Big Boys Don’t Cry

December 30th, 2014

As a special festive treat, we convinced the man known as Plok – A Trout in the Milk; writes bubbles around people who write circles around your favourite bloggers – to write up his thoughts on the Guardians of the Galaxy movie, ultimate power and anachronistic/non-anachronistic adolescence  as initially expressed to Illogical Volume after the author had suffered through a fairly hellish travel experience that ultimately led to a trip to Hairmyers Hospital (shout outs to the ghost of George Orwell!).

It’s a long one, but trust us, it’s worth it!  Over to you Plok!

I haven’t done any blog­writing in a while, so this might be a bit…uh, rambly.

Apologies in advance.

So here’s me in some Mindless Ones comments, possibly being a prick about the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie:

“The Steve Gerber/Al Milgrom Guardians series from the Seventies is, for me, about as close to perfect as SF superhero comics ever got. I would’ve followed that thing to the ends of the earth; it really meant something to me. And it is so dead and gone for lo these thirty­odd years or whatever, that’s it’s like it never even happened. I saw a little of it boomerang back in Farscape,and it’s been suggested to me that this Guardians movie is like a brainless, artless, heartless attempt to do a Marvelized Farscape…

“’My’ Guardians have been 100% completely broken down and recycled to the point where the thing in the movie only contains naturopathic­medicine levels of that thing I liked, and that only because (possibly) it’s partly copying a copy of it that wasn’t even made in the world of comics in the first place…

“Gerber’s Guardians were a bunch of war vets who couldn’t fit in after their side finally won, and struggled with intense repression and thoughts of suicide. Nagged on by a mysterious, possibly omniscient being, they executed a number of SF psychodramas designed to bring them back to life, kicking and screaming all the way…and also a bit like Star Trek.  But it didn’t last. After Gerber left the title, the characters were re­employed by Jim Shooter for his Korvac Saga, diminishing in relatability as they went on…a character­driven book surrendered its characters to the milling process of the Shooter Era, and the major conceits of the Guardians were ground out. Mark Gruenwald kept Vance Astro from ever making it to space, during the Nineties Starhawk lost his specific symbolic heft in the same stroke that took away his mystery…and I don’t even know where Nikki ended up. I hope somewhere nice. And I didn’t see any of them again until maybe Farscape came on the air, though I can’t say for sure if Gerber influenced O’Bannon at all.  But Farscape had the same sort of character­based use of conventions as well as approximately the same setting and scenario, and a friend did cause me to wonder if maybe the GotG of today didn’t partly come out of a “hey let’s do a kinda­sorta Farscape thing” calculation…

“Gerber’s Guardians was about what stock SF situations of the Forties would be like if they were all populated by people from the Seventies…everything that happens is impossible to believe and totally absurd, but if you don’t find a way to take it seriously you’ll crack up. But then if you do take it seriously you’ll just crack up anyway, and so there must be an answer to absurdity butwhere is it? That’s the sort of thing that interests me, especially when it’s dressed up in SF and superhero costumes and (hello, Andrew!) Menippean satire.

Has GotG got anything like that in it?”

Yeah. I know. It doesn’t. But did I have to be such an arch motherfucker about it? Obviously it doesn’t, obviously it bloody well can’t. My beloved Guardians of the 70s were “cinematic” comics long before Alan Moore arrived at Warrior!, but they were never the type that could be made into cinema, at least not without losing everything they were ever about in the first place.

Uh…except

…So there I was, refusing to see Marvel movies, and also more than a bit put out by the entire round of SF and superhero movies and TV so casually enjoyed by the Young People, because it all had a suspicious sameness to it that I couldn’t quite put my finger on: some vagrant whiff of a magic ingredient that enlisted their affections so strongly they didn’t even notice that, say, Star Trek: Into Darkness didn’t have a fucking STORY (!!!!), or that The Dark Knight Rises was just a bunch of shit thrown at a wall pretending to be…oh, let’s say coy. But can shit­flinging ever really be coy? Yet they seemed to think it subtle, and with my old fannish loyalties destroyed by mistreatment of creators, cynically inept and self­centred storytelling, and the seeming inability of my generation’s crop of SF filmmakers to finish anything they fucking start, it galled me enormously to see the Avengers movie rake in…Christ, was it really like a billion dollars?

And Iron Man 2 was crap, and “TDKR” was soulless, and Marvel’s Agents Of S.H.I.T.E. didn’t even know its own weird fucked­up what­does­Daddy­do­at­work­all­day Richard Scarry version of politics…and ST: ID, I swear to God, that fucking movie. Add in Sherlock (basically Holmes stories re­told as genre pieces) (hey, complete with a super­costume in the form of a deerstalker and an old trenchcoat!) (ain’t we clever!) and new­style badass Doctor Who and it all starts to look like this goddamn culture, if it keeps getting thicker pretty soon it’ll be yoghurt. And maybe it’s just that I’ve always been a curmudgeon yelling at people to get off his lawn, and story doesn’t fucking matter anyway, and it’s just about the purenerve stimulation and I’m all hopped up on Mountain Dew, old man…!

Yet I couldn’t really believe that. Because I just don’t trust those generational narratives, you know? They’re always made up by older people, to make themselves sound hip to other older people – in reality, the Young People aren’t stupid, and they’re not shallow, their attention spans aren’t fucked and they’re not will­-less trend followers and coolness-­lemmings. Surely there can be no greater success for any jaded mercenary shithead, that to hear the Young People themselves parrot back the insulting shit he’s been paid to say about them! Yet it remains untrue nevertheless, even if they do.

So…

These movies and things, they’re all shit. Yet the Young People love them.

There had to be an actual reason for that, I figured.

And I’m still not sure I’ve really cracked the code. But it does seem likely to me, at this point, that this mysterious enthusiasm for all things shit has been marshalled by a slight shift in the underlying cliche­-diagrams of our popular entertainment. In the original Star Trek franchise, you may recall that Captain Kirk wasn’t anymore a rebel than he was a guy in his twenties who didn’t really ask to be there. Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories are notable for their lack of sexual tension.  Tony Stark wasn’t particularly credible as a wild child, in the comics. Not that this all doesn’t in some sense fit, couldn’t be made to fit, but it isn’t just that you could do it, but it’s what you might do with it. For decades, the cliche of the coming­of­age story (especially in Hollywood!) was that once you crossed what Conrad called the shadow-­line, the point of crisis, you accepted the mantle of adulthood at the same time you experienced whatever self­-actualization was due to you, taking up (as it were) the power along with the responsibility. Even sometimes the murmuring appreciation of the crowd!

