Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Honesty Competitions (Part 3) by Arielle Gavin

This is the first guest contribution by Arielle Gavin, it is the third chapter of her Criticism and Curatorial Practice prize-winning thesis "Honesty Competitions" (OCAD, 2012). You can find the introduction and the first chapter on Bas Jan Ader at her blog, Dragonaut. - D.D.
Past, present, future
Irony maintains a strange connection to history, always inhabiting a tricky past-present. Its many meanings continuously build upon and erase each other, only to return again. Irony appears as a rhetorical device beginning with Plato, as a characteristic of dramatic theatre, as a core concept of German Romanticism, as the colloquial definition of “saying one thing and meaning another,” as proposed cultural dominant of postmodernism, and as sacrificial lamb of New Sincerity. Its methods sometimes involve knowingly digging up material from the past in order to say something about the present, its many reference points forever falling in and out of fashion. When we speak of irony today, we speak of it as cultural mood, as synonym for sarcasm and cynicism. Since the following chapter is centered around the early 2000’s – the site of a secondary rupture, of a “post-postmodern”1 break - it seems customary to bring up the end of irony, and along with it the end of postmodernism.

Linda Hutcheon foreshadows these links with “Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern,” (1998) an essay she begins with a personal anecdote. Hutcheon writes about completing the final manuscript of Irony's Edge (1995), one of the many texts she has written on the subject of irony. An hour after submitting the manuscript to her publisher, Hutcheon walked into a bookstore. The first thing she noticed there was a magazine whose headline read “The End of Irony? The Tragedy of the Post-Ironic Condition.” The feature article announced that irony had tired itself out, and that it was currently being replaced by “seven different types of nostalgia."Hutcheon had spent the good part of a decade writing about postmodernism and what she saw as its defining feature - irony - but had not thought to write about nostalgia. Not only did she find irony more appealing, more "edgy," she did not think that irony had much to do with nostalgia anyway.3

Hutcheon's accidental encounter with this article prompted her to reflect on what it might mean to write about irony towards the end of the twentieth century. As a result, she tries to make sense of the unlikely marriage of irony and nostalgia, the latter being alternately indulged in and derided by postmodern culture. Like nostalgia, sincerity can unassumingly stage itself as “a mode of self-expression generally held to be nondiscursive, transparent, outside of ideology.”4 “Back in the day”-type rhetoric suggests that there was simply more sincerity to go around in the past, and that this reserve of sincerity has since been depleted. This thought process stands in opposition to the varied and “transideological” uses Hutcheon attributes to irony.5 That is to say, where nostalgia tends to idealize the past, irony tends to instrumentalize the past in order to critique it. Herein lies Hutcheon’s belief in the political applications of irony.

Hutcheon’s article made a few things clear to me. One, that as postmodernism drew to a close, irony (its defining feature, according to many) began to close in on itself. A strange culture war emerged on its grounds, one where the supposedly lost value of sincerity is selected as a radically conservative, oppositional tactic for combatting postmodern irony. Second, that the question of irony and its “end” is inextricably linked to the ends of both modernism and postmodernism. Third, that irony’s end had been announced prior to 2001, and that its end(s) will continue to be announced in the future. The very act of placing irony along a historical continuum is an exercise in “evading teleology” that requires one to shuttle between the past and the present.6 

An irony of ends
The ends of both modernism and postmodernism can be traced to a single name: that of architect Minoru Yamasaki. Yamasaki designed the St. Louis Pruitt-Igoe housing complex, a monolith of modernist architecture. Modernism’s (thwarted, so the story goes) aspirations to utilitarianism, functionalism, and progress were embodied, caricatured, and incapacitated by the building’s imposing square structure. The complex's small apartments and large communal spaces - initially intended to be practical, economical - quickly became run-down. Less than twenty years after Pruitt-Igoe was erected, its buildings were largely abandoned and uninhabitable. On March 16, 1972, the first of the thirty-three buildings that made up Pruitt-Igoe was demolished. Architectural critic Charles Jencks famously announced this as the movement’s death knell, or “the day that Modern architecture died."While the demolition of Pruitt-Igoe did not bring modernism to its end (it was going to die anyway - of old age, of inefficacy, according to Jencks), it stood as a pretty clear indication of the way things were going. 

