Bit Part in Bad Movie

I was finally offered the opportunity to directly inscribe my existence into the world yesterday. I was recruited by Central Casting to play a slightly drunk rocker in the background of a popular TV show featuring a horny Fox Mulder, which is a situation I feel as though I enact unintentionally day to day. A more honest depiction of my existence I could not imagine, and I made sixty five dollars to boot. The shoot itself was not particularly interesting, and an objective account of the event could only be interesting as evidence in a lawsuit contending that I had breached some sort of non disclosure agreement. But the subjective experience of “being yourself” in an expensive fake dream was too psychedelic to allow to disappear into the haze of a slightly irrelevant anecdote blurted out in the midst of a discussion on DVDs of HBO shows that people watch when they are depressed, so here we go.

As I prepared for the shoot I began to grow excited thinking about how perfect the role was. They had asked me to arrive the following morning looking ‘grungy’ and like a rocker (“don’t be afraid of the pompadour”). No problem, I thought. But when it came to assemble my ensemble, I became agitated. What if I was not ‘rocker’ enough? I suppose I had been gradually reneging on some of my rocker looks steadily for the past six years or so. What if they were not convinced that I was not any sort of rocker at all? The fear of not being able to adequately portray what I ‘really am’ wracked my mind. The stipulation that I had also to wear all or mostly all black further limited my wardrobe options. The only pants I had that were black were my ‘job interview pants’- baggy black slacks that were the opposite of of the torn and dirty jeans I imagined they desired. I put on these pants and despaired. I felt like a fraud. Not only this, but I had no black band t shirts, not a single one. How had I let this happen? Maybe I’m not a rocker after all? No, I had to reassure myself, I am still a rocker even if I could not convincingly portray one. I ended up with a very plain solid black outfit, with skinhead boots and an old punk belt I found. I couldn’t bring my self to buy grease and make a pompadour because I thought I would just look ‘classy’ if I did that, so I merely hand stoked my greasy hair into a garbled home pompadour that was admittedly awkward. It was the fact that I was going to be paid money that made me worry that I was a charlatan- I’ve felt the same anxiety before when assessing the relative visibility of various wine and mustard stains when dressing for an office job. I gave myself a tenuous grimace in the mirror for reassurance and headed out the door. 

As I approached the set my fears were relieved. There’s a lot of variation in people’s interpretation of the notion of a rocker, apparently. All the men looked like either guidos or leather daddies, and leather vests, mesh shirts and sunglasses abounded. Upon arriving, we immediately had to report to wardrobe where a sunfried middle aged Japanese man in tigerprint pants quickly assessed the authenticity of the extras’ attires. Very few people escaped wardrobe with their outfits intact, and while some people were completely overhauled (a saw one man fitted with some baggy leather bondagewear and others were required to wear leather chaps over their pants) all they did to me was take away the spiky punk belt that I had thought the one accessory essential to my identification as a rocker and replace it with a cheap belt made of linked tin iron crosses. They also gave me a choker made of jingle bells that did not jingle and a tight beeny that said “bones” all over it. I wandered away from the tent looking like a complete rod. Does this mean the entertainment industry truly views rockers as complete rods? Or perhaps that in order to adequately convey what your subcultural identification (and therefore your essence) is you must relinquish your independence and let someone with greater authority than you clothe you in a goofy hat.

The women had it much worse, however. They had been instructed over the phone to “be prepared to show a lot of skin” and came to the set with their own interpretations of what that meant- a lot of cutoffs and cleavage. The wardrobe people were rather merciless though, and the young attractive women emerged from the tent in all sorts of extreme attire. The tight leather corset was a favorite, as were tall stilettos that no one could walk gracefully in. Traditional cleavage, while stimulating, is in 2012 old hat, so many of the women came out with ‘ass cleavage’- skirts so high that the round jiggling bottom curves of their ass loaves were revealed if they stood or walked. While the woman had been selected on the basis of the “lingerie model” appearance, the compromising nature of their wardrobe caused them to stumble and gasp in the sun and took quite a bit of the magic out of the playboy fantasy. Nevertheless, I became a little overstimulated and very self conscious of my been, which I eventually removed and stuffed in my pocket just in hopes of seeming slightly less creepy when I was caught furtively gawking as I could not help but do during the five plus hours of down time. This beenie-burying was a no-no, but I could rely on the fact that there seemed to be twenty different bosses with indistinguishably varying amounts of authority wandering around (or in some cases, laughing charmingly at a scantily clad underling’s polite jest in a feeble bid for pussy) to keep me from being reprimanded. As we sat around, people struck up conversations about other TV shows and smoking weed.