But if I were twenty years old today, I have to admit that would seem to me like just a tiny bit of a shitty bargain.

And so I think it’s all about the Peter Pan, now. Peter Parker yearns to grow up, to escape childhood, then finds it’s more than he bargained for but he can’t go back. However that doesn’t at all stop his yappin‘. Whereas our favourite fool Tony Stark has all the resources he needs not to have to grow up, but as soon as someone actually intends for him actually to get no older he has to grow up in a hell of a hurry, and it turns out that he sucks shit at it so he keeps on finding excuses not to learn the lessons life taught him in the previous movie. Meanwhile back in the 1940s Steve Rogers can’t grow up, metaphorically, as his frail physique keeps him trapped in something like a boy’s life…hiding from the bullies in the movie theatre…okay, picking can’t­-win fights with the bullies in the movie theatre…so he can’t be a Man, until he undergoes the Artificial Puberty treatment of Abraham Erskine. Whose process “takes what you already are, and makes you more like it”, or words to that effect. Gee, sure sounds like puberty? Though I really wouldn’t like to think of the implications for Agent Carter in that light…look, she’s not interested in Steve­-The-Boy, but she selects him, she grooms him, to be the kind of man she could want eventually?  Deep waters, there, with sharks in them! So let’s just leave that all to one side for a moment…though to be fair, no one ever said puberty wasn’t going to be scary…wasn’t going to include the unexpected

And Banner should probably grow up, but unfortunately since his accident he can only grow OUT…dude can’t even process his own emotional shit anymore, he just projects it onto the world and then goes all “what happened” afterwards…“gee, Lois, Superman was here? GOLLY”...and both Thor and Loki are prevented from ascending to full maturity by the overbearing love of their omnipotent father, the tragedy therein being that because Thor isn’t smart enough not to fall from favour he grows up anyway, kind of just by accident, but poor Loki doesn’t get that chance…

And Kirk’s price for universe­saving is that he gets to act like a kid forever (“what’s up Spock, now that you’ve got a steady girl and that stupid job at the donut shop you’re too good to play D&D with us on Saturdays? Huh, MR. GROWNUP?”), and Sherlock and Watson refuse to give ground to sexual operancy, keeping it at bay with the clubhouse and the puzzles and the adventures so they never do have to know if they’re gay like everyone keeps saying (and all the fans may call me a hater if they must, but they totally keep saying it y’know!), and then there’s Bruce Wayne, who doesn’t even seem to have got the fucking memo in the first place, even though it’s one he sent to himself – the sickly boy who got sent to Wales to climb the mountains, but then inexplicably sank back into his invalidity.

Oh, and whatever those Superman movies have been like.

But you can see the commentary, right?

Fuck the shadow­-line.”

It’s not so far off the coming-­of-­age tales of the 1970s, really: “you’ve screwed up the world for us, now we’re gonna take over and fix it.” Except maybe it’s a bit more like: “you’ve fucked up the world for us, now you want us to take over and fix it?” Yet even in the Seventies this emotional tone wasn’t entirely absent from the shadow-­line tales: all very easy to accept adulthood’s mantle if you’re one of those square­-jawed types from the central zones of the culture, a winner, eighteen years old and captain of the football team with a guaranteed spot in the family business, probably be Mayor some day just like your Daddy…but what if you’re on the margins? What if you’re too young to make the transition, actually too young to make it even if you wanted to? Or what if you’re already too old, and no one’s going to even ask you now?

What if you’re not a winner?

What if you’re a loser?

And so, finally, we come around to Bad News Bears: Breaking Training.

Uh, wait. I mean…

Bless The Beasts And Children?

No, no…damnit, it’s on the tip of my tongue, it’s…

Oh! Of course!

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY!

Sorry, got mixed up for a minute there. But then you would too, if you were too old to have liked The Goonies. Man, I wish I could link you guys to any of the zillion elementary­school mystery-solving McGuffin movies made by Disney in the Seventies, that The Goonies provided a Spielbergian gloss of. Hmm, I think one even featured “McGuffin” in its title? “The McGuffin Gang”? “Waiting For McGuffin”?

Can’t remember… paging Richard Bensam

But anyway, my point is: they existed. Before the big budgets of Home Alone and The Goonies, they were; back in the bad old days when SF movies still waited on ILM to make their explosions Newton-­compliant. I guess the closest analogue in the modern era would be like…er, like a Hackers kind of thing? The Breakfast Club plus a techno­McGuffin, with a little burgeoning teenage sexuality thrown in? Except these older things didn’t have any sexiness in them, see: they went just as far as “wanna go around?” and then went no further, that was their big payoff, why in most of them things did not progress between the Boy and the Girl even so far as hand­holding. WHICH IS A POSITIVE! In fact you might also consider Kids, the sort of Pigman­-cum-­Henry-­Orient juvie movie about helicopter tweens in New York City, to get the full and complete and accurate picture of how much complexity there used to be in the portrayal of innocence facing on adolescence…

Because that’s just where Chris Pratt’s version of Peter Jason Quill lies. Again and again in SF and fantasy coming-­of-­age stories you have the fatherless boy, the king­in­disguise, the Chosen One who can pull the sword from the stone…the Cosmic Orphan…but Chris Pratt isn’t playing that character, here. He’s not a cosmic orphan. No.

He’s more of a cosmic latchkey kid.

