak.
There’s nothing preachy about Hawkeye, however—it can’t be said that
Fraction and Aja have any evident interest in making us all better people. What
they want, I think, is no more than what Barton himself wants, and what, if we
go back into the annals of Western literature, David Copperfield once wanted:
to be the hero of our own life stories, whatever banalities and unremarkable
tribulations those stories will so often, inevitably, entail.

In other
words, Fraction and Aja have somehow captured the temperament of our Age:
neither naively fixated on the possibility of heroism nor (anymore) captivated
by anti-heroes. The earnestness of the conventional superhero has begun to irk
us, but so too, however slowly, has an unwilling and unlikely hero like
Deadpool, a mercenary whose running commentary on his own antics—droll,
fourth-wall-breaking—is steeped in petulant cynicism. In an ongoing tug-of-war
that mirrors what’s happening now in video games (cf. “#gamergate”), there’s a
divide between those who want a comic book that simply “plays well”—meaning, it
touches all the usual plot, tight-pant, and monologing-baddie bases—and one
that is reflexive enough about its aesthetics and ambitious enough about its
aims to qualify as Art. Fraction and Aja have given us a comic book series that’s
decidedly in the middle in all particulars—even its interior art is somehow,
despite its stylishness, understated—and in doing so find a sweet spot that’s
exactly where most of us already live. This new Clint Barton is neither a hero
nor an anti-hero, he’s simply . . . unremarkable. Which makes him as
remarkable a superhero as we’ve seen in a very, very long time.

Seth Abramson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Thievery (University of Akron Press, 2013). He has published work in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best New Poets, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, New American Writing, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and The Southern Review.
A graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, and the Iowa
Writers’ Workshop, he was a public defender from 2001 to 2007 and is
presently a doctoral candidate in English Literature at University of
Wisconsin-Madison. He runs a contemporary poetry review series for
The Huffington Post and has covered graduate creative writing programs for Poets & Writers magazine since 2008.

METAMERICANA: How Eoin Duffy’s Animated Short THE MISSING SCARF Forecasts Our Adorable, Inescapable Apocalypse

METAMERICANA: How Eoin Duffy’s THE MISSING SCARF Forecasts Our Adorable, Inescapable Apocalypse