The pathos of Yamasaki’s failures as an architect extends to his other famous project; the buildings that made up the World Trade Center. Many interpreted the collapse of its towers on Septemeber 11th 2001 as the twin end of postmodernism and irony. The act of ironic interpretation suddenly seemed ineffective in the wake of unforeseen cultural trauma. In the weeks following the attacks, announcements of irony's death proliferated. It is true that a certain kind of irony - cynical, detached irony as cultural mood - had naturally gone out of style by the early 2000's. But this is only one kind of irony, so our conversation doesn't end there. To reject irony in favor of a simpler simplicity is no simple task. How is one to forget cultural irony when its aftermath is still strongly felt? Linda Hutcheon makes a good point by observing that our age “joins just about every other century in wanting to call itself the age of irony.”8 The very recurrence of that historical claim supports the claim held by some that irony is “inherent in signification, in its deferrals and in its negations,”9 that every age is ironic in one way or another. If anything can be agreed on regarding irony at the end of the twentieth century, it is that “irony had become an extremely charged clear by the time the towers fell code word masking a number of larger social, cultural and aesthetic divisions,”10 eventually dividing itself into our current conversation of irony and sincerity.

The etymology of the word ‘sincerity’ contains two meanings:

1) of one growth, unmixed
2) that which is not falsified.

Alison Young uses this definition as the jumping-off point for her essay “Documenting September 11th: Trauma and the (Im)possibility of Sincerity,” which discusses a contemporary “aporia of sincerity."11 Through examining the methodology and outcome of The 9/11 Commission Report (2004), Young concludes that we must reconsider the question of sincerity. As sincerity shifts from affect to “media effect,” Young wonders whether texts can succeed in delivering the sincerity effects their authors seek.12 Young is not questioning whether authors are sincere or insincere, but rather how works of literature or visual art might go about communicating sincere things. Hopefully it’s become clear that my intention in writing is not to claim particular artists for the camp of sincerity while banishing others to the land of irony. To vouch for an artist's sincerity would mean to know fully that artist’s intent, to be sure of the “congruence between avowal and actual feeling”13 Lionel Trilling gave as a formula for sincerity. Because our reading of sincerity is primarily one of effects, and since infinite (mis)readings of these effects can and do occur, a sincere attempt at expressing something can easily appear ironic.

It follows that my discussion will center on recent stylistic techniques used to represent sincerity. After the “death” of irony rose two strategies of the sincere within visual culture. The first takes the form of a codified aesthetic of sincerity within contemporary American cinema,14 the other a nostalgic-ironic appropriation of so-called amateur aesthetics in video art. The subject or document that is viewed as amateur generally has no conception of itself as being sincere, but nonetheless comes to signify this quality. 

Is there a sincere colour?
Around the time these things were happening, I was ten years old. I remember going to to see the film Zoolander with my family on the weekend of its release - September 28, 2011. We arrived at the theater early, and sat watching previews. One of the trailers made a distinct impression on me, not least because I thought it only made a distinct impression on certain kind of person. Though I never liked pink when I was younger, I found the faded Pepto Bismol that spelled THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS delightfully disgusting. Maybe I was a little proud of my newfound appreciation for strange shades of pink. These shades filled a montage of white, upper-middle class characters exhibiting vaguely anti-social behaviours. A man with a bright geometric pattern painted on his face sped towards the screen in a vintage car. A grandfather cheered on a dogfight with his grandchildren, surrounded by a cast of “ethnic” characters of non-specific ethnicities. A blonde girl stalked around her bedroom decorated with African masks. The scenes unfolded against the soundtrack of “Judy is a Punk” by the Ramones. Both the film and the song, which I had likely just heard for the first time (I was ten years old, after all), felt interesting in a new way. After all, my reading of the trailer had nothing to do with the contentious avant-gardes of punk music and reactionary sincerity. I saw The Royal Tenenbaums (dir. Wes Anderson, 2001) shortly after its December release, and subsequently tried to model myself after a young Margot Tenenbaum. I quickly took to walking around my middle school with the Ramones blasting from my headphones, though I was never very good at affecting Margot’s disinterest. At some point in my early teens, I fell out of love with Anderson’s films. I’m not entirely sure why – maybe I thought them insincere, maybe I was going through the teenage ritual of rejecting childhood things – but I think my total adoration-turned-total-disgust speaks to the inexplicably strong reactions Anderson’s films draw from audiences.

