Bruce Benderson on Lonely Man Beer
by Bruce Benderson
It’s not an exaggeration to say that my generation, from the sixties, was the first to become disenfranchised from historical context. Or, to put it more simply, we lost the support of our forbears. When knowledge of Latin stopped being an earmark of the educated American, when Greek myths no longer provided a foundation for the artistic or philosophical articulation of modern life, our generation resorted to pop culture. That’s all that was left. But was there any way to descend even further down than that?
Perhaps it was the moment when global capitalism climbed upon its throne and we realized belatedly that we were living in a postmodern age that the legacy of the next generation became clear: irony would be the sole tool of the new artist. But as irony lost its satirical power, its power to critique, it became a tool of entertainment for profit and the advancement of social status. In the art world, this change was illustrated by the career of Andy Warhol. Pop began as an acidic criticism of middle class capitalism—until the rich embraced the experience and filled the pockets of those artists who obliged them by doing it. Andy became what he’d made fun of: a wealthy living joke. Perhaps we baby boomers shocked our parents by relying on rock music and movies as inspiration. The next generation shocked us by looking at our pop culture ironically, and then using that vision as an amoral networking tool. What better symbol of this activity than the TV commercial as art?
Lonely Man Beer, a two-minute-and-fifteen-second film, starring Damen Corrado and directed by Philip Weaver of Imperium Pictures, is as velvety and fluent as a real beer commercial and manages to pack nearly everything it wants to say into the paltry flash format of such a genre: a complete tragic-comic plot, a character sketch, sexual metaphor and a eulogy to the visual aesthetics of illuminated brew. The idea is simple: what happens when an inveterate young beer drinker, the perfect symbol of Miller’s Hi-Life, discovers the Oedipal horror behind his promiscuous habits. Without ruining the principle gag of this short film, I can tell you that it assiduously follows its extended liquid metaphor from beginning to end: the twin “golden showers” of beer and urination lead to “a bigger splash.”
It is the increasing depth of this metaphoric trajectory that is the most admirable thing about this mini-movie. True to other artistic products of the post-Boomer generation, it manages to find humor in the hard sell and casual lyricism in sex; but then it presents the tragedy that can result when lyricism and sex are put in service of the hard sell.
These aspects, however, aren’t the most interesting for me. As I tried to indicate at the beginning of this short essay, what interests me is the dilemma of cultural disenfranchisement encountered by today’s certainly post-classical yet even post-pop generation. Pop artists studied the cheapening of the image by market forces and discovered a new source of abject aesthetics. Postmodernists merely recycled the Modernist palette. But the post-Pop, post-post-Modernists of today have had to deal with the obvious poverty of all imagery and the shoddiness of all aesthetic devices available to them, as well as the blunting of all irony. They have seen all of these elements presented with a cynical kind of humor that laughs all the way to the bank. It’s inevitable that they grow bored with the celebration of vacuity and the sensationalism of the grotesque for its own sake, no matter how much money they make from it. Even the cleverest tricksters of the new art world, such as Banksy, come close to being opportunistic court jesters. At best, they have made their own cynicism the subject of their art, and sometimes quite successfully.
In this new atmosphere, Corrado and Weaver have searched for a medium from which to wring meaning and found, of all things, the beer commercial. In using it, they have preserved all the naïve delight of the entertained, hoodwinked consumer coaxed into an alcoholic fantasyland of beer recast as liquid gold. But they have harmoniously added their own piss to the formula, somehow achieving from this unlikely collusion a tale of trauma and loss just slightly short of the truly mythical.
Lonely Man Beer
Written by Damen Corrado and Philip Weaver
Directed by Philip Weaver
Produced by Imperium Pictures