Sunday, March 21, 2010

Resig-Nation: A Touch of Cheese in Diary of a Wimpy Kid

Diary of a Wimpy Kid is a startling instance of the extent to which cynical reason has now penetrated the pre-teen world of pre-programmed celebrity worship and popularity contests. In a country where the rule of law never applies to the ones who flaunt it the most, where the Supreme Court allows corporations to be persons and buy elections, where injustice may be recognized now and then but justice never meted out to the powerful criminals (Bush, Cheney, Rove, Rumsfeld, Wall Street, and so on), a pre-teen film with the usual loser formulas apparently no longer can be made. In this deeply nightmarish take on middle school, the wimpy kid, who is actual a real jerk, wakes up to find himself an impotent old man (at the beginning of the film, he wakes at 4:00 a.m. a week early to go to school). It's like 1950s sit-coms turned upside down. Now Father Knows Best is Mother Knows Best (the mother is the moral center of the film, the lawgiver; the father is ineffectual, if supportive of his jerky son); Eddie Haskell is now the wimpy kid, while Beaver has morphed into the wimpy kid's best friend (the loser who keeps getting to win because of the jerky things the wimpy kid does to him). A pre-teen Napoleon Dynamite appears as a total nerd, but no one is mean to him, and he seems fine thinking he is actually cool. Lolita has become Humbert Humbert (a pretty and preternaturally articulate girl who wears great outfits and edits the newspaper is first seen hanging out by herself reading Ginsberg's Howl). The ironic and self-conscious literary or rock star loser (Thomas Bernhard or Beck) has no place in this pre-teen narrative in which "wimp" is code for immature, cowardly, selfish, bullied, brat. It's a testament to the film's unflinching and uncynical take on our "resig-nation" to cynical reason that the ending only provides a touch of cheese. When the wimpy kid finally does a brave thing by saying he ate the piece of swiss cheese that's been lying on the playground for months, not his friend who was forced to by teenage bullies, the beyotch on the block girl yells out that he has the "cheese touch," and everyone runs away from him. The newspaper girl approves and he gets his nice friend back. But that's as cheesy as the film gets. Injustice will prevail, bullies will get away, as will older brothers, and neither cowardice nor bravery provides a way out for the wimpy jerk or jerky wimp. At least the film does not wimp out.

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