The most (in)sincere director
A friend wrote to me in a February 2012 email, “wes anderson is the most insincere director i can think of, because i think the naivete is false and a twee refusal to grow up is a gross and counterrevolutionary…super heteronormative as well.” I read the email and agreed with him, only to find myself in the middle of a heated bar conversation a few nights later. I brought up Wes Anderson, and before I could get a word in, an acquaintance declared Anderson to be a supremely sincere director. Not only was Wes Anderson sincere, he insisted, but he was sincere in a way that many people just didn’t understand.

In light of these two responses, Wes Anderson seems a particularly compelling subject of inquiry regarding the post-9/11 “aporia” of sincerity that is the focus of this chapter. Anderson’s 2001 film The Royal Tenenbaums is set in an anachronistic New York populated by whimsically decrepit buildings, for example a fictitious “375th Street YMCA.”15 With no Twin Towers in sight, one is almost allowed to believe that the film took place sometime before they were built, sometime before postmodernism and the brand of irony associated with it.

But The Royal Tenenbaums is bookended by a hyper-awareness of nostalgic stylization. The film begins with a neatly composed shot of a book being checked out of a library. A hand peeking out of a camel blazer stamps the card enclosed in the book’s cover, something I haven't experienced since childhood trips to the library. The book is then closed to reveal a quaint illustration of melting candlesticks, THE ROYAL TENENBAUMS spelled out in the pink Futura of the film’s trailer. In the following shot, the cover illustration reappears as a real-life set design, using the same mustard-green colour scheme and curtained backdrop. These mirrored images make unclear the starting point of stylization. Anderson could very well be flattening the personalities of his characters to fit a simplified storybook format. But Anderson works almost exclusively with stock characters, mainly drawn from white upper-middle class America. Or, to be more specific, the stock character of the White Anglo-Saxon Protestant. Of course this "character" exists in the real world, but it has been sufficiently mythologized (see The Preppy Handbook, Ralph Lauren advertisements, the disaffected prep school students of J.D. Salinger novels, and so on). We can say that by framing The Royal Tenenbaums as fiction - its intertitles take the form of book pages, “scene” swapped for “chapter” - Anderson counters the argument that he is merely stylizing a referent firmly based in reality. An astute observer of aesthetes and an aesthete himself, the visual style of his films reads to me as the combined efforts of his own narcissism and the narcissism of his characters.

The characters in The Royal Tenenbaums largely understand themselves through representation. Some fashion their reality in writing, Margot with her plays and Raleigh, her husband, with his studies in anthropology. Some emotions are explained only through their bracketing, the story of Richie’s fall from tennis stardom succinctly told in television footage of his losing game and a tabloid cover that reads MELTDOWN. Etheline also styled her children, a “Family of Geniuses,” in prose. Like the rest of the film’s books-within-books, Family of Geniuses appears onscreen dog-eared and faded, a simulacrum of the book as intellectual fetish object. Family of Geniuses is not a real book, empty of content (asides from the story of the film that contains it), but nonetheless appears significant, handsomely weathered. Like the many unread books that make up an impressive library, the books written by the Tenenbaums are markers of lives dictated by the pressure to endlessly perform individual intelligence and precocity.

The Royal Tenenbaums and mise en abyme subjectivity
The Royal Tenenbaums is a portrait of a family and their now-grown children. All three were child prodigies - Margot a gifted playwright, Richie a star tennis player, and Chas an astute businessman (businessboy, perhaps) - who faded into obscurity with the onset of adulthood. The story picks up with a cast of characters obsessed with recapitulating the glory of their youth. They continue to wear their childhood clothes, as if the garments had magically grown in a gesture of solidarity. Like the closet of a cartoon character, Margot's wardrobe is filled with a dozen penny-loafers and a striped Lacoste dress in every colour. Richie continues to dress like Björn Borg, even in non-tennis situations. Chas replaces the business-wear of his childhood with a new daily uniform, but the repetition does not end there. Now a father, both Chas and his two sons wear red Adidas tracksuits at all times (save for a funeral, where the trio opts for black Adidas tracksuits). They also share the same curly brown hair, though this can be owed more to genetics than to intent. By projecting his self-caricature onto his own children, the cycle of repetition extends to an absurd degree.

