David Cross On His Directorial Debut, Hipsters, and the Nature of Fame

by Davis Richardson

David Cross’s directorial debut, Hits, explores the darker undercurrents to our current cultural consciousness, tackling a wide range of topics indicative to the 21st Century, including the eerie phenomenon of reality television, frustrated libertarians terrified of Obama’s “socialism”, and hipsters gentrifying Brooklyn. It’s a stark portrayal of our collected awkwardness that effortlessly interweaves the new and the old, showing how ridiculous both have become in the wake of the almighty Internet. Cross exposes his characters as shallow numbskulls, but also has tremendous sympathy for them as lonely people who are victims of their present environments, a testament to his abilities as a filmmaker. We sat down with Cross to discuss the death of the Middle Class, corruption in Washington, and how America has transformed into a nation of self-deprecating narcissists.

Where did the idea to make Hits come from? I don’t know how the idea initially occurred to me. I knew I wanted it to be the first film that I did because I knew all the ideas I wanted to flesh out and fully realize.

A lot of recent movies out there have attempted to satirize millennials, technology, and hipsters. What do you think makes your film different? If you gave me specifics, I could say, “this is different from this because of that.” I don’t think it’s technology as much; it’s more cultural. It’s not like Black Mirror or anything like that. In this world, Liberty New York, and in our world, technology is pervasive, which is good and bad, but technology is the thing that allows Katelyn and Cory, and the rest of the kids in it, to take this shortcut, which didn’t necessarily exist until about twenty years ago.

What makes them want that shortcut? Because with the invasion of Iraq and the 2008 financial crisis, millennials are growing up in this society that places less and less value on them. They may view the shortcut as a necessity because they see no other option. But that’s simply not true, even if they may feel that way. 9/11 was a tragedy, but it was no less of a tragedy than the Great Depression or World War II or Vietnam. The sense of hopelessness we see in any generation applies if there are certain things to it. I don’t think the [kids in the film] think about it that much and I don’t blame them for not thinking about it. It’s not like when I was eighteen years old I thought of my life and world in those types of terms. You just sort of do what comes naturally, and what’s natural is that my generation has created this world for them. We’re the ones to blame because we created the YouTube generation; that’s the product of the world we gave them. As much as I have contempt for Katelyn and some of the other characters, I understand it. I don’t fault her because that’s the world she lives in. The idea that you would [fault her] is absurd. That ship has sailed; we’ll never go back.

Do you think there’s a place for the Middle Class anymore in America? Yeah. There has to be. People get that, at least I hope they do. It’s crazy: the widening gulf and disparity between who has money and who doesn’t and how much money those who do have money have. But as long as the Middle Class, or the Lower Middle Class, or the Poverty Class keep voting people into office that don’t have their best interests at heart, the more it’s going to be like this. It’s always boggled my mind.

That all starts with local politics. I feel like nowadays it’s very easy to bemoan the decisions happening in congress because it exists as this abstract figure of Washington corruption. But really, it’s happening in our own backyards and that’s what we need to pay attention to. Yes, but I think that goes hand-and-hand with, maybe not the Senate, but certainly our Representatives. There are so many opportunities to get to know the representative of your district and for the most part, they’re craven and crass idiots. They’re just buffoons; demonstrably dumb, anti-intellectual.

So it all starts with educating the public. Often times, one doesn’t look through [emotional issues] them with a pragmatic filter, especially if you’re religious, [regarding] gay marriage or teaching evolution at school. If someone runs a campaign and says, “The guy who’s telling you how [my policies] are going to kill small businesses is demonstrably untrue. Here are the figures. Here is the information. I want to implement these policies which help the Lower and Middle Class,” he doesn’t win! And then people like Scott Walker get elected.

Towards the end of Hits, one of the protagonists completely explodes and says all of these vile, racist things. Whereas he had initially been romanticized, now we really see what’s lurking underneath. I think that’s a problem too. That’s a statement and I feel very vindicated by the fact that we shot that movie in the summer of 2013 and then we went to Sundance in January 2014 and about three and a half months later the Cliven Bundy stuff happened.

So you think that darker mentality really exists in a lot of Americans? I wouldn’t say everybody, but it’s scattered throughout the movie: he’s listening to Alex Jones, he gets his news from Fox News, if you look at his desk there’s a lot of libertarian stuff – there’s The Weight of the Taxpayer and The Turner Diaries. It’s there. He’s a simple guy, he’s not a bad guy. He just kind of lost it in that one moment. He’s not an Alex Jones ranting guy, but that’s who he listens to. I think he’s the kind of guy who’s half a step away from chem trails.

I really laughed during the scene just because of how true and how accurate it was. Well, that’s Cliven Bundy. Everybody ran to support him and Fox News, had him on and it was like, “He’s our hero because he represents us and then ten days into it, he comes out saying, “The negro doesn’t like this and they like that.” Whoah…oops.

On a different note, when did the concept of a hipster develop? I think the '50s, right?

How do you think it’s evolved? Barely. Youth culture, unfortunately extends into older people. Doing something to make a distinctive mark or separate yourself from “the masses” is usually associated with the artsy guys, whether it be visually or with film or writing or whatever. The term “hipster” is applied to the same archetype.

Earlier we were talking about technology being used as a short cut. At what point did we go wrong as a country where our youth became fascinated with this Kardashian-like notoriety just for the sake of having it? I don’t know, but I would guess it really started happening, in earnest, with The Real World. That is sort of when it started. The Real World begat all those other reality shows and people got famous for being on those reality shows because they did something and then posed for Playboy. Then they go on TV to promote things. I suppose The Real World started that idea of false reality, of a pre-packaged, very heavily edited look at life. And now it’s ubiquitous and it’s the norm. Bravo wouldn’t exist without those awful, terrible people that are willingly exploited. Terrible, terrible people are on TLC.

They love humiliating themselves and we love watching it. I’ve talked about this before, but you have a lot of people, some hipsters, some not hipsters, but people who watch Jersey Shore or Real Housewives of Atlanta or Honey Boo Boo and they tell you they’re watching it ironically and they blog about it. They have a career blogging about and making fun of Real Housewives, and they do recaps of every episode. There’s this smug elitism to it; this cultural elitism. The whole thing is, “You’re perpetuating this. This thing you report to hate and you think is such a bad example of our culture, that exists because people like you talk about it with detached irony, yet you’re still supporting its very existence.

Text by Davis Richardson. Photo by Aliya Naumoff.