And so we return and do Scott Pilgrim again, the movie which (as I’ve said before) seems like it ought to have triangulated the Young People, but instead just flattered the hell out of hoary old ME. Oboy, did it ever! Pure Early Nineties, that movie, and it came along just when I needed it. How do you feel now, Captain Kirk? “I feel…young.” YEP. Practically evergreen, brothers and sisters, as the official cultural/governmental shadow­line of “when you’re not a young adult anymore” continues to move up, and up, and up in its rhapsodically paedogenetic way. Everywhere the song of renascence! As even I, who once slipped across the line to adulthood, was drawn back over into the juvenile category not long ago, to both my great benefit and my enormous regret. Cracking the code? More like just filling in the obvious blanks, maybe… hearing the other shoe drop… for the ever­famous restlessness of youth isn’t just for kids anymore, haven’t you heard? As the disappearance of childhood means an emptying of both childhood and adulthood, and the shadow­line is finally rubbed out. As Scott Pigrim lives in my exact world and has my exact concerns, so Peter Jason Quill is a Peter Pan not quite my own age – he’s surprisingly close, though! – who nevertheless comes from the exact same place I do. That is: from a place where you actually get to have your cultural inheritance, because it isn’t constantly being claimed back from you by an older generation of fucking Sheeda who think it a very handy and useful fountain of youth. My God, how rotten is it that poor Scott Pilgrim has all this early ­Nineties junk in his apartment and his idiom and his expectations, right? When I should’ve moved on to listening exclusively to classical music and bebop probably ten years ago, instead of making The Pixies the hottest ticket in the goddamn town every three years for the last decade­-and-­a-­half…

But fear not: revenge is sweet. For if the other movies the Young People like all draft in some Peter-­Pannishness perhaps unconsciously or even cynically, Guardians Of The Galaxy actually makes use of the stuff, turns it around and opens it up and lays bare its mechanism and its meaning. I have grown settled in my disdain for Marvel, and I pine away for my beloved 70s Gerber/Milgrom cult classic, but even I have to admit that what we have here isn’t your Grandpa’s nostalgia. But instead, amazingly…

…Is something just a bit new.

I mean: a new way of repurposing nostalgia. God, I am so bloody inured to nostalgia now, you know? Makes me long for the days when it seemed freshly poignant. Where the fuck does the growing-­up even happen anymore, when your stepdad rocks some gangsta-­wear and is heavy into Taylor Swift and Shrek Christmas specials, and plays videogames for a living? You can understand his unwillingness to give it up, I think: he’s Tony Stark too, and so he doesn’t have to give it up. Yes, so as they keep on saying in the papers, the geeks and freaks and headbangers have all won, and become the new normative…

Except, maybe not. Because all those signs of new normativity are just the old signs of marginalization, and you can’t turn them on their heads that way quite so simply. Because they still signify something that isn’t about winning the battle of the generations! And so they haven’t been subsumed into the centre regions so much as they’ve just thrown a bunch of static into their own signal. Classic rock and Spielberg movies, somewhere they are still about draft­dodging and car culture and bad behaviour, old shithole industrial buildings reclaimed as dance clubs, and bright future always promised but never made good on. Christ, I haven’t even gotten into it yet, have I? The Guardians Of The Galaxy, I mean…

So what’s it about?

Well, arguably it is indeed about what happens when you take stock situations of the 1940s and put 1970s people into them…at least, it’s as much like that as one could possibly get away with, I think, in 2014. Peter Quill leaves a perfectly-­comprehensible late­-1980s Earth just lately gripped by mainstream nostalgia for pop music of the 60s and 70s (though not yet absolutely consumed by it), to be taken away and raised in comparative isolation by the rednecks of the stars. And for the Spielbergian 80s, in the wake of the Lucasian 70s, that’s definitely the dream, all right…but it’s the dream’s dark side. Quill is cosmic trailer trash, from that moment on, and the knowledge of it changes him. People know about humans, out there in the Galaxy…they know about us, but they don’t respect us. Even talking raccoons don’t respect us! And we don’t have any place of our own. Even the blue­skied Tomorrowland of the Nova Corps is just another place for us to slouch around in, not owning any of it, not having any way to be part of it or fit into it. It is, finally, all pastiche, like the affectations of the hip stepdad. Et in arcadia, there you go, we are still probably most comfortable finding an empty parking lot to fool around in with our bikes, smash stuff, get high, hook up. Lost spaces and edgelands are the only places that suit us, because everything else is already spoken for.

But!

We have the music.

Slightly trading on Marionette‘s old idea (yes, I am showing my age in more ways than one) that Reed Richards successfully gets rid of the Skrulls by showing them monster comics because the Skrulls lack the slightest bit of imagination, Peter Jason Quill has an advantage in the cosmos, is a veritable Lord among the Stars, because the Terran command of metaphor is apparently unmatched, out there. Now, ordinarily it does seem as though the other alien races wouldn’t have much reason to think this is any big deal: their command of metaphor doesn’t make humans scientific geniuses, it doesn’t give them any special physical abilities, why they’re not even super-­powered cyborgs, are they? Hmm…

Unless you count Walkmans as a bionic prosthesis, I guess. Because that music, man…somehow, in some unexpected way, a simple mastery of Seventies Rock on an old mixtape makes Peter Jason Quill equal to any crisis, no matter how cosmic. Forget your tired old Force, Obi-­Wan… the humans have got something much better. Looking at GotG, it becomes fairly apparent that Quill can do anything he wants because of that music… he doesn’t need a Mum or a Dad, he can keep his really cool car, and there is no attractive woman whether red or green that he cannot seduce. The music does it all. And as far out as he is, just to have it is to really own it, in a way that hasn’t been possible back home for decades. Away back in my troubled youth, now infinitely­-extended courtesy of the government, I was struck by a passage in Robert Heinlein’s Have Space Suit, Will Travel…  our sloppy teenage hero is in an alien hospital, and is visited by the brilliantly-precocious ten-year-­old girl who’s hitched a ride with him. She explains that the aliens let her in to see him because she told them she was his next of kin, and he remonstrates with her about lying… whereupon she says something like:

“What are you talking about, dummy? I am your next­-of-­kin!”

Due to them being the only two human beings for thousands of light­-years around, you see.

Similarly, Quill:

“That’s my song: Blue Swede, 1974! That song belongs to ME!!

And he’s just as right, don’t you think?

