For those who imagine Avril Lavigne to have uttered the final word on the skater boy — sorry, “Sk8er Boi” — we recommend familiarizing yourself with Stacy Kranitz’s “From the Study on Post Pubescent Manhood,” a photo series and accompanying film on view at LA’s Little Big Man Gallery through March 14. Taken in Rutland, Ohio, home of the 88 (yes, eighty-eight) acre skate park-cum-general bacchanalia zone Skatopia, these images document the wanton, often brutal risk in which their subjects appear all too happy to engage — shirtless fire-starting and cheap beer, not just scraped knees but gushing ones. Kranitz states on her website that the project is a product of her “searching for displays of violence that become catharsis,” and the scene she presents is accordingly primal, edging on apocalyptic — “Lord of the Flies” plus half-pipes. (See below for a further sampling.)
On its face, Kranitz’s tack feels similar to the gaggle of Juggalo documentaries that have cropped up in recent years, fascinated studies of a group — largely, though not exclusively, young white males — who gather somewhere off the grid and, among other things, get aggressive. It’s a location-based method she’s used before, to equally haunting effect — say, in “Bloodsport,” her series chronicling Louisiana cockfighters; “As It Was Given to Me,” a slice of life from central Appalachia; or “The Island,” a “Beasts of the Southern Wild”-esque look at an isolated 50-resident town in the Gulf of Mexico.
But here especially, beneath that sense of place lurks something darker, wider. It’s an inquiry Kranitz seems to invite with her almost anthropological title: What does it mean to be a man, and why does it tend to look this rough? “Fight Club” author Chuck Palahniuk, for example, has spent interview after interview pointing out that he wrote his now infamous book to combat the lack of “social models for men” — and while the idea that there could be anything like a dearth of male stories in our current creative climate is to be taken with perhaps a whole shaker of salt, it’s worth noting that media representations of systemic male bonding do sometimes run thin. (That is, apart from joining a sports team or chasing a dame or, yes, your fist bonding with another guy’s face.)
True, Kranitz never experienced adolescence as a boy (nor has this writer, for the record), but that outsider’s curiosity runs electric through the series, a yearning to understand this kind of jovial violence by tracking it to its source — in this case, as the compound’s name suggests, a pseudo-utopia for a certain genus of dude. In describing the accompanying film, which chronicles her relationship with a particular skater named Jerimy, Kranitz rates herself “a filmmaker who knowingly exploits her subjects, glorifying and fetishizing their sexuality and youthful vitality.” And while this project does have somewhat of a Larry Clark-ian flair to it — see: the bare-knuckle exploration of teen lust — her tone feels even more vexed, urgent. How much of this recklessness is posturing, the images demand, and how much is just honest fun?
Here, testing nonexistent limits, the boys’ nihilist grins play against injuries and drug eyes. One outwardly punk gent (below) — all spiked hair and gauges and shirt bearing a blocky handwritten demand for FREEDOM — gets caught in a momentary flicker of fear, while two boys held face to face, sweaty hair haloed above red-spattered clothes, sit poised forever at kissing distance. Through Kranitz’s lens, it’s equal parts exhilarating and poignant, watching the nebulous tenets of “manhood” get toxic when mixed with directionlessness and chemicals — Peter Pan’s lost boys gone postal, and here’s the bloody, raging proof.
— Anneliese Cooper (@DawnDavenport)