many decades, the secret to making a
highly successful and thoroughly educational children’s film has really
been no secret at all: simply give a live-action, hand-puppet, or
animated avatar (all stand-ins for the child herself) an embarrassingly
simple dilemma, and then detail the tyke’s increasingly hilarious
attempts to navigate it. The last of these efforts will, of course, be
successful. The Missing Scarf,
an Academy Award-nominated animated short written by Eoin Duffy and
narrated by cult icon George Takei, now widely viewable for the first time, at first seems to check all these
boxes. In fact, it ultimately turns each of them on its head. The result
is a superlative and resoundingly educational adult film that’s every bit as abstract and harrowing as the average Sesame Street short is tactile and comforting.
plot: Albert the Squirrel has lost his scarf, which seems like a
consequential mishap until we meet Albert’s friends, who are
considerably worse off. Cecil the Owl is terrified of the dark, despite being nocturnal; Conrad the Beaver worries that he is incompetent at the only thing his species is known for (building dams); Edwin the Fox, despite the natural charisma of his species, believes that
his friends are plotting to kill him; and Frederick the Bear, poor
gentle brute, daily stares into the abyss of not just his own but the
entire universe’s (relatively speaking) impending self-annihilation—a
fear of individual and collective death that is, we must
concede, entirely rational. 
friends, in other words, are facing the adult equivalent of not being
able to tie your own shoes: they’re finding it impossible to function as
members of a civil society. Cecil can’t meet his responsibilities
because he’s temperamentally incapable of facing them; Conrad accepts
his responsibilities but has no aptitude for them; Edwin has aptitude
for his responsibilities but takes no pleasure in their
fruits; and Frederick is capable, successful, and reasonably
well-adjusted—all of which gives him the time and space to realize that
absolutely nothing any of us does matters in the slightest.
offers gems of wisdom to each friend, for which service he receives no
direct compensation—as his friends haven’t seen his missing accessory.
Cecil is shown the illuminating wonders of the dark (though all he
ultimately finds is, quite literally, a steaming pile of manure); Conrad
is shown the utility of failure (though all he ultimately experiences
is the terror of drowning, as his
dam does indeed break, killing him); Edwin is shown that isolation is
often self-imposed (though when Edwin ends his self-imposed isolation
and opens his heart to his friends, they do in fact kill him); and
Frederick is shown that nature is more resilient than he suspects—a possibility he doubts, but is willing to ponder further. Throughout these
lectures, Albert is revealed to be such a wise old soul that it seems impossible that he was ever so careless as to misplace an article of
clothing in the first place. Albert, that is, is a fully formed and
fully evolved entity, one whose foibles and follies are adorable
primarily because they’re the only things that distinguish him from a
But it’s at this point in the narrative of The Missing Scarf
that the genre into which Albert’s escapades have been encoded catches
up to him—and his friends—for in educational children’s films, there
is always some surprising event toward the end of the narrative that
either solves the hero’s dilemma or renders it irrelevant. In Albert’s
case, it’s the young squirrel’s sudden realization that the arrival of
spring means his scarf is no longer necessary.
This, in the world of The Missing Scarf,
is exactly when the world ends. Literally. Frederick and Albert are
both killed then and there, horribly and graphically, as is all life on
Earth. Their final moments alive are filled with confusion, terror, and
abject despair.
not entirely clear what the takeaway is here. It may have
something to do with the fact that all creative invention—for instance,
an animated short—relies on the illusion of control, indeed
the abiding artifice of what we politely call free will. To say that we
live in a world in which we may truly "create" is to assume we have
the time, space, energy, means, and culture into which a novel creation
may be put. But even if we have all these things, they just as surely
are temporary: they can be taken away from us at any time, by anyone or
anything. We could suddenly be maimed, imprisoned, or even murdered; we
could lose our ambitions, lose our will, or even lose our minds; the
world could shift all its relations beneath our feet by the time we wake
tomorrow, or instead be destroyed utterly (and just as unexpectedly) by
some outside force we can’t presently foresee. This last tragedy is
exactly what we find in the final seconds of The Missing Scarf, reminding us that our colossally sincere commitment to creation
can in half an instant be thwarted by the equally colossal irony of all
matter’s inevitable destruction.
The Missing Scarf
is equal parts funny and scary; heart-warming and heart-rending;
allegorical and desperately literal. Arguments could be made for it
to reside at any point on these (or other) polar spectra. But what’s
certain is that the film as a whole—however brief it is; indeed, it
clocks in at under seven minutes—is not just a riveting but an entirely
necessary bit of viewing for any adult who wants to understand our
cultural moment. We are suffused, today, with a sense that
while we can’t know exactly when the world as we know it will end, we do
know for reasonably certain that we are presently doing our level best
to hasten that end with (for instance) our over-use of
environment-killing fossil fuels. Similarly, we can’t know exactly what
daily obstacles and long-term tribulations we have it in us to overcome,
but we know beyond a shadow of a doubt that, right up until the moment
of our species’ annihilation, answering that question will always fall
solely to each of us as individuals. 
like to say that we’re at the end of history, but in fact it is far
more correct to say that we are living in the shadow of history—with an
emphasis on the word living.
Whatever fate befalls us singly, collectively, or (as to Albert and
company) in our separate and/or communal manifestation(s) as multimedia-driven,
allegorical avatars, we are compelled to rush toward that fate with as much
grace, courage, and wisdom as we can muster. 
Albert starts out missing a scarf, and ends up missing his head. Too often we start out our adult lives
without our wits about us, and therefore spend many wasted years searching for things we don’t really need. The Missing Scarf
urges us to get ourselves back on track with the same alternately
optimistic and cynical urgency of a public-television clip in which
Cookie Monster learns how to avoid indigestion or Elmo learns how to
share a skateboard. The only question is, are we listening? The Missing Scarf
pulls out all the stops to get us to listen—everything from adorable cartoon
animals to a voiceover by our favorite YouTube celebrity—and for that
it deserves commendation as one of the best short films of the last
decade, animated or otherwise.