This bittersweet navigation of identity fits with the tone of The Royal Tenenbaums, which film scholar James MacDowell describes as the composite of deadpan humour and melodramatic subject matter.16 In "Notes on Quirky" and subsequent essays, MacDowell argues that tone - not subject matter, not certain editing techniques, not uniform visual style - is the strongest indicator of the "quirky" film. Treating the quirky film more as a sensibility than as a genre, MacDowell explains that its tone is illustrative of a larger cultural condition, a structure of feeling characterized by its back-and-forth dialogue around irony and sincerity. I follow MacDowell's analysis by focusing on Anderson's films in an essay concerned precisely with this ironic-sinere structure of feeling. But before I delve into the topic of tone, I want to comment on a particular aspect of the quirky film. Central to The Royal Tenenbaums and other quirky films is a certain kind of character best encapsulated by Anderson's paradoxically self-conscious adult-children. I would offer the titular characters of Napoleon Dynamite (2004) and Juno (2007) as culturally significant and instantly recognizable examples of the "quirky" character. The aestheticized awkwardness of these characters can be located along a spectrum. At the one end is the character whose idiosyncrasies serve as fodder for cheap jokes, and at the other is the character whose idiosyncrasies are meant to endear the audience. On the first end, I think of the painful confession Napoleon Dynamite makes after presenting his crush with a hand-drawn portrait: "It took me like three hours to finish the shading on your upper lip." Even if Napoleon's misguided social interactions are endearing by proxy, they are generally treated with a kind of detached, jokey irony. MacDowell points out that the ostensibly cathartic/redemptive dance scene at the end of the film still mines from a "comedy of embarrassment."17 An earnest but uncoordinated (note, uncoordinated) Dynamite performs a solo dance routine to the applause of his classmates, but even his choice of song - the musically awkward blue-eyed soul of Jamiroquai's "Canned Heat" - is meant to be a kind of in-joke with the audience. 

Still comedic but more melodramatic, more openly sentimental, Juno treats its main character more kindly. She shrieks would-be, cutesy teenage slang ("Honest to blog!") into her novelty phone, which is shaped like a hamburger. These qualities are not framed ironically, though; they contribute to a vision of a benignly dorky teenage girl unexpectedly faced with the very adult responsibilities of having a child. Returning to MacDowell's diagnosis of the quirky film, Juno tones down deadpan humor in favour of emotional engagement. 