Thus the grand device of both SF and superhero stories: externalization of emotional realities into alien planets, operatic plots, and funny-­looking extraterrestrials, just like the recent SF entertainment product which GotG most closely resembles in a design sense…which is, I believe, Joss Whedon’s Firefly? The series, I mean: which was similarly peopled by a bunch of have-­nots rejecting the call to a growth they didn’t want, and a peace they couldn’t be part of, in favour of the burnt blackness between all the classist planets and their ill­-fitting blue sky conventions. Deeply depressed, because somebody stole the shiny millennium that they dreamed of owning for themselves one day! And surprisingly bloodthirsty, too, as the Guardians also prove to be, but then adolescents are not always nice people, you know. Does Bad News Bears: Breaking Training have anything you could call a Hero in it? Nope, just that foul­-mouthed stubborn little shit. Does Malcolm Reynolds not remain a hard­-bitten mercenary, even when he briefly uncovers his marshmallow heart? Yup, he would kick you out an airlock if you crossed him up, and maybe even have the gall to feel momentarily bad about it afterwards. GotG is far from the only Marvel movie, or even modern entertainment product of the SF/superhero stripe, wherein the characters’ ostensible hearts of gold are probably just tin with a little stripper­-glitter dusting them. I like Person Of Interest (anyway I used to), but every-time the show tries to convince me those are morally-­centred people I can’t suppress a snicker…and I’m not even talking about the professional assassins on that show, you know? Admittedly there is nothing quite so alarming in any Iron Man movie as seeing a CGI raccoon take homicidal glee in driving a spaceship through another spaceship 300­-style…bursting through its heart, undoubtedly to spread a fine mist of pulverized brain and bone throughout nearby space. That rather makes one stop and think about the legitimacy of our f@ck y#ah moments, doesn’t it? One can certainly understand the revulsion of an Andre Whickey, on seeing it! Myself, I still don’t know if I am quite ready to forgive it, and honestly I’m leaning towards “no”. I mean, I’m sure being a genetically-­modified raccoon leaves you with a lot of beef, right? And they were bad people, I guess…genocidal maniacs…

But I think that was Rocket’s O-­face that we saw, there…

THINK ABOUT IT…

(Okay, but do not think about it for too long, right?)

(Like, when you hit five minutes then STOP…)

…And I guess I’m unconvinced of the wisdom of that choice. But then that’s the way with this movie, and with other movies of its ilk: character is revealed in action pretty well, but the character of the film-maker tends to take over, whenever it comes to the action that clusters around major plot points. In less­forced moments, one can have more sympathy with the faults and the foibles, etc. etc. “Oh my God, why do you still have it?!” exclaims Rocket when Quinn and Gamora stumble out of the Collector’s manse, and for a moment I actually like him…

But plot points are made to do a lot of things they perhaps shouldn’t, these days. Can we not just get it, y’know, without our desire to see the good guys win being dragged into it all? Is fist-pumping not really just arm­-twisting, when you get right down to it? Yet for the most part GotG handles its stock string-­pulling moments with something like aplomb, because it allows for our own remembrance where these things are concerned. The space battles are terrible, super-­boring, but moments like Groot producing the fireflies successfully (I think) hint at the larger feelings subliminal to the film. Okay, so it isn’t actually made new to us, but at least it’s, hmm, properly grammatical, right? And is Frank Capra’s Meet John Doe diminished by Spielberg’s Hook? No; you can still do these things, in a movie. Just because everybody does them and does them and does them to death, doesn’t mean they can’t be revivified. Not that Groot’s moment of the sublime is really as great as all that, but that it even serves a purpose and doesn’t serve it with too much of a smirk on its face reminds us that even our most clichéd feelings can still sometimes, when the stars are in alignment, press something of a claim on being real. What good is music, what do you use it for? Nothing; you just listen to it.

Hell, sometimes it’s even kind of crap. But you still just listen to it. Many of Quill’s inherited songs and styles are things I remember mocking at the time, you know? A lot of them I didn’t like. Liking them was what all the insiders at my school did, and I wasn’t one of those. This was mainstream culture, see? Even when it wasn’t. It’s tough to explain; I don’t know the modern analogues of it. But this stuff was all stuff you would navigate, partly-­true and partly- manufactured, partly­-real and partly­-cynical. Some of it was just crass, just commercial… other parts of it were heartfelt but uncool. A lot of it would get played at dances, where we forget ourselves and have some uncritical fun… but, I didn’t go to those dances: I was out in the parking lot with the stoners and the misfits instead, listening to the stuff that didn’t get played inside. Or, at least…

…I thought it didn’t. Maybe it did, I don’t know.

But all that changes, in the next generation. Away from the muddy matter of zeitgeist, everything becomes listenable, everything becomes (for want of a better word) awesome, because the past is another country. Even just in the mid­-1980s, after the goddamn Big Chill came out (spits on ground), nostalgia managed to telescope a time I myself actually lived through, to the point where it seemed like it belonged to the Big Band era at its closest…while at the same time giving it a kind of new currency that did indeed make it possible for me to use my old subcultural mastery to pick up on women at parties. A strange and breathless time, to be sure! When two whole decades of music suddenly got plugged back into cultural memory, seen all in a rosy glow of rediscovery. So when Quill’s Mom gives him that tape, she gives him her youth stripped of all the stuff that was nasty and petty about it…her youth without the stuff that went wrong. And it’s kind of beautiful, I guess? I don’t know if anybody at the time thought ALL this stuff was awesome; that would be a weird person, who thought that. A person immune to the necessary evils of Taste. But as an adult you can forgive your younger self his or her ugly reliance on Taste…and in hindsight we were all beautiful, really, and so was our music.

Even when it sucked. It’s kind of like that with the comics, too, being handed down here from readers to movie-goers. Take Thanos, a character I have grown so sick of I can barely express it to you…but I actually kind of don’t mind him here, the ultimate Bad Dad. Like Brian Dennehy with a disgusting purple wrinkled chin! Oozing luxuriousness and complacency, with a voice as “normal” as that of the poor bastard from Nip/Tuck they got to play Dr. Doom in the FF movies…yet here it woooorrrrks, here it’s truly disgusting and eee­vil and above all materialistic, actually right because it’s WRONG. “You keep calling me ‘boy‘”, notes the idealistic (genocidal, but idealistic) Ronan, in a strange moment of personal clarity that also sizes it all up for me…as it doesn’t make any sense to root for Kevin Bacon unless you’ve got a stake in the fight, and to do that you need a really oily enemy that you can genuinely hate and resent. But is Ronan fighting for the right things, in this symbolic sense? The Oedipus complex is what they want you to get tangled­up in, really, and so the Young People may have it kind of right, here…and Ronan has it wrong, as he takes what isn’t ever going to be given, and attains to a species of adulthood he can get no other way. Teenagers, am I right? They think power solves everything, so they just want it…and when they find out they always need more of it then they want that too

