James Franco is finishing a joke. "Natalie Wood…get it? What kind of wood doesn't float?" Everyone is very hung over this morning, but fortunately Franco sent his Maybach Landaulet and driver to whisk us to Chlamydia, the new Bobby Flay café in Chelsea, where we are drinking revivifying Bellinis and an assortment of other smart cocktails with Vito Schnabel, Slavoj Žižek, Natalie Portman (or possibly Keira Knightley, or Keira Knightley's body double), Sasha Grey, Heath Ledger, Michael Lee Nirenberg, Lena Dunham, Chloë Sevigny, and a Thai/Puerto Rican pre-op transsexual Franco introduces as "Pinball."
We are all sweating slightly and staring at Billy Cyborg passed out in a bowl of muesli. Inexplicably, the table is cluttered with untouched Chinese take-out containers and bottles of Evian, and there are piles of silver glitter and confetti everywhere. Nirenberg orders it all removed immediately. Skrillex's mash-up of One Direction's a cappella version of Justin Bieber's cover of Mudhoney's "Touch Me I'm Sick" is playing inside the bar, drowning out other, probably more interesting, conversations at other tables.
Last night Franco and Nirenberg suggested we see Billy Cyborg and the Hate Fucks play at a new avant-garde theater in Bushwick called For Rent, which resembled an abandoned warehouse, exquisitely detailed with defenestrated windows, exposed, sparking BX cable, and what seemed to be piles of dead cats in the men's toilet, where I went with Jared Leto, Stoya, Harry Styles, Bjarne Melgaard, and Nirenberg to do a couple of pre-show rails. Billy Cyborg is the front man for the band, formerly known as Billy Robot and the Botched Abortions, which was legendary for its Ambient/NuMetal/Dancehall/Ska/Gospel-fusion music as much as for their notoriously short (usually three-minute) sets during which the band was usually candy-flipping, drunk, or just passed out on top of each other. Billy is also a part-time adult film actor who met Franco on the set of Deep Inside Brian's Ass or The Spurt Locker. At last night's awesome performance, the band, who had all eaten a handful of E, formed what could only be described as a "cuddle puddle" downstage on top of their mute instruments, while the drum machine played itself for fourteen minutes. Haunting.
I am wearing a black T-shirt I borrowed from Franco this morning that says "God of All Fuck," optic yellow aviator glasses with very cool holographic skulls in the lenses, and forsythia-colored store-torn jeans (and matching jacket) by Pucci. I'm barefoot, having accidentally left my shoes in the Maybach.
Žižekis discussing the new Paul and Damon McCarthy show, Rabble Dabble Babble. "I find this work so much stronger than the granderWS project at the Armory, the brilliant retelling of Walt Disney's Snow White story. But where WS leaves us asking ourselves that timeless question, Who would you rather fuck: Wilma Flintstone or Betty Rubble?, McCarthy's work here probes deeper into the meaninglessness of American culture."
Pinball chooses this very inopportune moment to call for more Bellinis. I notice that the name on the black AmEx card she proffers reads "ALEC BALDWIN."
"As I was saying, McCarthy's deconstruction of the myths behind the great Nicholas Ray's Rebel Without a Cause, with all that longing, intrigue, unrequited love, and blow jobs, is the perfect metaphor for American culture. It is like Coca-Cola! Is it not that in the case of caffeine–free Diet Coke that we almost literally drink nothing in the guise of something?"
At the mention of coke, Billy Cyborg snuffles a little and lifts his head from the muesli bowl. I was getting a little worried that he may have actually drowned in it, and I had been kind of working, like, unsuccessfully, on an alibi. Lena Dunham takes a napkin, spits on it, and starts wiping soggy bran and confetti off his chin. Grey, carrying a Black-Cherry-Bomb-Red Gucci clutch, speaks quietly into Dunham's ear and heads off to the back of the café; Dunham stage whispers "shark week" to the table, informatively.
"What I am referring to, of course, is Nietzsche's opposition between 'wanting nothing,' in the sense of 'I do not want anything,' and the nihilistic stance of actively wanting Nothingness itself. Following Nietzsche, Lacan emphasized how, in anorexia, the subject doesn't simply not eat anything; rather, he actively wants to eat Nothingness itself. The same goes for the famous patient who felt guilty for stealing, although he didn't effectively steal anything. What he did steal was, again, Nothingness itself. Along the same lines, in the case of caffeine-free Diet Coke, we drink Nothingness itself, the pure semblance of a property. This example makes palpable the link between three notions: that of Marxist surplus-value; that of Lacan's objet petit a as surplus enjoyment, a concept that Lacan elaborated with direct reference to Marxist surplus-value; and the paradox of the superego, long ago perceived by Freud. The more profit you have, the more you want; the more you drink Coke, the more you are thirsty; the more you obey the superego command, the more you are guilty. In all three cases, the logic of balanced exchange is disturbed in favor of an excessive logic of 'the more you give, the more you owe,' or 'the more you possess what you are longing for, the more you are missing and thus the greater your craving,' or the consumerist version, 'the more you buy the more you must spend.' This paradox is the very opposite of the paradox of love where, as Juliet put it to Romeo, 'The more I give, the more I have.'"
Franco, seeing that Žižek's diatribe is going nowhere, pipes in, "You know, originally, Rebel Dabble Babble was a concept that I was developing with Damon McCarthy, Paul's son. It was conceived as a film and film set. You saw where the HOLLYWOOD sign is inverted? At the, you know, beginning of the show? Whose idea was that? Mine."
Pinball, now sitting with six Bellinis in front of her, says, "Yeah, but I think you ripped off a lot of material from Richard Rush's The Stunt Man. It had all the same elements: sex, sadistic directors…um, impressive, uh, stunts…. Now that was a really great movie about making a movie. Fuck Fassbinder. Fuck Herzog."
"You have," interjects Franco. "Like I was saying, I dropped out of the project -- too busy with my, uh, blogging -- but I think that the ostensible theme of the show, the, like, concept, as it were, about the interrelationships between the characters in the movie, and the, um, actors in real life is pretty important. I like how the McCarthys developed the performances…how they appropriated a lot of really interesting performance pieces from Vito Acconci and Bruce Nauman, and, um, Mel Bochner…and, like, put it through a meat grinder."
"I thought we were discussing Coke?" a puzzled Žižek asks, staring somewhat awkwardly at the now-snoozing Billy Cyborg, whose head is in his lap.
"Watching McCarthy's performance is a bit like eating meat," continues Franco. "I mean, I love meat…"
Pinball's eyebrows arch, forming perfect, inverted "V"s.
"...but," ignoring Pinball, "I'm not sure that I want to go to the slaughter yard. That is where Paul and Damon take you."
Žižek, who has clearly lost his train of thought, adds, "McCarthy's work is a near-perfect example of all that has gone wrong with American culture. It provokes physical revulsion, but it is not mere provocation; it is intended as an all-out assault -- as he calls it, a 'program of resistance!' He himself has said, 'I can see much more clearly now that we are living in the middle of this kind of insanity, and it runs itself. And the really scary thing is that we are not conscious of it anymore. It is a kind of fascism. The end goal of that kind of capitalism is to erase difference, to eradicate cultures, to turn us all into a form of cyborg, people who all want the same thing.'"
"Betty Rubble," I say to the suddenly quieted table. "Definitely Betty Rubble." - Bradley Rubenstein
Mr. Rubenstein is a painter, story teller, and smart culture aficionado.