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Opinion: Pop will greet itself

The year the metawave went into hyperdrive: how 2013 was the most self-referential year ever

“I’m just saying that for me, personally, it feels like a dead end. The cultural products now seem designed to analyze themselves, and to make a spectacle of their essentially consumable perversity.” 

– Maggie Nelson, The Art Of Cruelty

“Merry Christmas, you filthy animal. [Fires] And a Happy New Year. [Fires again]”

– Home Alone II

In part, I will remember twenty-thirteen as the year in which I spent four minutes and twenty-seven seconds watching a former child-actor eat pizza: the Culkin meisterwork appeared on YouTube under the title of  - what else? -  “Macaulay Culkin Eats A Slice of Pizza” on December the 16th, and has since clocked more than half a million views, and been covered by TIME

“Oregano?” the TIME piece bellows, helplessly, into the void. “Where is he right now? Who taught him to eat pizza? Is he just going to sit there looking around this empty room [and] occasionally breaking the fourth wall for the next 50 seconds?” 

He is, of course - the clip is a tribute to Jorgen Leth’s “Andy Warhol Eats A Hamburger,” in which the Pop artist does exactly as the title suggests. 2013 might be said to be the year in which Pop gained a greater understanding of itself: an awareness of how to manipulate itself into abject hipness, so that things which might otherwise be ironically appreciated about it are offered up with sincerity – to be in on the joke, after all, is to reap its attendant publicity while still saving rhinoplastied face. This was the year, after all, in which the neon, neo-Brueghel horrorshow of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers – a film which is to movie fucking, bikini girls, frat horniness and objectification what Michael Haneke’s Funny Games is to movie violence – enlisted two Disney actresses (Selena Gomez, 20, and Vanessa Hudgens, 24) to fire their sub-machine-guns in time with Britney Spears. 

"Do you really like movies? Really, really like movies?” a sombre Lindsay Lohan asked in Bret Easton Ellis’ microbudget noir, The Canyons: “when's the last time you went to see a movie in theatre? I guess maybe it's just not my thing anymore." The out-of-work actress – sloppy, drug-fuelled, sexually-motivated – was a mirror for Lohan’s own cruelly-constructed media image: an owning of the attributes which made her a thing of instant Tumblr rebloggability allowed her to reposition herself as a junkie icon. 

(Later in the film, she adds: "I guess I'd like to just keep some parts of my life private." This wish seems implausible, certainly, for the real-life Lohan.)

It was the year, too, which produced Kanye West’s music video "Bound 2" (an artefact which the critic Jerry Saltz believes to be “as bizarrely gonzo and creepily asexual as Jeff Koons's hyperrealistic 1991 paintings of himself having sex with his then-wife Cicciolina”), in which the eccentric rapper is pictured jerkily making love to his pointlessly famous girl on a motorcycle. The iconography of the white-trash American dream; a landscape which appears as if it is airbrushed onto a truck-stop t-shirt – through rescuing other much-maligned cultural signifiers with knowing subtext, West perhaps hoped to achieve the same fate for his permapapped beloved. Self-awareness is Pop’s route out of the intellectual ghetto – where Culkin, say, outgrows Kevin Macalister via a juvenile pizza pop-group, or Kanye West puts his plasticized mudflap girl on a literal motorcycle; where the actor James Franco releases a twitpic of a semen-drizzled Batman mask as a means of distracting us from the idea that he’s Hollywood’s Harry Osborn. In reference to West in particular, Jerry Saltz calls this phenomenon – or something like it – The New Uncanny:

“To the famous, these new unprecedented levels of fame must feel like Kim [Kardashain]’s nippleless boob,” he writes. “They perform, yet are removed from, yet embody the culture all at the same time. What they do makes a grand gestural show of doing away with concealment, modesty, and self-consciousness, in ways that leave us only with two truly concealed, rather than revealed selves.”


“My name is Macaulay Culkin,” the kid from Richie Rich says, at the end of the video, “and I just finished pizza.”