The Punk Rocker Gets The Girl!

Johnny Loftus

Jesse Bradford as Cliff Pantone in Bring It OnNow, don’t come kvetching to me about why I’m watching Bring It On months after its theatrical release. Let’s just say – ahem — that it’s for context, and leave it at that. Just like The Clash covering Vince Taylor & His Playboys on London Calling. And that leads to the point. In Bring It On, Our Heroine (Kirsten Dunst) not only befriends the punk rock chick who tries out for her elite cheerleading squad. She also falls for her new friend’s brother, a Clash-loving psuedo-intellectual who shreds a Dan-O-Lectro in his spare time and tries to teach his new girl about punk rock. There’s even a reference to his past in a Detroit high school. (See? Even Hollywood realizes Detroit is the new Seattle…). But here’s the funny part. Dunst is the head of the toniest cheer squad this side of Clueless. And here’s the blonde, bouncy cheerleading captain falling – for all practical purposes and Hollywood’s characterization amalgam theorems appreciated – for the local Indie Rocker. In his first scene, the kid sports beat up Chuck Taylors, the Ramones on his headphones, and a T-Shirt featuring Mick Jones and the boys. He promptly shows up the jocks with his smirky cool, and is immediately put in the good graces of Ms Dunst’s character, who in real life just might drop a quarter in the kid’s coffee cup, mistaking him for those less fortunate.

Which suggests the opening scenes of Gia, Angelina Jolie’s 1998 star vehicle that featured her as the doomed model whose innocence was corrupted by the Me Generation and her own excess. In the film, Gia waits outside the hoity-toity modeling agency for her photo shoot, only to have some of the more mamby pamby girls drop some loose change in her morning coffee. Ever the rebel, Gia struts into the agency and, staring down the smarmy receptionist, carves her name into the mahogany with her stiletto. That’s so PUNK, man. And that’s exactly the problem.

What is it about film that places the modicum of cool upon a genre that – in real life – is grudgingly respected at best? In the movies, the girls always go for the bad boy rocker/intellectual. Likewise, the girl who eats nails for breakfast – like Jolie’s Gia or Eliza Dukshu’s Missy in Bring It On – is met with hostility, then fear, and finally respect by those that would normally shun her. What it may come down to is this: The star of the movie cannot date his or her self. If the star in question is blonde, chiseled, or pretty, said star cannot date a similarly cheekbone’d or likewise coif’d individual. And in Hollywood’s streamlined view of Generation Y, there really are only two kinds of kids: Cool/Beautiful, and Cool/Intellectual. And in the latter archetype, musical taste always seems to be the way to display the difference.


And in this bizarro Tinsel Town view of the world, the cool kid who digs The Clash, Iggy Pop, and Phillip K Dick is written like the punk rock Navy S.E.A.L. You know – in Baywatch, it’s his S.E.A.L. pedigree that gives Hasselhoff’s character his street –er, beach — cred. Spend any weeknight watching bad basic cable and you’ll come across an action move featuring a conflicted hero who harbors a black bag past as a demolition expert with the US Navy’s elite fighting force. Yeah, yeah, yeah — next. It’s the same thing with the rocker/intellectual archetype. If you need to make your star’s love interest cool, make him/her a rebel. The kind with a wallet chain, leather, and a tough attitude derived from the rebellious band T-shirts s/he wears to homeroom. Alicia Silverstone, aka the Kirsten Dunst of 3 years ago, made a similar move in Clueless. By finally falling for her nerdy, college-thinker stepbrother, Cher was simply following the Hollywood formula. And in last year’s Drive Me Crazy, Kirsten Dunst doppelganger and cool chick Melissa Joan Hart fell for her next door neighbor, a withdrawn misanthrope who nevertheless portrayed – In Hollywood’s eyes – the smart, sensitive rocker. In many ways Drive Me Crazy was a remake of She’s All That, starring Rachel Leigh Cook as the artistic geek who woos the class Cool despite her best efforts to remain a mousy painter. Which was in turn a remake of 1987’s Can’t Buy Me Love, which followed the transition of a smart-yet-dopey kid into the true love of his class’s dream girl.

