NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (20)
December 7, 2021
One in a series of 25 enthusiastic posts, contributed by 25 HILOBROW friends and regulars, on the topic of (one of) their nerdy obsessions.
No flick prods the absurdist heart of a disenfranchised youth quite like Repo Man (1984), written/directed by Alex Cox, starring Emilio Estevez and Harry Dean Stanton. Estevez plays a punk youth named Otto who’s conscripted by repo men; his repo work eventually hurls him towards an unnaturally (and literally) ‘hot’ car with the bodies of four aliens in the trunk.
Set amidst an American Shakespearean nightmare of industrial ruins, Otto is disillusioned with his world — there’s little prospect of anything beyond chickenfeed jobs. We see him drinking alone on the train tracks in the early dawn, then belting out Black Flag’s TV Blues. Otto searches the classifieds with his gawky pal, naming off ‘asbestos worker’ and ‘french fry worker’ in disbelief. The single moment of sentiment he shares is a nightmare in which he and the same pal are working in some shithole motel in Miami as 65-year-old bellhops. Televangelists have swindled pretty much all they can from Otto’s future, a murmuring hypno-glow that transfixes his parents; “I don’t want your money, because God wants your money!”
It’s all played to the drumbeat of ‘where there’s banality, there’s something incredulous’. This peaks with the counterattack to the marketing barrage that’s commonplace in the States. “C’mon let’s go get a drink,” says Bud (Stanton) then cuts to him slamming down a sixer of cans that simply say ‘drink’ in blue letters on a white label. We see Otto glumly stock ‘corn flakes’ in the opening, ‘commando cigarettes’ in a glove compartment, ‘beer’ and ‘food’ in a fridge, ‘tasteeos’ and ‘London dry gin’ on liquor store shelves. It shocked me as a kid; now it’s a relief from the onslaught which demonstrates how vapid consumerism is. Then we have the punks who want a baby because ‘everybody does it’, the knitting cop, the indistinguishable CIA suits with uniform blonde hair and reflective shades. The macho defense of John Wayne’s alleged homoeroticism: “a lotta straight guys watch their buddies fuck — God knows I do”. These characters are living shitting American paradoxes (who are you? what are you doing in the world?) while the most reflective/authentic ones seem to win at the end.
Coupled with the attack on consumerism is the equally American ethic of wantonly throwing shit away — the Virgin Mary, bundles of cash, and wisdom in the forms of advice and books on a pyre. Eating and shitting.
Over almost forty years since its release, I don’t know of another film that can articulate my generation’s blues, morbid rage, grief, truly whatever *you* feel grappling with the abject absurdity. Or whatever you call the prospect of the future. However doom-pilled this obsession of mine might seem, I think black humor’s beauty is in making light of something dreadful. I’ll speak for myself — as soon as a subject is made light, it becomes easier to contemplate. Light enough to make a car take flight.
NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM: INTRODUCTION by Peggy Nelson | Andrew Sempere on NERDING | Blanca Rego on RAIN | Lucy Sante on PSEUDO-AMERICAN PSEUDONYMS OF FRENCH PULP WRITERS DURING WWII | Heather Cole on AMERICAN GIRL | Nicholas Rombes on OLD GEOLOGY SURVEY BOOKS WITH MAP INSERTS | Susan Roe on TIME | Mark Kingwell on SCALE MODELS | Jessamyn West on THE POST OFFICE | Josh Glenn on ARDUIN | Vanessa Berry on NEWSAGENCY AESTHETICS | Toby Ferris on BRITISH/EALING WW2 FILMS | Annie Nocenti on MOSS | Adam McGovern on JOAN SEMMEL | Gabriela Pedranti on ILLUSTRATED BOOKS | Miranda Mellis on DOUBT | Tom Nealon on PAGE EDGES | Mandy Keifetz on KLINGON CONFIDENTIAL (NOVEL EXCERPT) | Eric Weisbard on SUMMATIONS | Kio Stark on LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CLASSIFICATION CODES | Charlie Mitchell on REPO MAN | James Parker on SEINFELD | Heather Kapplow on NOTHING | Russell Bennetts on MODE 7 | Vijay Parthasarathy on VIRTUAL TRAVEL | Marc Weidenbaum on NERD PROXIMITY.