But even with the ultimate power, Ronan still can’t beat Quill’s music. Nothing can beat it! This is, after all, Quill’s own fantasy – and it is fantasy most definitely, as the galaxy swims in an impossible welter of Earthly idiom: Fast Times, writ large across the starry sky, and our man standing to it much as a space0faring Jeff Spicoli. Natural to it, as no one else can be. Hey, and speaking of the Big Band era, I should probably just point out that when Star Wars came out there were more than a few people who, though they were delighted with the special effects, just couldn’t get past an alien in a far­off galaxy a long time ago playing a fucking clarinet. You know what I’m talking about? In the bad old days before ILM, people used to care about things like that. That, and also the putative science behind such bizarre fauna as lightsabers and X­wings and Death Stars that could blow up actual planets. You have to understand: these were Seventies people trying to deal with Forties tropes. It wasn’t a perfect fit! There was a frisson, there; if this immensely-attractive thing wasn’t SF, couldn’t really be SF, then what the hell was it? Oh, that damned clarinet…it just didn’t make any sense at all. If you wanted to like the movie, you just had to accept the bloody anachronistic thing as it crammed itself down your throat, knowing full well that once having eaten and drunk of the stuff of Faerie there could be no returning afterwards. No further protestations! And so it very likely is with Peter Quill’s universe, in which no one at all is an “alien” in anything more but name. There are Southern accents out there, you know? There are New York accents and mid-­Atlantic accents. There are, and I just want to say this one time out loud, fucking RACCOONS out there. All right? So this isn’t the Milky Way, it’s Oz. It isn’t even pretending to be the Milky Way. It may not even be a bunch of anachronisms.

It may just be pastiche, and nothing more. Quill himself may be pastiche. Hell, he may even be a pastiche of cliché, right?

But everything there is to like, here, is in how he is pastiche crafted to do a certain job.

Which, surprisingly, he does very well. Getting back to Ronan, when he calls him “bitch” that is one hell of a goddamn Clarinet, to my ears…you and I, Earthbound in 2014, may know very well what it means for one teen­-man to say that to another in that tone, but that Quill can’t possibly know this makes his crack to Ronan another annoying intrusion of “f@ck y#ah” necessities into what would otherwise be a script decently loyal to (at least) its own requirements of authenticity. Except…

…Except that when you’re dealing with nostalgia you have to look for the anachronisms to understand the priorities, just like in that awful Dirty Dancing movie. Chris Pratt’s appeal in this role is arguably mostly in the way he exudes anachronism, even as he continues to look like that one Goofy Party Guy from every high school everywhere…which (to me) is as much as to say that the universality of the appeal is as one with the anachronism. He doesn’t talk like a guy from the 70s or 80s – the idiom of 2014 burbling up all around him making him believable and unbelievable in one and the same gesture, what the moderns would look and act like if their environment was removed: Menippean satire where the one thing that’s preserved is saying things like “I know, right?”, where what’s being investigated is the value of the silly shit we say. For the most part this effect sputters along below the suspension-of­-disbelief line throughout the movie, creating a weird chimeric likeability…we don’t have enough time to really attend to it, plus we do kind of enjoy it, so we don’t let it disturb us. That cozy familiarity softens the edges of everything that doesn’t fit right, lets us see into what the movie’s really about, past the parts of it that aren’t very good…but more than that, it also flatters the seers. In Farscape – my God, which this so IS, really! So much so that I find it unthinkable it wasn’t all consciously intended – there is the moment where Xa’an describes her shipmates: “brave Chiana…selfless Aeryn…innocent Crichton”. Naming the qualities that they either aren’t supposed to have, or that they have but shouldn’t be proud of, but that (of course!) are the very ones which inspire her affection for them. Tough­-minded Crichton is a naive moralist, a primitive by Galactic standards, but that’s what gives him his force…and it’s also what makes his instincts trustworthy. Well, and isn’t this just what the old Yondu of the Seventies, “my” Yondu, had going for him? That Noble Savage stuff, that intuitional superiority: born of a spiritual perspective more elevated because it was, paradoxically, closer to the earth. Vance Astro, the energetic naif of the 20th century frozen into the 30th, our Big Hero and identification figure, looked on Yondu’s intuition as an irritant because he was unable to understand it and assign utility to it; later on, as John Crichton, he learns to apply instinct to what he doesn’t understand; finally, as Peter Jason Quill, he is himself the primitive who sees a logic in the world that his shipmates can only goggle at as he performs his ritual dances and dispenses his Zen-­like homilies. “No act of spirit can be wrong, against Karanada,” says Yondu back in 1975. Meanwhile up in 2014, Quill is “an imbecile” for risking everything to regain something no one else considers of any value, that he nevertheless understands to be the most important thing in the universe, manifesting a most excellent execution, an unstoppable deftness and vigour – for the first time verging on the actually-­heroic! – in pursuit of this one most apparently-­trivial thing. And the line gets a laugh; but it’s a knowing laugh, since we already are fully aware (in a way the Galactic sophisticates never can be!) that the mixtape actually does matter. I should make note, here, that most of the good things Quill does, he does on pure instinct…no one expects any of them, not even Yondu who understands him best. None of them are really in his character, it appears! Yet they happen. And because of the fog of fondness surrounding him they’re not seen by us as such bizarre irruptions of sensibility, as they must seem to the other characters. The chimeric anachronism slides along beneath our notice, smoothing out patches that really ought to be rather rough…painting a picture of a good soul only impeded in its actions by tragic circumstances that no one could be expected to rise above all the time