So what’s with this punk rocker/geek/rebel/intellectual archetype that keeps showing up in movies as the love interest? We’ve all seen where it ends. Thanks to real-life misanthrope John Cusack and his source material from Nick Hornby, America has seen what real Indie Rockers/Punks/psuedo-intellectuals tend to grow up to be: Frustrated record store owners who spend too much brain power on compilation CDs and not enough on personal hygiene. And yet, in the view of Hollywood, it’s this character set that presents the most pratfalls/romance for Gen Y movies being written at this moment. In real life, would the average impossibly attractive high school senior, who happens to be captain of her school’s cheerleading squad, go for, let’s say, Jack White of White Stripes? Or, to only add to their impossibly attractive hype machine, Julian Casablancas of The Strokes? Chances are – barring the millions that Casablancas and his mates will make in the next year on RCA – that it won’t happen. And yet, in the movies, composites of these guys are shitting on the captain of the football team and getting the girl in the process.


The guys I knew in high school who looked and acted like Dunst’s love interest in Bring It On usually got feces smeared on their car door handles at lunch. But for whatever reason, it’s these brave souls whose punk rock, book-reading lifestyles are perpetually eulogized on the big screen. What does this mean for all those skinny, burgeoning Indie Rockers out there in the Gen Y land? Well, probably not much. But at least they can take solace in the fact that they’ll grow up to be the guy with the coolest record collection. I’ll never understand Hollywood, but I’m glad that they think I’m the kind of guy that deserves the love of a starlet.


22 thoughts on “THE RIGHT PROFILE”

  1. Wow Johnny, were you up all night on ‘ludes’ crankin’ this stuff out? You’re a friggin editorial-aholic, man! I liked “Bring It On” too. Now go back and rent “Starship Troopers,” “Jawbreaker” and “The Craft”! That would be a great triple bill.Peace

  2. Jawbreaker was awful. The Craft was sort of fun. I didn’t see Starship Troopers.I love Bring It On. I totally prefer this new theme in teen movies where the punk kid get the girl as opposed to the John Hughes formula where the punky girl has to CHANGE to get the hunky guy (i.e., Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, Ally Sheedy in Breakfast Club, etc.).

  3. I totally love Hollywood teen flicks, and think they’ve gotten better. But why does the punk/indie guy even want the Kirstens of the world? Are they really more “fun” (you know what I mean) or is it that despite their punk exterior, boys really want the very same thing as their compadres on the football team? There are movies that show this up (American Beauty is one) but I would hope that if Jack White *or* Jack Black were confronted with a stream of silky blond hair smelling of Pert and no knowledge whatsoever of music off the charts that they’d, in reality, puke of boredom. (Does anyone know where I can find some hunky indie guys–must be kind of skinny and dirty–to strip at my friend’s bachelorette party next spring? –thx)

  4. I think that’s a good point. Jack White can barely stand on stage and sing “Jolene” without barfing from nervousness. So how could he possibly retain his composure when his new, blonde girlfriend starts yammering about how much she loves Sugar Ray’s new single? The same doesn’t go, however, for Julian and the boys in The Strokes. Those kids are trying like mad to get laid AT LEAST as much as the drink beer and smoke Marlboros; shit, if they haven’t played the Viper Room yet to glorious glitterati fawning, then Ryan Gentles isn’t doing his goddamn job. What was the movie that Dominique Swain was in, the one where she was in love with the local rock star, played by that guy who was in Boondock Saints and Body Shots? Anyway, in that movie, Tara Reid plays in this punk band, and lip synchs worse than she air drums in Josie And The Pussycats. But it was still entertaining to watch Dominique play the starfucker.JTL

  5. “What is it about film that places the modicum of cool upon a genre that – in real life – is grudgingly respected at best?”I think it’s kind of like how gays & lesbians can be stars of sitcoms and movies, but out in the real world straights feel an aversion to them. You could laugh at Ellen Degeneres and her wacky lesbian antics, but what if she taught at your kid’s high school!? Same thing with punkers/indie types-jocks and cheerleaders love playing alt/punk. No square john, audience-meat types are going to seriously embrace that lifestyle, but it’s fun for them to play at.

