Tuesday, February 12, 2002
What's Ideological, Pussycat?
By Kevin John
Some readers found it perplexing, to be nice, that I included "Josie
& The Pussycats" on my top ten list for 2001. I hemmed and hawed over
whether I should justify my choice at length and finally decided what
the hell. Enjoy. Seriously.
At the Milwaukee word-of-mouth screening for "Josie & The Pussycats,"
a local DJ announced that Carson Daly had a cameo in the film, which
elicited a wall of screams from the audience. Obviously this made the
DJ jealous, for he immediately sniffed "Carson Daly anyone can
do his job." Dream on, buddy. Carson Daly's job looks easy, but if
you pay attention to TRL, you notice a great deal of unease
underneath that quintessentially average five o'clock shadow. As Rob
Sheffield suggested in the pages of Rolling Stone last year,
he's absolutely petrified of teen pop and its screeching constituents.
I read this fear as generational, and it rises to the surface in the
film with such force that the sugar-high ad spots and soundtrack
were utterly misleading. "Josie & The Pussycats" is a deeply cynical,
deeply disturbing film from its very first scene, when a boy band
with the market-suspicious name Du Jour gets offed by its scheming
record company and manager Wyatt Frame (Alan Cumming).
Writer/directors Harry Elfont and Deborah Kaplan chose the project as
the latest in their line of Generation X resuscitations after "The
Flintstones in Viva Rock Vegas" and "A Very Brady Sequel." But from
their pomo perspective, they fashioned a sour-grapes cautionary tale
for Generation Why Not. "Election" got there first, but you can
definitely witness a rift starting to unfold in "Josie & The
Most of Elfont and Kaplan's caveats reside in their naïve view
of ideology. Wyatt casts aside Du Jour for Josie and her Pussycats
because the boys begin to suspect their record company of evildoings.
It turns out that indeed there's a veritable ideological state
apparatus in a piece of recording studio equipment that places
subliminal consumer messages in pop songs. Music purchasers find
themselves led zombie-like towards a wide variety of other products,
all to the benefit of diabolical mogul Fiona (Parker Posey). The
climactic Pussycats show, then, resembles a scene from Halloween
III: Season of the Witch. And Daly's cameo is positively
terrifying. The message be cognizant of the way your zeitgeist
is being marketed to you...or die.
Death by Carson Daly? A tad melodramatic perhaps. But if good
ol'-fashioned Gen X skepticism eventually finds its most persuasive
outlet targeting the copious product placements meant to anger up
teen pop's consumer-damaged bloodstream, the film's ending reveals
the toll unbridled skepticism takes. It's revealed that underneath
Fiona and Wyatt's slick urban professional veneer are a
snaggletoothed lisp and albino hair respectively. The two fall in
love and kiss, perfectly at ease with their alternative beauty, to
which young, ambitious Josie (Rachael Leigh Cook) says something
along the lines of "How cute...in an ironic sort of way." You know,
as if irony were a bad thing. How Gen Why Not can you get?
Fascinating. Too bad we'll have to wait another generation to see the
film that registers the vagaries of teen pop's unbridled ambition.