‘Jennifer’s Body’ Captured Myspace-Emo Camp in All Its Glory
Diablo Cody’s underrated cult classic turns nine this week – we look back on how it juggled bisexuality, desire and early 2000s mainstream emo.
Still from 'Jennifer's Body'
Jennifer Check lies propped up by pink pillows on her four-poster bed. Behind her head is a shrine to attractive emo and post-hardcore bands. In the middle, the biggest and clearest of all, is a Fall Out Boy poster, with emo adonis bassist Pete Wentz at the front. Away from the underwhelming boys at school, her bedroom is the place to project and process her desire. Because Jennifer, played by Megan Fox, is hungry – ravenous – all the time. She's been made into a demon (via a local band's satanic ritual) and has to eat boys alive, to stay full of vitality and as glossy as a show pony. When she doesn’t have her feed she’s cranky, sallow, and yellowing at the edges.
Diablo Cody’s Jennifer’s Body was released in 2009 to the critical slaughtering you'd expect of a cult classic made by women, with female stars and about female sexuality. With nine years of hindsight, factors central to why it flopped are clear. The marketing seems directed at straight men (Megan Fox in a cheerleading outfit on the movie poster, obviously) and was read at face-value by reviewers as “Twilight for boys”. In actuality its niche market was Twilight for horny bisexual girls. Jennifer’s Body is basically Mean Girls for queer women. What greater low and lower-brow cinematic value could there be than perving alternately over Adam Brody spitting out his used gum and Megan Fox swimming naked in a lake to doom metal? Or black-comedic camp moments like Fox saying deadpan to a terrified greebo before eating him, “You give me such a wetty”.
The film was a time-capsule for a youth moment that was just over, which is probably why it made so little sense to so many people, even then. Bisexuality – performative or not – was inherent to Myspace culture. If you weren’t watching musicians smush tongues onstage despite having girlfriends, or switching up photos of guys in skinny jeans pressed against each other in the ‘Interests’ section of your social media profile, or a girl with a side-fringe touching boobs at a house party, were you even emo? It’s music that is central to girls’ sexual awakenings in this film, as much that was true in reality. Jennifer’s Body used the Myspace-famous and guitar-based artists of that era – Hayley Williams, All Time Low, Panic! At The Disco, Dashboard Confessional to name a few – to soundtrack teenage fumblings and map out who these kids were and what any of them wanted, in a way that hasn’t been recognised since.
When Needy Lesnicki (Amanda Seyfried) jumps through the window to kill Jennifer – her ungodly best friend and a girl she's secretly fancied for years – she swings a hammer and buries it deep into Jennifer’s Fall Out Boy poster. Sure, Jennifer’s pointed teeth have sunk deep into the bodies of boys through the entire film but she’s not straight and neither is Needy – could it get more blatant than nearly decapitating Pete Wentz? Both are – for all intents and purposes, though not literally stating it – bisexual. Or, as Jennifer’s now iconic line goes, they “go both ways”.
Near the start of the film a polished, bright and at the time inescapable indie track (Black Kids’ “I’m Not Gonna Teach Your Boyfriend How To Dance With You”) plays out our introduction to pre-demonic Jennifer. The scene sets her up as a man-eater of sorts already, on the cheerleading squad and clearly now a beacon of high school hotness in the straight world. It’s evident – or at least should be – to viewers from here that Needy has a crush on Jennifer, her friend since days playing in the sandbox. First, from the Black Kids song lyrics (“You are the girl that I’ve been dreaming of / ever since I was a little girl”) and then from Needy enacting the familiar hazy Nerd Stares Lovingly At Popular Girl segment, to be told by a classmate “you’re totally lesbigay”.
The catalyst to the 2000s teen girl drama is, obviously, a male musician with kholed lower lids and black shag bands. Imaginary band Low Shoulder (a name that could’ve been picked by a Drive-Thru Records online generator) are positioned somewhere between mall emo and The Killers, and are pure evil. Adam Brody is perfectly cast as the scrawny and beautiful emo frontman, Nikolai – he is, after all, a man known to viewers for being Seth Cohen, the Death Cab-loving nerd of The O.C. who was fantasised about by alternative girls of all subcultural persuasions.
