Gidget on the Couch

    By Peter Lunenfeld
    Design by Dmitri Siegel

    Open Project

    Gidget, the book that started it all, has been back in print or more than a decade, Kathy, the one and only original Gidget, has been profiled in other documentaries, and is a guest of honor at surf festivals all over the country.

    - Peter Lunenfeld, Author's Statement

    Lunenfeld with the "real" Gidget Kathy Kohner Zuckerman on the beaches of Malibu
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    Peer Response
    If only film scholarship were as easy as geometric topology. A few years ago some schlub from St. Petersburg decided that a donut is a balloon. He scribbled a few notes to mark a trail through his thoughts, and left it to more pedestrian minds to retrace the connection. For his efforts, which happened to prove the century old Poincare conjecture, Grigorii Perelman was offered the 2006 Field Prize, the most prestigious honor in mathematics. The scruffy Perelman refused the award, as well as another one for a cool million, saying "I don't want to have everybody looking at me"; and he returned to his mother's apartment where she still, presumably, takes care of him. For the rest of us who have to work to make a living, Perelman's disdained lottery ticket for, essentially, thinking about stuff is hard not to covet. But it is only the most extreme example of the paradoxical tension between elusive truth and its realization in a monetized academy. Reach for your reward, Perelman warns, and you become just another animal in the zoo.

    Peter Lunenfeld presents a comparable task for his peers in his provocative video essay "Gidget on the Couch," which he created for publication in Vectors, a digital-only journal for new media scholarship. The layman's description of the Lunenfeld conjecture, if I got it right, is that the Malibu surfing scene popularized in the "Gidget" novels, films and television series of the 1950s and '60s has a metaphorical and literal kinship with early 20th century Austro-Hungarian intellectual culture, the conceptual trajectory of which is traceable through landmarks of SoCal modernist architecture by emigres Richard Neutra and Rudolf Schindler. Lunenfeld takes off on the surfing documentary and makes an elegant turn through Gidget's Malibu, a suggestively Freudian father-daughter collaboration between Frederick and Kathy "Gidget" Kohner (he's a Czechoslovakian Jew, she wears a bathing suit) that spawned a litter of wannabes and crowded out narcissistic loners, such as Mickey "Da Cat" Dora.

    The film genre's mannerism, with its emphasis on writhing bodies and fluids, hits a hard wall though in the modernist International style, where the figure in motion is as useless as the stiffs in Edward Hopper's paintings. At this critical juncture Lunenfeld is forced to rely on multimedia rhetoric, such as slipping the narrated word "flow" into the visual context of a very boxy Schindler house, or inserting his own biography and figure, tongue in cheek, to soften the argument's rough spots. From this rear entry point in his grand equation the author could have drawn a different line, the straight Cartesian one that Neutra instantiated with glass and opening walls to separate orthogonal volumes of indoor and outdoor space. This line would have distinguished land from sea, and, among surfers, initiates from interlopers. It would have explained the vector that makes Malibu such a great break, and why the multitudes of anonymous people who surf there seem to fall into neither camp of mediated types - the bubbly Gidgets or the hairy Cats - but instead instantiate a much more abstract culture based on rule of entry and right of wave. Whether these two lines of inquiry could ever meet in the tricky conceptual space of this project is uncertain. In his presentation of the idea, whether Lunenfeld is more like Poincare, who first caught the glimmerings of a new truth in the world, or like Perelman, whose messy scribblings constituted a proof in need of confirmation, is also not yet clear. A century may tell.

    — Christopher J. Gilman, September 21st, 2011