Whenever I talk to anybody about the New Sincerity — this happens a lot less since I stopped trying to talk to everybody about the New Sincerity — the inevitable question of “what’s next?” arises. This is a good and natural question given the laughably short lifespan of any pop culture moment. Even as I was wrapping up my short book about the New Sincerity, I felt it’s end creeping up. That’s why I titled the book’s afterword, “Everything You’ve Just Read is Already Irrelevant.” Of course, I was joking, but only kind of.
So, what is next? Well, I think we’re seeing it. It seemed to me, the more I thought about the New Sincerity, that it could potentially lead to a kind of new narcissism. If the aim of sincerity is, summarily, to be true to one’s self, than one’s self could easily become the center of the one’s whole universe. The New Sincerity, I feared would lead us to discard any external standards in favor of our own guiding light. As if we need any encouragement to become more self-centered.
When one becomes the center of his own universe, the next step is becoming disconnected from the actual universe, and hence one becomes completely out-of-touch. This is a common phenomenon, we often mock celebrities who try to act like you and me, but whose lives are so far removed it’s laughable. And now, thanks to one such celebrity, we have a short, bizarre video record of what this disconnectedness looks like. Of course I’m talking about Kanye West’s video for “Bound 2.” If you haven’t seen it, you probably should before you read on. I could try to describe it, but if I tell you that it’s basically just Kanye and his fiancee Kim Kardashian pretending to ride around on a motorcycle in front of a blue screen that appears to be showing a nature documentary, all while simulating sex, that only captures about half of how strange it is.
“Bound 2” is what comes after the New Sincerity, and senior art critic for New York magazine, Jerry Saltz, has given us a name for this next movement. He calls it, “the New Uncanny.” He writes:
When performers like Kanye West, Kim Kardashian, Lady Gaga, and, yes, Jeff Koons and Marina Abramovic try so hard to showcase and communicate how sincere they are, instead they reveal how out-of-touch they are — from each other, from themselves, from us.
Saltz says that “Bound 2” is an answer to the kind of sincerity we demand from our celebrities. We want them to be real, to show us who they are and how they live and what they value, and when they do, well, we get all weirded out. Saltz continues:
In their grandiose sincerity, their attempt to keep it real (West says his “passion is for humanity” and that his art is totally about “beauty, truth, awesomeness”), these stars become alien things, automata, odd gods before our eyes. By some bizarre alchemy, they then toggle back into demented sincerity while simultaneously remaining alien, other, apart. They become psychological quantum particles, in two states at once. Sincerity and fame combine, float free of common rules.
I’d encourage you to read the rest of Saltz’s essay. If for no other reason than the fact that he concludes it by letting Kim Kardashian’s breasts serve as a metaphor for celebrity. And I think he nails it.
It’s worth noting that Salt’z essay on Kanye in New York follows a package of stories on the revival of folk, occasioned by the Coen Brothers’ new film Inside Llewyn Davis. That, and shortly after the release of “Bound 2,” Seth Rogan and James Franco, two of my favorite New Sincerity actors, released an amazing parody video. So, it seems the New Sincerity hasn’t left us altogether but I don’t suppose it’s long for this world.
But what does it mean if the thing that I so loved, the New Sincerity, has (d)evolved into the New Uncanny? Oh, I don’t know. Maybe nothing. Maybe pockets of pop culture will stay sincere and, as things continue to simultaneously — and paradoxically — become monolithic and fragmented, there will still be plenty to praise. I suppose this whole thing reveals a fundamental flaw with the project of capturing the spirit of any given, fleeting pop culture moment: it’s kind of impossible.
But it’s still fun, and, I’ll continue to argue, worthwhile, to step outside popular culture, to the extent that that’s even possible, and consider what it has wrought. I don’t think I’m going to like the New Uncanny, and that may be just the point. Perhaps the purpose of all this hand wringing and labeling, observing, hypothesizing, and writing is to figure out what we’re up against. Maybe doing this kind of work is just the thing to stave off the self-centeredness that beckons and keep us sincere for just a while longer. Long live the New Sincerity!
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