Genre studies

In the NYT Magazine on the 18th, a roundtable discussion about the genre of strained pulp: “The Strange Ascent of Strained Pulp” [in print: ” ‘No More Strained Pulp!’ “], by Adam Sternbergh, A. O. Scott, and Stephanie Zacharek. The background:

In his 2012 review of the Steven Soderbergh film “Haywire” in The New York Times, A. O. Scott identified and named a new phenomenon in popular culture: strained pulp. “Nowadays,” he wrote, “everyone must love (or at least pretend to love) pleasures that were supposedly once disdained or taken for granted: dive bars, street food, trashy films. But knowing, sophisticated attempts to replicate those things often traffic in their own kind of snobbery, confusing condescension with authenticity. Movies like ‘The American,’ ‘Drive’ and now ‘Haywire’ offer strained pulp, neither as dumb as we want them to be nor as smart as they think they are and not, in the end, all that much fun.”

In the latest Times piece, Scott explains:

When I wrote that review, I was not really making an argument or staking out a position — I was trying to scratch an itch, to put my finger on something that was bugging me, even about things I kind of liked. The movies I mentioned — “Haywire,” “Drive,” “The American” — struck me as art-house renderings of grindhouse pleasures, self-aware tributes to movies whose apparent lack of self-awareness has always been part of their allure. Let me be clear that I’m not talking about what we used to call, back in the ’90s, “irony,” though a better term might have been “insincerity.” There was a time when just about anything — dumb commercial entertainment, ugly clothes, the weird dishes your grandmother used to serve — could be appreciated and appropriated in quotation marks.

I like “art-house renderings of grindhouse pleasures” — nice parallelism, nice rhythm.

But I’m not convinced that there’s anything questionable about such renderings. The historical genres and art forms are as they are (or were), and any use of them is a reappropriation and reconfiguring of them. Things are transformed.

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