Friday, April 26, 2013

Nipple Confusion & Young Adult: the Debate Of Art In Capitalism

This post is really out of place.
There are numerous issues this anti-capitalist film serves us, and it's the way it does it, not just the issues it decides to comment upon, that I have often wanted to site Young Adult in other posts but was unable because we had not yet discussed it. There is far more happening in this film than what we have time to delve into, however, Mavis (Charlize Theron) as a symbol of capitalism's self-destructive tendencies, and how art suffers in a capitalist environment, must be compared to Buddy's and Beth's world as a socialist haven for the average person. We'll start with Mavis.
"Everyone gets old. Not everyone grows up." Such a tagline directly targets capitalism as a form of government and, to me, once again reveals a "snob factor" among socialists (even though it's Mavis who is depicted as the snob in how she thinks of her hometown of Mercury and treats Sandra), that if you are really educated, if you are really mature and sophisticated, you want a European style socialism (consider, for example, the end of Ice Age: Continental Drift when Scrat goes to Atlantis; the inhabitants of Atlantis are the socialists because socialists promise a utopia, but it's Scrat's appetite for the nut that ruins the whole utopia for all; the same could be said of the baby shower for Beth, that it's Mavis's appetite for alcohol and what she can't have [Buddy] that ruins the party for everyone else). The dreams for self-fulfillment and realization capitalists like myself so often site as a reason for staying with capitalism instead of socialism are shown in Mavis' book she writes to be for teenagers, but not for adults, that only the young and immature dream about things that will make them the envy of others instead of a healthy part of a greater, stable community. One of the issues the film tackles is competition, that it not only a damaging feature of capitalism, but also bad for us as individuals. The green jacket Mavis wears in this poster is Buddy's from high school (like his abandoned jacket, Buddy put away competition in high school but Mavis clings to it) and--on the individual level--Mavis thinks she is "competing" with Beth for Buddy, not acknowledging the bond of marriage. Likewise, Matt's disability was caused by the high school athletes who beat him up: Matt wasn't beat up by the Young Democrats club, the Glee Club, the Physics Club, or Drama Club, he was beat up by athletes, competitors. Matt being unable to defend himself from a crippling attack is supposed to symbolize small businesses being beat-up by larger, more competitive corporations. On a social level, competition is bad because Mavis can't compete with better Young Adult books coming out so her series is being retired and what will she do now for a job?
What characteristics about Mavis not only link her with capitalism, but reveal her to be a poster child for the crusade against capitalism? She's "living her dream" and has supposedly achieved the "American Dream" but fails to achieve happiness with it. She's living in the "mini-apple," a clear shot at New York City with its wealth and glamor; we can say she has a "great life" by at least someone's standards because Sandra Freehauf (Matt's sister) tells Mavis towards the end as they sit in her kitchen drinking coffee, that she often thinks about what Mavis' life must be like and wants Mavis to take her with her back to Minneapolis. Mavis' alcoholism and inability to be in a relationship, as well as her anti-social explosion at the Slade baby shower party towards the end of the film, reveal her to be a "consumer" in a "consumer based society," and causes her to de-humanize others and herself, bringing hell to all.
The image of the liquor bottles and coffee cups in the image above emphasizes the consumer-brand name world created by consumerism and capitalism. Mavis drinking straight out of the 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke is an act of a baby sucking from its mother's nipple, breast feeding from the corporate world (the Coca-Cola company, which was also argued in Lawless) and, rather than nourish you, the products produced in a capitalist society makes you hungry for more, so appetites breed more appetites. Example: Mavis' relationships. We see her go out on a date and sleep with him the same night, then wake up in the morning and go after Buddy, then when that falls apart post-baby shower, she sleeps with Matt, then gets up and leaves without even saying good-bye to him, just using him to get her through the night. I actually agree with this point, that people who live by their appetites are enslaved to their appetites, but--unlike Young Adult--I don't blame capitalism for it, rather, human nature. I don't want to read something into a film that's not there, so this might be stretching the issue too far, however, I think we can see Mavis as a "black hole," consuming everything and giving nothing (when return except an output of radiation (which is deadly). The term is not used in the film, but it is used in the upcoming World War Z (to describe the zombie plague in Russia) and Disney has announced they are remaking their early 1980s film The Black Hole.