Until: “we’re the Guardians of the Galaxy, bitch.” He looks, for the first time, like a real nasty piece of work! No longer the creature of that gentler, more bumbling epoch! And the word is wrong, and I don’t like the word…but the effect is as Dirty Dancing as one could wish, really, because he is directly addressing what is outrageous about what Ronan has attempted to become, for the first time in the film’s real idiom, which is the idiom (finally!) of the present day. So it’s a coarse put-­down, and that does piss me off; however it does successfully put down, in perhaps the main way that counts, and again teenagers are not all sweet little darlings, moreover they do not necessarily want to be…they just want to be up-­to-­date, and in this moment Quill finally achieves that. I don’t know; deep in the fever in the village outside Glasgow, after the 54-­hour plane trip, it seemed to me that this movie hinted at something a bit heavier about teenagers and ultimate power, than it probably actually did…as I recalled that way back in the early days of Howard The Duck, Steve Gerber had a typically-­absurd villain (Garko The Man­-Frog, if you must know) sit on a ledge with a superpower-­potion and wonder aloud if power wasn’t really only good for killing people anyway…and so why entertain any plans for having it, apart from simply using it for what it’s good for? Ultimate power, as we really should be told by any comics stories involving the goddamn Infinity Crystals at this point, is just a trap for the personality: from the top of the mountain, the only way you can go is down. Because power makes you stop growing, you see! Keeps the mountain from getting any bigger. Quill can be trusted with it, essentially only because he has no idea of what it could possibly be used for, doesn’t have problems that are sufficiently neurotic in scope (or they’re insufficiently organized, to even rise to that level of description!) to be “solved” in any way such power would allow…and why, after all, would Star­-Lord, the undisputed master of Seventies Rock, need to get his hands on some kind of “ultimate” power in the first place? When it would be as useless to him as the One Ring to Tom Bombadil. This stuff murders the potential of anyone who touches it, kills self­-actualization dead, rubs out the promise of an open-­ended futurity to write the name of Eschaton where Possibility should be instead. The shadow­-line is removed, its existential threat neutralized…

But of course, after that there’s simply nowhere to go.

For the Guardians, though, a special exemption applies: since the only thing they can plan from attaining ultimate power is to not survive it, once they do survive it then their door to futurity is opened again. Again, and again: these are not nice people. When we first meet him Quill is cruel, angry, shallow…and he’s the best of them, the one who fought older bullies as a child because he couldn’t bear the things in them, that he would find later in himself. He’s the Noble Savage, the nature child: HE is! THIS guy! Though he says “aw, fuck it” and kills people (though they may be nameless baddies) deader than door-nails apparently chiefly out of pique. So, much like the new Captain Kirk or Batman or Tony Stark, he doesn’t grow as a character…

And he doesn’t grow up.

He never grows up.

Dude is in his mid-­thirties, for God’s sake!

He still acts like he’s seventeen!

But then how does he have any other options, really: when not only is the soundtrack to his life a seventeen year-old’s, but it isn’t even a seventeen year-­old’s who was seventeen when he was. And even in the end he doesn’t actually cross the shadow-­line; he’s just kicked back into a normal pattern of growth when he collides with it, and bounces off. Not matured, but restarted on the path to maturity. Not giving up the youth he lost, see? But instead insisting on reassuming it. Proceeding onward with it. And, it couldn’t really be signposted any more strongly, could it?

So in a way…just in a way…

It’s the best Guardians I’m likely to get, right? Because although I do indeed have every reason to hate it, and some parts are pretty undeniably Not Good, of all the movies offering up these tremendously expected conventions right now this is the only one that seems to wish, even if only unconsciously or accidentally, to subvert and interrogate those same things that make it go. Any Pixar movie (every Pixar movie?) offers the great big catharsis of the acceptance of mortality, especially in the case of one’s parents, and any superhero movie will restate Jung’s dictum that to win the princess is always and only to win one’s own soul…but whether it’s because even a stopped clock is right twice a day, or because even universal tedium can’t go on forever, finally in this movie there is something like a reason to give a shit that Peter Pan doesn’t have to grow up all at once. Which previously has been a treasure rather hard to attain. The triumphant hero, for once in all these goddamn things, doesn’t have to be a special snowflake in the eyes of anyone but his Mom. Is not automatically guaranteed the win just because of who he is, because of his Kirktastic destiny or something. But can be a lousy little shit, really, while still deserving whatever his particular piece is…because at least he does something to get it. Artistic merit, literary merit? No, probably not. But at least the proper sort of connection to life, an acknowledgement that, I dunno, maybe after all the kids are a little bit alright? Maybe have a bit of a point? Glenn Close as Queen Disneyland gets the same laugh the same way that all those other McGuffin’s Raiders kids did for time and movie-making immemorial, away back when: the well­-dropped PG­-friendly swear­-word, from the unlikely and supposedly-­stiff source, joining them in the appreciation of reality that the protagonists espouse, and bolstering that appreciation’s plausibility thereby. Well, sometimes (we are clearly meant to self­-flatteringly conclude) the language of the adolescent is all that will do, to sum up the shittiness of life and other people: for a moment one senses her wish to be somewhere else, and so just for a moment she becomes, like that filthy little raccoon or even that punked­-out Nebula, or indeed gluttonous uncanny-­valley armchair­-dictator Thanos himself, capable of attracting our slightly less­-programmed sympathies. Because inheritance, in the end, is a much tougher matter now than it once was. It’s harder to get. It’s harder to hold. It’s harder to know what to do with.

It’s harder to know what it is.

And most movies like this one – and TV shows too! – seem to have given up guessing.

But…uh…

Not this one?

Or, I’m totally wrong. Because I’ve never been so adeptly targeted by a movie as I was by GotG, and maybe it’s just that it did indeed get me in its sights, and it did indeed bring me down. And it was so easy, too! Listen, here’s me on the first day:

“So…oh yeah, and I saw Guardians Of The Galaxy. It wasn’t altogether terrible, I guess. Chris Pratt’s a pretty affable actor, always reminds me of That One Guy From High School…and I, uh, guess I still like that music? Which is a bit weird, because most of it I never liked before…”

And Holy Jumpin’ Catfish, look at me now. Fully hooked, or something. So…

GET AWAY FROM ME WITH YOUR SONIC SORCERY, PETER QUILL!

It could just be that.

Or, it could be that it really is just so totally Farscape, you guys…

But whatever it was, it worked.

Still crap, of course. But it’d be unfair not to concede that it at least rises to the level of “guilty pleasure”. Hell, I’ve seen it twice, now. Lawrence Of Arabia it ain’t. It isn’t even quite Corvette Summer.

But it’s sure got some things in common with Corvette Summer, and if that’s by design – even if it’s only in the design – then I think that’s enough for me to say I liked it. “The Guardians Of The Galaxy Will Return”, oh how James Bond that appears to be! Except if it’s actually more like ST: TMP. Or not really like either of those, at least not on purpose, but rather just a thing that movies sometimes feel they’ve earned the right to say. Did we like it? Yeah, we liked it. It’s a slap in the face to the beloved Guardians of my youth, it even has a goddamn Howard The Duck cameo in it, and I still liked it!