So this was my work, sitting there in ridiculous clothes while trying not to further burden the women by becoming part of the world eyeball that was paying them to rest it’s flabby weight upon them. After two hours of sitting in a cafeteria type room we were moved to a warehouse type room for another hour of just sitting there. The move was not explained, and as we walked across the studio lot a bunch of men wearing short sleeve plaid prints and brown cargo shorts stopped slowly pushing various carts to unashamedly gawk as we passed. Whether they had time to note that I and my fellow men looked like complete rods in the midst of this forced ass cleavage march to “alternate holding area” could not be assessed, but I resented them for their better-placed friends that helped them land well paid jobs as box pushers in a self conscious industry so drunk on its own cherry pink prestige that it sloshes it around everywhere, giving people who might not have even stained their own shirts a smugness that is discernible over vast distances. During this second period of holding I overheard one of the two older extras complaining to the other about how he had been forced to eat garbage while playing a backgrounded homeless guy during a gig the previous week. After more rustling around in chairs and euphemistic cell phone prodding we were ushered back to the set. 

My specific duty was to pretend to see a hot girl, point at her, walk drunkenly to a specific spot near a pool table, continue to ogle and gawk, pretend to whisper things about how attractive I found this imaginary woman to be to my buddy, and repeat. Each extra was provided with a prop drink- mine was a Red Stripe half full of water.  Occasionally this water would touch my lips as I pretended to swig the beer- this repulsed me because I couldn’t help think that this water masquerading as beer was of a lower quality than regular water because it had been thoroughly imbued with the aura of inauthenticity. I noted the aforementioned ‘eat garbage’ extra actually drinking his prop beer. I pretty much had no idea what was going on. My scene buddy, a very fit young man with no shirt and a leather vest, was friendly and we established a mild rapport before he noticed that there were actually topless women around here and became increasingly agitated by his own horniness. A guy whose job it was to turn on a fog machine and blow it with a fan was repeatedly reprimanded by his boss for not blowing it in the right direction, or for blowing it at the wrong time. After doing this several times we clocked out for an hour of lunch.

Lunch was some decadent affair. A mob scene of prawns, crab legs, steaks, aioli, baked potatoes, several pies and chocolate chunk cookies, pestos, ice creams and largely neglected fruit baskets- served on paper plates with compostable silverware, munched ignominiously in the second holding area with our plates on our laps. The chief source of drama for me during lunch was whether to treat it as a ‘value adding’ event- meaning should I eat way more than I want because the food was expensive and they weren’t paying me much? Or should I act as though I respected myself and my environment and eat a large but dignified portion? Being in the background all morning had made me a little paranoid- it seemed as though a second plate might draw the attention ‘head food grip’ or something and cause me to be scolded or ejected. I compromised and decided to gorge only on cookies. After the scarfing we still had another half hour of unpaid milling around, but without taking off my jingle bell choker I felt some role confusion and couldn’t really relax back into my authentic self.

After lunch I was moved to a different area of the fake bar and encouraged to to pretend to talk to a ‘sexy babe’ who had the easy role of being disinterested in me. I pulled this off with aplomb. Again I had very little idea of what was going on around me. I began having some fun with the role and hamming it up, but I was very cautious not to draw attention to myself with extreme hamming. The number one directive of the extra is to not draw attention to oneself. Any attention paid to the extra is always negative- I was supposed to be a seamless part of a drunken and lecherous background wobbling in and out of the vision of a drunken and lecherous protagonist through which the ideas of several executives regarding the relative profitability of drunken and lecherous themes are put into effect. My explicit role was to ‘fill out the world’- meaning that I had to make it appear as though these exaggerated themes were consistent with an actually existing reality which humans lived in (living in this instance being illustrated moving a few steps and appearing drunk, appearing to talk and stare). I kept my face submissively on my fellow extras’ breasts and earned the silence which indicated approval and a job well done. 

Following the shoot, I noticed that Mulder was serving birthday cake to a bunch of the people in shorts. It was clear that the extras should not line up and receive cake from the star, though no explicit prohibition was spoken. The gift of celebrity interaction was a bonus for those who had pointed things and shifted things around for weeks and we had simply not earned it. Instead we were ushered to the sidewalk to hand in our guido-wear and return home. As I left I wondered if I had actually ‘inscribed myself into the world’ as I had thought I would do. During the course of the day I found that being paid, even if you are only being paid to ‘do what you do’ creates a low level anxiety that make you feel strange and that you are ‘not who you are’ (at least, not convincingly). Of course, the expansion of the marketplace into every aspect of existence can cause this feeling to persist even while you are not getting paid. This is why receiving a wage to be a fake rocker in the background is in some ways more authentic than being an unpaid real one onstage- it’s just a little clearer what’s going on. And that’s also why I feel that the experience had a metaphorical truth-substance that outweighed the ‘reality’ of who I am in ‘in my own time’, fraught as it is with fantasy, presumption and methods of psychological resistance to an encroachment of the marketplace which has already occurred. No matter how ‘normal’ I look in my own eyes, I appear foolish to others because I am inept at accruing wealth. Yesterday I flipped the script, and looked ‘normal’ in the background of some fantasy (my presence justified by my wage) while to myself I thought ‘I look and am acting like a complete rod”. In both cases I had (and have) very little idea of what is actually going on around me. What’s the fucking difference?

One Comment

  1. This is great. Your voice is reallly clear in this post, i.e. “This is why receiving a wage to be a fake rocker in the background is in some ways more authentic than being an unpaid real one onstage- it’s just a little clearer what’s going on.” And, BTW, that’s the fucking difference.

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