The other day I decided to watch Zoolander. This is about the same thing as being hungry and saying, "I want a pizza with lobster topping." Even though pizza is dope and lobster is dope and pizza with lobster on it is super dope, it's not something you want or need every single day. Experiencing it too much dilutes its quality. Because Zoolander is perfect. Everyone knows this. Saying that you think Zoolander is a good movie is like saying that humans grow hair. After watching Zoolander, I looked it up on the internet, and found out that Zoolander turned 13, like, five days ago and that they're making a sequel. Slowly, a series of thoughts—thinks, if you will—began to coalesce in my brain, coming together piece by piece. The result of these thinks—a "think piece," if you will—is below.
The days directly following 9/11 were intense. The nation was both in mourning and on the defensive. There was an unspoken understanding amongst people, it seemed, that the frivolity of the '90s had definitively come to a close. The 2000s were to be the Decade of Seriousness, and that would start with the nation coming together in the wake of this terrible tragedy. It was now a time for reexamining our nation, our values, confronting the fact that the United States was not, in fact, invincible. It was also a time for deep, deep paranoia. Anthrax, we were told, was being sent through the mail. America had a new, terrifying enemy by the name of Al Quaeda. Suddenly, we were learning about "sleeper cells" and it was stressed that the enemy was amidst us at all times, unseen, and all the more dangerous because of it. It seemed a light had gone out—one that would never again be illuminated.
Enter Zoolander, essentially a rewrite of The Manchurian Candidate, played for laughs and set in the world of fashion, a world that was controlled by a shadowy cabal of fashion designers who used brain-dead male models to carry out their dirty work. Just as Derek Zoolander was barely aware of anything that was going on around him, Zoolander itself functioned as an unwitting critique of the freshly minted post-9/11 America it had found itself in. In essence, director/star Ben Stiller had presented a fearful America with the most absurd version of its worst nightmare. Enemy among us? Check. Unknown evil? Check. The dizzying excesses of the world surrounding the characters being brought to its knees by the enemy among them that was so secret even they didn't know they were the enemy, dispatched by said unknown evil? Check. Stiller gave America exactly what it was afraid of and wrapped it in flashy, coked-out anti-logic that manifested itself in flashy colors, jump cuts and the concept of branding pushed to its very limits. It was an unintentional "fuck you" to the powers that be—a film that pushed our fears to the limit and pointed out their abject absurdity. And, if you didn’t like it, well, you could dere-lick his balls, el capitano.
A Newsweek op-ed from around the time of Zoolander's release ponders if 9/11 had killed irony dead, and if America was 'ready to have fun again.'
Still, it was hard to read it that way at the time. Put yourself in the shoes of America: Do you necessarily want to see a movie that's set in New York City that depicts three guys accidentally lighting themselves on fire in a tragic gasoline fight accident, just mere blocks from where the most jarring attack on America since Pearl Harbor had taken place, that also shows Owen Wilson pulling his underwear out of his dick? Though the reviews were generally positive, except for Roger Ebert who, bless him, gave Zoolander one star and cited it as an example of why, "The United States is so hated in parts of the world." A Newsweek op-ed from around the time of Zoolander's release ponders if 9/11 had killed irony dead, and if America was "ready to have fun again."
It's hard to deny that Zoolander is an extremely funny film. The script is wonderfully overwritten (I find myself idly saying, "Prancing around in your underwear with your weiner hanging out? You're dead to me, boy. You're more dead to me…than your dead mother," to myself fairly often). Meanwhile, it managed to get the entire self-serious fashion industry, as well as countless brands, so ubiquitous that they border upon institutions, to play along. Derek pours Diet Coke on himself and we're reminded of exactly how gross the brown liquid we're putting into our bodies is. He swims in the ocean as a graceful merman, shilling for Aveda, babbling about how moisture is the essence of wetness, which is the essence of beauty, and somehow it makes about as much sense as half the other commercials on television. When Derek thinks he's won the VH1 Fashion Award for Model of the Year, who does he embrace but the leathery, wraith-like frame of Donatella Versace herself? The fact that Zoolander was released by VH1 Films was a feat unto itself. Stiller had effectively infiltrated the VH1 brand and subverted it, turning the fashion industry on its ear.
In 2014, we live in a universe that is more Zoolandarian than it has ever been. We're in a renewed time of crisis. Yet again, we assume that the enemy is among us, but this time around it's the police, who are willing to murder pretty much anybody at the drop of a hat. ISIS has supplanted Al Quaeda as our culture's default "abstract, scary entity." Meanwhile, high-fashion is even more up its own ass than it was in 2001, but now it's been mainstreamed—take a trip down to VFILES and see if there isn't at least a little Derelicte in the stuff they're pushing. Ours is a generation beset by ennui. We want to help people, but we don't know who to help or how, with only a vague sense of social obligation guiding us. Derek called that back in 2001 when he said, "Maybe we should be doing something more with our lives. Like helping people…I don't know, PEOPLE WHO NEED HELP." Zoolander still resonates and the fact that it does proves how little America has changed in the past 13 years. It only makes sense that they're planning a sequel. No one else can show us how fucked up we are quite like Derek can.