This is a review of Ali Smith's Winter When we look back on right now – 2017, nearly Christmas, in the midst of one of the biggest man ...Read More
This is a review of Brodie Lancaster's No Way! Okay, Fine
We can’t help but view the world through a lens of popular culture – for some people it’s a murky haze of chlorine which they’re always trying to rub out of their eyes, for others it could be a cool pair of rose-tinted glasses. The point is that in some way or another, we all have to consider the ways in which pop culture helps us define our lives and the ways we interact with each other. For Melbourne author Brodie Lancaster, that lens is more like a pair of night vision goggles, or Superman’s x-ray vision, or Cyclops’ ruby-quartz visor, in that pop culture helps her see through things, gives her clarity – makes her powerful.
No Way! Okay, Fine is Lancaster’s debut book, but you might already know her incisive commentary and cultural criticism from her work in Rookie, Pitchfork, Junkee, Film Fatales or Rolling Stone. The reason I bring this up in relation to No Way! Okay, Fine is because you are immediately assured that Lancaster knows what the fuck she is talking about when it comes to the film, TV and music that she loves. And that’s good, because what we are essentially presented in this book of memoir is a life seen through the prism of her exceptional knowledge of these mediums. And it’s really great writing, usually entertaining, often incisive, and sometimes very funny. My favourite bits are when she’ll let a little of her potty mouth through into the text – it only happens once or twice, but since she’s managed to make the entire book feel like a wonderful conversation with your smartest friend about cool things, those moments feel even more genuine somehow.
Lancaster does things like mixes in an almost bewildering kaleidoscope of references to help talk about experiences from her own life, or her stance on a variety of topics. For example – in her chapter ‘Tough is Not Easy’, she manages to illustrate some feelings on feminism and image by summoning no less than: Gone Girl, Nigella Lawson, Notting Hill, The Wedding Planner, Bridget Jones Diary, the ‘Save the Cat’ screenwriting theory, Anna Faris, Paris Geller, Broad City, OJ Simpson, Homeland, Anne Hathaway, Hillary Clinton, Madonna, One Direction, Friday Night Lights, This American Life, Six Feet Under AND MORE. This is one chapter. And it works – each reference plays a role in helping explain her point of view, to help flesh out the subject and make it relatable. Even if you don’t understand the meat of the reference itself – which often happened to me – the fact is that Lancaster understands it well enough that she’s able to guide us through, and use them all to help support each other. When she talks about the process of returning to her home town of Bundaberg after experiences in the wide-open world, including living in Melbourne and New York, she writes:
‘I didn’t want to be another example of that trope of “uptight woman coming back to her small town and judging things she once accepted as commonplace based on her new set of standards’. Characters like Sarah Jessica Parker’s Meredith in The Family Stone, Reese Witherspoon’s Melanie in Sweet Home Alabama, Demi Moore’s Samantha in Now and Then and Charlize Theron’s Mavis in Young Adult, all donned some combination of black oversized sunglasses, tight skirt and black turtleneck to show how far they’ve moved away from the lives of the frumpy, sweater-wearing simpletons in the small towns they begrudgingly visit annually (or even less frequently).’ After identifying that behaviour so thoroughly in the film lexicon and recognising it in herself, it’s beautiful to watch her still wrestle with her own impulses to become that trope, and ultimately forgive herself for the struggle.
There’s a lot in this book I won’t comment on – writing about the body and feminism which just isn’t particularly my place to enter the conversation. And that’s fine – I’m reminded of Dr Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Picture Show spitting out the following phrase after Janet has a tepid reaction to his beautiful muscle man: ‘I didn’t make him for YOU!’ Those chapters weren’t crafted for me, but they were still interesting and entertaining reading, which I benefited from.
My particular favourite chapter was about Lancaster’s time in New York City, a whirlwind of low-paying arts jobs and bad rental and feeling overwhelmed and pressured to live the dream. I identified myself in that chapter a hundred times, and loved reading something very personal about the idea of ‘failure’ and learning your own limitations. I also loved some of the chapters about Lancaster’s love of One Direction or Kanye – these chapters are pilgrimages, summaries of years spent interacting with the ideas and the real-life reality of fandom. I realised after reading the chapter on One Direction (whose music I quite love) that regardless of how much I enjoy them, I am not a “fan” in the same sense, and probably never could be. There’s an element of passion and dedication that I don’t possess, perhaps deriving from something societal, or perhaps spiritual (due to that pact I made with the devil) – but Lancaster not only has that element, but engages critically with it. The blending of music criticism, fandom and relating it all back to her own life reminded me of Shady Cosgrove’s She Played Elvis – but where that book was focused only on a trip to Graceland to explore the idea of the author’s lifelong love of The King, Lancaster takes us through a life defined by her passion for a broader gamete of influences, a book filled to the brim with a love for pop culture.
I loved this book, and managed to absolutely tear through it. It’s unapologetically millennial in its subject matter and tone, which means that perhaps some older people could be left a little cold – but once again, Frank-N-Furter comes to mind. But even amongst the stories dealing almost solely in MSN Messenger and Myspace, there are universal themes – of betrayal, of discovering ourselves – that would have to ring true even to people who didn’t grow up on those fabled social mediums. Lancaster’s voice is smart and entertaining and witty, but we already knew that – it’s really no surprise that her book is too.
Patrick Lenton is an author, works for Momentum books and runs Town Crier, a social media and digital marketing consultancy for authors.
Cameron Colwell reviews Peter Polite's debut novel Down The Hume. Peter Polites’ Down the Hume is a rough and occasionally vicious exp ...Read More