Seth Abramson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Thievery (University of Akron Press, 2013). He has published work in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best New Poets, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, New American Writing, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and The Southern Review.
A graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, and the Iowa
Writers’ Workshop, he was a public defender from 2001 to 2007 and is
presently a doctoral candidate in English Literature at University of
Wisconsin-Madison. He runs a contemporary poetry review series for
The Huffington Post and has covered graduate creative writing programs for Poets & Writers magazine since 2008.

METAMERICANA: Why James Franco’s MAKING A SCENE Is Worth Your Patience

METAMERICANA: Why James Franco’s MAKING A SCENE Is Worth Your Patience


half century-long postmodern era—roughly, 1945 to 1995—gave us the
parody, in which an artwork comments on and finally trivializes its
source material by closely emulating it. Our present period in art has
given us something superficially similar but in fact quite different:
the remake, in which an artwork comments on art itself by differentially
reproducing an earlier work. In a remake, it may simply be that primary
elements in the source material are retooled (as with
James Franco and Seth Rogen’s shot-for-shot re-shoot of Kanye West’s "Bound 2" music video), or it may be that the concept of the original work is
maintained while all its constituent elements are refurbished (as with the new sequence of Spider-Man
movies). The purpose of the remake is not to deconstruct and critique
an original artifact, but to reconstruct, and thereby expand upon, an
idea that’s already implicitly been deconstructed by our earlier
consumption of it. Franco’s newest project,
the AOL On Originals television series "Making a Scene," deserves
credit for using dated but immediately recognizable source material to
create cinematic moments entirely of our time—and moments that are
remakes rather than parodies, for which reason alone they deserve more
attention than we might otherwise offer them.
frequently, we confuse remakes
with parodies because we assume ironic intent on the part of a remake’s
author. In reality, remakes, however funny they may sometimes seem to
us, are merely opportunities for us to envision how an artistic idea
might otherwise have played out. This "re-visioning" has a significant
social function; in a time in which we are constantly erasing and
recreating, online, both ourselves and the texts and imagery we
associate with ourselves, remakes are an instrumental good. They confirm
for us our ability, even in the chaos of the Information Age, to
idiosyncratically process intensely personal data in a way we find
satisfying. Just as Franco’s "Bound 2"
paradoxically opted to remake rather than parody West as a way of
clearing space for its own artistic vision, Making a Scene is not
about looking for a cheap laugh. Rather it is concerned with—all the
show’s superficial trappings aside—promoting a lingering
as we can and must distinguish between parodies and remakes, there’s a
difference between pastiche (a postmodern technique in which one artist
imitates the style of another) and intertextuality (a technique native
to the current era, in which a single artist uses multiple source
materials to construct an entirely new statement). Where pastiche calls
attention to the banality and of the past and the ease with which we can
commodify it in the present—thereby deconstructing both past and
present—intertextuality is entirely about the creation of the new. Making a Scene may use the remake and
the "mash-up" as its tactical components, but its strategic ambition is