  6. ATTENTION HOLLYWOOD DIRECTORS!Casting your next film with Katie Holmes, Sarah Michelle Geller, Reese Witherspoon, Estella Warren. . .playing a sympathetic but unguided individual from the pop side of the soundtracks? Looking for a brooding, disaffected leading man who thrives on music that only some 38 other people listen to due to its obscurity or lack of general popularity?Forget the high prices of Ethan Hawke, Matt Damon, Owen Wilson, and the others. Don’t bother with the tedious casting calls full of wannabes who will be on line the following day to get a seat in Oprah’s audience.Your answer is one mouse click away.Just contact Team GloNo. There you can access real, bitter, misunderstood, clever leading men who can fit the bill. Costumes? Who needs ’em? They come fully wardrobed. Props? Just send over a moving van equipped to handle tons of vinyl, CDs, computer gear, books, magazines, musical instruments, and other obscure paraphenaila.What’s more, they can write the entire script between blasting off screeds for GloNo.Count on it: Team GloNo is bona-fide boffo box office.

  7. “But why does the punk/indie guy even want the Kirstens of the world?”Nobody really answered Flossie’s question, did they? Why are guys (all guys, really) so shallow that they would rather be with a bubbly, cute cheerleader type instead of a less OBVIOUS (to borrow a description from Bukowski) girl who’s actually cool?My thought, as sexist as it may sound, is that guys like to shape and mould their girlfriends into something cool in the image of their creator, so to speak. If a girl is already cool and has her own opinions already, then what good is a guy to her?

  8. Jake: I think my wife would object. . .and I think that I do, too.That said: Having been something of an outcast in high school (e.g., in a band, long hair, too little sleep, too many cigarettes, underground newspaper producer. . .) who actually dated a couple of cheerleaders (one of whom was booted from the squad), I think the answer to your question is simple: they are, in your words, “bubbly, cute.” Ain’t nothing wrong with that. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with “cool” girls. But, c’mon: We’re talking cheerleaders here. This is not rocket science, nor is it existentialism. Just good, clean, er, fun.

  9. Jolie would object too. But she’s a cool girl, not a bubbly cheerleader (although she is cute).Maybe it boils down to the difference between girls you want to be with versus girls you wanna get with, yo. I think Flossie’s right that cool guys would quickly get bored with silly bimbos who have nothing between their ears. But I’ve witnessed on multiple occasions guys listening intently (myself included) to dumb hotties blabber on and on about goofy shit. And if the girl is cute enough, it actually seems interesting at the moment… So what does that tell you?

  10. I think there is a country song (and if there isn’t, there ought to be) about how as the number of beers increase, the attractivenss of a given woman does, too. There is undoubtedly a sober correlation that has something to do with the fact that the cuter the woman, the more interesting her inane comments are. (At least initially.) So what it all says is that we allow ourselves to be fooled.And when you get to the issue of why the movies have the punk and the cheerleader: Let’s face it: if it was punk/punk or pep/pep, there would be (a) little in the way of dynamic and (b) audience limiting. Hell, just look at all of the run Bring It On is getting here!