Also worth mentioning is the character-person of Michael Cera, who plays Juno's boyfriend in the film. Cera's first popular role was as George Michael Bluth on the sitcom Arrested Development. Cera was fifteen years old when the series debuted in 2003, a real-life awkward-looking teenage boy at the onset of puberty. Also an awkward teenage boy facing the onset of puberty, George Michael mumbles nervously through most social situations that take place on Arrested Development. One of the more notable situations is the crush he harbours on his cousin, a teenaged girl named Maeby (whose strange name serves as an endless source of puns, including the running joke of her questionable conception). Humour drawn from awkward-seeming characters and situations is a mainstay of quirky cultural output. Adam Kotsko explores this point in his 2010 book Awkwardness, partially explaining the phenomenon of awkwardness-based humour as a contemporary response to the issues of postmodernism, one of these issues being the much-treaded theme of irony as cultural dominant. Kotsko selects Woody Allen as the progenitor of this kind of humour, describing the ambivalently autobiographical leads of all Allen films as "the Woody Allen character."18 Woody Allen clearly bases this character (and its nebbishy charm) on his own idiosyncrasies and neuroses, fashioning many doppelgangers in the characters of Alvy Singer (Annie Hall, 1977), Isaac Williams (Manhattan, 1979), Mickey Sachs (Hannah and her Sisters, 1983), and others. The Woody Allen character does not necessarily need to be played by Allen himeself; Larry David (Kotsko devotes a whole chapter to David in Awkwardness) recently assumed this role in the Allen-directed Whatever Works (2009). Beyond this, the Woody Allen character has its own life as a cultural type, the character-person of Michael-Cera being a contemporary example. Since Arrested Development, Cera has continuously been cast in the role of the adorably awkward teenage boy. Perpetually virginal and sheepish, he still manages to impregnate his love interest in Juno. Subsequent roles in films like Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist (2008), Youth in Revolt (2010), and Scott Pilgrim vs. The World (2010) see Cera shyly charming his way into the hearts of manic pixie dream girls, subtly reputing the common notion that confidence is sexy (see chart below). I imagine Cera was first cast in this type of role because he was, conveniently, an actual shy teenage boy. But Cera has been playing this role for a good part of the last decade. Yes, playing the role of himself, contrived as it sounds. This confusion of identity is compounded in Paper Heart (2009), the meta-documentary (I don't know how else to describe it) based on the unverifiable romantic relationship between Cera (who plays himself in the film) and Charlyne Yi, the film's screenwriter and lead actress.

What does it mean for a person to purposely act awkward, acting being by definition self-conscious and awkwardness being by definition unconscious? It leads to the impossibility - as with Allen and as with the Tenenbaums - of verifying whether the character of a film is necessarily the stylization of a referent firmly rooted in reality (in simpler terms, of the actor or actress who plays the character). Further, it makes any claims to authenticity near-impossible to confirm, resulting in a perpetual chicken-or-the-egg-type questioning of subjectivity. 

What, then, should one make of the Tenenbaums? Are they just a cast of lovably "quirky" characters? Are we supposed to interpret their antisocial behaviour as a fashion statement or a remote critique via inhabitation? In his article "If I Can Dream: The Everlasting Boyhoods of Wes Anderson," Mark Olsen writes that Anderson "does not view his characters from some distant Olympus of irony."20 After all, how is Anderson to maintain emotional detachment from characters who stand as infinitely repeated versions of himself? The director's early films - Bottle Rocket (1996) and Rushmore (1999) - were filmed in his native Texas. As an adolescent, Anderson atteneded the preppy collegiate - seemingly lifted straight from a Salinger novel - used as the set of Rushmore. One can easily identify Rushmore's Max Fischer - serial overachiever and director of pretentious, cutesy middle school plays - or the dysfunctional geniuses of The Royal Tenenbaums as the director's gently self-mocking portraits. If we trace the caricature at work in The Royal Tenenbaums far back enough, we end up with Wes Anderson infinitely styling and projecting himself as the characters of his own (the) film.

Knowing naiveté
Art historian E.H. Gombrich writes, “The more you prefer the primitive, the less you can become primitive,"19 a statement that is taken up ambivalently in The Royal Tenenbaums. This paradox is best expressed in the film’s knowingly naïve visual style; its neatly composed shots look like childhood drawings traced by an adult, the final product retaining none of the original messiness. James MacDowell points to this in the “sweetly unsophisticated pink flag” that flies above the Tenenbaum home.20 Anderson’s aesthetic can be easily described (and dismissed) as cloying. Unusual shades of pink pop up everywhere; the awning of a hotel, a rotary phone, the walls of an ice cream parlour, a woolen glove. The decidedly unrealistic proliferation of such details holds a mirror to the suspended naiveté of the film’s characters. MacDowell writes that the childhood artifacts that Margot, Chas, and Richie cling to remind us that they are no longer children. Richie sets up an anorak-yellow tent in the family’s living room, his too-tall body dwarfing the structure clearly intended for children. This visual gag frames the character’s longing for childhood instead of expecting us to indulge uncritically in it. The “wrongness” of these images rests not only in their resemblance to impossibly perfect children’s drawings, but in their ability to evidence the Tenenbaums’ problematic relationship to childhood. 

