Pop Cult: You Only Live Now
Skrillex (Spring Breakers Original Sound Track) – “Scary Monsters On Strings” : A
In multiple interviews, Harmony Korine repeatedly refers to his new film Spring Breakers as “magic” and a “pop poem.” He talks about micro-scenes, about EDM, about Chief Keef, about video games. But what his movie captures best about this generation, our current Pop Culture iteration, is the sense of time, or more specifically, its obsolescence. Pop Culture, more today than ever, exists in the singularity of the present. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
From the film’s opening note, we fail to take it seriously. The spritzing of beer, the blinding colors, the breasts bouncing around without meaning, the middle-fingers flying without regard, we hope it’s all a joke, one just as trivial as its subject matter. As the film continues, we convince ourselves that Korine shares our point-of-view, that he hates these characters. We trust in him to deliver the comeuppance they surely deserve. But as Spring Breakers plays out, our wishes go unfulfilled. These girls, especially Britt and Candy, get everything they want: drugs, sex, escape, money, thrills. And they get away scot-free. Korine does not punish them: they are unpunishable, neutral products of a time where instant gratification is real and the pursuit of it is worthy. The visual beauty and the so-called depravity of these girls are allowed to coexist. And they do so without consequence.
Which is why it’s hard for those in our generation, those who have grown up with the consequences of time, the pre-internet, to fathom such a world. Our sliver of humanity that knows both pre-internet and post-internet, the generation that produces things like Twitter Celebrities and the show Girls, we are in a strange place. We are knowledgeable about the pre-internet world, the significance of memory. We attempt to organize and catalogue an endless array of personalities, behaviors, idols, and objects. And we’ve turned these sorting-without-acting OCD processes into a monetized, semi-legitimate industry. We are the consultants, the social media managers, the bloggers. But we all remember a world where such things were utter bullshit, where communication was hard and consequences (and memories) were real and valuable.
The girls in Spring Breakers do not live with that burden. They exist without a past, without motive, without reason. Their pasts are on YouTube and Wikipedia, their futures are on Google Alert, leaking through Bittorrent. Their existence is in seconds, not in years. Past and future fold over onto the present. Like when they’re telling Faith about the robbery, it’s not enough to just tell her about it. They have to actively force Cotty to the ground, hands pointed like guns, in order to relive the rush of that moment. It’s not enough to tell Faith. It must be shown. It must be replayed. Thrills are not found in comprehension but in action.
In this sense, these Spring Breakers truly do find themselves during Spring Break; it’s the only world that resonates in the same way they do. A coarse word for this is hedonism, but again that term implies an ebb and flow of time. This is #YOLO. This is timeless.
The world has been moving towards this for some time now. Technology and culture have been obsessed with this idea of efficiency, of putting it all at our fingertips. And it’s not like this is a precipitous, immediate calamity either. This was in the cards; ever since machine replaced horse and filament replaced candle, the idea that things needed to be faster, cheaper, more efficient has been the mantra of humanity for quite some time. Sure, there is a clamoring minority obsessed with authenticity, with cultural elbow grease. Our bridging generation is full of debates about the merits of analog vs digital, of the need for the old ways. But these debates are dying out in this new age, the so-claimed superiority of the past doesn’t affect these kids. Not because they choose to ignore it, but because it simply doesn’t matter.
Franco’s Alien is our avatar in all this. A man trapped in the talk-big past, he feigns to live in the revelry of the present. But his actions are governed by his past, the color of his skin growing up, his tiff with Gucci, his appreciation for hits of Britney Spears. He loves these girls, he loves what they’re doing. But his seductions all pry on what these girls lack: a sense of time. Protection, wealth, security, immunity, these corollaries all require the concept of time, of pending consequence. And while Alien gives them further access to the now, the oft-guaranteed pleasures of crime and hedonism, anything else is completely unnecessary. And when he unceremoniously is killed, not a breath is wasted on him by Britt and Candy, not until the present is resolved and his body is happened upon again. No 40’s are poured for him, just a kiss on his lips as they run past his body.
Even Faith, the first to leave, is fueled by the present. At first she’s presented as a possible conscience, the super ego to Britt and Candy’s id. Religion is presented broadly, as preparation for the unknown, hedging one’s bets against time. But it bores Faith; the act of praying, of trying to affect things that are not in front of you, is an impotent one. When she gets to Florida, she wants to freeze time, to do away with it, because she’s found a world where she can have everything without consequences. Britt and Candy laugh this notion off, not because it’s a silly, sentimental idea but because, in their view, there is no time to freeze. The mere thought of this adventure ending for them is laughable. Faith only chooses to go home when faced with an immediate threat to her pleasure. Same thing with Cotty: not once does going home cross her mind until a bullet is removed from her arm.
So what does this have to do with pop music? Skrillex is the sonic backdrop for this movie: his bleating shards of bass and electronic buzzsaws score the booze/boobs/drugs montages that frequent this movie. And, like these girls, Skrillex, as a success, is simply a product of our time. The person behind the sound is not important. Sonny John Moore is not important. But the brand of Skrillex, and the association it has with the biggest, most cutting sounds heard by a lot of people, matters greatly. Just by saying the word Skrillex one can’t help but channel the sensation of the “drop”. And that’s what its all about, not the buildup, not the melody, not the narrative. The instant of the drop is where time ceases to matter.
And as we look upon the current landscape of pop, we see this influence of this spreading far and wide. Not the actual sound of the bass drop, but the idea that we can make the singularity infinite. In pop music, build ups have shrunk and climaxes elongated. They come more frequently, in smaller, brighter packaging. The single has replaced the album, the clip has replaced the short has replaced the film. Context is unnecessary. Correlation is unnecessary. All that matters is the image right in front of your face. And with the amount of content and the adherence to this philosophy out there, it’s possible to chain these fleeting moments of ecstasy forever.
Korine throws everything in the path of hedonism – faith, family, even death itself – attempting to stop or even slow its juggernaut pace, but to no avail. Because through their privilege and a world that coddles them, the Spring Breakers live free from the constraints of time that these threats require to be effective. In the end, the two girls and their unrelenting belief in the present for pleasure’s sake triumph over all. Their short-term memories are both a guarantor of no consequences AND continued motivation. And once the video is over, you can always just hit replay.