I guess probably just because it was somewhat positive. I mean, it made me feel positive. So, I’m not really even sure that it’d be a good idea for the Guardians Of The Galaxy to return, but…

…I guess I’m glad they’re still out there?

As “my” Guardians are not. So, ya gotta take substitutes sometimes. Approximations. It isn’t the worst thing in the world. And, who knows? Maybe they will be good enough to get by on, if they just get some things right.

If they’re the right things.

15 Responses to “Big Boys Don’t Cry”

  1. Nathan Adler Says:

    I absolutely love this post Plok, and in addition to the Gerber praise (and hey I never saw Farscape so is it worth the effort purchasing the complete series), I love the dig at a) ST: ID, b) TDKR, c) Iron Man 2, d) Sherlock Holmes. You’re in full Michael Gambon mode;)

    Peggy Carter grooming Steve, hmm (I always had an idea that she returned home pregnant and her parents adopted Sharon as was typical in those times).

    And Goonies, shouldn’t you be referencing The Explorers;)

    You reminded me of my favourite early F4 moment, Reed pulling the Kirby monster comic fast one on the Skrulls. That is so a trick Get Smart needed to be referencing by the way;)

    With Quill as the Noble Savage, I wonder if there is total intent behind this with James Gunn!? After all it goes without saying he dropped so many hints that Yondu is Quill’s father.

  2. Thrills Says:

    Yeah, this is a great post!

    I’ve been thinking about nostalgia recently, and the way that my generation or thereabouts (grew up in the 80s) seem to have monopolised it, so culture skews towards 30-somethings who remember the dawn of the Merchandise Cartoon (post-Star Wars, yer Transformers and Thundercats etc), and confuse rememberance of something with actual quality.

    I’m glad ‘the youth’ are getting their Marvel films and their Cumberbatch and their Doctor Who and all that stuff they have given their lives over to with their Tumblr ‘fandoms’, and while they just seem so flat and unenjoyable, it’s great that they aren’t for me, that maybe I just don’t ‘get’ them?

    But what are the nerdo outcasts watching and reading these days, if all the cool normo kids are reading Marvel and listening to metal?

    Jazz and 40s newspaper comics, maybe?

    I’m the patronising old guy, me.

    The ‘bitch’ thing in GotG stood out at me, as well. It doesn’t help that it’s such a mean-spirited word to use, as well, to my ears.

    I do enjoy the shitty Breaking Bad shirts in a local shop that I assume are supposed to say “Science, Bitch!” on them, but instead say “Science Bitch!” as if it is a shirt advertising some band.

    I reckon Farascape starts off as a bit dull-but-affable, but never becomes as poor as, say, Andromeda (the low point for sci-fi, perhaps). Once it gets going, it becomes full-on exciting space opera, with enough self-awareness without it becoming a post-Whedon (or actual Whedon) irritant. There’s a heap of good fetishy Claremontia, too, without it turning into Lexx.

  3. plok Says:

    Yeah, that “bitch” thing…in 2014 you can’t say that without being a piece of shit. “Not ALL Gamerz!!” But it predates that, clearly. It’s an ugly remark, even so. It’s gross. It’s jarring.

  4. Matthew Craig Says:

    Farscape is great. That findy sekle self-awareness, genre awareness or what have you is less offensive than in other genre pieces, there’s a marked lack of smugness, the relationships are complicatedish (again, cf etc.). It’s colourful, sexy, Muppety goodness. No salmon and teal, no stupid cotton vests, no pretty boys and exasperated girls. It’s GREAT.

    We of the over-thirty brigade have really earned our Carousel with all this indelible yout’ jazz, though. I think we became just a little too aware of the passage of time, or something, which is why we cling on So! Hard! to it all. I mean, The Tripods is manifestly better than The Hunger Games, that goes without saying, but I feel like we did something really wrong, y’know?

    Great essay, Plok. Insightful stuff.

    PS: I hate that bit when Quilly goes “We’re The Graunagals, BYOTCH” too. Partly because yes, that word’s a bit…much, but also because it’s one word too many for that sentence, and actually #ACTUALLY undercuts the strength and impact of the statement. It’s a Millarism, sentences lasting one clause too many, ending on a noun or soft-insult. Bad form, metaball.

    //\Oo/\\

  5. plok Says:

    Hrm, back from beyond…

    Thrills, Matthew, Nate, I’m glad you liked it! As I say, I’m still not sure I’m right about these movies being driven by a certain “fuck you, grandpa” species of Peter-Pannishness, but past something like that I’m at a loss to explain the whole business. I’m thinking, too, not just of all our old nostalgia-crap but of the limited accessibility to things that aren’t that…thinking back fondly to the days of the Late Late Show, which I figure was where the station-owner’s hippie nephew would get his chance to shine? So a million movies all “curated” by somebody who probably went to film school but also had a tiny budget came through the set at me, and a lot of that stuff I probably couldn’t have seen any other way. “Rope Of Sand”, for example: a rip-off of Casablanca starring Burt Lancaster, now how the hell do you ever get around to looking at THAT on Netflix, you know? But also “All About Eve” and more A-list pictures of the award-winning type. So, I’m not saying it was a better way, just that the accessibility was a different kind of thing, and worked in a different kind of way. Today there’s Turner Classic Movies, I guess.

    It’s weird, though. The Late Movie was the only game in town, but at the same time nobody gave a shit about it…somehow out of that mixture I got something like a sense of The Canon. Which my older generation didn’t care about, because it was just all their old crap I was interested in, and they didn’t think it very special at all. So…THAT goes out, too, in the 21st century. It gets easier to constellate choices around what’s being marketed to you, harder to just find weird old shit no one wants except you? Maybe. Part of it’s that instead of people like the various O’Bannons, we’ve got…Joss Whedon, only? And he isn’t exactly counterculture. And he gets bored. We were damn lucky to get Farscape, I think, just on the grounds that it was actually different, it was a different idea and a different mood and it was made in a different hemisphere and somebody loved it. But who tucks Agents Of SHITE in at night, hmm?

    Oog, my head…I feel like I just wrote 12 pages on the Guardians Of The Galaxy movie, honestly…

  6. Nathan Adler Says:

    Print preview brings it in at 17;)

  7. plok Says:

    You’re not helping.