  11. I think that there is a shallowness to some of the theory here. Why does anyone operate under the suposition that the “cheerleader” type is just “bubbly” and cute, but not cool, or for that matter that the cheerleader type is not sophisticated enough to know these things? I think that some of you are falling too deep into the entertainment stereotype yourselves!I would argue that in real life these distinctions exist only as ideas, and that the major difference in today’s youth cliques (punks, jocks, hippies, etc.) when compared against the past’s is that today you can often be whatever you want to be. So, some cheerleaders listen to The Dead and wear bells, some of the Jocks shave their heads in punk rock fashion and love the Clash. And while the movie Ghost World, for instance, shines a light on the point of view of the dork-but-cool set, that perspective itself is old, a comic and literary fiction cooked up by people over the age of 30 who don’t understand the kids anymore.I personally have a friend who WAS a cheerleader and did some modeling in college. She’s the typical blonde looking trophy bride type for those Nautica wearing suburba-yuppies, but when you get to know her, you find out that she’s a true liberal politically and socially, and she doesn’t buy into any of the cliquish trappings of the cheerleader set. I think that in today’s culture, where the new cool is hip dorkishness (e.g. John Cusack, Gwen Stephani, Weezer, Moby, etc.), Hollywood has simply updated the old school formula. Thus, the cheerleader isn’t all that dumb, she recognizes value in the people that most of us can identify with, whether that’s the punk girl, the alterna-boyfriend or the African American girls who really make up all the cheers (see the parallel with rock music?).And one further thing….why is the converse all star Weezer-male getting so much hype these days? Because that’s who the writers of this drivel identify with! That’s them up there on the screen. And all those “cool” girls from back in high school weren’t really that cool to begin with.

  12. I heard a great quote from Erykah Badu, something along the lines of: “not eveyone with dreads is for the revolution, and not everyone with a perm is for the man. There are are whole lot of people our there with unprocessed hair and processed minds.”Basically, style and ideology are parting ways.

  13. I think Courtney makes a great point. It even goes to the mall-ification of Punk. It wasn’t so long ago that punk kids were gettinmg their asses kicked in my highschool. A recent conversation with some old highscool teachers of mine shows that a lot of the old staples of punk fashion are now just the new Polo. The 90s homogenized Punk to the extent that it was THE thing to do. Weird. The clothes and attitude (sort of) are there but none of the ideology.

  14. If you take a look at “the Decline of Western Civilization” (I think that’s what it was called, the 70s documentary on american punk), you’ll see punk kids who don’t have a lot of peircings, don’t wear a lot of leather, don’t even necessarily have “punk” hair cuts. They don’t even want to be called ‘punks’. They just wanted to call their music by it’s name, Rock n Roll.All the trappings, mohawks, clothing, etc. came later, after the original scene had degenerated into a genre. Those trappings are what you buy a the mall, or accessorize your Gap outfit with to show that you’ve got style. Not only do those trappings NOT reflect any kind of “alternative” thinking, as it relates to music and culture, they don’t even have anything to do with the music and culture that they supposibly reference……….What’s important is what’s in your head! What do you think? How do you view things? And I think kids today are smarter than we give them credit for. They’re also much more pragmatic, which rubs some of us the wrong way.

  15. Yeah, bnut this article, and subsequent conversation, is about fashion as it relates to Punk ideology. Kids into Punk 15 or 20 years ago dressed in a manner to set them apart from mainstream America. Now, it can be debated whether they were striving for individuality or just adopting another uniform, but the railing against mainstream America was the point. My point was that Punk fashion IS mainstream now. Isn’t it funny that my halloween costume from 7th grade is now standard dress for Green Day lovin’ kids everywhere. It’s also funny that I dressed up as a “punker” in 7th grade…

  16. Sounds like a fund raising event: $1.00 to see embarassing pictures of Scott! Let’s see how many cheerleaders you nail after that!

  17. Thanks for the satisfying answers to my question. The “dramatic” climax of pairing “opposites” (mental opposites or fashion opposites or both) probably hinges on the fact that infatuation increases inversely to the level of obtainability. The outsider has to “get” the girl, therefore an outsider girl wouldn’t work, unless she’s a lesbian, and that would be dorky & unrealistic for him to get her in the end. I think punk “fashion” originated from not having looks or money, but today good-looking people pay good money for Doc Martens or “punky” haircuts. Indie rockers are faced with the same dilemma. It’s about standing out AND fitting in at the same time on a record-store clerk’s budget. Some people are more creative than others, but the basic desire to offend will never go away, to make ugly beautiful. Neither will the desire to imitate your rock idols, again, some people do this with great passion and to great success, others, well . . . As soon as I get my addadicktome (hopefully soon) I’m planning to dress like Julian Casablancas (but on weekends I’ll dress like Bobby Conn).

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