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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 Pussycats."

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.

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