This unfaltering belief in the purity of childhood is not the only element of primitivism evident in The Royal Tenenbaums. The characters display a tendency to view other cultures as exotic or less advanced than their native American one. Margot bolsters her writing career with cultural tourism, the kind I imagine she thinks of as "zany anthropology." A brief montage shows Margot at the age of nineteen at a wedding on an unidentified West Indian island; flirting with lesbianism in Paris at twenty-one; then a few years later in New Guineau, groping a man in tribal dress (her in a pink bikini). Etheline works as an archaeologist, and Raleigh St. Clair as a neurologist who conducted field studies on a fictional tribe called the Kazawa Atoll. St. Clair's book on the subject, The Peculiar Neurodegenerative Inhabitants of the Kazawa Atoll, features a photograph of the author with one of his research subjects. The two men stand side-by-side, St. Clair in a bathing suit and the subject in a loincloth, headdress, and body paint. The photograph is shot in classic ethnographic style, straight-on and perfectly centered. The composition of the photograph is not unlike those of the shots that make up the film, their veneer of order and artistic control contradicting the unfinished emotional business (adult children, intentional naivete, an "aporia" of sincerity, and so on) taking place in the frame. 

Throughout the film, St. Clair studies the behavior of Dudley Heinsbergen, a boy inflicted with a peculiar form of autism. He calmly watches Dudley struggle to arrange a set of toy blocks in a particular formation, calmly taking notes on the boy's progress. He later reads the results and chuckles to himself “How interesting, how bizarre,” as if the boy were a mischievous pet or inhabitant of remote New Guineau. What is actually bizarre, I suppose, is that St. Clair does not make much of a distinction between the two. St. Clair takes Dudley everywhere he goes, the boy narrating in deadpan the details of their surroundings to no person in particular. Dudley favors a Jacques-Cousteau-plays-tennis outfit of corduroy shorts, yellow ringer t-shirt, and bucket hat with navy stripe, his nerd-chic style later cashed in on by films like Napoleon Dynamite. The unlikely fashion plate of Dudley Heinsbergen reflects a world where no person or thing is immune to being aestheticized.

“I always wanted to be a Tenenbaum”
Taste classifies, and it classifies the classifier. Social subjects, classified by their classifications, distinguish themselves by the distinctions they make.21 - Pierre Bourdieu

In his essay for the Criterion Collection release of the film, Kent Jones points out that The Royal Tenenbaums – alongside other films directed by Anderson – centers on a character “from a little lower on the economic ladder.”22 This character is Eli Cash, the boy grew up in a simple apartment with his aunt. Cash lived across the street from the Tenenbaums and became a regular fixture at their home, an honorary member of the family also inflicted with their complex around creativity. Eli was not a child genius, but later tried his hand at writing. At the beginning of the film, we are introduced to the grown-up Eli at a reading for his newly-released novel. After reading, he takes a phone call from Margot, and anxiously implores of her “You think I’m especially not a genius?” Cast as his adoptive family’s foil, Eli illustrates just how strongly the concepts of taste, precociousness, and genius are linked to class. We are reminded of many kinds of work that factor into the designation of genius. 

Eli writes middlebrow fiction that is met with lukewarm critical reception and offhand remarks from those close to him. Having grown up in a lower-middle class household, the quality of Eli's work is never validated with the label of “genius” his wealthier counterparts already attained before adolescence. In fact, Eli’s books are only met with positive regard at the very end of the film. In the middle of a police questioning, the officer pauses to pay Eli a compliment; the officer, transparently portrayed in jus'folks-style, had read Eli's new novel and greatly enjoyed it. The officer even asks for an autograph, temporarily alleviating the embarrassing events leading up to the police questioning. 

The Royal Tenenbaums points to the cycle of legitimation that links class, taste, and cultural production. Eli's inability to be validated as an author of "highbrow" fiction reflects a kind of glass ceiling of class mobility; (lower) middle-class upbringing, middlebrow writing. Conversely, the Tenenbaums cannot escape the trappings of their own background. Their predetermined, premature success is crystallized forever in the figure of the adult-child. Like fallen rulers, the “royal” Tenenbaums are trapped by the privileged status they reached as children. They remain there indefinitely as dysfunctional apparitions of their former selves. I feel that the film is neither as explicitly political as my discussion of it, nor as apolitical or twee as it has been made out to be. Maybe I'm at fault for not picking a side, but it's the film's back and forth - between irony and sincerity, critique and indulgence, artifice and naturalism - that makes it so intriguing. 