an important statement on intertextuality. When Franco
"mashes up" two
movies (through a chaotic juxtaposition of characters and scenes), he
simultaneously honors and creates critical distance from the films he
who see Franco’s Making a Scene as a thoroughly cynical enterprise
are seeing it through a lens it entirely rejects. Though it’s
especially hard to do with the work of James Franco, it’s important to
distinguish between how a work makes us feel (which is often a product
of our biases) and
what a work is capable of making
us feel. As with all Franco’s other recent projects, Making a Scene
offers little if you treat it as merely another basis for your ongoing
grievance against Franco—an imposition upon you personally that the
actor intends condescendingly—and seems a minor act of genius if you
consider how much it runs against the conventional wisdom of late
postmodernism. Franco’s aim in Making a Scene seems to be to play
"straight" a series of gestures his audience can’t possibly take
seriously, thereby challenging them to consider whether we still live in
the age of parody or, instead, the age of what cultural theorists call
"informed naivete."
The difference between pastiche and intertextuality has been recently discussed by Dutch cultural theorists Tim Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker in ArtPulse,
and the distinction is worth consideration by anyone who is sick of hipster
irony and poststructuralist moping. What we learn from Vermuelen and van
den Akker is that Franco is not actually asking to be taken
seriously—or, in the alternative, to be laughed at. All he’s doing is
enacting a series of data-processing
events that many people are always-already engaged in anyway. Do you
remember the movie Reservoir Dogs? Good. How about Dirty Dancing?
Okay. Do your memories of movies as distinct as these two sometimes run
together, so that you accidentally attribute actors and scenes and
one-liners to one movie that actually belong to another? If you’re
anything like me, the answer is sure—sometimes. And if you’re like me,
the sensation of feeling like you’re drowning in popular culture and
your own life experiences is not always, in fact is not often,
particularly unpleasant. Our experiences shape us, and our local and
national cultures often act as our psychic foundation, a fact that
contemporary art like Franco’s performs without judgment or irony. Thus
this mash-up of Reservoir Dogs and Dirty Dancing
from the first episode of Making a Scene, which shows Jennifer Grey’s
character superimposed over a (literally) tortured patrolman from
Tarantino’s smash hit, just as Tarantino’s Mr. Blonde is laid atop
Patrick Swayze’s ne’er-do-well dance instructor Johnny. 
Watching "Grey" dancing with "Johnny" while drenched in buckets of blood from the goriest scene in Reservoir Dogs
isn’t exactly entertaining, nor is it precisely funny or precisely
distressing. It’s something else entirely—a reenactment of the way
memory works that feels intuitively reasonable even as we don’t quite
know what to do with it emotionally or intellectually. In foregrounding
content like this via an original series, Franco is taking a significant
risk and placing significant faith in an audience base that, if we’re
honest, has never shown him much patience or grace. But it’s a risk
that’s entirely of our time, and perhaps more relevant to how we live
today—or might wish to live—than the despairing irony we were all
steeped in throughout the nineties. In other words, how about we just leave
Jimmy alone for a moment and see where he’s going with all this? We
might just find that, however
self-aggrandizing we sometimes assume Franco to be, this latest project
is much more about us than it is about him.

