Tuesday, July 06, 2004

USA: Waif Nation

The Corsair is not just a cute Ugandan-born blogger making his way through this city. Nooooo; you're so not catching the full effect of this revolutionary thing that I'm trying to do here. The Corsair is also a social anthropologist of the highest order, a sort of Amateur sociologist supreme ... well, okay, but I'm still good at it and I have a degree in the social sciences, so you better recognize. Of course, when a trend emerges, a vexing trend, something new and vaguely threatening, The Corsair comes out of the wilderness, web shooters at the ready, to explain it to the waiting blogosphere at large. With snark. And a dash of wit. Sometimes I do this slightly drunk as I am particularly good at analysing social trends after the eighth tumbler of Cutty Sark. So much the better. For me, at least, anyhoo.

So, let me let you in on a new trend, true believers: all the rage, au courant, if you will, and it rises with the fortunes of Senator John Edwards. The Waif, people. Edwards is a waif; not a Kucinich waif -- actually, The Kuc is more Elfin -- but a waif, to be sure. Independent film is tres bohemian; Obscure independent ethnic films with subtitles (for further reference, see the Film Forum's Ingmar Bergman Film Festival) is waif -- as in, "didn't Ethan Hawke waiver on attending a screening?" . Prius? Waif. The waifs are back ... those small, thin people are ruling the media.

You know what a waif is now, don't you? Those slim, adorable, youthful Peter Pan-types (Michael Moore is an exception) who "won't grow up," what with their idealistic politics, and those large, liquid, Japanese anime-like eyes (awwwwww, can we keep 'em?).

They tend to pull off the scruffy, nurtured in the wilderness look; the men sporting goatees (The Ethan), or, in the case of Prince, "slave" insignias (what a meaningful facial statement) in places where models will kiss and notice. They are delicate, so don't hug them too hard, they might break.

Waifs tend to believe more in ideas and social justice than in money and power, often spurning social advancement on behalf of their integrity, causing Machiavellian Manhattan types to whisper, confused -- "what the fuck?!" Paul Fussell wrote about them as "Category X" in his masterpiece vivisection of American social life, Class.

They lack appropriate body mass (look, for example, to Fiona Apple and Bob Dylan or even Daniel Day-Lewis) and are often vegans (Moby), eschewing feeding off another living animal, turning from what they call the cycle of "reciprocal maintenance" -- eating and being eaten, like at Hollywood Studios.

Others, to wit, may be devotees to really exotic and rare ethnic foods -- the more odd the better, as if, almost, to suggest that they are less physical than otherworldly creatures, influenced less by mundane gravity than by cosmic rhythms ("are you up for Mongolian today, guys"). They tend to like France (see Johnny Depp), almost in spite of how everyone else feels about the subject, and they believe in things like "solar power" and "international law" and "world government" ("suckers").

If they are not international celebrities (no such luck here) or artistically inclined (many are, some are not), they aspire to live in fashionable neighborhoods and gravitate towards jobs at "nonprofits," or arts managaement or radical politics and odd spiritual movements, like the Open Center in New York, or Esalen in California. Some also like vocations that bring them into contact with beauty and social beauty (Kate Moss).

God bless their naive, waifish hearts.

Here are some prominent waifs on the media radar:

Jesus Christ: Fashionable, thanks to The Passion of the Christ. Eccentric. Against the status quo. Wore long hair, ranted against the moneychangers in the temple. Political idealist ("what's this mess about turning the other cheek?"). Probably was scruffy. Most influential waif.

Michael Jackson: Disgraced waif. Took that Peter Pan thing to a whole new level (Averted gaze).

Edgar Allan Poe: Eccentric waif. Inventor of The Detective Novel (Rue Morgue). Large bulbous headed geek god. Idolized by Fellini, more popular in Europe than in US. Like fellow waifs DH Lawrence and Virginia Woolfe, a spectacular, if unheralded, literary critic. Died under mysterious circumstances -- way ahead of the curve.

Ralph Nader: Bitter, iconoclastic waif.

Alanis Morissette: Sometimes overly revealing in her music. Crazy, perverted chick. Went down on some dude in ... a ... theater. Thanks for sharing. Canadian, maybe that's her problem. Consults the Eiffel Tower for love advice. Freaky. Your typical Aquarius.

Richard Linklater: part of the waif Holy Trinity with quasi existentialist screenwriting buddies Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.

Janine Garofalo: Unpredictable spitfire. Stalled budding indie film career in Hollywood by signing on as an unpaid Air America radio host. Ruined tv career by mentioning the lack of women at Saturday Night Live, and publicly taking on the Second Iraq War as her pilot was being checked out by ABC.

Marcel Proust: Liquid-eyed Patron Saint of waifs. The definitive chronicler of the waif-important subjects of consciousness and aristocracy.

George Stephanopoulos and Gwyneth Paltrow: The sell out waifs. Dropped the waif cred to sell out to "the man."

Dave Eggers: Scruffy object of affection from Williamsburg. McSweeny Collective founder.

Johnny Depp: Doesn't live in Hollywood; appears to value "fame" and "celebrity" about as much as he does a muggy afternoon. Will never sell out to "The Man," but likes to attack those who do, like Nicholas Cage. Quirky roles; The Craft over Oscars. Lives in France. Bohemian. Knocked up galpal Vanessa Paradis at a "socially inappropriate" time.

Mozart: Youthful child prodigy. Died young. Patron saint. His music tends to be played at waif events.

Whit Stillman: Rare, dying breed: WASP waif, for further reference, see Caulfield, Holden.

Christiane Amanpour: Though a recent mother of a young child, Christiane repeatedly goes into the thick of war zones to cover the War on terrorism. We love you Christiane, but what the fuck?!

Noah Baumbach: Next to Wes Anderson and Richard Linklater, the patron saint film director of waifs.

Uma Thurman: Named after a Buddhist goddess. Played an un waif-like karate killer. Mitigating factor: The Bride was out for idealistic "Justice."

Joan Didion: Preternaturally thin essayist.

Resolved: Move over B-Listers. Waifs rock.










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