Saturday, July 12, 2008

New York Minute: What it is Really About

I've been meaning for some time now to write about my thoughts on the Olsen Twins' 2004 film New York Minute. It's just that it has taken me four years to get my head around the nuances and complexities in the script, the cinematography, and the mise en scene. Okay, the truth is that I didn't see it when it came out, but I did catch it a couple months ago. I came across it while channel surfing late at night in a hotel room while on vacation. I don't watch much non-sports television at home (as the Nielson people will be able to attest to when I send them my diary next week), but (for me anyway) there is something oddly alluring about watching bad TV in hotels. My book of Checkhov plays had no chance of getting off the nightstand.

And I must say, I thoroughly enjoyed the viewing experience. Watching only a handful of movies a year means that the sheer novelty of the event amplifies the entertainment quotient of any movie. Although this particular one was harangued by critics to the tune of a 13% rating at, I never once felt tempted to change the channel. A gargantuan amount of suspension of disbelief is needed as the girls go through their day, but once that is accomplished, one can sit back and thrill to the wacky hijinx, sight gags, slapstick, and over the top drama. The pace was fast, with the girls being tossed with ever increasing speed from one dilemma to the next. The plot (such as it is) revolves around Ashley's (I never really got the character names down) attempt to give a speech in order to get a scholarship to study overseas and Mary Kate's attempt to ditch school for a music video shoot. Ashley needs to learn how to have fun and Mary Kate needs to learn how to be responsible.

Although I freely admit to being highly entertained by the film, I was also dumbfounded and somewhat disturbed by the way that it disseminated ideology. I have never seen a more blatant packaging of hegemonic bourgeoisie capitalism. I'm not sure how many Marxist critical theorists have taken the time to watch this movie, but this is what they have been waiting years for. For those that don't know, and at the risk of oversimplification, Marxist critics believe that most works of art are in some way an attempt by the prevailing economic ideology (in most cases Capitalism) to uphold the status quo. In other words, moviemakers help to keep down workers by feeding them movies that cause them to think that our current capitalistic system is ideal and that they shouldn't complain (or revolt, as many Marxists would have them do). While this requires some pretty convoluted readings of most movies (and other texts), I suspect that New York Minute might have been written on the sly by Marxist critics just so that they would have
an easy target to rail against.

First, the central protagonists serve to normalize white upper class materialism. Their father (somewhat hilariously played by Dr. Drew), is a physician. They appear to live a pampered and privileged life, at least until the fateful day when Ashley's designer outfit is ruined and she loses her credit card. Things go from bad to worse as they are forced to trudge through New York's sewers. Who could they possibly turn to for succor? Look no further than the kind hearted black folks down at Big Cheryl's House of Bling (with several women and a nonthreatening gay guy at their service), who will take time out of their busy day to doll up the cute little white girls, providing them their choice of literally a dozen outfits and hairstyles to choose from ("Just so we are clear, I want a more corporate bling," orders Ashley). Having got what they needed from the "sisters," the Olsens head back to their white world.

Not content to overtly designate racial roles, the movie also makes explicit that not all classes are created equal. One of the twins acquires a love interest that is quite literally a senator's son (the movie ends with the girls and their guys jamming in a "rock band". I doubt they will be doing any CCR covers). Also, comic relief is provided by a couple of stereotypical country rubes driving their RV around New York, completely oblivious to what is actually transpiring around them.

What is particularly fascinating about the film's ideology, though, is the way that the twins represent the reconciliation of the two (sometimes competing) traits necessary for the continuance of the Capitalistic status quo: responsible citizenship and consumer indulgence. The story starts with Ashley wholly on the former end of the spectrum, with Mary Kate embodying the latter. Through the course of the narrative, they are fully interpellated together into a unified, dominant ideology.

Ashley's story is the more simple of the two. A day out on the town brings her out of her shell and enables her to "loosen up." While clearly the "brainy one," it is interesting that her supposed intellectualism is manifested through business savvy. Indeed, one of the major plot points involves the loss of her organizer.

Mary Kate has a more interesting journey from "rebel" to "citizen." She is a habitual truant, something that she needs to overcome as she learns to play by the rules of society. This is neatly symbolized at the end of the movie, when she literally becomes friends with the truant officer who was chasing her over the course of the entire movie. Her primary objective in getting to the music video shoot is to get a demo tape into the hands of someone who can recognize her talent. What is absolutely fascinating here is that the "arty one" has more designs on commercial success than on actually pursuing artistic expression.

All of these elements are noteworthy, but what truly elevates this movie to the state of exemplar of bourgeoisie propaganda are the villains. The main event that drives the plot is the twins accidental acquisition of a computer chip that belongs to a criminal organization. What we slowly learn over the course of the movie is the nature of the organization and the nature of the crime ring. It turns out that the syndicate is responsible for (gasp) rampant proliferation of pirated movies and music. What an affront to capitalism! Where could such a threat come from? Obviously, the Chinese are responsible! Bizarrely, the man the twins are on the run from is a white guy who works for the "cartel" who happens to talk with a Chinese accent. At the end, he is reprimanded for pretending to be Chinese when he is not. Obviously, he was interpellated into the wrong value system and needs to be set right.

Now, as ready made as this production is for a Marxist critical assault, there is one problem. It was literally one of the poorest performing films ever. For a movie all about the importance of making money, they sure didn't practice what they preached. So what was the problem? Many critics maligned it for being too unrealistic. While it certainly was, maybe it was also a bit too realistic.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was very interesting Mr. Cigelske. You used a whole lot of ethos, logos, and pathos. :-) I enjoyed it. -- Megan Jones

7:48 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about the Britney Spears movie? Watch that yet?

1:21 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home