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Mumblecore is dead. Long live mumblecore.

Mumblecore is dead. Long live mumblecore. (photo)

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Following the same principle that dictates that any band that jumps from the underground to the mainstream loses its street cred, it’s safe to say that “mumblecore” — an initially jokey tag subsequently attached to a series of movies that really did have something in common for a while — is all but dead.

The past few weeks have seen articles about everything from A.O. Scott’s claim that Greta Gerwig is the most representative actress of her generation to an odd rant in Slate about the concept of “mumblecore nudity.” If punk exploded into post-punk the moment anyone wanted to write about it, then it seems safe to say mumblecore’s historical moment is dead (not least because no one could clearly define it).

Mumblecore was both real (a group of twentysomething filmmakers recording the minute emotional dilemmas of twentysomethings with a near-pathlogical fearlessness that could be confused with narcissism) and unreal (i.e., many of the collaboratory directors had very different ways of going about it). That Jessica Grose could categorize a particular type of nudity as “mumblecore” (when many of the films involved were mostly sexless, and criticized for that) speaks to the confusion attendant in summarizing a whole genre that didn’t really exist.

Forgetting all that noise for a minute, what’s interesting about “mumblecore” is that it did focus around a certain age cohort — demographically slimmed down to the white, young and post-collegiate, to be sure, if that’s something to be apologetic about — in a way that hadn’t been done before. Independent films up to that point had treated youth in a somewhat abstract and/or self-ghettoizing fashion: Jim Jarmusch’s hipsters (by any other name, but what else to call someone striding through the neighborhood to the self-broadcasted tune of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins), Richard Linklater’s abstracted slackers, Kevin Smith’s self-aggrandizing men of low expectations. (Or, to go back even further, the proletarians of your average Cassavetes film — seemingly naturalistic, but always portrayed by self-conscious actors and self-consciously operatic.)

04092010_hannah.jpgWhat “mumblecore” insisted upon (quietly, of course) was that a whole new group of kids were out there who’d never been taught to socialize had the right to exist that way — not to learn to speak with assurance and ease, but to negotiate the terms of how they addressed each other, whether that looked sub-adult or not. Point being there’s a whole generational rift that still persists from the ’60s — not about “progressive politics” or so on, but about what it means to be an adult now, and at what point you can have a mature income/home and still conduct yourself in a way that isn’t putatively “adult.”

That’s what mattered: to have people telling stories about others their own age without pathologizing it or insisting upon a generational crisis. The most unnerving revelation? Passive-aggressive, evasive patterns of expression are normal now for whatever reason (Douglas Coupland will surely have an answer soon). The hostility towards mumblecore — one that will persist long after the term encompasses such a diffuse group of movies that it’s even more meaningless than it is now — has more to do with that revelation than the value of the movies themselves.

[Photos: “Mutual Appreciation,” Image Entertainment, 2005; “Hannah Takes The Stairs,” IFC, 2007]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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