As one more white person of a certain subset of a generation of white people that came of age in the time of Wes Anderson movies, I am totally stoked to see Moonrise Kingdom even though his movies haven’t been very good since The Royal Tenenbaums. Anderson has been making movies about children for ages, he just always puts them in adult bodies. Which worked ok for Rushmore and The Royal Tenenbaums, but not so much for Darjeeling Limited. Three rich white guys on a train in India acting like spoiled children was not too charming, so much as it was historically correct.
Speaking of rich white guys, Anderson has done a lot to contribute to a misconception by countless people of my generation: that preppy W.A.S.P. style that alludes to a certain level of snobbery is cool. And by “cool,” I mean James Dean-style cool. That’s right: White Anglo Saxon Protestants, a descriptor that sounds applicable to many white people — myself included — but in fact fits best when describing a certain brand of New England blue blood.
(NOTE: Kennedy was in fact a Catholic, and so is exempt from literal W.A.S.P. status, since he was missing the end letter of the acronym. Even so, the Kennedy style is still pretty iconic W.A.S.P. style and honestly, I like how it looks. Jackie especially.)
I actually completely understand Anderson’s obsession with this odd breed of American. Anderson grew up, like myself, in the South. He in Texas, me in Tennessee. Now, we have wealthy people in the South. And we have white people in the South. And we have Protestants in the South (in fact, we pretty much ONLY have Protestants in the South). But we don’t actually have W.A.S.P.s. W.A.S.P.s are a regional culture unto themselves and the culture is….well…tight-ass, as I’ve discovered as an adult. The South is a lot of things, but even white wealthy people there are too boisterous to be W.A.S.P.s because W.A.S.P.s seemingly love whatever is appropriately bland. Or at least, that’s my impression now that I’m around them a lot.
I was fascinated by the idea of W.A.S.P.s (also by Catholicism, the Mafia, and easy access to lobster) as a teenager in Nashville. They wore such funny clothes. They lived in Maine, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island. They sailed, played Old World lawn games, sipped appropriate cocktails on properties filled with flowers that were allowed to go appropriately “feral.” There were children’s books about how they aged, bought bicycles with baskets on the front and rode around seaside towns planting flowers. WHO DOES THAT? From afar they seemed so enjoyably eccentric! So exotically Caucasian! They lived in this country, but were completely of another world. HOW? Hilarious.
So as a young adult, I ate up Anderson’s line-up of odd W.A.S.P.s as relatively accurate portrayals of a hilarious demographic whose style was so different from anything I’d ever known, it seemed pretty cool. Now that I live in New England as an adult, I’ve realized that W.A.S.P.s are no joke, man.
Wearing Top-Siders or Nantucket Reds on the West Coast, I felt like I was nodding to some enjoyable Andersonian make-believe. Here, I feel like I’m expected to join a golf club– also known as the field where you pay a lot of money to have a leisurely walk about with white people with no sense of humor.
Which brings me back around to why I’m looking forward to Moonrise Kingdom, which was filmed entirely in Rhode Island. Anderson has finally found a landscape, time, and age group that better fits his aesthetic and White Anglo Saxon Protestant obsession. But also, because I like seeing the beautiful and idiosyncratic New England landscape through the eyes of someone not from here and as explored by children, as it should be.
Why AREN’T there girls with binoculars staring out from the pleasing red and white lighthouse on that little rock near Newport? Why doesn’t the chilly New Englander personality translate into sardonic hilarity? Why don’t we row to beaches carrying wooden picnic baskets and have it inspire a wonder for the natural world?
I guess sometimes it takes a semi-outsider (Anderson IS a well-to-do white guy, after all, so it’s not like he’s THAT much of an outsider) to see new possibility in age-old ways of being. Or to read hundreds of years of blue blood appropriateness as deeply absurd and not a little goofy. And this is how we were mislead: absurdity goes well with originality and creativity, both of which are associated with cool when it comes to a certain subset of white people.
This is admittedly a pretty half-assed theory, but it’s the best I’ve got on this gorgeous Memorial Day. Now I’m off to sip a cocktail in my hammock.