So, I ended up watching Van Wilder on Comedy Central this afternoon. Its a fairly typical example of the late-nineties early oughts genre of wacky college adventure movies. Grandsons of Animal House, if you will. Same basic premise... happy slackers overcome the unaccountable hatred of their more responsible peers, and in the process win over their women via demonstrating that happy slackers are in touch with a sort of happiness lost to uptight overachievers in their quest for square accomplishment.
PCU would be another exemplar of the genre... and there were others... their names currently escape me.
The universe presented by such movies is interesting on a number of levels. It presents an interesting sort of utopian fantasy environment... a place where a variety of difficult questions need not be resolved. An ethnically diverse place, but one lacking any acknowledgement of the history of racism and the politics of racial oppression. A place in which women are simultaneously presented as accessible sexual objects and as independent, career minded people.
But I think an even more difficult question is being dodged.
See, the character of Van Wilder, like other characters within his genre, is a sort of "whiteboy trickster god" a beautiful, charming, member of the white upper class who has chosen to revel in the material culture of late capitalism and share its bounty with his equally beautiful multi-ethnic friends, rather than become a part of his father's class of uptight oppressor-types who make everything such a drag. Van Wilder's rival, equally ubiquitous throughout the genre, is an aspiring member of this uptight oppressor class, whom Van Wilder defeats through his wit, and the help of his uniformly capable, happy friends.
As a mythology it seems to value rebellion and happiness over obedience and accumulation... which is probably why I find such movies so attractive. But it elides something important.
The material ease that nurtures us whiteboy trickster gods was built by the uptight oppressor class. Its continuation is dependent on their continued extraction from time and the bodies of the opressed "ever more useful forces" of production. If there is to be real change we will be asked to make to make a more difficult choice than simply that of walking away from the role of uptight oppressor. If we want to realize a just world, one in which chinese workers are not slaves to machines for 15 hours a day to build our hip, rebellious ipods we will have to think critically about our own comfort. And that won't necessarily be fun.