06 September 2004

Team America

You have likely seen ads for Team America, the forthcoming action-movie parody made by Matt Stone and Trey Parker, the South Park guys. There's a fascinating New York Times article about them making the film.
Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone got the idea for Team America while watching an obscure cable channel. The British 1970's puppet-action show about super-agents, The Thunderbirds, came on. (Universal just released a live-action, feature film version of the series, which bombed.) They liked the look of the show, but thought it was too boring.

As a lark, they bought the DVD and dubbed three minutes of their own dialogue over the soundtrack, then showed it to the producer Scott Rudin. The project quickly got a green light at Paramount.
Mr. Parker and Mr. Stone approached every scene with a WWJBD ethos: What Would Jerry Bruckheimer Do?

The article inspires several thoughts.

First, I can't help feeling good about this next stage in their goofy-guys-made-good story. South Park happened because they made tapes for friends of The Spirit of Christmas --- a wicked and very funny little animated "Christmas special" in which Jesus and Santa Claus confront one another and the kids learn ... well, nothing really. The tape got copied, and copied again, and the next thing you know, Comedy Central was paying them to make more. They're the friend you have who is so funny and creative but not well suited to the working world, given the opportunity to make people laugh and stick to what they do well. God bless 'em, there is a little justice in this world after all, and in their own goofy way, they have the good grace to appreciate their good fortune and to recognize that while they are good at what they do, it just isn't that important in the grand scheme of things.

I also feel a certain generational cultural ambivalence about them. On the one hand, they are masters of the kind of adolescent-yet-intelligent pop culture pastiche that is my X-ish language --- which, I proudly assert, Boomers just can't do the way we can --- and I love the stuff. It's easy to dismiss, as humor so often is, but it ain't as easy as it looks. On the other hand ...

It's hard not to wonder: are these guys just out to provoke? Or do they actually have something to say? Underneath all the kidding around, it seems possible they're angry. But if so, at whom? "We don't know," Mr. Parker said, hanging his head as if embarrassed. "People who go will be really confused about whose side we're on. That's because we're really confused."

He added: "If you watch the first 40 minutes of the movie, you'd think Michael Moore wrote it and Rob Reiner directed it. If you watch the last 40 minutes you'd think we were the biggest right-wingers in the world."

Mr. Stone said: "Basically, we're working it out in this movie."

I don't want to say that everyone ought to be as political as I am. I certainly don't want to say that humorists should be. As Matt and Trey rightly observe in the course of the article, most would-be political artists only embarass themselves. Yet I cannot help recognizing in them not only the circumspection of apolitical artists, but them again reflecting an example of the generational voice of bourgois white folks in their 30s.

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