Indie film Spork, about a female-identified intersexed person trying to deal with mean girls in junior high, isn't just a smart comedy with posthuman overtones. It represents the birth of a new subgenre: Bitpunk. Quiet Earth has a review.
Spork, directed by JB Ghuman Jr., is a sweet little film dressed in an 80s veneer about a young girl-identified intersexed person named Spork (Savannah Stehlin) making her way through the vicious absurdity that is Junior High. We meet Spork at rock bottom, where it seems everyone, including a gaggle of Britney Spears-obsessed tween girls, has it in for her. Spork has nowhere to turn until her Krump-tastic friend Tootsie Roll (Sydney Park) breaks her leg and can no longer perform in the upcoming talent show. In order to make something, anything, of herself, Spork decides to try her skill-less moves out in order to win the prize. All's well that ends well….
…if that was all Spork had to offer. Luckily for us, Spork is a lot more than a simple coming of age film. Instead, Spork is the mark of a new hybrid genre of literary punk. Introducing "bitpunk."
Truth be told, bitpunk has been namelessly blipping around for a while now, most noticeably within the music scene known as "chip tune" or "chip music," which repurposes the sounds and technologies of early 8-bit software (think: Game Boy music) in order to create (especially) dance music. However, bitpunk as a new literary genre takes this one step further, and like other subgenres of punk fiction, works within a world of its own design. So, while the world of steampunk would not be complete without brass, steam, and googles, the world of bitpunk would not be complete without, scrunchies, neon, and a Delorean.
With the arrival of Spork, bitpunk has become an official and unique genre of fiction that, like steam and cyberpunk, utilizes historically-pegged motifs, placing characters in a seemingly timeless landscape that echoes an era slightly askew to the one projected on the screen. So, while SPORK definitely takes place in the present (numerous references to Britney Spears tell us this), the setting and props speak to a time influenced almost entirely by Nintendo and Z.Cavaricci. Spork's "white-trash" brother, and guardian after the death of their mother, has a killer mullet with lines shaved in the sides, works on his Delorean while giving relationship advice, and owns a BMX. Spork's phone is one of those plastic see-through kinds. Spork's friend Tootsie Roll is obsessed with Afro Sheen. Almost the entire soundtrack is made up of "chip tune" music. Clearly, we are in a world that, had 8-bit technology been the be-all end-all of sliced bread greatness, it would apparently look like this.
And yet, no respectful splicing of punk would be truly complete without inherent political implications attached to it. In this regard, bitpunk lends itself to complicated gender roles, interracial (not necessarily "post-racial") alliances, and class awareness. Bitpunk employs everything the French critical theorists have written, every book by Judith Butler, every ounce of Third-Wave feminism all set to a catchy beat. Think: Le Tigre made into a narrative. Bitpunk is a world where inter-sexed people have their stories told. It's an environment ruled only by the randomness of Twister (the game that ultimately teaches our lovely protagonist to dance). In essense, bitpunk is the land of the marginal.
And, perhaps Spork will become that bar against which other bitpunk films are judged.
So, if Spork is such a milestone in genre politics, why the rating of 7? As a film, SPORK is good. It's not aaaaaamazing. In spots the 80s thing feels a bit tacked-on, but I forgive this seeing as the film is one of the first of its kind. There's also this rehashing of the "magical negro" theme that once you pick up on, you find in every film featuring an African-American person alongside a white person. In SPORK Tootsie Roll, who is black, teaches SPORK, who is white to dance in order to get her to win the cash prize, even though we know for a fact she and the rest of her black friends live in the ghetto, and probably have it way worse than Spork. But, like all magic negro films, the little black girl is of course going to drop everything to help her only white friend. Ho hum.
Despite all that, it's kind of a must-see film for all ye genre-files. Please keep you eyes peeled for what's next in this brandy spankin' new scene of film.
It's worth noting that Napoleon Dynamite should be seen as a precursor to this genre, and not necessarily a full-fledged bitpunk film. As, while Napolean himself rocked the 80s style, people outside his click did not, making the film only influenced by the emerging bitpunk scene, but not entirely playing along. As in, we're not quite in fantasyland yet.
Rating: 7 out of 10
This post originally appeared on Quiet Earth.