Seth Abramson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Thievery (University of Akron Press, 2013). He has published work in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best New Poets, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, New American Writing, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and The Southern Review.
A graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, and the Iowa
Writers’ Workshop, he was a public defender from 2001 to 2007 and is
presently a doctoral candidate in English Literature at University of
Wisconsin-Madison. He runs a contemporary poetry review series for
The Huffington Post and has covered graduate creative writing programs for Poets & Writers magazine since 2008.

Can We Be FRANK? What Semi-Fictional Band “The Soronprfbs” Means for Music

Can We Be FRANK? What Semi-Fictional Band “The Soronprfbs” Means for Music

drummer doesn’t speak. The lead guitarist speaks only French. The
theremin player is homicidal. The original keyboardist has been fired,
and now acts as roadie and manager. The replacement keyboardist has been
sectioned by local authorities after a suicide attempt. The replacement
for the replacement has never played in a band before. And the lead
singer wears a giant Frank Sidebottom head
at all times; no one in the band knows his last name or has ever seen
his face. Nor has the band ever successfully completed a gig or recorded
a single track. 

This is the state of affairs for the unpronounceable and obscure band "The Soronprfbs"—the subject of Frank—as the film opens. What Frank asks
us to be most perplexed by, however, is not the set of personalities that
comprise the Soronprfbs but the music itself. Indeed, in play throughout
Frank is a question almost
always answered in the affirmative in music biopics, and in the negative
in mockumentaries: "Is the music any good?" Frank
not only straddles the biopic and mockumentary genres, but also answers
this question only ambiguously: "Maybe." (And adds, implicitly, "Does
it matter?")
the center of the Soronprfbs is "Frank," a mysterious former asylum
inmate from Kansas whose commitment to his obtuse but possibly brilliant
musical vision calls to mind the late Syd Barrett. When Jon, an
ambitious but not particularly talented keyboardist, is recruited into
the Soronprfbs on an emergency basis, an unstated tug of war between
Frank and his newest band member is initiated, with the soul of the
Soronprfbs in the balance. The allegory behind the film’s iconic
struggle is reasonably well-defined: how do artists balance their
materialist ambitions and popular sensibilities with the antisocial and
tormented genius of authentic inspiration? It’s a question easily
answered when and where ambition and inspiration conjoin to produce a
popular sound (cf. Taylor Swift) or one embraced by a small but
committed legion of fans (cf. Deafheaven), but what about when the
ambition and inspiration
are real, but the sound they produce lies well outside any listener’s
present interest or even understanding? 
telling that Jon helps the Soronprfbs gain a grassroots following not
so much through dissemination of the band’s songs, but by using social
media (Twitter, Tumblr, and YouTube) to draw attention to the band’s
compositional process and camera-ready idiosyncracies. When the band
finally shows up at SXSW, many have heard of them but almost no one
knows their music–a perfect statement on how
social media drives an interest in artists that’s independent from the
art they make. Does this discrepancy between social media buzz and
genuine appreciation suggest that the Soronprfbs are mere poseurs? Frank
asks us to consider that perhaps there’s no such thing as a poseur
anymore, as (a) even self-consciously idiosyncratic music can be entirely
earnest, and (b) ultimately the excitement a band generates in and
around the national music scene has a longer-lasting impact than the
music itself.
To be clear, though, the Soronprfbs—in the opinion of this writer—are pretty great. The Frank
OST is an album of music experiments that’s eminently listenable; cross
the Doors with the United States of America and a skin-of-their-teeth
sixties garage band like the Lemon Drops and you’ve got a good idea of
what the Soronprfbs sound like. It’s Grinderman meets the Hombres;
Phosphorescent meets Piper at the Gates of Dawn.
In other words, there’s a tripped-out, DIY sensibility behind the
Soronprfbs that’s mirrored in more contemporary acts like Neutral Milk
Hotel and the other members of the Elephant Six Collective. That the
Soronprfbs are only semi-fictional—adding to the "meta" quality of a film whose
OST includes the album whose creation it documents, the Soronprfbs have actually played some live shows—only adds to the sense that Frank is a movie about the artist’s ethos in both our own and previous eras.

Michael Fassbender’s voice won’t win any awards, there’s something
winning about the improvisational sound of the Soronprfbs. If the New
Sincerity’s self-consciously hip earnestness—equally aware of and
committed to its studied but joyful eccentricities—had a sound, it
might well be this. Frank
cautions us, however, that in this new age of post-deconstructive
reconstruction, a swing to either of the most eligible extremes set
before the artist (the self-consciousness of ambition or the
inspirations of eccentricity) can be destructive. In the end, it’s not
clear whether the Soronprfbs can survive as both a popular and
an organically inspired band without inhabiting—and inhabiting
only—the ambiguous middle spaces of social media and barely-heard first
albums. While in the real world the Soronprfbs, along with Fassbender,
may give a well-received concert or two, or even appear (as they did) on
The Colbert Report, in the film
both the Klieg lights of SXSW and the bohemian isolation of a recording
studio nestled deep in the English woods pose terminal dangers to the
group. Maybe, in the
Internet Age, the pressures of a stage "IRL" mark the beginning of the
end for certain forms of art, while situation in the midst of perpetual
buzz and an ever-elusive artistic vision allows artists the room they
require to explore new methods of creation.

Seth Abramson is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently Thievery (University of Akron Press, 2013). He has published work in numerous magazines and anthologies, including Best New Poets, American Poetry Review, Boston Review, New American Writing, Colorado Review, Denver Quarterly, and The Southern Review.
A graduate of Dartmouth College, Harvard Law School, and the Iowa
Writers’ Workshop, he was a public defender from 2001 to 2007 and is
presently a doctoral candidate in English Literature at University of
Wisconsin-Madison. He runs a contemporary poetry review series for
The Huffington Post and has covered graduate creative writing programs for Poets & Writers magazine since 2008.