By Lily Akerman
If you missed what exactly Hannah Montana has to do with Miley Cyrus, or the feature film The Wackness, Dave Zucker’s Girlpants and Gasoline will fill you in. This collection of essays explores topics in pop culture ranging from manufactured celebrities to the classification of avocados. It’s not a reference book so much as a book of references. At turns analytical, at turns personal, Girlpants and Gasoline parses cultural reference points for their underlying irony.
In “Ke$ha Would Like My Beard,” Ke$ha becomes a case study. In “Your Love is My Drug,” she sings: “do you wanna have a slumber party in my basement?” to which Zucker asks, “The basement?” Kesha’s functionally an adult. “Can’t we just boink in her bedroom?” Intentionally missing Kesha’s point, he takes her lyric as grounds for adding a “seventh stage of human development, to be recognized between the transition to biological adulthood and what would societally be referred to as functional adulthood.” In this stage, one is biologically able to have children but instead decides, consciously, to act irresponsibly. In drawing out Kesha’s meaning to the point of absurdity, Zucker highlights the extended adolescence that is so pervasive and even celebrated in our popular culture.
Several of the essays in this collection look at the way their subject is classified. Edward Said described a theoretical binary as something defined by what it is not, dependent on something else for value. “Of Lego, Disney, and Post-Colonial Theory” applies Said’s binary of the Other to Disney movies and further to Legos. “The Truth about Cats and Dogs” elaborates on the cat-person-versus-dog-person binary, while “On Avocados” ponders the fruit-versus-vegetable debate. By de- and re-constructing our popular beliefs, Zucker seeks to reveal the motivating biases behind them.
Binaries are a form of hyperbole, and therefore they carry comic potential. Even as Girlpants and Gasoline deconstructs binaries, it also relies on them for comedic effect. “On ‘Hot Chicks’” casts women as an Other, defined by male perceptions: “Who wears short shorts? Externally validated women wear short shorts. But that’s fine. Hot Chick is not a ‘slut’.” This perspective is undercut by its counter-binary: “Men are oblivious, entitled assholes, and women have been trained to either buck the patriarchy and live a life of hardship, or when possible buy into the controlling system and play their role to their own maximum benefit.”
For hyperbole to be funny, it has to toe the line between exaggeration and truth. At times Zucker misses this mark. “Cats are dicks” is tenable; “But here’s the honest truth: attractive women hibernate” doesn’t quite ring honest or true enough to deliver on its irony. Filtering through multiple self-conscious, ironic, and ironically ironic layers can be exhausting and, in some instances, baffling.
In other instances, Zucker’s observations hit the mark precisely. “The Death Throes of Print Media: Webcomics as a Creative Community” offers a detailed analysis of the rise of webcomics. “Girlpants and Gasoline” patiently deconstructs the layers of consciousness that lead one to choose an ironic t-shirt: “We scrutinize ourselves, deconstruct our own actions to see how others will perceive us and perhaps alter them in such a way that upon review by others, they will lead only to the conclusions about us we would have others believe.” Zucker’s tone captures the hipster’s pretentiousness. He writes: “Apparently gay-bashing is funny, insofar as it is overtly obvious to everyone in attendance that gay bashing is absolutely horrible and at all times funny in no way whatsoever.” So true. With a sharp I for irony, Girlpants and Gasoline sheds light on our collective (self-)consciousness.
Lily Akerman (ΦBK, Princeton University, 2013) studied creative writing, literature, and theater at Princeton University and is currently on a Fulbright in Ireland. Princeton is home to the Beta of New Jersey Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.
Dave Zucher was inducted into Phi Beta Kappa at the State University of New York at Binghamton in 2009. Binghamton is home to the Psi of New York Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.