Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Less Than Zero (1)



Yeah, I know that I should have used "Pretty in Pink" as my tagline for this post, since the inimitable Steff McKee is the one looking askance over this shit like I've just thrown up in his parents' bed after I passed out there during one his killer parties and eeeeee! I can't believe Steff McKee even knows who I am and he was totally going to kiss me and the whole room was spinning and it was so romantic but then I puked and passed out because the room was actually spinning from me drinking all of Steff's dad's single malt scotch and he is so mad at me. I hear his parents are out of town again this weekend and I know he is having another party but I don't think I should go but I really need to get my sister's sweater back. She doesn't even know I borrowed it!

Whoa! Peoples, I am so sorry. I channelled someone there, and I'm pretty sure it wasn't anyone with whom I'm remotely acqainted. There's something about a little James Spader talk that gets me crazy, though, y'all. That muthafucka does something to me that can't be explained (although I am going to attempt to), and furthermore, I'm not the only black woman feeling this particular love jones. If my internet researches point reliably to anything, it's that James Spader has gotten some sisters twisted. The only other white man we can all agree on is... well, there isn't another one. One sister's Brad Pitt is another sister's Hugh Jackman is another sister's Keanu Reeves. And Keanu is biracial!

Anyway, the following represents some very preliminary thoughts I've been thinking about yer man there, James Spader. Because he periodically reappears on the cultural radar and gets people excited; because I still can't quite put my finger on why I love him so much (although I am going to attempt to); and because he seems to exist in a rather specific sort of space in the collective psyche. What is that space? I'm going to tell you (at least, I am going to attempt to).

Fametracker, an online icon exposition-factory, has a regular feature called "The Galaxy of Fame," in which an eternally youthful Harrison Ford shines bright as the most heavenly body in a universe of slightly less dazzling celestial celebrities. In the scheme offered by this site and subscribed to by a large online audience, Harrison Ford embodies and owns the perfect amount of fame. He resides in a space carved seemingly especially for him. Everyone seems to know and like him; his appeal is inter-generational and trans-cultural; he can unironically appeal to those for whom entertainment is to be enjoyed sincerely and at face value, but at the same time, his participation in some of the most iconic films to have been made allows him to be safely enjoyed by hipsters and indie-elites alike. Everyone can cop to liking Indiana Jones. And Han Solo? Forget about it. No one is going to talk shit about Han Solo. There are few actors – and perhaps, Fametracker’s writers are correct, and there are no other actors – with Ford’s broad appeal and hipster cred. Yeah, the last few years, with their peeks at his no longer taut and tanned torso (What Lies Beneath) and oddly-discomforting attempts to catch a trend 20 years after it made any sense (getting his ears pierced) or dating the inexplicable Calista Flockhart – ok, Indy may be losing a few lumens of star power. Of course, this is an age in which Tom Cruise – Tom Cruise! – can see his stock diminish so significantly* that no one can remember anything he did before he started dancing on folks’ furniture and impregnating the Homecoming queen and selling Flintstones vitamins. Man, we never thought we would see the day when Tom Cruise would ever not be on the ascendant, getting more and more famous until he was recognized as some kind of national monument and you had to reserve a spot months in advance just to look at a big rock in South Dakota that had been dynamited to look like him.

Well, I’m not going to argue that Harrison Ford shouldn't be the sun in the Galaxy of Fame. But I want to temporarily place someone else in that position, if only to illustrate something about how fame changes, and fame changes you, even if you’re not the one who’s famous. For me, the sun in that galaxy of fame has always been, and always will be, James Spader. And if Jimmy Spader is the sun, then I’m one of those rogue planets that you occasionally hear about when you accidentally click on the “Science” tab on cnn.com. I’m in a hypothetical adjoining universe. I am a microscopic black body fragment orbiting a comet in the farthest edge of a singularity in an alternate space time continuum.

In the galaxy of fame, as in the galaxy of life, there is no one further from me and my life than James Spader. At least, that’s how it was. And that’s why I was so obsessed with him.

