napoleon dynamite... and the representation of youth

i just spent an hour crafting a response to the movie that i finally watched after being told to do so by friends and occasional strangers for some time now... and then lost the entire post... idiot!

as i watched, i laughed, i winced, i shook my head, i pushed away images that crept into consciousness of certain individuals from my past, i shifted in my seat when i saw glimpses of something too familiar, and i remained awed by the power of the "lack of arm movement" maneuver used in television and movies to indicate some form of social awkwardness. (case in point: the seinfeld episode when raquel welch fails to swing her arms when she walks)

what i found it difficult to do was "break my eye open," like the character of claire tries to do in six feet under. like a good movie watcher, i brought to this experience the expected frames of normal and not, of awkward and not; i gave in to the moviemakers' manipulation of viewer discomfort for what seems out of the ordinary, which is often made manifest in laughter. deb, an eventual friend of napoleon's, makes and vends handicrafts that she makes herself, as well as takes "glamour shots" as an amateur photographer in her basement. pedro, newly arrived from mexico, becomes napoleon's "best friend" within minutes and brings to the cast an optimistic truthfulness which eventually earns him the title of class president (thanks, in part, to a solo dance number performed by napoleon).

for those who haven't seen the movie, i'm not spoiling it for you - definitely rent it. but as you do, consider these questions:
- how do we learn to see differently?
- what is the impact of youth-focused movies on the general public's perception of and response to youth?
- why do most of us understand this as a movie about overcoming social displacement?

would it be too bizarre to produce a movie in which deb, for example, is who she is and does what she does without feeling the urge to project a future as a photo journalist? that is, why do movies about youth either indict or romanticize youth? (with a few exceptions...) perhaps these are the clouded dichotomized memories adults are left with about their adolescence... i wonder what youth would/do say about their lives as they are happening...

if we encourage youth to be more reflective, aware, critical, and thoughtful in their lives as young people, will they grow up to make movies that continue the dichotomy? or will we have more texture in future articulations about youth?

1 comment:

Marc Lamont Hill said...

i'm so glad you saw the movie (hopefully i've earned some movie recommendation capital with you; there are a lot of people from whom i wouldnt take recommendations so it's a big deal to me). i've decided to make it the final text for my "youth cultures and urban education class". i was going to use "slackers" but decided against it after re-watching the film and reading your analysis.