Men don’t gain any power from wrecking themselves. They don’t lose any, either. This is hardly the greatest injustice in being a woman, but it goes some way to explaining the reason why smashing oneself up has any allure for a girl: in our efforts to redress the balance, we start, like always, by acting as men do. Californian Vine and Instagram user Paige Ginn films herself not only in a state of collapse, but also while getting there; in the process she’s gone viral, and somehow succeeded in making, by accident or by design, some of this year’s best and most interesting video work. That’s my opinion, at least — your mileage may vary, depending on 1) what you think about video art in the first place, and 2) what you think about girls being filmed falling over until they (occasionally) bleed.
For my money, I think both are fine if they’re done with the right motives, which are, in order: fame, money, art, and proving a point about sexism. Ginn’s Instagram bio once said, simply, “My mom thinks I’m funny,” though along with her mom and myself, so do 215,000 followers. If you wanted a fast introduction, you could do no better than to watch her greatest hits, a compilation that sees her falling down violently and without warning at, variously: Walmart, the beach, a school sports game, an In-N-Out Burger, a cinema, and something that looks like a carnival. Earlier this year, she staged a fall at her own graduation. If there’s nothing shocking any longer in seeing the literal inside of a beautiful woman online, I’d argue the shock remains when that inside is the inside of her arm.
At her best, Ginn offers a female-if-not-feminine take on Fight Harm, an early, infamous, and unfinished film by a young and nerdy Harmony Korine, in which he paid tribute to Buster Keaton by picking fights with strangers and getting his ass kicked. At worst, she offers a gender-flipped version of Jackass — though the critic Uncas Blythe once described a “Jackass Decade, which began with the national wound of 9/11 and ended a hair early with the fiery crash of Ryan Dunn on June 20th, 2011,” so where does that land Ginn? My favorite of her videos is one where she falls amid absolute carnage in In-N-Out Burger. I don’t know if it’s the spooky tint of fast-food restaurant lighting, but her hair looks acid yellow. That her T-shirt’s tomato red can’t be an accident (being English, I was forced to use Google in order to ascertain that, yes, the colors of In-N-Out’s logo are yellow and red, the same as McDonald’s — and like ketchup and mustard, the fact of which only just hit me). I appreciate that she chose a fast-food chain with no clown, if only because some gestures are simply too obvious to be symbolic: goofier, even, than pratfalls.
“[Our female friend] got hurt doing a stunt once,” Johnny Knoxville once told an interviewer regarding Jackass’s all-male cast, “and so we decided no more girls doing stunts.” As if women weren’t used to getting hurt! More importantly: as if men had even a single biological process that hurt by design, the way birth does! (If they do, I don’t know of it — nor, before you prime a corrective tweet, do I much care to find out.) A body count only really matters when the body counts, in purely capitalist terms, which helps to explain why the news cares so deeply about young, white bodies from upper-to-middle-class backgrounds, and so very little about others at all. White male bodies have a great value in the sense that the people who inhabit them make the most money, but it’s ultimately female bodies that carry greater value as bodies, aka de facto objects. Blonde American girl-flesh offers, to the pound — up to about 115 of them, at least — which is why Paige Ginn is the KLF of the Instagram stunt.
It takes real guts to say, here is this object of supposed value, this fictionally delicate thing, being messed up, and here I am doing the damage. “To be a performance artist, you have to hate theatre,” Marina Abramović once said in a Guardian interview. “Theatre is fake. … The knife is not real, the blood is not real, and the emotions are not real. Performance is just the opposite: the knife is real, the blood is real, and the emotions are real.” By both mine and Marina’s metrics, Paige Ginn is more artist than meme, since the blood and the fall and the bait-and-switch violence are always so real. I agree with her mom: she’s a scream.