Tuning In: Neko Case as Cheyenne Cinnamon
Adult Swim recently co-sponsored the Big, Über Network Sampling contest with Burger King. Pilots competed for airtime and Cheyenne Cinnamon and the Fantabulous Unicorn of Sugar Town Candy Fudge was chosen the winner. Cheyenne was created by Dave Willis, who was also behind Adult Swim staples Aqua Teen Hunger Force and Squidbillies. The pilot features voice acting from several folks associated with ATHF, including nerdcore rapper mc chris, Dana Snyder, Frannie Hood (Kristen Schaal's alternate billing credit), and Neko Case. She had a cameo in the "Sirens" episode and is the star of this project. For those who haven't seen the episode, you can view it here, along with the other finalists.
The basic premise is as follows: Cheyenne Cinnamon is a blond, buxom pop star based outside Detroit who channels the power of catchy hooks, positive thinking, dance routines, and bare midriffs to solve people's problems. However, she tends to wreak more havoc than broker peace. With clear substance abuse problems and little regard for anything beyond her immediate needs, Cinnamon is more villain than heroine. She embodies the extremes of celebrity narcissism and abjection.
In the pilot, Cinnamon's charge is an unnamed teenage girl (played by Schaal, credited as Hood). She has been impregnated by her married softball coach and her negligent parents (voiced by Snyder and Rachel Dratch) can't help her. A fan of Cinnamon's, the girl is initially thrilled to receive the pop star's guidance. But soon she discovers that all Cinnamon can offer her is a series of sung platitudes and a mountain of cocaine. Some time after the girl delivers her baby (and the father has been relocated with job intact), Cinnamon wonders aloud if she helped the girl while getting naked in front of a producer to make the song she's recording sound sexier.
Cinnamon is all about Cinnamon. She'll stop action to convince herself aloud that she doesn't need drugs to be a dynamic person, opine about whether to steal another girl's cell phone, muse about wanting a neck tattoo or an anal piercing, or stub her cigarette in her pet unicorn's eye while in flight, effectively killing the mythic creature. When her handler, Gummi (played by mc chris), reports the death as a stolen vehicle, the cops beat the girl while her idol walks away unconcerned.
There should also be some acknowledgement made toward the pilot's problematic relationship with race. Cinnamon and her fan are both white and blond, though the teen's has dark roots and appears to be working class. However, many of the folks on Cinnamon's payroll are African American or can be coded as black, including back-up dancers, producer Big Chocolate Bunny (voiced by MF Doom), and security guard Gingerbread Bouncer (played by T-Pain).
The pilot made me uncomfortable as a feminist for obvious reasons. Adult Swim often trades in programming that employs uncomfortable comedy. As I would presume the network's target demographic to be twenty-something heterosexual white men, I was not sure whether the show was being critical of the gender and sexual politics of stardom, or if it was just being mean to female pop stars. Also, having Cinnamon so closely mirror Britney Spears's Lolita image and recent history of self-destruction seems fairly obvious, as it did when Richard Kelly cast Sarah Michelle Gellar as porn star/cable television lifestyle guru Krysta Now in Southland Tales.
Furthermore, this seems like a really safe glass house out of which to throw stones. A pilot about how pop stars are evil on a network run by a subsidiary of Time Warner? With or without the hipster cred of its programming schedule and voice talent, the event that allowed for the pilot to be released was underwritten by major corporations. Plus, it's not like indie rock stars can't be reckless or narcissistic too.
Yet I find Case's involvement interesting for a few reasons. For one, she is playing against type. Case made a name for herself later in life as an independent recording artist who continues to write challenging material and stretch herself professionally. For another, she is playing toward type, as recent contributions and appearances suggest that she's a funny lady, which fans know from her stage banter. Finally, she's defying audience expectations. In the music world, she's celebrated for her powerful singing voice. But she doesn't sing a note as Cinnamon. Butch Walker's material for Cinnamon is performed by Sofia Toufa, who sounds very different than Case's singular alto. Assuredly, this is also meant to serve as a comment on pop star's artifice. Whether pre-recorded or heavily manipulated in the studio, many pop stars aren't singing in their real voice when they're performing.
In sum, while I may not become a fan Cinnamon, I'll continue to follow Case.
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