You can be highbrow. You can be lowbrow. But can you ever just be brow? Welcome to Middlebrow, a weekly examination of pop culture.
On Monday night, everyone’s girl crush Carrie Brownstein released a video for the label Kenzo at New York Fashion Week called “The Realest Real.” In the six-minute short, a young woman named Abby is brought to a dystopian office space representing lives lived on social media. Followers manifest themselves physically and comments, seeming so innocently hyperbolic onscreen, become dazzling realities.
Abby, we learn, posted a comment below a caption ― a casual remark about NASA ― written by “Orange Is the New Black” actress Natasha Lyonne on Instagram.
“Do you recall what you wrote in this comment on our national space program?” asks the Minister of Public-Private Relations for the Institute of the Real and the Really Real, before answering himself: “You wrote ‘mom.’”
“A term of affection implying you’re so fond of Ms. Lyonne, that you wish she were your mother,” he continues, before rewarding the young woman by anointing Lyonne as her actual mother.
The film offers an absurdist spin on a real and beautiful trend in the language of fandom: calling celebrities “mom” or “dad” to express sincere admiration. People spew a lot of hyperbole like this on the internet ― “marry me,” for example. It’s been around for years. Enough time, actually, that the meaning of “mom” and “dad” have twisted into a crude joke in certain contexts, where they’re dispensed with suggestive eggplants and other emojis.
The singer Lorde caused a bit of confusion among her followers in November 2014 when she retweeted Kim Kardashian’s Paper magazine cover with a one-word comment:
Making a parental association with a 30-something partially nude woman struck some as odd and possibly insulting. (The singer was later compelled to explain over Tumblr that the term “among the youthz is a compliment.”)
Maybe it’s weird, but it’s also, usually, flattering and silly and fanciful and sweet. Who hasn’t imagined a celebrity as their parent — perhaps making the discovery Hogwarts-style, receiving a letter in the mail at a certain age from an unknown address that relays the life-altering confession that you were given up as a child regretfully, and your real parent, a wealthy actor/musician/director, would like very much to whisk you away to his or her fabulous seaside mansion where he or she will envelop you in a new, glittery life.
Or something like that. I’d like to take this time to note that I love my own mother, who reads everything I publish. (Hi, Mom!) As do, I would guess, most people who leave “mom” as a comment on Nicki Minaj’s Instagram photos.
Its usage even goes beyond any fathomable real-life roots ― Taylor Swift or Chloë Grace Moretz, aged 26 and 19 years respectively, could not have birthed now-teenage fans.
But still, fans comment. Against the typical image of anti-institutional youth, they comment in praise for one of the most powerful institutions they’ve known: family. And parents. You know, those people older than you, people who know more than you, people who have their shit together, people who get shit done, people with life experience and people with wisdom to impart so they might guide you ― a confused young person with anxiety and poor lipstick application skills ― into a thriving, independent life.
Certainly, to us outsiders, at least, few people seem like they are living their best lives than celebrities.
In Brownstein’s film, what starts off as a dream come true for Abby (Natasha Lyonne is her mom!) turns into a wryly cautionary tale (Natasha Lyonne does all that annoying mom stuff!). The bright and dreamlike setting turns grey and gloomy as the magic of celebrity wears off, and we witness Abby shuffling around the house trying to ignore her newfound mother (”Friends! Which friends?”) and her pestering.
Surely, literally having a celebrity be your parent might be a drag. (“I think even she would admit she’s not gonna be your best mother,” Brownstein said of her friend Lyonne after the screening.)
But comparing them to a parent? It’s cute.