1.20 / Review

Trash Humpers

By Tom Comitta July 28, 2010

• If I abuse you and you abuse me, then who buys the drinks?

• If I hump a trashcan and you hump a trashcan, does a tree fall in the woods?

• The lessons of Harmony Korine’s film Trash Humpers (2009) can be counted on one hand:

a. You’re ugly.

b. I’m ugly.

c. You abuse me.

d. I abuse you.

e. Destroy something.

• Note the limited scope of these lessons.

• Note the similarity here between this logic and that of a child who didn’t get some candy.

• Two friends in old-people masks and suburban attire smack and hump trashcans in a dark alley. A friend watches. The camera studies their butts.

a. The setting: behind your house or not too far away.

• You’re ugly.

• Trash Humper A convinces Unnamed Character B to die by wrapping Character B’s head in a plastic bag. It’s a birthday party. A holds the bag tight, screaming, “Go to sleep boy! Go to sleep! Go to sleep boy! Sleep boy! Go to sleep!” until B suffocates. The cameraman shrieks in joy.

• I’m ugly.

• Take an axe to the baby doll. Take an axe to the TV.

• Destroy something.

a. Be Punk.

Trash Humpers is old news. It is a prize-winning and abjectly agreeable “pre-fab underground manifesto” that is old news.1

a. Punk is old news. Abuse is old news. That we are ugly is old news. More on this later.

b. What do I mean by abjectly agreeable?

i. Consider the abject: that which creates simultaneity in repulsion and attraction.

1. Note the possibility of exploration.

2. Note the ease of seduction.

• The film creates an abject environment.

a. It repels the audience in its abuse of the audience:

i. Sonically:

1. Through screams, insane children’s songs, and the monstrous cackle of the cameraman screeching throughout the film.

ii. Visually:

1. Joining abrupt scene cuts and bad VHS-picture quality to the senseless destruction, violence, and murder presented.

• In this repulsive experience, we are seduced by (and attracted to) the images, the sex, the humor, the stupidity, etc.

a. This seductive repulsion (abjection) coupled with an obvious allegory of “our times” (trash humping) creates for a spectator an environment of hollow, mute agreement.

i. We can laugh at Harmony Korine and his friends and at ourselves, but where and how far does this take us? What does this do for the spectator beyond laughter, retching, and agreement?

• Note: I, too, was seduced into this agreement.

a. I left the theater agreeing with the film’s thesis: we live in an ugly and abusive culture. (Here culture includes lifestyle, politics, and thought.) I’m ugly. You’re ugly.

i. Only afterwards did I begin to comprehend the extent of the abuse I had experienced, what it was doing, and where it was going.

1. Where it was going:

a. Nowhere.

i. Beyond anger, destruction, and a desire for more abuse: to abuse and be abused.

• How to laugh and scream in the same breath.

Trash Humpers, 2009; production still. Courtesy of http://www.trashhumpers.com.

Trash Humpers, 2009; trailer. Directed by Harmony Korine. Courtesy of http://www.trashhumpers.com.

Trash Humpers is old, tired news.

a. This kind of abuse of the spectator and an ugly or anti-aesthetic are both reminiscent of the dated, now-traditionalized Theater of Cruelty and Punk.

i. Perhaps one problem with a pure appropriation of these methods today is that they have been traditionalized and commodified. They no longer have the same effect on the spectator that they did at inception.

1. They are more easily digestible.

2. And therefore, less potent.

3. And, as we will see, they are backwards.

• Consider the possibility that a film can also act as a cultural phenomenon.

a. In the face of an ugly and abusive culture (including lifestyle, politics, and thought), creating an ugly and abusive event as protest is not radical, but complicit in committing an atrocity parallel to the atrocities critiqued in the film or event.

• Ugliness is easy. Ugliness is so easy it is lazy.

a. We might even say that the more ugly the representation, the more lazy, and, ultimately, more complicit the act.

b. Why ugliness is lazy:

i. The process:

1. You simply look:

a. In your heart;

b. In the mirror;

c. Out the window;

d. Etc.

2. Then represent it.

a. Or shit;

b. And you’re done;

c. No more.

• Consider the alternative.

• Consider the possibility that beauty is radical, perhaps, the most radical gesture.

a. Consider the childishness and futility of confronting:

i. Ugliness with ugliness;

ii. And abuse with abuse.

• Consider the fact that I join you in skepticism of these conclusions.

a. “There is a real problem with beauty, as if doubt always gnawed on it and covered everything. Beauty and dust are so close.”2

i. From a conversation between Maria Broodthaers and Jean Davie.

• Consider the possibility of possibility enabled when:

a. Ugliness is confronted by beauty;

b. And abuse is confronted by compassion.

• Note that beauty is not a Hallmark™ card.

a. Consider the possibility that beauty and compassion do not necessarily arrive through appearance or content, but in approach and form.

i. The aesthetic.

• One aspect of this aesthetic:

a. The relationship created between the creator, the film, and the spectator.

i. How do we treat each other?

ii. And what does how we treat each other say?

1. What does this do for and to the spectator?

2. What kind of relationship is enabled?

3. What precedent is offered?

• Consider what Trash Humpers does:

a. Trash Humpers takes an ugly culture, which includes its audience, and re-presents a bit of its ugliness.

b. It takes an abusive culture (here abuse includes acts of mediocrity and laziness committed by the audience: lifestyle, complacency, prejudice, etc.) and confronts this abuse with abuse.

• Beauty: the possibility of possibility.

• Perhaps at the heart of the problem with Trash Humpers is a failure of representation.

a. How does representation stand before presentation or artifice?

i. Representation: the known.

ii. Presentation: that which is proposed, offered, imagined, enabled.

• Perhaps beauty, here, is imagined as a proposal: not to simply recall what we are and what we have done, but to explore what we are capable of, while considering all of the above.

a. Beauty: the possibility of alternatives.

b. Are there alternatives?

• Or just trash?


Trash Humpers was on view at the Roxie Theater in San Francisco from July 2 to July 6, 2010. The DVD is due for release on September 20, 2010.



1. Rob Nelson. "Trash Humpers." Variety.com, September 16, 2009.

2. Under the Dome: Walks with Paul Celan, tr. Rosmarie Waldrop, Burning Deck, 2009. (125)

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