The strongest point of Jones’ essay on The Royal Tenenbaums is in his identification of the film’s political  implicaions. Unfortunately, this point is a little lost on Jones, whose assertions of Anderson’s particular brand of sincerity read as self-congratulatory. Jones writes, “For someone like me, who connected directly with his sensibility from the first frame of Bottle Rocket, it's difficult to comprehend how anyone could not get the work of such an exquisite storyteller.”23 Jones suggests that Anderson presents a secret kind of sincerity that only a special kind of person would understand. I do not know what to make of this “secret” sincerity; I have made it clear that the definition of sincerity is no simple task, but the idea that it can only be decoded by some kind of super-sensitive aesthete does not sit well with me. Despite pointing out the issues of class raised by Anderson, Jones only affirms these relations by designating sincerity as an esoteric taste category requiring specialized understanding. This category, which formed in reaction to the perceived ideological threat of postmodern irony, possessed a problematic ideology of its own. If postmodern irony was dismissive and mocking of the stupid, the unrefined, the "primitive," then the New Sincerity romanticizes the "primitive" in a way that is (often unbeknownst to itself) condescending. 

In the following installment, I will discuss the New Sincerity, a term that has risen to prominence in the last decade. As I understand it, the New Sincerity - like Anderson's films - concerns itself mostly with problems of the self, the double or performed self, the artistic process and artistic self-representation, a reactionary stance towards irony that favors a highly idealized vision of the sincere, and an arguably regressive engagement with primitivism. 

Arielle Gavin

1I'm hesitant to use the word, but no single term has been agreed upon. Of the many terms put forth in the race to name the contemporary moment - off-modern, hypermodern, altermodern - the one that interests me most is the metamodern. I will discuss the concept of metamodernism in the next chapter. 
Linda Hutcheon, “Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern,” Methods for the Study of Literature as Cultural Memory (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopoi, 2000) 193.
3 Ibid. 195
4 Jane Taylor, “Torture, Truth, and the Arts,” The Rhetoric of Sincerity, Eds. Ernst van Alphen, Mieke Bal, and Carel Smith (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009) 22.
5 Linda Hutcheon, Irony’s Edge (London: Routledge, 1994) 20.
6Linda Hutcheon, “Irony, Nostalgia, and the Postmodern,” Methods for the Study of Literature as Cultural Memory (Amsterdam: Editions Rodopoi, 2000) 195.
7Charles Jencks, “The Death of Modern Architecture,” The Language of Post-Modern Architecture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2002) 57
8Linda Hutcheon, Irony’s Edge (London: Routledge, 1994) 27.
10Jeffrey Sconce, “Irony, Nihilism, and the new American ‘smart’ film,” Screen 43:4 Winter 2001: 353.
11Alison Young, “Documenting September 11th: Trauma and the (Im)possibilty of Sincerity,” eds. The Rhetoric of Sincerity, Ernst van Alphen, Mieke Bal, and Carel Smith (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009) 99.
12Ibid. 104
13Lionel Trilling, Sincerity and Authenticity (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972) 4.
14This aesthetic is best represented by what has been termed the "quirky" film.
15375th Street does not exist; The highest street number in New York City is 263.
16James MacDowell, “Wes Anderson, tone, and the quirky sensibility,” New Review of Film and Television Studies 10:1 March 2012: 8.
17Ibid. 11
18Adam Kotsko, Awkwardness:An Essay (0 Books:Winchester, 2010) 1.
19E.H. Gombrich, The Preference for the Primitive (New York:Phaidon, 2006) 297.
20James MacDowell, “Notes on Quirky,” Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism I (2010) 5.
21 Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction : A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste,
Trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984) 6.
22Kent Jones, “The Royal Tenenbaums,” Criterion Collection: Current Jul. 8 2002. www.criterion.com/current/posts/214-the-royal-tenenbaums
23 Ibid.

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