Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Black Belt: A Lesson In Post-Ironic Irony as Taught By A Roger Corman Film

Part 2 of an ongoing series in which our friend The Goodkind teaches us all about ourselves via fictitious rock bands in obscure movies...

It is not a new phenomenon in pop culture to take up a long abandoned torch and set it sarcastically alight once again, no matter how potentially dangerous the project. So it should come as no surprise that we are entertained by the ridiculous shit our predecessors did. It is as much an homage as it is a mockery. Irony itself is a popular subject of academic and literary discourse, often to the point of eating it's own tail. I’m having trouble fully parsing the whole thing however, simply because it becomes so self referential that it’s hard to tell which part is referring with snobbish disdain back to which other part and whether it is sarcastically disdainful or actually disdainful. Navigating these nuances is like trying to find a quarter at the bottom of a swimming pool of snot.

Essentially it is actually "good" to be tacky and tasteless if you do so with the full knowledge that what you are doing is tacky and tasteless. You might be familiar with the slang term “bad” used in the 1980’s to actually mean “good”. As in Michael Jackson’s claim; “You know I’m bad, I’m bad, you know it,” which of course meant that he was really good, and shouldn’t be fucked with. It is a phrase I have also heard used many times in referring to my own preference for low budget artistically suspect films. People are particularly fond of saying “so bad it’s good” in Amazon.com or IMDB reviews, which means that it is actually good and the reviewer shouldn’t have said bad at all since they actually meant bad in an un-ironic way in which case it’s either one or the other. But the answer I'm trying to find lies within the scope of both of these usages of the adjective.The question I am really trying to answer here, and there are no easy answers, is whether it is still ironic if you trying to be ironic, and whether it is possible to achieve irony if you are unaware of the contradictory outcome. Stick with me.

Black Belt is a 1992 film directed by a nobody and produced by Roger Corman, the Vishnu of exploitation film. It stars Don "The Dragon" Wilson, Matthias Hues and 8 other title-winning martial arts fighters, but this ultimately doesn't matter since no one ever brings up the color of their belt. In the film, Don is charged with protecting/falling in love with the arrogant talentless lead singer, Shanna, of up and coming band And the Bad Girls when she is repeatedly attacked by the disturbingly childlike/menacingly Teutonic Hues.

The thing about ironic art is that in the act of being “bad” it actually becomes good because the sought outcome is consensual agreement of authentic badness, thus the achievement is merely “bad”. What I’m getting at the long way is that Shanna and The Bad Girls terribleness transcends the meta-perceptive "good-ness" of authenticity.

Shanna and the Bad Girls are in fact not a rock band, they are actually a three-quarters-male adult contemporary pop quartet that is not very good. But what makes this sad little clusterfuck even more painful and embittering is the fact that they are so absolutely surrounded with confirmation that they are an awesome rock band, that effectively they have become an awesome rock band. They’ve done so well at being “bad” that they’ve become good at it. But Shanna and the Bad Girls have actually become bad at being good at being bad because they are actually quite shitty. In an head-spinning meta-perceptive switch, the profoundly shitty reproduction of something good (in this case music) becomes, through popular approval, the “authentic” version, the original being disregarded as not close enough to the new “real”. The essence of approval and the perception of "being good" have become so infused with the being/existence of the reproduced object, that the distinction vanishes despite its fundamentally lousy nature.
What I’m trying to say is that it is as if a thing was so "authentically" bad that people no longer realize that that's actually just plain bad, which Shanna and the Bad Girls and Black Belt were.

 The Dragon is puzzled, awaiting possible clarification; "Should I like it, or should I "like" it?"

This  monograph is part of a series from the Lost Video Archive where you can find lots more obtuse and life changing film criticism. You will subsequently never look at garbage the same way again.


Shelby Cobras said...

This post is bad.

Helm said...

The way to cut through the "is it bad or is it 'bad'?" conundrum is with an Alexandrean blade. If someone is 'ironic' in your face, cut their throat and let all the bile spill out :)