17 June 2009

American Zeitgeist Captured in the DVD Menu of 'Knocked Up'

This post is the leftovers of a Facebook note that I wrote chronicling my drunken ramblings one night in college upon trying to watch the movie 'Knocked Up' on DVD. I popped it in the player, and the menu booted up, and in my bloodshot, vomit-covered eyes I saw the spirit of our times. And it is grand.

For those of you who do not own the DVD, it consists basically of a loop of the club scene, wherein Seth Rogen and Katherine Heigl's characters dance in a drunken fashion to one of the great songs of our day, "Swing" by Savage. The refrain in the menu consists of

" Uh oh, let it pop, ladies drop it like it's hot
Hell yeah, that's the spot, now bring it back to the top
Stop! Woah, now back it up, now back it up
Let it rise then watch it dump, shaking your junk in the trunk
And - I - like - the way you move it smoothly
Now why - don't - you move that booty - to - me
I'm tryna come up with some thoughts of attack,
until I heard somebody yellin' out "Savage where the chorus at?!"

[ Chorus ]
Oh shit, shake that ass ma, move it like a gypsy
Stop, woah, back it up, now let me see your hips SWING
Stop, woah, back it up, now let me see your hips SWING"

Lyrics courtesy of a Google search. Of course. Both the lyrics and the dance itself are immortalized as the zeitgeist of our time. Let's do a line by line analysis: "Uh oh, let it pop, ladies drop it like it's hot." Dropping it like its hot is a classic dance move and also incredibly cliched rap lyric, although its use has somewhat declined since Snoop and Pharrell overused it in late 2005. As most contemporary rap songs, Savage's tune is meant to be acted out as he sings it. He barks orders to be completed on the dance floor. After a hot dropping, he commands the female partner to bring it back up to the top. His reference to "the spot" is most likely the male genitalia, an awesome spot for ass-grinding, more of which I will get to later.

After bringing it back up to the top, Savage wants the woman to back it up. Its redundancy is outmatched only by its vaguery, however the redundancy is repeated in the following line of "Let it rise then watch it dump," essentially enacting a reverse hot-dropping and bringing it back up. Savage then inserts a compliment to the woman's smooth dancing skills, in a way eliciting the girl to "move that booty" to him. The slowdown in his cadence is enticing and represents a slight drop off for that portion of the grind that can be a little more smooth and sensual other than the fast rubbing and snubbing that accompanies the majority of the track.

The final two lines are really a cop-out, Savage admits he has no idea what else to say, and so he just starts singing the chorus. This is really absolutely ridiculous, but is in itself a good lead-in to the chorus, which basically just thematically repeats what Savage has been preaching the entire song, ordering a backing up, shaking ass, and the key hook, the SWING! The swing is really what makes the track notable and distinct from thousands of other terrible rap tracks. Not only is his voice distinct, but the hip swinging notion is somewhat different from typical contemporary grinding, and harkens an older day of swing dancing. This adds some gilded class to the song, although it remains a dreadful, dreadful track.

I also didn't know that gypsies shook their asses prolifically when dancing.

So what does this have to do with anything? The lyrics are completely superficial and are mostly filler to play over the beat, which is the only reason a song like this exists. 'Swing' by Savage has one purpose behind its existence, and that is to be noise for people to dance to. In this way, it is representative of almost all modern rap, and if it can be said that rap is the dominant form of popular music today, Swing becomes representative of most all modern music. The superficiality of music is reflected in those who listen to it. It becomes part of the Millennial Zeitgeist. That's the spirit of the times, we're part of an apathetic generation. We have whittled a thing like music down to its core. Music's main purpose is dancing, so we now have music that exists only to dance to. A movie like Transformers exists only has soulless entertainment. These are pure popcorn movies, these are popcorn songs. These are our days. Aesthetics have been thrown out the window in favor of practicality. No longer are there popular songs that have meaning and beauty, as well as purpose.

That's the song, however, the zeitgeist is also apparent in the dancing itself. For a long time I've had issues with grinding. It's really a disgusting act. If you don't believe me, stay sober some weekend and watch two drunks go at it at a party. For further emphasis, they should be the only two in the room dancing. Now watch that. It's a three minute session of groping and dry-humping, and its virtually our generation's only means of dance that isn't slow. What the fuck. Not like it doesn't feel good or to be so pretentious to say that I wouldn't do it this weekend, but really it's a trite display of hormones. Grinding isn't really portrayed in the media correctly either. Even in Knocked Up there is much more distance between Ben and Alison than there would be in a factual setting. As a side note, ladies, I also really don't understand the appeal of shaking your ass in a dude's crotch for a 3 minute song. Does that feel good somehow? Maybe I just can never understand! Grinding is a huge staple of our culture, but it's ignored all the time because it's so disgusting. Every single human that I've met under 25 has grinded at least once. What does that say about our generation and culture? Grinding is truly part of our zeitgeist, and is captured in the Knocked Up DVD Menu.

The Menu is everything. It is the perfect capture of our times. Besides representing the superficiality of contemporary music and addressing grinding, the characters and situation demonstrate the current mentality as well. The coupling of the chubby slob with the attractive woman has become a staple of late 20th century mass media. From Homer and Marge to Jim Belushi and whoever the hell is wife is on his terrible show, the pairing is readily and immediately accepted virtually everywhere. Likewise the motif is repeated in the basic premise of Knocked Up; coupling the slob from Freaks and Geeks with that Grey's Anatomy chick. Heigl's expression always catches me especially, it's almost like the calm before the storm. She experiences such joy and laughter, totally losing herself to this dude who she will regrettably bone and then eponymously be knocked up by. This expression may, however, be a foreshadowing of her eventual pleasant life and family with Seth Rogen's character by the end of the film. You can see the incoming regret, the final positive resolution, and her present joy all in that one moment, which is precisely why this is perfect for the DVD menu. Her one expression is her character's entire experience throughout the film. By watching just the DVD menu a viewer may understand the entire movie.

Seth Rogen's character likewise in the DVD menu exemplifies his character. The repeated dice-throws represent his simplicity. He has no phone, no job, and no real dreams or aspirations of note beyond watching film nudity and consuming marijuana. His face represents the kind of insolicity of his generation. Ben floats through life living one day to the next on a meager salary that emphasizes fun over satisfaction, which is also a major theme in the film and also the basis for the most major character shift when he settles for a good job over his bum roommates. This major character shift also becomes the basis for him being able to find a true commitment to Alison. Like Alison's face, Ben's face captures much of his eventual character's goals in the film.

The faces, like Swing, not only capture each character, but the zeitgeist! Ben represents most contemporary males his age in his awkward dancing and low goal-setting. Alison captures a concept applied to many women, in her choice of a heart-warmingly funny guy over immediately physical attractiveness. She has an incredible amount of fun, not only due to alcohol, another huge feature of the millenial generation right now, but simply because she is with a partying dude who goofily makes her laugh and knows naught but the dice throw. This attraction is still a puzzlement to many guys, as represented by Jonah Hill's character who makes an appearance in the menu; casually walking by staring incredulously at Ben and Alison.

So, this is why I believe the DVD Menu of Knocked Up to be completely representative of the zeitgeist of our times. It captures the desire of our generation, highlights an unhighlighted facet of our time period, and also provides a staple in not only the music tastes, but our superficial taste in culture as well. Everything is in here. This is our times. Accept it or it's time to pay the price.

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