Wednesday, August 22, 2012

'Sploitation and the Neo-Pulp Aesthetic (Essay #1)

So, sorry about the hiccup in posting - circumstances, etc.; that damn Real Life cropping up, basically. Thank God I've got the internet to help keep me from having too much of one of those! I mean no wait I totally go to parties constantly and have so many girlfriends always I'm definitely a super cool man guy for sure.


I said I was going to try my hand at one of those more essay-style blog posts that you see around, and so I shall. Let's see how it goes, shall we?

Today's topic, boys, girls, and assorted netlarvae, shall be Pulp! Yeah, that's right - this glorious old stuff:

Which, of course, remains conspicuous by its presence (as it should always be meant to be) right up to our own more modern day:

Kinda hard to miss what he's going for there, isn't it? Since it's, y'know, the actual goddamn title itself. But then, while he's been accused of a lot of things, not many have ever accused Tarantino of subtlety (God bless him). Hell, he's even quite deliberately and explicitly tried to recreate, at least in some form, the classically Pulp grindhouse films of yesteryear, with of course the aid of his co-conspirator in cultural mischief Robert Rodriguez. Oh, and a frickin' fake trailer that was made up for those wound up getting made into its own spectacularly over-the-top feature film - and if that's not Pulp, what the hell is?

And of course, you can't really talk about Pulp without also talking about Exploitation, as intertwined as the two have generally been and perhaps by their natures must be. After all, Pulp seems to be that stuff that the Masses like, and doesn't everyone know what disgusting base little proles they are? So if it's Pulp, it's probably Exploitation too - may as well tar it with two forms of critical disapproval at once. And of course, probably the form of Exploitation that comes to mind most readily (and not just because you're filthy internet creatures) is Sexploitation - and that's certainly a tradition well rooted in pulp. I mean, just look at the chica in the first cover posted, the one from the good ol' days - apparently in the future, spacesuits will be designed based on the premise that blondes' skin is impervious to vacuum, so why bother covering it up. But exploitation can take many forms - blaxploitation being another famous one, though more so historically than presently (a latter-day homage here or there notwithstanding). In fact, I'd argue that it can perhaps take (at least almost) any form, because I'd define exploitation in this sense as meaning any time a cultural item takes a thematic element and uses it to exaggerated/heightened effect - whether it's female sexuality (or somebody's idea of it) or black culture (or somebody's idea of it), or something or anything else. Hence why I use the more generalized suffix form 'sploitation in the title rather than the word exploitation itself.

For instance, I'd argue that while The Boondock Saints probably most readily brings to mind its delightedly lurid and definitely pulp-tastic use of violence, its exaggerated/heightened employment of Catholic iconography and imagery could probably qualify as a form of exploitation as well (Catholicsploitation? Cathsploitation?). Hell, its use of such was so exaggerated/heightened that it managed to draw the opposition of the actual Catholic Church itself (which is something pedophilia had yet to do, so that's pretty impressive). The Church (with the capital C) actually went so far as to forbid any Catholic church (with the lower-case c) from permitting the film from filming inside them. So those scenes in the movie set in a Catholic church? Yeah, that's actually a Protestant church that the producers just stuck a giant styrofoam crucifix (yep - styrofoam. sanctity as done by show business.) in the middle of for shooting. Which all just goes to give evidence that this does in fact qualify as Exploitation by fulfilling another of the crucial criteria for said - namely, Pissing Somebody Off. For that matter, an upcoming review will cover another example of what might be considered - inter alia - to be Cathsploitation (yes, that's the one I went with. it's shorter.).

So, now I've talked a bit about Pulp, and quite a bit more about Exploitation (or 'Sploitation, to use the term from the title that I am increasingly beginning to regret, because I'm starting to notice it actually sounds kind of  dumb). But why? Isn't this just cultural trash? What's really worth noticing about it, much less actually discussing like it might even be worth something?

Well. I suppose one of the main items you could bring up is that if fiction is a mirror we hold up to ourselves (to wax pretentious for a moment), there just might be something worthwhile in having a mirror that can show us something of our id - of the raw animal hungers and needs that really drive so much more of what we do than we care to admit - not just the carefully crafted superego we've layered over it to hide it from the world, if not ourselves. Of course, Pulp isn't what it is because of any such pretensions or aspirations. Pulp is heightened and lurid and oh-so-often oh-so-delightfully demented simply because it loves to be, and because we love for it to be (remember the bit about the mirrors?). And it's not just another kind of mirror. It's just plain old goddamned fun, thumbing its nose at everyone and aiming right for wherever it thinks what's sometimes sneeringly called the lowest common denominator lies and with no apologies for it. And do you know what? That raw bubbling ferment of "we'll try it, because why not" can be just the kind of cultural stew that new things sometimes need to grow. Just read the first segment there that mentions all the people who came out of the relentless Roger Corman pulp machine and try to look me in the eye and tell me that that's all just a big mess of coincidence - that there wasn't anything happening there. Just try. I want to see if you can do it.

But don't get me wrong - Pulp isn't just there to produce other things. There's such a thing as good pulp, just like there is with virtually anything else. And good pulp can be appreciated in its own right, as no more - or less - than just that. Pulp will appeal to your basest instincts and desires. It will get in your face. It will cross your boundaries. It will lead you into a mad world where anything is possible if only it's outrageous enough, and where if you love the strange you will never be disappointed.

And let us all be thankful.


P.S.: Oh, and just on the off chance that the people reading this might be interested in this sort of thing, apparently there are "Extended and Unrated" versions of a couple of the items mentioned above:

You know - strictly For Your Information.

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