oedipus rex, crimes of the future, and the tiktok fashion girl
Recently my friend Veronika has been committing audiovisual terrorism upon my person by sending me tiktoks. In doing so, she has familiarized me with a certain type of person who has gained some popularity on the platform, namely the maximalist fashion girl.
I was vaguely aware of the maximalist fashion girl before this, but now I can’t get her out of my head. She films her videos from her huge closet, where she assembles the most colorful, contextless outfit possible. At the end of the video, she may include a clip of herself walking outside in her absurd clothing, most likely in NYC. Here are some links to some accounts which are representative of the phenomenon I’m talking about:
I find these accounts unbelievably grating, but I have to admit that there’s a narrative arc, a kind of art, to this type of video. There is tension in watching someone put together an elaborate outfit. The more components to the outfit, the more tension there is – how will she use jewelry? Will she layer? Is there going to be some kind of unexpected twist? The more maximalist the creator is known for being, the more suspense there is, as the viewer comes to expect a unique and challenging outfit.
I’ve also seen some movies lately, which I must say I enjoyed far more than the above tiktok accounts. The first was Crimes of the Future, which I bring up here because I was utterly surprised to find that the surgical performance art pieces performed in the movie, wherein Lea Seydoux artfully removes ‘new organs’ from Viggo Mortensen’s unruly, mutating body, reminded me of the tiktok maximalist fashion girls. I tried to imagine what it would be like to be in the audience of one of those performance art pieces. What kind of suspense would I feel as Seydoux cut into Mortensen’s body? What would I desire? I think I would want something truly new generated by the body, and every previous performance would create more tension, more desire for something extraordinary. This is, I think, the same reaction that the tiktok girls are trying to elicit.
What the performance art duo of Crimes of the Future and the tiktok fashion girls have in common is that they are creating a kind of content of the self. It is narrative content about adorning or cutting into a body. It is about creating or changing a persona. Insofar as we live in an atomized world, where the self is understood as something which expresses instead of belongs, an elaboration of self expression is going to be deeply satisfying in a way that traditional ‘art’ might not be. There is a sense that this kind of performance might generate something truly new, something that fascinates and repels.
After I watched Crimes of the Future, I watched Pasolini’s Edipo Re (again). This is my favorite treatment of the Sophocles play. What is interesting about Oedipus in the context of this essay is that he can be productively compared to the medicalized protagonist embodied by Mortensen. Oedipus comes to be characterized by his self inflicted blindness. His wound, however, despite its horrifying nature, is not an object of fascination in itself, as his blindness comes to define him primarily in relation to his community. His body and personhood are not performances in themselves. Blindness in this context means exile, not ‘body horror’ as we would recognize it. Oedipus’ blindness is the physical threshold after which he cannot remain a member of his (or any) community, and it is from this that the horror of his scenario is derived.
In Crimes of the Future, Viggo’s body is certainly politicized, but it also is continually performing itself, and this is considered artistically legitimate, even deeply thrilling, to its audience. There is an apolitical purity to his performance art which is never available to the miasmic Oedipus. Similarly, the tiktok girls are marked by their ability to create a total lack of context. They are dressing for another world, and this is what people like about them.
I think in the future, the sublime is going to be increasingly marked by a total lack of context. Oedipus Rex, and all tragedy, is context rich, and any knowledge of its context enriches the experience of the piece. Self expression, on the other hand, has at its apex a kind of totality which eclipses any context, a total expression of an idiosyncratic inner world (in Viggo’s case, literally). I am reminded of the book Pattern Recognition, in which a group of people becomes utterly committed to a series of videos which feel like they come from nowhere, which feel un-branded by anything at all. The self (the inner self, even!) is the ultimate site without context, and, because of this, it’s the theater of the future.