Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Modern Pop-Culture Identity: 30 Seconds Myth and Mima

By James Curcio

In a world where we are expected to play a variety of conflicting roles, in which our lives are all interconnected, broadcast and dissected, we invariably develop situational identities. We are not one person, we are many people who go by the same name.

Though all of us deal with this in varying ways as we go through life, nowhere is it more of an issue than in pop culture. The long list of psychologically and emotionally fractured ex-teen stars is ample proof. “Who are you?” Mima asks of herself, in Perfect Blue. It is her first line in our ‘play within a play.’ It is a question that really seeks no answer, instead expressing the complete lack of a frame of reference.

Over a decade after its release some of the devices of this film may now seem old – websites pretending to portray the ‘real life’ of pop idols, obsessive paparazzi, frothing J-pop fans – however, many of the questions explored by Perfect Blue remain as vital as ever. In fact, it is possible they have become even more so as the line between reality and fiction continues to blur.

This is no new phenomenon. Consider 30 Seconds To Mars. The only good thing about their myth, or their "modern myth," are the wild gesticulation a sane mind has to go through to make sense of the explanations that have been given for the band's name. 
"[The band's name] actually comes from a thesis that the band found online that was written by a former Harvard professor. And one of the subsections of the thesis was titled 'thirty seconds to mars' and he goes on to talk about the exponential growth of technology that relates to humans and saying that we are quite literally thirty seconds to mars. What it means to us is, we thought it best described our music, in short."
Huh. So they're transhumanists, from the sound of it? That seems... improbable. If you take five seconds to listen to the music, and if the capillaries in your head don't pop and swell in a desperate attempt to seize hold of your brain and for the love of sanity STOP, it's hard to imagine they've evolved beyond human. Not that any of us have. Leto tried to explain it another way on their website, 

"For us, the name 30 Seconds To Mars has little to do with space, the universe or anything like that. It is a name that works on several different levels. Most importantly, it is a good representation of our sound. It's a phrase that is lyrical, suggestive, cinematic, and filled with immediacy. It has some sense of otherness to it. The concept of space is so overwhelming and all encompassing I doubt there is a song written that doesn't fall within it."

Maybe what they mean is that if you attain enough caffeine in your bloodstream, you feel like you've reached that singularity. In July 2010 the band won "Best International Band" at The Relentless Energy Drink Kerrang! Awards 2010. That's the name of an award now? Holy fuck. I think I should've won that award, too. 

I'm not trying to bash on Jared Leto's acting, or on the fact that "modern myth" hasn't evolved outside the manufactured pop alt culture it grew in, I just want to understand what it is about the boy band formula that still works after all these years. 

I know that'll get 30 Second To Mars fans railing. I know you have your Echelon, but look, the mechanism of attraction is the same. The thing that brought you to them is the same idol and icon worship that takes place in boy bands, it's just shooting a few years older and to a different demo, which includes boys that want to identify with their protagonist: the lead singer. 

How is it that the same things can be tweaked and recycled for so long, and still hold a grip? That, maybe, is the modern myth in their song: "To buy the truth, And sell a lie." As each generation grows, corporations get a better insight into what they react to at various stages of development. The marketing process can be refined. To the old and enfeebled, it seems like it is a dumbing down, but more likely, they are instead seeing themselves slowing down. The mechanism of desire and identification remains the same. 

30 Seconds To Mars is just another one of those bands, you know? It isn't 30 Seconds to singularity, though. It's 30 seconds of fame until their skin is flayed off and sewn over the next flavor of the moment. Except Jared has an exit strategy with a solid acting career, and maybe that's another little tidbit to pull from this: these days, even rock stars need an exit strategy and a backup job. It also helps to have a cult, I mean uh, street team. (Jared Leto said the following "Some people ask us if this is a cult, I say this,it's something special, it's not for everyone, it's only for those who understand.")

However, it is rare that we take a step back and think about how all of these things are symptoms of underlying identity crisis, a crisis that actually transcends most of our other sexual, cultural or racial boundaries. The teen idol, acting out the pre-scripted, cut-out role, and their screaming fans are united in their lack of intrinsic identity. The former plays to the expectant dreams of the latter, yet neither of them actually are that illusion. When it shatters, there is nothing there. Playing to the expectation of a lover is ultimately no different than playing to the hopes of the audience. It is all acted in the mirror.

Is she Mima the pop star? Mima the actress? Mima the shy girl who loves her tetra fish? Unless if pantomiming is all it takes, the answer is “no.” She is none of the above. What about Jared Leto the actor? Can we say the same of his Modern Myth? 

“Who are you?” Mima asks herself, never really finding an answer. Everyone in the film is united in their desire to be this perfect idol. This is the reality Perfect Blue gives us a glimpse of, although you see it anytime youturn on the television. Japanese or American, all of our cultures seem to meet at this crossroad: we are a planet of voyeurs.
(An extended version of this piece will be in The Immanence of Myth.) 

 Pre-order a copy of The Immanence of Myth, published by Weaponized in July 2011.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...