Beth Slade, Mavis' rival in the film, who has married Mavis' high school boyfriend Buddy and has now given birth to their first child, plays the drums in a band called Nipple Confusion, with other middle-aged women (in Mama, a decidedly anti-capitalist film, Annabell [Jessica Chastain] also belongs to a rock band for which she plays guitar). What role does Beth's band play in the film? It offers a counter-image of art to the audience against Mavis' role as an author. Mavis seems to have a great job writing books for teenagers, but as the film progresses, it's apparent that she can write those books--that no one wants to read anymore--because she herself is on that maturity level and only someone who wants the kind of things Mavis wants, and behaves as she does, would want to be a part of the consumer society/capitalist system that makes all that possible. So the name of the band Nipple Confusion refers to how America doesn't know which woman is its mother (which "motherland" is the real, nurturing mother-image): Mavis who had the miscarriage, or Beth who has successfully delivered the child and is happily married, and we see this exact dilemma presented in Looper (Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Bruce Willis); but there is far more to it than this.    
The film really draws a battle line when Mavis and Buddy meet at a bar and Buddy reveals what he has done: he works at a local company and has lunch with his dad everyday. To Mavis, this smacks of mediocrity and a failure to achieve anything, and cleverly, the film demonstrates how capitalism breeds snobbery, not just in how we are forced to compare Mavis' successful but empty lifestyle to Buddy's simple but fulfilling career and family life, but also that Mavis sleeps around and is trying to "wreck a home" whereas Buddy and Beth are the picture of a happy, strong family; never mind that this contradicts the real-world liberal agenda of gay marriage, feminist style sexuality and abortion; the image the film wants to paint in the viewer's mind is that capitalism breeds appetites to sustain itself, and those self-perpetuating appetites are at odds with marriage (Mavis is divorced), having a solid relationship with one's parents (Mavis wasn't even going to call her parents but Buddy has lunch with his dad everyday) and making a family for one's own through children (Mavis miscarried). Al this is true on an inter-personal level with the character of Mavis, but also on a political level with what Mavis symbolizes: capitalism (Mavis) is a self-destructive lifestyle always crashing (at the baby shower and her crashing her mini-Cooper) and capitalism doesn't let you fulfill your dreams, it turns you into a walking nightmare that separates the present from the past (Mavis' bad relationship with her parents) and is sterile and doesn't create a future (Mavis' miscarriage).  Mavis ordering the same beer Buddy drank when they were young reveals how, in capitalism, the theory is that an appetite stays with you all your life, you don't grow out of it, you just become more enslaved to it, as with Mavis drinking straight out of the 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke like an infant.
Nipple Confusion illustrates how Americans don't know which "mother" it should be nourished by: Mavis the destroyer or Beth the cool, loving, happy wife of Buddy and mother of a new daughter. Further, the women of Nipple Confusion are the type of women socialism wants to appeal to: a single mom, a stay-at-home wife, women who aren't super-models and aren't particularly talented, but--when there is no competition and there is not an economy based on "market demand,"--you, too, can fulfill your dream of being a drummer in a band because there are no agents or greedy executives (like Mavis' boss who keeps calling her) using you and your talents to make their living, your natural talent can be for you, naturally. That's how art is meant to be, Young Adult argues, not a pile of heavily-discounted books in a store no one wants to read to encourage them to become a bad person (like Mavis).
Watching Mavis get ready effectively communicates how "two-faced" capitalism is: in wanting to put on "our best face" we cover up who we really are (but that doesn't matter, socialists argue, because capitalism is so corrupt, that evil id going to come through, anyway, regardless of how expensive the clothes, how many hair pieces you wear, or how much foundation you put on). Mavis wanting to look her best builds up the characterization of her as a snob because both Beth and Sandra forgo wearing make-up (or at least not as much as Mavis does) so they appear as the natural women who "look better" than Charlize Theron because they are better people on the inside.
This is the power of a well-constructed symbol: not only is this character (Mavis) a walking disaster, but all that contributes to her and sustains her self-destructive behavior is to blame for who and what she is (or isn't). The KenTacoHut in the film, again, sustains and builds upon the image of Mavis we have all ready unconsciously constructed: capitalism is for pigs. There is not only the image of Mavis going and ordering a ton of food--a graphic depiction of consumers consuming way too much--but also the way capitalism works: the KenTacoHut not only maximizes profits by having three restaurants together sharing overhead costs, but increases the likelihood that people like Mavis will eat far more there than they would if the restaurants were separate. Further, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Taco Bell and Pizza Hut are brand names; if companies weren't so competitive in forcing their brand name on us, we wouldn't have palaces of consumerism like KenTacoHuts, we would have a lack of brand names, like in Argo when they eat fast food from a restaurant that doesn't have its logo on the bag; we could, instead have cans with plain yellow labels at the mega-store like what we see in The Host.
