A "friend" on facebook posted a link to "21 'Ghost World' Quotes That Defined Your Adolescence," which looked choc full of a tiresome, so-over-it sense of cool. In other words, its brand of preemptively bored cynicism was too familiar. I was over it. The only way way out of this arrogant metaboredom was to watch it.
It wasn't until a scene of impasse, when Enid is actually exhausted by her distaste for everything, that I felt released from the trap. She's packing to move in with her best friend (although at this point they aren't even friends in scare quotes, just housemates). Is she packing or unpacking? She begins pulling old stuffed animals out of a box, and finds and old record--presumably from the record collecting man who, after they slept together and she "thought out loud" that she might move in with him, has been desperately calling her, hoping her errant speech meant something. He's one possibility. The LP is a terribly cute song about being cute, a song about becoming a thing to have a thing:
Buy me something special
Buy me something rare
So I'll be special and I'll be rare with a smile and a ribbon in my hair
To be a girl they notice
Takes more than a fancy dress
So I'll be special and I'll be rare
I'll be something beyond compare
I'll be noticed because I'll wear a smile and a ribbon in my hair
She dumps all of the toys from the box. Beyond being an old record, the music itself is from a music box, with its endemic distortion. She holds up the t-shirt for her future job--what will pay the rent for her best friend's apartment. It's orange with green text: "Computer Station." Her glare moves from the shirt to the record player. There's nothing that isn't off. The record she's playing doesn't so much reach the end as come up against it. She sits on the bed, not even sighing.
Enid's life is so concerned with aesthetics that not even intentional ugliness really fits and the only positive aesthetic she can claim is obscurity. Her dream is "going off to some random place, and disappearing." She likes the record collector, Seymore, because his obsessions are too arcane to really judge. She goes out one day with green hair and wearing a biker jacket, and a zine shop employee judges her for trying to be punk. "Didn't they tell you? Punk rock is over." "It's not like I'm some modern punk, dickhead, it's obviously a 1977 original punk rock look." When Seymore was younger ("your age") he became obsessed with the "original" racist artwork of the fried chicken chain restaurant at which he's been working for the past 19 years. He kept it all in a three-ring binder.
Enid's friendship with her best friend in high school, Rebecca, falls apart, but not for a particularly dramatic reason. Rebecca becomes more and more invested in consuming ostensibly tasteful things, and Enid is bored by this. Her objection isn't ideological, though effectively it is. She just finds Rebecca's taste in things gross. "I just can't imagine spending money on plastic cups." "They're quality stuff." In Rebecca's apartment (which by the way is a disgustingly monotonous red and white, like a diner oilcloth, or a jar of strawberry jam): "I gotta show you this, it's really cool." Rebecca folds an ironing board down from the wall. "Isn't it great?"
Sometimes, Enid's disgust with consumption is about eating. "You know who I ran into at the bagel place?" her dad asks, spreading a bagel with cream cheese and jam, bringing the jam in awkward globs from the jar. He ran into an ex of his, which is not "horrible," as she suggests, but more like his bagel. "Mmm," he keeps mumbling, "this is really good." All she can say is "jesus."
The movie came out in 2001, two years before I graduated from High School, and it has captured, if not necessarily my graduation itself (though it's true that banal speeches enthusiastically clapped for were in abundance), then the experience of every High School assembly I ever attended. It has the self-congratulatory dance performances, the senseless, cliched speeches, the bewildering buzz of mass excitement. The graduation scene captures the survival strategy I wished I was witty enough to employ: ridicule. Of course, ridicule requires a friend to make eye contact with across the stadium (as Enid and Rebecca do) or whisper to in the next seat. Some form of togetherness, whether with the crowd or not, is necessary. As I once put it, voice trembling in front of the class, "to survive, one must interact." Otherwise, one is left in an echo chamber: the gym with its cheers and mic feedback, and one's thoughts begetting more thoughts. I remember leaving exhausted, with nowhere for the exhaustion to become exhaustion.
It's in just this state that the movie almost ends for Enid. Her friendship with Rebecca was how she kept the world from getting to her and how she kept herself from getting to her, and that's gone. Her flirtation with obscurity (Seymore) ends up being far too demanding. It's no longer an escape. Her room at her dad's house is mostly packed up, and half-full of the ex he was so pleased to run into. There seems to be nowhere to go and no one to be.
The movie resolves the impasse with a fantasy. She actually does go "to some random place." There's an old man who has been erroneously waiting for an out-of-service bus for years, and she sees him finally catch the bus. So she catches the same one. Rather than figure out what she "wants," she imagines a way to obscure herself, to inhabit an unknown that she can't yet write off.
The movie itself is a supplement to its narrative of failed or incomplete self-actualization. Throughout all of this she keeps a sketch journal, documenting her life and fantasies with comics. There's not much talk of her journal; it's simply what she does. It's an innocent, ambitionless habit, and for exactly this reason it's an identity. The movie was first a comic book. In a way, Enid is a success from the start.