The Discreet Charm of the Gizmosie


For some reason, our piece on Gremlins and the myth of the model minority has caught on in a big way in the last few months.  We first put together the piece nearly two years ago, as ToM sought a suitable candidate for our yearly treatment of some artifact of holiday pop culture.  Gremlins, the much-loved 1984 comedy-horror film, hardly seemed like a Christmas classic on a par with A Christmas Story or Community‘s delectable stop-motion send-up of Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer, both of which we’d covered in the past.  Indeed, Gremlins seemed more of a piece with the postmodern popcorn hits of the early-to-mid 1980s — films like The Goonies (1985), Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), and Back to the Future (1985), which were nostalgic even when they first came out and subsequently became the stuff of endless repeat viewings for children of the VHS generation.

Little did we realize Gremlins was actually a Christmas movie.  I didn’t notice until I caught it showing at East Atlanta’s Graveyard Tavern two years ago.  The festive backdrop adds a whole other layer of, if not subversiveness, at least incongruence to the film’s story of a very white small town overrun by manic, alien interlopers.  The film juxtaposed that most conventional and pious of American holidays — the one perhaps most closely associated with every form of American normativity (white, Christian, consumerist) — with the anomie of the Gremlins, an “Other” if there ever was one, who immigrated from Asia to wreak havoc on the American hinterland.  In the piece, I suggested that the Gremlins were racialized, as the filmmakers (most likely inadvertently) tapped into multiple anxieties of 1980s American culture — including fear and suspicion toward competition from Japan (as exemplified in the film Gung Ho) as well as the libidinous, hedonistic, irresponsible crackhead of the urban “underclass.”  The Gremlin was both alien and hoodlum — except for Gizmo, the smaller, cuter, cuddlier version of the race, who was reasonable, empathetic, and relatively nonthreatening (at least to his white, human owners).  He was essentially the Webster to the other Gremlins’ N.W.A.

Gremlins (foto Gremlins smoking drinking and playing cards)
Welfare queens

This racial analysis of Gremlins is not likely the reason for the surge of searches we’ve seen in the last month or so, however delightful it might be in its own right.  It is also probably not the upcoming holiday season that has suddenly spurred the interest.  For whatever reason, though, we have seen a major spike in Gizmo-related searches.  For the blogger, search traffic analysis is about as good as it gets in terms of combining voyeurism and armchair anthropology; we get to see the reptile brain of the Internet in all its unguarded honesty. How many times have people searched for “Victorian pussy” and found Lauren MacIvor Thompson’s excellent piece on the early history of the vibrator?  Actually, don’t ask.  The search terms that lead people to Tropics of Meta range from the predictably dirty (a lot of sex stuff) to the truly inexplicable; thanks to an unknown searcher, we have a great name for a future ToM anthology, or perhaps a great American novel if any of us ever gets around to writing one: Chillwave Bands That Are Part of the Illuminati.

In any case, “Gizmo: The Model Minority” has been our top post for the last month and our second-most popular piece over the last quarter, outpacing all our new pieces and more than doubling in its next closest rival in the last 30 days.  The only available explanation is that the film’s thirty year anniversary is looming in 2014, though this surge of interest began well ahead of the anniversary.  Any ideas why there would be a sudden interest in Gizmo or Gremlins right now?  Like the Gremlins, we’re all ears.