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Rex Manning Day
Daily routines and emotional comfort films
As a teenager, I walked to the Blockbuster Video in a strip mall by the house I grew up in and rented Empire Records compulsively. I watched it as many times as I could before the rental period was up and would repeat the process every so often. It’s a film I gravitate to when I’m in need of familiarity and the emotional comfort that comes with knowing something by heart, being able to recite lines from memory, and having certainty as to how a story will end. Watching Robin Tunney shave her head was a formative gay moment for me (as, for the whole world, was Liv Tyler in her cropped mohair sweater), and I still die laughing when Marc has too many weed brownies and gets eaten by GWAR.
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“I’m not like you.”
It’s been a while since I’ve been able to get a newsletter together. I’ve been working on some longer articles, one about the excuse of artistic genius and one about tattooers and redpilling, but putting out something dense and serious feels daunting. Earlier this month we were in the “manic good mood” phase of New York Spring™, the week where flip flops and short shorts emerge prematurely, outdoor dining is packed, and drive-by compliments (street harassment?) fly recklessly through the air. Historically I’ve been a bad sport about this time of year, complaining about how thick the hormones are in the city’s general ambiance and how everyone acts like they haven’t seen legs in years, but this spring I’m…kind of here for it.
I rewatched Empire Records last month and found that I love it just as much as I did when I was a teenager and that it brought me the same comfort it always has. I love when the young booster Warren gets adopted into their misfit family, when Cory and AJ finally kiss and AJ gets into art school, and when the gang defeats the evil MusicTown corporation and Renee Zellweger finally gets to sing “Sugar High” on the roof of the building!! The film aesthetic of the late 80s-early 2000s is by far my favorite, and there’s a wealth of “damn the man, save the Empire” narratives on offer through the era. We get Patrick Swayze’s surfing bank robber in Point Break, Zero Cool trying to clear his name after being framed by the evil corporation in Hackers, Christian Slater’s pirate radio on Pump Up the Volume, Jenny Shimizu and Angelina Jolie in Foxfire going up against the oppressive adults in their lives.
There’s psychological reasoning behind why rewatching tv and movies we’re already seen feels so good. Especially recently, given the amount of tv binging we did during the Covid shutdown and since, it’s been theorized that the predictability of knowing how something will transpire is soothing to our anxiety. Even though my critical self knows Law & Order: SVU is total copaganda, I still instinctively turn to it when I’m stressed or going through it; watching a conflict or crisis and having the certainty that it will be neatly resolved in the end is a feeling we rarely get to experience otherwise. Similarly, watching fluffy reality tv like Queer Eyedoes wonders for my nervous system when all I want is to watch queer and trans people onscreen and know that nothing egregiously awful will happen to them. Revisiting something we already know is also easy on our cognitive load, or the amount of memory effort we have to put in towards a given task. When we’re fried from processing information and having media fatigue, rewatching doesn’t overload us with anything new and gives us a sense of control.
“…Rewatching a familiar piece of media can foster positive emotions associated with previous viewings. When you rewatch something, feelings like joy and relaxation that you experienced during the first watch can often reappear during rewatches. It also helps connect you to a previous time in your life, which can bring perspective and sentimental feelings.” - Lina Mafi, MHC-LP
“I don’t even go here.”
“This was never about the money for us, it was about us against the system.”
“All the great themes have been used up, turned into theme parks.”
Since the weather has gotten good here in New York, I’ve been playing the Empire Records soundtrack when I get to Flower World and as I do all my little opening tasks. Call it main character syndrome, but pretending to be in a movie has the power to turn around a morning, as if you’re able to hit “rewind” and “play” and skip the part of the day where you woke up late and ran for the B43 bus, restarting at the scene where you draw peanut M&Ms with your friends to pick who rules the first song of the day. I turn on the lights and plug in my little “TATTOO” neon sign to “The Honeymoon is Over,” water the plants and burn incense to the Gin Blossoms, and am usually all set up and welcoming my first client by the time the feel-good anthem “Free” by The Martinis is on.
Most clients know the songs even if they don’t recognize the soundtrack and it always generates a wave of nostalgia bonding—“I had the biggest crush on Deb in this movie.” I’ve been reconsidering the effect it has in the shop since learning more about why we’re so soothed by familiar media, wondering if it creates a more welcoming environment in a situation that might otherwise generate nerves. It can be sweet to encounter rapport over a shared interest when you’re not sure what the energy in a tattoo space will be, and a known quantity can ease our anxiety. It’s the “comfort” in “comfort movie,” and I hadn’t considered the tattoo shop as a place that could function.
This past Monday my friend Marlee Grace visited my studio and immediately upon walking in stopped in their tracks and asked “are you listening to the Empire Records soundtrack?!” We had bonded over it being one of our favorite movies at KBBQ and karaoke and they busted me revisiting it while trying to finish up this newsletter. It’s objectively a great playlist (AC/DC! Suicidal Tendencies! So many Cranberries songs) and the radio it takes you to is solid too. If you, like me, are feeling overwhelmed by the internet, social media, and reading anything longer than 500 words, I highly recommend:
READING, WATCHING, DONATING:
-CC Paschal is on an incredible mission to save their ancestors’ legacy of home ownership. Listen to the Witch Wave podcast episode that just came out about the project, and donate here. Their deadline is the end of this month, so let’s help her hit the goal!
-Marlee Grace’s Monday Monday issue “when our scars make us a quilt” this week made me cry, in a good way
-Go see King Cobra’s solo show at JTT while it’s still up
-My show Walk to the wide open window is open at Selenas Mountain through June 10th!
-I still have a few scattered tattoo appointments open in May. Email if you’d like to snag one, for flash or custom 🌼