If there was a single world to describe Lorde and Miller’s filmography thus far, it would be “self-aware.” Lord and Miller’s films seem to know exactly what they are. (Nowhere is this more evident than in The LEGO Movie, a movie so aware of its tie to a product that feigns to be the essence of creativity that the film itself becomes about the essence of creativity.) In an age of selfies and status updates, self-awareness is the language of the day. Lorde and Miller and company are exceptionally adept at speaking that language by making films that poke fun, not at Lorde and Miller, but at the films themselves.
22 Jump Street, Lord and Miller’s latest, is the funniest and most self-aware sequel to a surprisingly entertaining adaptation of a moderately popular 80s TV show that I can imagine ever being made. If you liked the 21 Jump Street, you’ll like its sequel, because it’s very explicitly more of the same only bigger, broader, and remarkably more self-aware.
The most interesting part of this film is the re-definition of masculinity at the story’s core. Gareth Higgins has already written extensively on that aspect of the film. I agree with his take on all but one point. I think the fist fight between Jonah Hill and a Jillian Bell late in the film is similarly self-aware and satirical, altering gender stereotypes as effectively as anything else in the film. Now, I’d agree with Gareth that I’d rather not see a woman be punched, but I’d also rather not see anyone be punched regardless of their gender. I think Gareth would agree to an extent. If you haven’t read Gareth’s article, do so now. It’s excellent.
I want to take on a different aspect of the film here, however, and I’ve already mentioned it – 22 Jump Street’s self-awareness as well as the self-awareness at the heart of Lord and Miller’s other films is worth further consideration.
I like to think of 22 Jump Street‘s self-awareness as a kind of protest against the fact that the filmmakers are being asked to make a sequel simply because the first film in the series was financially lucrative. It’s their way of saying, “We know what’s going on here. We know you’re just cashing in on the prior film’s success, movie studio, and we’re going to let you do that, but we’re going to let you know that we know you’re doing that, too. We know you’re using us to sell something. Here. Sell that knowledge.” It’s subversive self-reflexivity, and this kind of self-awareness isn’t limited to movies. In a world full of corporations selling their users, Lord and Miller’s self-awareness is potentially transformative.
I don’t know who said it—I think I read it on Twitter, appropriately—but if a web product is being offered to you for free, then you’re the thing that’s being sold. For example, anyone can sign up for Facebook, right? It’s a “free” service. However, it’s only free because Facebook sells access to its users to companies. This isn’t a new paradigm. Broadcast television has been doing this since its inception. What’s different about social media is that social media outlets aren’t producing content. They’re asking us to provide the content to suck in other users. Then they sell the users.
Selfies—photographs people take of themselves to post to social media—might be trading in the same subversive self-awareness as 22 Jump Street. Selfies can be seen as a way of saying, “I know what you’re doing, social media website. You want to sell me? Then sell me.” If we understand selfies that way, they too can be seen as a kind of protest against the commodification of our selves just as Lord and Miller found a way to protest the commodification of their creative energies. I’m not suggesting that every teenager with a cell phone is performing acts of protest as thought out as Lord and Miller’s films, but I am suggesting that there might be a kind of subconscious subversiveness at work in every selfie.
But, of course, Lord and Miller didn’t stop at self-awareness. They managed to slip in some truly subversive notions of masculinity into the studio product they helmed. Given that I haven’t read many other commentators talking about the gender politics of 22 Jump Street, perhaps Lord and Miller were able to distract everyone with the meta while they slipped in the metamorphosis right under out noses.
Selfies too have recently become something more than simple posturing. Do an image search for “protest selfies” to find examples of people around the world using selfies to express resistance against injustice and solidarity with those being oppressed. In these instances, the selfie becomes a form of non-violent protest. Much like Lord and Miller’s sneaky gender politics, protest selfies become a force for societal change.
Self-awareness by itself is nothing more than pride. It’s triumphant navel-gazing of the worst sort. But self-awareness that gives way to self-sacrifice on behalf of a greater cause has the potential to be transformative both for the self in question and for the world. So far, Lord and Miller’s self-aware films have exhibited that kind of self-awareness. I’ll look forward to seeing what they do next.
Here are a few other reviews of 22 Jump Street from other outlets you might find helpful from: