It’s times like these when I feel like Grandpa Simpson writing to practically anyone about the most insignificant things.
In any case, I wrote a little email to Christopher Hawthorne, the LA Times architecture critic who named dropped emo a little incorrectly in his review of (500) Days of Summer. No matter what you think about the direction of newspapers, you have to love the fact that writers place their contact information in their articles: they want people with anything to say to speak up. It can often lead to corrections of errors and overall improve the public knowledge of almost anything to be reported on. Which is the very nature of journalism in the first place.
Though I don’t believe that what I complained about will be corrected (after all, it’s merely a minor detail), it’s nice to know that journalists like Hawthorne exist and care about the public. Below is what he wrote to me (I’ll include my email to him at the bottom of this post):
Thanks for the note — I went back and read the piece again and agree that in a couple of places I should made clearer that I meant emo in the broadest possible pop-cultural sense. And there probably ought to be a word somewhere between emo and indie to really precisely describe what I was zeroing in on; or maybe I should have tried to coin one. Again, thanks for the note.
It was very kind for Hawthorne to give my email such thoughtful consideration. So, shame on me for thinking that architecture critics are out of touch with ambiguous youth cultures. Hawthorne has certainly proven himself.
For anyone still entertained by this whole correspondence, the beginning is below:
I wish to send a little correction to you about your piece on architecture in ‘(500) Days of Summer’. My feelings on the actual film aside, I feel that I must point out your incorrect use of the term “emo culture” in your piece. What you have described, is, in fact, indie culture, a concept you make note of in terms of the types of bands characters in films like ‘(500) Days of Summer’ listen to, and yet you sidestep this culture immediately. Especially in the case of ‘Adventureland’ – a film that takes place in the 1980s, when emo first sprung up in DC’s post-hardcore scene – those individuals are very much imbued in the indie/underground culture of the time (listening to Lou Reed and The Replacements, etc). Sensitivity expressed within a young male shouldn’t necessarily be tagged as “emo” (an idea that has caught many a journalist considering the term implies emotional, but really stands for emotional-hardcore): if it is an alternative to how men are portrayed, then they are “alternative.”
But, in the case of “(500) Days of Summer,” the culture being portrayed is that of indie culture. From the characters’ style of dress, to the color scheme, to the song choices (Regina Spektor, The Smiths, and The Pixies are staples of indie culture in America), to the “quirkiness” oft found in today’s “indie” films, and even your own comments on the culture, roping in McSweeney’s and “This American Life,” depict indie culture at its most stereotypical. Emo culture, as it is seen today, is for adolescents who are “depressed” and into punk, often also into violent fetishes and even considered to be something of a suicide cult (among circles not to understanding of the term). What you are describing is a middle class, late teens/early 20s, typically white, college educated, and often affluent individual, who – in terms of leaps and bounds in generalizations – tend to make up the most stereotypical indie culture. They have the opportunity to read McSweeney’s, listen to “hip” bands like Vampire Weekend, and spend days and weeks and months without a job while trying to hunt down a dream position at an architecture firm and pay rent (in Tom’s case). I particularly don’t think that this explains all of indie culture, but that’s it to a “T” in terms of what the movie expresses and what they’re trying to package off and sell to that audience.
I realize this may be a silly thing to email you about correcting, but these kind of mistakes tend to snowball… and, as emo culture is already quite misinterpreted among the media (oft thought of as for young depressed teen punks with a fetish for self-mutilation), this would just throw another wrench into the already screwed up mess of a machine.
The piece was otherwise well written and thoroughly researched… it’s just kinks like the odd interpretation of emo culture (especially when today, for that to be emo culture, the characters would often be a decade younger or so) that irk me a little. Anyway, I hope all is well and take care.