Daniel Moldoveanu: 'Paris 2005' (2019); acrylic, correction pen, white marker and UV-print on canvas; 50 x 70 cm

Daniel Moldoveanu: 'Paris 2005' (2019); acrylic, correction pen, white marker and UV-print on canvas; 50 x 70 cm

The Relationship between an Un-Politicized Tabloid-Culture and the Social Shortcomings of Irresponsible Youth

March 12, 2020; As the entirety of Europe was preparing for lockdown, following the lead of Italy, Spain, and most Asian countries, almost unbelievably absurd video recordings of tipsy college students radicalizing pseudo-hedonist philosophies for the world to see started surfacing the internet and creating headline news. “If I get Corona, I get Corona. At the end of the day, I’m not going to let it stop me from partying”, declared a 22-year-old beachgoer. He later issued an apology.1 Receptions varied, naturally: from dark humor to disbelief, to anger and disappointment, all connected by an equal amount of confusion as to why? In an age where information, particularly of this kind, spreads at the speed of light, what caused these people to not only ignore rational pleas for cancelation but to also flaunt their actions on national television? What shaped up the character of these individuals in expressing themselves the way they did in that (soon to become) allegorical event?

Around the same time last year (March 2019), I paid a considerate amount of time watching the news. Reports of hate crimes rising in Europe, the centrist position being eradicated by exponentially radicalizing political parties and the undoubtably nationalist post-election results, post-Brexit, post- Trump fear that the liberal Europe, as I have gotten to know and cherish it, may well seize to exist, polarised the landscape of my thoughts. I turned my head around the classroom in which I was sitting and started asking people if they knew about the upcoming European Elections. Basically, none of my classmates knew they even existed; despite the fact they were legally eligible to cast their vote. Then I wondered: would nationalism still be on the rise if educated, capitalist, over-sexualized and travel-obsessed teenagers like these would show up at the voting booth?2

Parting on a long journey of organizing educational workshops and a panel discussion in collaboration with experts and representatives of European institutions (European Youth Parliament, WKO, AK, European Union House Vienna), taught me a lot about how politics is being communicated. Leaving my short-lived attempt at European activism aside, the search for answers as to why my generation was showing such an absurd, ambivalent3 relationship to politics led me to relive some of the strongest influences from the pop and tabloid culture I personally grew up with. Christina Aguilera rocking it in her music video Dirrty (2002)4, Lindsay Lohan’s plastic performance in Mean Girls (2004)5, Britney Spear’s iconic Gimme More (2007)6 performance at the VMAs (despite/ because of her being in the middle of a psychosis) and the many video footages of Paris Hilton walking in and out of clubs, sh*t talking about Lindsay, flaunting her pink phone around (1999-2009)7: all these aren’t primal areas of interest when investigating generational subtexts of psychological political positioning. Yet, there is plenty to be said about what they represent and even more to be considered when reviewing how they related to, what almost felt like, parallel realities happening just a remote button away.

Daniel Moldoveanu: 'Paris Britney Lindsay' (2019); acrylic, correction pen, white marker and UV-print on canvas; 100 x 140 cm

Daniel Moldoveanu: 'Paris Britney Lindsay' (2019); acrylic, correction pen, white marker and UV-print on canvas; 100 x 140 cm

‘A Decade of Disasters’ is what Eric Holdeman, an emergency management specialist who worked on different governmental and private sector levels, called the years between 2000 to 2009.8 September 11, the Moscow Theatre Hostage Crisis, The Madrid Train Bombings, The 2005 London Bombings, The Iraq War, The Second Congo War; just to name a few. These events were horrific. As a child, I occasionally and passively took note of them. As a child, I understood the negative impact, the chaos, the societal desperation and uncertainty they produced. It was obvious: in the language of the news anchors reporting on them, in the mysterious vocabulary used by adults as I was eavesdropping. I am certain not to have been the only child to have made this experience. As a child, one thing was, despite my limited knowledge, evident: these were all errors, exceptions, unnatural happenings; interventions by a few evil individuals that normally wouldn’t occur. They didn’t happen in the same world inhabited by the likes of Nicole Richie. That world was on another channel and by just going on You Tube or switching to E!, these events didn’t bother me. I didn’t need to worry. I didn’t need to ask questions. I was safe, I was growing up to become part of the world I was following; a world of my choosing. The VMAs, the high school movies, the paparazzi videos of Amanda Bynes were medially just as present as the countless atrocities negating a fun, glamourous, forever-21-type reality. As a result, as a child, from where I was sitting, maybe without realizing it, these worlds became parallel and at the same time equally valid. The ignorance of one in favor of the other was not escapism, by any chance; it was a legitimate alternative.