TEEN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2023): ANDY GIBB | VALERIE BERTINELLI | KIM WILDE | ARLO GUTHRIE | CHERYL TIEGS | & 20 other heartthrobs from our adolescences. DOLLY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2023): WE FOUND IT | TOGETHER AGAIN | SUNDAY MORNIN’ COMIN’ DOWN | BAD CASE OF THE BLUES | FANCY | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) Country records. KILL YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2022): LT. TASHA YAR | JOYCE SUMMERS | COL. HENRY BLAKE | MRS. LANDINGHAM | ALEX KAMAL | & 20 other TV deaths. BLURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2022): LEFT-CORNER BRICK | JOY IS RESISTANCE | THE FUTURE IS PASSÉ | EVERY MINUTE AN OCEAN | SHUT UP, HE EXPLAINED | & 20 other apothegms to live by. KOJAK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2022): ARK II | WKRP IN CINCINNATI | BUCK ROGERS | THE WHITE SHADOW | POLICE WOMAN | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) TV shows. KICK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2022): KUILL | CATO | COSMO | TRIXIE | VOLSTAGG | & 20 other sidekicks. NERD YOUR ENTHUSIASM (4Q2021): TIME | THE POST OFFICE | ARDUIN | DOUBT | SUMMATIONS | & 20 other nerdy passions. SWERVE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (3Q2021): WARHOL’S WALT WHITMAN | 70, GIRLS, 70 | TYRAEL’S MIGHT | SHIRATO SANPEI | THE LEON SUITES | & 20 other never-realized cultural productions. FIVE-O YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2Q2021): DARK SHADOWS | MANNIX | GET SMART | THE ADDAMS FAMILY | I DREAM OF JEANNIE | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) TV shows. FERB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (1Q2021): STEVEN UNIVERSE | TOP CAT | REN & STIMPY | SHE-RA AND THE PRINCESSES OF POWER | DRAGON BALL Z | & 20 other animated series. CARBONA YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2020): “Sex Bomb” | “Going Underground” | “Soft South Africans” | “Typical Girls” | “Human Fly” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) punk singles. KLAATU YOU (2020 weekly): ZARDOZ | METROPOLIS | DARK STAR | SINS OF THE FLESHAPOIDS | SOLARIS | & dozens of other pre-STAR WARS sci-fi movies. CONVOY YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2019): THE TAKING OF PELHAM ONE TWO THREE | ROLLERBALL | BLACK SUNDAY | SORCERER | STRAIGHT TIME | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) action movies. SERIOCOMIC (2019 weekly): LITTLE LULU | VIZ | MARSUPILAMI | ERNIE POOK’S COMEEK | HELLBOY | & dozens of other comics. TUBE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2018): LOONEY TUNES | THREE STOOGES | THE AVENGERS | ROCKY & BULLWINKLE | THE TWILIGHT ZONE | & 20 other Fifties (1954–1963) TV shows. WOWEE ZOWEE (2018 weekly): UNISEX | UNDER THE PINK | DUMMY | AMOR PROHIBIDO | HIPS AND MAKERS | & dozens of other Nineties (1994–2003) albums. KLUTE YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2017): THE KILLERS | BANDE À PART (BAND OF OUTSIDERS) | ALPHAVILLE | HARPER | BLOW-UP | & 20 other Sixties (1964–1973) neo-noir movies. #SQUADGOALS (2017 weekly): THE WILD BUNCH | BOWIE’S BAND | THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | VI ÄR BÄST! & dozens of other squads. GROK MY ENTHUSIASM (2016 weekly): THE THEORY AND PRACTICE OF LUNCH | WEEKEND | MILLION YEAR PICNIC | LA BARONNE EMILE D’ERLANGER | THE SURVIVAL SAMPLER | & dozens more one-off enthusiasms. QUIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2016): “Tainted Love” | “Metal” | “Frankie Teardrop” | “Savoir Faire” | “Broken English” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) new wave singles. CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): DARKER THAN YOU THINK | THE SWORD IN THE STONE | OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | THIEVES’ HOUSE | QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | & 20 other Thirties (1934–1943) fantasy novels. KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | & 20 other typefaces. HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | & 20 other Seventies (1974–1983) hip-hop songs. KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | & 20 other Captain Kirk scenes. KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | & 20 other Jack Kirby panels.
What do you think?
“Repo Man” is one of my favorite films; I must’ve watched it five times in theatres the year it came out.
FYI the generically-named products aren’t something made up for the film, rather a parodic exaggeration of the (brief?) “generic products” trend of the mid-80s. There really were, at least in California, products on store shelves with plain labels saying just PAPER TOWELS or BEANS, in the same color scheme and font as in the movie. They were cheaper due to lower marketing/packaging costs, and familiar to punks, college students like me, and doubtless aspiring filmmakers. (Eventually these evolved into the store brands we know today, like Costco’s Kirkland. I guess consumers were more comfortable with some kind of branding.)
See also: Flipper’s album “Generic Flipper”, and PiL’s “Album”.
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