“What came first, the music or the misery? People worry about kids playing with guns, or watching violent videos, that some sort of culture of violence will take them over. Nobody worries about kids listening to thousands, literally thousands of songs about heartbreak, rejection, pain, misery and loss. Did I listen to pop music because I was miserable? Or was I miserable because I listened to pop music? “ – Rob, in the movie High Fidelity (2000)
“John Dillinger was killed behind that theater in a hail of FBI gunfire. And do you know who tipped them off? His fucking girlfriend. All he wanted to do was go to the movies. “ – the character Rob, again.
Our trusts and distrusts, confidences and lack thereof, may reflect deeper anxieties, of which the surface distrusts are mere prolongations.
What kind of anxieties? Oh, I don’t know, like say about acceptance, loyalty, abandonment..
So there I was, chilling out with my friend A. F., over at his 2nd floor Cheviot flat, several weeks ago, checking out his library. He generously passed a few books my way, a bit of Schopenhauer, some Bukowski, and a few other tidbits. Of course he was keeping some treasures, some really cool volumes of Henry Rollins’ poetry, all sorts of philosophy books, and a couple of beautifully and artfully bound limited editions of Crowley. My tolerance for the “great beast’ wanes increasingly the older I get. The books themselves were beauts, works of art, in any case.
Later he demonstrated his projector over in the living room, the thing’s a beast, acquired under rather favorable conditions from a friend, whose department evidently didn’t need it. One of those kinds of projectors whose bulbs alone will set you back several Benjamin’s. Firing it up, he decided to pop in the DVD du noir; High Fidelity.
John Cusack’s character, Rob, in High Fidelity is very sympathetic because he illustrates many ambiguities, perceptions, mis-perceptions, and anxieties experienced by many men in the 1990’s and 2000s.
That and it’s a great nostalgia trip.
A. F. and I are close enough of age to both fit in the bachelor generation the film represents. His romantic experiences exceed my past modest ‘lil dating history, in some ways both of our romantic lives and misadventures resonate with the main character’s. In fact, watching the movie, I really felt like High Fidelity, as a sort of pop culture watermark, a bit reflects the romantic and career ambiguities and frustrations of many people from the tail-end of Generation X, front end of Generation Y – both men and women.
Watching the movie it brought back 90’s Alt Culture, at its terminal viable stage, and echoes of the sort of well-meaning but narcissistic self-involvement and self-definition by the fringe edge of popular artistic artifacts we consume, and also the intense emotional role that mass consumed music, segregated into narrow genres and thus reflecting idealized lifestyle options and norms, emotionally affects us as listeners and consumers, defining but also reflecting our moods, dreams, sorrows, and joys.
It all really set me wondering, about the current sea of marital, relationship, and sexual situations and options, both on the fringes and the core of young adult North American culture. What really struck my mind is the notion of “commitment” – but commitment beyond just relationships; romantic, erotic, and marital , but commitment towards life itself.
“I can see now I never really committed to Laura. I always had one foot out the door, and that prevented me from doing a lot of things, like thinking about my future and… I guess it made more sense to commit to nothing, keep my options open. And that’s suicide. By tiny, tiny increments..”
Perhaps what sometimes defines the last two generations, not totally but in a large part, is a sort of indefinite attitude towards commitments. The strength varies from person to person
Keeping options open; leaving one foot dangling out the door, to many people, increasingly feels like a sensible strategy. This is by degrees, but options about and seem glorified.
Commitment; it seems a truism that both women and men today are highly “commitment phobic”, in both cases men and women alike (but increasingly men) can put the question “commitment to what? What’s the upside for me?”
This indefinite attitude towards romantic commitments becomes more diffuse, what it lacks in concentration it makes up for in sheer omnipresence, like a scent barely noticeable in the hall, until you stoop, and pay close attention, only to realize it’s pervaded the entire house.
What was once a formal courtship and dating culture became an increasingly a casual dating culture, with side hookups and pickups as a hip fringe, this increasingly segues into a more casual hookup and pickup culture where actual dating itself is no longer the norm but more of an exception, with anything resembling even a semi-formal commitment is often deferred until well into one’s late 20’s or even 30s’.