The film doesn’t just masterfully capture how attractive these feminine men were to girls interested in men; it simultaneously shows how detrimental the gender dynamics in the scene could be (see: Jessica Hopper’s seminal essay “Emo: Where The Girls Aren’t”) and pokes fun at these men at the same time. The coveted band dudes are described as “basically agents of Satan with really awesome haircuts” (Jennifer, horny), “douche-bags with their douche-bag haircuts and their man-scara” (Needy’s boyfriend, threatened) and “skinny, and twisted, and evil like this petrified tree I saw once when I was a kid” (Needy, also threatened).
Post #MeToo and the outing of various emo/alternative musicians, this, and their treatment of Jennifer, a young female fan, is received slightly differently. Without that filter, it’s still funny. “Do you know how hard it is to make it as an indie band these days? There are so many of us and we’re all so cute…” Nikolai tells Jennifer, after capturing her. In response, Jennifer begs for her life, telling them they could get a publicist (don’t just rely on internet hype, idiot!) and that she’d be in their street team.
High school boys are coded similarly to Nikolai but are not quite right. The bedroom interior of Needy’s boyfriend, Chip, features wooden walls with Motion City Soundtrack and Four Year Strong posters, next to a dartboard. As one would imagine of a Motion City fan, Chip’s sexual prowess leaves much to be desired. His floppy fringe has never met gel. He’s positioned as the wet-wipe, softlad of the film, the one who dislikes Jennifer and the way that she “kidnaps” his girlfriend. Although he can’t quite fathom why that might be (Needy Lesnicki or Needy “Lesbigay”?).
Meanwhile a bit part, Colin, appears to ask Jennifer out, only to get rebuffed. Certainly nowhere in her league in terms of high school standing, Colin is a relative outsider who wears red and black jumpers, studded bracelets, a lip-ring and looks like he could hold a rigorous conversation only if it was related to Slipknot's early discography. “He’s into maggot rock. He wears nail polish. My dick is bigger than his,” she says to Needy by way of explanation. As is the case with Jennifer and Needy’s confusing queer dynamic, as soon as Needy says she thinks Colin is alright, Jennifer calls after him to come over to her house that night.
One of the most memorable sequences is the split sex-scene between Needy and Chip, and Colin and Jennifer. Colin, terrified by Jennifer’s devilish mutant face, accidentally steps backwards into some sort of blade in the construction mess and gets hurt. “Oh! A puncture wound. God, that’s *so* emo,” she snarks at him. As a sweaty Jennifer in a tiny white vest devours her grotty Myspace babe, elsewhere Needy starts to see blood on the ceiling from her missionary spot under her pathetically thrusting soft rock dude, a vision of Jennifer’s slaughtering. Her gasps and horror are moronically mistaken for pleasure, until they get so concerning that Chip pulls back and asks, half-surprised half-coy, “Am I too big?”
Yet in a film full of musical cues, the most sexually-charged scene has none. It’s simply a silent extended shot of Megan Fox rubbing her pink and black nails over Amanda Seyfried’s lips and their tongues slowly tracing each others. I can remember being at school when Jennifer’s Body came out nine years ago. Pop-loving straight girls misplaced the film, with all its queer sexual tension, as heterosexual pandering and considered it similar to college bro releases of the time, like Eurotrip and the American Pie movies. Meanwhile there was a small internet following of ex-scene kids who had megan-fox-holding-a-lighter-to-her-tongue-gifs on their social media page and absolutely-not-coincidentally also had a personal interest in Megan Fox and Amanda Seyfried making out.
Regardless of any performativity Myspace and emo encouraged, it also provided space for experimentation and acceptability that leaked out of that strange subcultural bubble in the form of dialogue. In the Western narrative of bisexuality, that period is, laughably enough for anyone who lived through it, a large footnote. Jennifer’s Body is somewhat part of that – a trashy, misunderstood relic.
Needy gets revenge for what emo did to Jennifer. As Hole’s “Violet” plays (the film itself is named after the Hole track “Jennifer’s Body”) Needy hitchhikes to where Low Shoulder are touring and partying. The driver asks what she’s doing, to which she answers “following this rock band”. The credits roll to a final nonsense Low Shoulder rock song and footage of the trashed and bloody hotel rooms and their bodies mangled and left in bathtubs and on carpeted floors. In the final moments, CCTV picks up screaming lustful girls running through the hotel corridors towards their room and our bisexual nerdy hero in a hoody walks silently out.
On the year Jennifer’s Body was released, Cute Is What We Aim For (temporarily) broke up, Facebook’s cash flow turned positive, making it the most-used social media site by worldwide active monthly users, my first emo crush (hey, Andy) closed his Myspace account – and Megan Fox came out to the press as bisexual. Needy killed the rock stars.
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