In at least a general way, we can see Mavis as a Dorothy figure and Young Adult based on The Wizard Of Oz. Like Dorothy putting Toto in a basket and taking him with her, so Mavis puts her little dog in her bag and takes it with her; like Dorothy dreaming of what is over the rainbow, Mavis dreamed of life in the "mini-apple," but seeing how disappointing it is, she returns home like Dorothy but, unlike Dorothy, she's none the wiser. So, what does Mavis' little dog symbolize? Like the little dog in Seven Psychopaths, this little dog is loyalty or fidelity. Even as Mavis wants Buddy to be unfaithful to Beth, the little dog symbolizes us--the viewers-- because we are supported by the upper-class who feeds us (like in the opening scene when she's feeding her dog and she gets some of the food on her finger and leads the dog outside so she doesn't have to be bothered by it, that is how--the film argues--capitalists who aren't a part of the 1% like myself, are "lead" and eating out of the hand of the upper-class).  We can't argue with the contradiction, however, that while Mavis has a dog, it's a "Hello Kitty" shirt she wears, not a Lassie or a Rin-Tin-Tin shirt, etc. We can, however, also include Matt in this category because--like Mavis--he is a consumer and--like her little dog--he follows her around and does whatever she says. Young Adult wants to depict all consumers and capitalists as being self-destructive, abusive, manipulative people like Mavis because it is capitalism that does it to us (it can't claim it's human nature because socialism can't solve for that, so, get rid of capitalism and you get rid of the problem). While we sympathize with Matt on one level and recognize him as a victim, Matt telling Mavis, "Guys like me are born loving women like you," the crippleness of his character becomes self-inflicted because he willingly allies himself to someone who, herself, is crippled through self-inflicted trauma (again, anyone identifying themselves with capitalism, like myself, has to identify themselves with Matt at this point in the film--according to Young Adult, because the upper-class is going to love us and use us the same way we know Mavis is going to use Matt).
There has been a trend I am just picking up on, revealing the confusion over whether England is still capitalist or socialist economy (and civilian protest marches over entitlement programs being cut due to lack of funds over the years has certainly fueled the perception over England's socialist identity). In Oblivion, Red 2, GI Joe Retaliation and possibly Captain America: the Winter Soldier, Star Trek Into Darkness and Thor the Dark World, arguments might be made regarding the degree that England's socialism hurts the United States; why bring that up here? At the end of the final installment of her book she's writing, Mavis has her young heroine setting off to attend college at Oxford in England. Does Mavis construct that ending because Oxford is prestigous and capitalists want to be the envy of others, and England is a great place to learn how to be a capitalist, or has Mavis actually given her character more sense than she has (according to Young Adult) and set her character off on a "new education" to become a socialist rather than remaining a capitalist? It's an ambiguous ending, however, it appears to be a conflict more and more films are picking up since we keep witnessing the "destruction of London" in movies (what is it that has destroyed London or threatens to destroy London?). 
Whereas Mavis' silk dress is stained and ruined--it can't be cleaned up (and this scene is meant to remind us of the "crash" of 2008)--Beth wears green, the sign of new life, birth and hope; as Mavis descends into a self-pitying black hole of destruction in this scene, the garage door opens and Buddy is "banging the drum" of Beth's new drum set, i.e., "beating the drums" of revolution and encouraging us to start marching to the beat of a new drum. 
In conclusion, we haven't touched on nearly everything the film has to offer us, but it serves us up much food for thought--in contrast to the KenTacoHut--in hopes any capitalists will grow out of their "young adult" status into a full adult and abandon a system breeding childish behavior as opposed to children. What the film does and says, it communicates creatively--regardless of my personal disagreement with its message--and I think these are issues we will only see more of, on both sides of the debate.
Eat Your Art Out,
The Fine Art Diner  
Mavis in on the phone and as Matt talks to her, he opens a new bottle of Ranch dressing even though--as his sister Sandra in the background alerts him and us--there is one all ready open. Why? Why waste time on this in the narrative? Because it reveals Matt to be a consumer just as Mavis is revealed to be a total fake to him later in the movie (when they are both naked); in other words, consumerism is wasteful. Look at what is hanging up on the wall over Matt's right shoulder: an owl. Why? Owls are predators, and we see the owl as Matt talks to Mavis, correlating how Matt is willing prey to Mavis' predatory appetites, further substantiated by Matt's hobby of distilling alcohol: it demonstrates how Matt is a snob in preferring his quality brew to everyday alcohol and how his Star Wars juice is just going to be "guzzled" by people like Mavis. Matt is further constructed as a "bad character" in how he treats Mavis' cousin in the wheelchair, Mike: Matt creating his massive-bodied action figures illustrates Matt's bad self-image of himself in projecting what he wishes he could be instead of taking Mike as a role model for himself. Young Adult wants to communicate this to us the audience in our own self-image we want to project and what we want to make of ourselves: becoming like Mavis or Beth, becoming like Mike who accepts his limitations or like Matt who ignores them and daydreams of being what he will never become (like most of us not getting to fulfill our dreams).