When this observation is made, people may feel beat up on – and why not, because for many there’s the perception that what remains to commit to seems so uninspiring that no one sane would bother committing to it.
Observing the zeitgeist, it seems that for many people formal romantic and erotic commitments appear to come with far more downsides than upsides. Particularly in a declining economy. This isn’t the case for everyone, but many people perceive it’s the case for them, and indeed arguably depending on how you “do the math” marriage or informal common law, shack up, cohabiting, or even extended exclusive long term commitments are perceived as a bum deal for a growing minority of young men, and it’s possible soon a majority.
I notice many guys increasingly just feel pretty much weeded out from the grand ‘ol reproductive sweepstakes anyway, both guys and gals lacking insight into each others motives needs and yearnings and thus finding it harder to form meaningful connections.
I notice this particularly among female friends, particularly those under 27 who seem to often have almost no idea about the fears, anxieties, or motives of the men they desire and date. A similar ignorance exists among many males, but traditionally women possessed greater social intelligence – it is as if a large gap between the genders erected itself and ersatz advice dolled out in magazines and the media, movies and TV, fail to elucidate.
By the very nature of a sexual and marital marketplace. Their options already limited, when they do come across an underwhelming partner, one reasons why buy the cow, and go into compounding debt when one can at least borrow a cup of milk now and then for free? That and substitutes increasingly exist, from the hassles of interpersonal relations, there’s always digital escapes.
Gals decry this though a similar dynamic can be observed with them. Many women feel a similar way about such commitments, for different reasons. In both cases there’s often more of a desire to sample various wares, to pick and taste and explore options for longer before settling down, if settling down at all. The phrase settling down itself has an increasingly negative Also .
My observations are that the perceived downsides of formal commitment, on the face, often seem greater for Joe Average man – White, Black, and particularly (from my observation) Asian. But I don’t deny that both men and women seem to be looking at, increasingly, slim pickings.
These are truisms , everyone complains about romantic and erotic commitment phobia, but I think all of this reflects a general malaise and discomfort with larger commitments – educationally, work and career wise, interpersonal. And not for a bad reason, it really can appear, to many people at large, that the options out there may mutually suck, so why not hedge your bets?
But I wonder if a lifetime of keeping our options open is a lifetime wasted, a lifetime committed to a fantasy that may get old because the fantasy doesn’t really exist, except in an eternal romantic comedy..
So my take on High Fidelity, it’s possible to see ours as a generation of men and women who have extreme difficulty fully, and deeply, committing to most things, except through proxies for more substantive human commitments, a sublimated commitment phobia, but not as a vice perhaps, rather as an adaptation to a rapidly changing social landscape in which options increase in breadth, but decrease in depth of possible satisfaction.
I think part of this might be an attenuation of adulthood, a prolongation of many aspects of adolescence well beyond our late 20s – by our late 30s many of us suddenly begin to “get it” This is not just a male factor but a female one as well, though what disguises it is the apparent adoption of “adult” work and education roles earlier in life for middle and upper middle class women, over men. But under the surface the same in kind (beyond surface manifestation) of delayed emotional maturation in matters of commitment exist.
None of this am I judging, only observing. When I say I mean both guys and girls, everyone can see the commitment phobia as a basic condition in men because it’s highlighted more in general social and media discourse, and it’s more outwardly obvious. But a general squirlishness can be seen in both. Maybe female squirlishness in our generation is aided and abetted by initial male squirlishness. But maybe this is in reverse, maybe in both cases, anyway, there are just more options available and less forced hard life experience to reflect on.
So in both cases, I wonder, men and women have far too many options to sanely navigate in our culture and society, these options may not be great ones, or even perceivable, but they exist and on some level reflect on the general consciousness. With these options we are not healthier, we are not happier, but we simply amuse ourselves more.
So I wonder if the real problem is a lack of commitment to ourselves and to reality itself. The murder of our other commitments stems from that.
Once we are able to commit to ourselves, and to the reality we find ourselves in, those inauthentic options may seem less substantial and the few authentic ones, if we even see any in the first place, become more clear and pressing.
And ennui is slain even if by a dull and pitted blade.