New things that are already things (or, Using algebra to explain things)

I can remember, during my first year of college, standing in line for a movie with a friend. It was at a big multiplex in Yonkers, New York and the place had an air-conditioned, mass-appeal feeling to it that made me feel vaguely uneasy. Because I was eighteen and considered myself a writer in the slightly haughty way an eighteen-year-old can, I thought that an awesome way to “freak out” all the “mainstream” people standing in line with me would be to show an adult movie instead of whatever they had paid to see. (This was a year or two before Fight Club used a similar idea. Also, in case I’m not conveying the silliness of my college-freshman attitude, the movie we were lined up to see was either The Matrix or 10 Things I Hate about You. The new Harmony Korine flick it was not.)

I liked this idea so much I verbalized it to my friend, and as he looked at me and considered how to respond, I went further. I suggested that it would actually be a really awesome avant-garde thing to do, to bring people together at a theater and show an adult film and have people just, like, respond to it. They could laugh, or be uncomfortable about their arousal, perhaps they’d find their political convictions challenged by their response at the bodily level.

I was picking up steam with this, trying to think through the subversive aspects of rendering a private and taboo genre public, re-contextualizing what was considered a shameful and—when my friend asked, “You mean like at a porn theater?”

I briefly struggled against this simple summary—No, because the films would be shown at an art house, and people would get it, man—but then gave it up. We were able, still standing in line, to see the brief sad trajectory of my avant-garde movie theater, the shift of its clientele from beret-wearing intellectuals to raincoat-wearing sad sacks who’d prefer to sit in a row by themselves. “Oh,” I said by way of concession, “I guess that already exists. And it’s terrible.”

Read the rest of this entry »