  8. plok Says:

    It occurs to me, actually, that there might be a thing or two more to say here, both about the GotG movie and the 70s comic book, hell maybe even about Farscape. The first thing is, Rocket’s O-face…which I didn’t actually throw in just because I wouldn’t know a sense of humour if it came up and bit the psoriasis off my elbow, but because the thing with Rocket is like all the other things that are a little bit buried in GotG. Like Quill’s argument with Yondu, in which it’s revealed that Quill actually doesn’t give a damn about Earth…

    But more obviously: just what is the deal with that goddamn raccoon, anyway? Quill spies the scars of experimentation of his back, an old trick meant to connect a character’s reticence with a black past involving torture…and so it’s cmprehensible, I think, that maybe Rocket has been Flowers-For-Algernoned into a simultaneous state of cognitive uplift, and arrested development. “There’s only one of what I am”, he says, or something a lot like it, and that’s true (notwithstanding IllVol’s rejoinder: “face facts, you’re a raccoon. Yeah, and your buddy’s a tree”) — the little homonculus has got nothing going for him, so he’s got no interests except for good old reliable CARNAGE, and the bigger the gun and the louder the shouting, the better. So there is really some sublimation at work, here, maybe? It isn’t just that he’s a mean little bastard with a lot of beef, it’s that he’s repressed

    Pastiche of adolescence: CHECK.

    But then, in a not really related way, perhaps, this gets me thinking about Nikki from the comic: vivacious Nikki, adolescent escapee from the massacre on Mercury. Except that Nikki has a peculiar anachronism about her as well, because when adrift in that little life-pod all those years not only did she grow up alone as the last of her kind (well, not really: she’s human after all), but she whiled away the time by watching “old entertainment tapes”. But what were these tapes, were they old dramas and comedies from the 2500s, or something? Not at all; they were shows that were already old when Vance was a boy. Programs out of the author’s youth, not the character’s, so Nikki emerges from the life-pod talking like Edward G. Robinson, weirdly fusing Vance’s lost world of the past with his lost world of the future. Trapped inside his metallic skin in 1975, he’s not going to be able to fulfill his biological imperatives anymore than Rocket will up in 2014…and eventually he’s going to act out because of that too.

    But in a way…Nikki’s got the music, right? She knows who Bogart was, which is more than any of the other moderns can say…

    And then there’s Rygel, on Farscape, whose distinguishing traits are an unwavering selfishness and an unjustified pride — once a monarch, now he’s separated from anyone who might ever have believed in his Divine Right, or indeed any sort of divine right at all…and they cannot understand his motivations. Also, he’s a Muppet, right? So the only thing that can solve his dissonance is a straight-up return to an extremely-backdated status quo, a harem of pliable females of his own species, and a crown…and he’s most definitely not going to get any of those things. His life, as he knew it, is just GONE; and he’s not even like what he was, he’s something else completely now.

    Just an odd thought before securing the champagne…

    Oh, shit!

    The champagne!

    Well, New Year’s is clearly ruined…

  9. Brimstone Says:

    I enjoyed GOTG, but as a late 20 something geek it didn’t speak to me in the same way Scott Pilgrim did, and I’m not sure why it’s so LOVED.
    But I think I do understand – it feels a bit like it’s saying ‘gobble gobble hey, ONE OF US’, like Community – looking straight at the geeky misfit crowd and saying ‘we accept you’.

  10. retrowarbird Says:

    Nerdo outcasts watch John Cage videos and read fluxus instructionals and dadaist poetry now. We wear screenprinted Max Ernst t-shirts and hang out with older folks at veteran bars because the popular taverns are full of nostalgic 20-50 year olds talking about how rad the last bullet-time blockbuster was. Thanks to long life-spans the fringe spans generations now.

    They’re the same place they always were … consuming culture not because it was tailored for them like a trap, but because they consume everything as fuel for creating. Creating anything.

    Can’t none of us withstand nostalgia forever when nothing new exists.

  11. Nathan Adler Says:

    Obviously Rocket would have begun his time on Earth, so you’re saying he’s equivalent to Vance and Nikki Quill?

  12. plok Says:

    Not so sure it’s obvious that Rocket started out on Earth! This is Oz, not the Milky Way…it may not have to make as much sense as all that. Do you need a universal translator, here, to explain everybody’s Terran accents? Would that even work?

    Really, the less said about Rocket being a raccoon, the better.

  13. Matthew Craig Says:

    I can’t hear that song from the start of the film without hearing this:

    Come and get your love, come and get your love, come and get your love now (ONE POUND FISH)
    Come and get your love, come and get your love, come and get your love now (VERY VERY CHEAP)
    Come and get your love, come and get your love, come and get your love now (ONE POUND FI-ISH)
    Come and get your love, come and get your love, come and get your love now (ONE POUND FISH)

    And now I know that he recorded a full song of it, I wish I didn’t know that he recorded a full song of it.

    //\OO/\\

  14. Mindless Ones » Blog Archive » Professor Xavier Is A Jerk Says:

    [...] were so hot for Plok‘s extensive and illuminating reading of Guardians of the Galaxy (you know, the one with the raccoon that thinks it’s not a raccoon) that we invited him back [...]

  15. plok Says:

    It occurs to me, belatedly, that perhaps there’s a reason why a sense of metaphor and irony we’d call “fully developed” is in such short supply out there in the galaxy, and that maybe the ultimate reason for this is Thanos. Maybe this really is a power that can unseat any tyrannical cosmic ambition, but it’s just a bit hard to develop in an environment of constant chaotic violence and (what looks to be) scarcity of resources. Corpsman Dey has it, but then he lives on the planet of peace and stability and order…and does any other world have a force of Peacekeepers? Quill has it, because he was brought up in a similar place of peace and stability and order. And Thanos may have it, because he desn’t want anyone else to? Gamora lacks it, though her sister has at least attained to sarcasm…Rocket has sarcasm too, but that’s really all…

    So there might be something to say, here, about how a sense of irony (used here in the Fowlerian sense of “double hearing”) is a graceful product of peace and wealth just as microwave ovens and two-car garages. One imagines that “Girls” would pretty much just go right over your head, if you lived in the Gaza Strip…

    Not that I propose this really earnestly, because of course there are plenty of counterexamples to be found. Soviet-era Russia wasn’t exactly lacking for satirists and practitioners of metaphor…nor, for that matter, Seventies Rock…

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