When I first saw Pretty in Pink, in which Spader plays the infinitely-more-interesting-than-Andrew-McCarthy Steff McKee, I think I blacked out everything but him and his white linen-suited persona from my mind. It was not until a re-viewing a few years ago that I remembered that Harry Dean Stanton, Annie Potts, and Jon Cryer had even been in that movie. Something crystallized when I saw Steff McKee – I think I was probably about 10 at the time, and at my most awkward, ugly, socially-maladjusted best by then—and I crushed on him in the way that became my trademark. Frozen stills of the movie would periodically pop into my mind, and while I thought that this was because Spader was so handsome, a part of me realized that I didn't actually find him all that good-looking. I didn’t want to have Spader, I wanted to be Spader. I didn’t necessarily want to be white and male, but I wanted all the privileges that went along with it. And in my mind, if you had to be white, then you had to be a man, too. That was the only way it made any sense. White women [in the John Hughes film universe] held absolutely no interest for me. Andie (Molly Ringwald) was poor, marginally more intelligent than the rest of her schoolmates, but prone to torment and mockery and damn – I had enough of that shit myself. Plus, who wants to be the girl who ends up with Andrew McCarthy? In my mind, on some very basic level, I think I thought that that was what most white women wanted: some version of Andrew McCarthy. I’ve since discovered that this is not at all the case, but hey, I was 10. My understanding of race/gender politics was in its infancy. All I knew was, better to be one of the guys than to be the girl. And best of all to be the guy who did the choosing, who had the parties, who existed in a morally bankrupt mansion of acerbic rejoinders and indifferent glances. Steff McKee skipped class, smoked in the hallways (true, he smoked what appeared to be Benson& Hedges 100s, which did kind of interfere with the whole persona he had cultivated) and managed to be the most interesting and memorable thing about a movie I otherwise care little for.

James Spader exists in a rarefied atmosphere of pure, abstract, solipsistic thought. He elevates introspection to a virtue, and in so doing, transforms it into its exact opposite. In thinking about themselves so much, to the exclusion of all else, his characters achieve a kind of Zen inversion whereby they seem to be focused completely outward. Example: in Pretty in Pink, it is only because he is so selfishly attached to conquering Andie that he becomes so obsessed with who she is, who she thinks she is, why she refuses him, and so on, ad nauseaum. Because his characters are so self-assured, they do not allow for any uncertainty on the part of the viewer. His characters demand an instantaneous chrystallizing of identity and a refusal to move beyond that space. He is what he is/ they are what they are/ you are what you are. It’s arrogance and narcissism as emotional maturity. This is sounding like some kind of Fountainhead malarkey, but really – James Spader makes it interesting to be self-absorbed. Other people don’t do it as well.


Anyway, that's enough for now. Stay tuned to this space, when I'll be moving further into this discussion of Spaders' Army:

Rip in Less Than Zero
JG Ballard in Crash
Nick in Supernova
Edward Whatshisname in Secretary
as well as some of the roles in which the Spadonics started, interestingly, to diminish: Stargate/The Practice/White Palace

The following is taken from something I found online. I'll post the link as soon as I find it.
*
Tom Cruise's popularity has dropped significantly in the last few months, according to the latest Genius StarPower report. By all measures, the plunge (among 13 to 49 year-olds) is steep for a celebrity of his magnitude:

his StarPower ranking plummeted from 12th to 50th
he went from the 11th most liked celebrity to the 197th
his fan base (those who like or like him a lot) shrank from 33% to 25%
he ranks among the top 5 most controversial actors (those who are heavily disliked and liked), along with David Spade, Tom Green, Pauly Shore and Ashton Kutcher.
The drop follows Cruise's controversial publicity tour for the release of "War Of The Worlds" and his engagement to actress Katie Holmes. The above figures are from the Genius StarPower Summer 2005 report (covering the six months to July 1, 2005) and the Spring 2005 report (covering the six months to April 1, 2005).

7 comments:

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Mary Manning said...

A moment of silence for your recognition of James Spader baby!!!!!

Broccoli said...

I'm having deja vu. I swear we talked about Tom Cruise's waning popularity in a dream or something.

Adams said...

Did we also talk about how that nut fired his sister as his publicist?! Man, I got no use for a non-crazy Tooth Cruise. Any publicist who reins him in is doing the world a disservice, I say.

Jenhen said...

Forgot to mention...I once saw James Spader at an Industrial Shoe Warehouse in the Valley browsing discount dress shoes. Oh how the mighty have fallen.

Soon, Broc, you too will have stories like this.

Adams said...

Don't hate, JH. Congratulate the man on his savvy financial acumen.