Around 2002 tabloid magazines by the likes of Us Weekly and new cable tv channels like E! started gaining traction in the US (back then, still the most prominent source of cultural influence – not so sure about that now). People like Bonnie Fuller were interested to find the next ‘it’ person to commodify. He and other journalists, marketers, editors inspired themselves from the past and stumbled upon a prototype for what their publications came to profit from above everything else. Following Walter Winchell’s infamous description of Brenda Frazier, a New York social light, the term ‘celebutate’ proliferated the cultural landscape and took on a whole other meaning with the appropriation of ‘famous for being famous’ – reality entertainment concept.9 10

Daniel Moldoveanu: 'Paris and Nicole' (2019); acrylic, correction pen, white marker and UV-print on canvas; 2019 50 x 70 cm

Daniel Moldoveanu: 'Paris and Nicole' (2019); acrylic, correction pen, white marker and UV-print on canvas; 2019 50 x 70 cm

In fact, what seems to differentiate the celebrity culture of the early 2000s from previous or current ones, is its complete lack of autonomous stance in relation to the reality in which it was bred. Icons like Marilyn Monroe signalized, through whispers of commercialized femininity, the oppression under which her persona came to be understood. Marilyn made statements.11 Rapper Cardi B also makes statements. She regularly streams herself ranting about social inequalities, slamming the government, and championing her own views for her Instagram followers to judge. Paris &co, on the other hand, only ever stood for things they were paid to sell. Perhaps, even more peculiar, is her irrevocable decision to monetize on the last door of privacy guarding her own life (aka. the infamous sex tape), in order to be at once actively hated, repeatedly stigmatized, idolized and envied. By doing so, she unknowingly became the materialization of a postmodern identity, the individual who has disappeared completely—and happily—into her own spectacle. 12

Writing this essay turned my attention towards the Bravo Magazine and The Simple Life phase of my upbringing precisely because it is often considered as the one least likely to have inflicted long-lasting cultural consequences for the young audiences keeping up with it. Trivial, unpolitical, considered, and over-commodified as the pop culture of the early 2000s appeared, it was often criticized for setting a wrong, childish and superficial example. This criticism always damped at the public’s assessment that the only substance this culture had to offer was the commercialization of an ephemeral, empty, capitalist lifestyle. While it was unrealistic, its agency over teenagers was also guaranteed to go away as soon as they grew out of it. In short, the pop-culture’s ability to have a long-lasting influence over consciousness was undermined by its own stupidity. For me, it goes beyond that.

“Us”, “our”, “my generation” can be highly biased and problematic terms. I do not believe that one can segment this “generation” by race, cultural background, geographical standpoint, or even social class. After all, a young boy growing up in a post-communist Romanian coastal city might not have necessarily been the target audience for this profoundly American, I dare say even gendered phenomenon. This essay arises from the assumption that mass culture can indeed be a great equalizer in terms of presenting youth with algorithmic and monotone points of cultural relation, provided that the audience maintains the financial capability of possessing the devices, channels, and time in order to actively consume it. As a result, the concept of a generation (within the diameters of this essay) refers less to empirical data and more to the entirety of the receiving and engaging audience of this specific culture (be they in the minority or majority of where they accessed it from).

The manner in which the subject of these contents was equally real or unreal (both, I guess), in hindsight, sedated an entire generation’s ability to feel afflicted. A generation that grew up with increasing amounts of violent ‘errors’, never feeling directly threatened, developed a self-induced immunity to cautiousness itself. For cautiousness is often triggered by a Darwinian angst and one need not fear what can be avoided.13

What took place in Miami exposed an intricately developed, socially distant, anxious, and performative value system unable to adapt to a world it truly wasn’t designed for. The show must not always go on. Sometimes, a real break instead of spring break can do wonders.

  1. Cf. Ortiz, Aimee. (2020). Man Who Said, ‘If I Get Corona, I Get Corona,’ Apologizes. In: The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/24/us/coronavirus-brady-sluder-spring-break.html (31.03.2020) 

  2. https://www.europarl.europa.eu/pdf/eurobarometre/2014/post/post_ee2014_sociodemographic_annex_en.pdf (03.06.2020) 

  3. “Ambivalent” because there is a widespread lack of knowledge about how their democracy factually functions, yet at the same time, a growing trend for passionate, enraged and aggressive opinions on subjects like climate change. 

  4. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Rg3sAb8Id8 (31.03.2020) 

  5. ‘Mean Girls’ (2004). Mark Waters/ Tina Fey/ Rosalind Wiseman 

  6. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWQ-BaTAeOs (31.03.2020) 

  7. Cf. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWQ-BaTAeOs (31.03.2020) 

  8. Cf. Holdeman, Eric. (2010). A Decade of Disasters. In: Government Technology. com. https://www.govtech.com/em/disaster/A-Decade-of-Disasters-2000-2009.html (31.03.2020) 

  9. Cf. Hymowitz, Kay. S. (2006). The Trash Princess. In: City Journal. https://www.city-journal.org/html/trash- princess-12973.html (31.03.2020) 

  10. Cf. Tolentino, Jia. (2019) Reality TV Me. In: Trick Mirrors. Reflections on Self-Delusion. London: 4th Estate 

  11. Cf. Banner W. Louis. (2012) Marilyn: The Passion and The Paradox. London: Bloomsbury Publishing 

  12. Cf. Debord, Guy. (1967). Society of The Spectacle. Detroit: Black & Red 

  13. Cf. Darwin, Charles. (1872). The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals. London: John Murray