Now Streaming: Why “High Fidelity” matters even if viewers didn’t see the original

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Recently, Hulu began streaming a serial remake of the movie, “High Fidelity.” The show has been updated with the trappings of modern times to no doubt make the show’s creators and the audience feel more “woke.” The cast has changed, but the music-centeredness of them has not, and that is one of the elements that make it fun to watch. One of the important updates has been to embrace the idea of black young women being knowledgeable about and appreciative of rock ‘n’ roll. In real-life, this is not new. On big and small screens, it has been more of an anomaly. (Side note: the Gap television ad in which a black woman modeling jeans rips out some AC/DC riffs and declares her first love is the band’s famed guitarist Angus Young, made more than one black American girl feel represented.)

Cast and premise of “High Fidelity”

The undeniable star of the show is Rob, played by Zoe Kravitz. Yes, her parents are Lenny Kravitz and Lisa Bonet, and she has the hair and bone structure to prove it. But, Rob is not just a pretty face. She is troubled, and that is great for storylines. She owns a record store in Brooklyn called Championship Vinyl. Rob is the somewhat anti-social vinyl purist whose musical tastes are all over the place. That has been one of the criticisms of the show – – that the characters’ (and the store’s) record collecting is all over the place. That is actually not a problem, especially when it comes to curating music collections that look like real-life. More on that in a moment.

Rob does not live in a vacuum, nor does she work alone. The Brooklyn-based record store has two employees, Simon and Cherise. The latter has taken over Jack Black’s role in the movie. She is into various types of rock and covets a Fender guitar, all while wearing clothes that peg her as strictly hip-hop. Simon is all about punk rock. He is a former love interest of Rob’s: while dating her, he came to terms with his homosexuality. But they’re beyond that now.

The trio are also friends. They know each other by the songs they are listening to. When Rob begins listening to Minnie Riperton, it is a sign that she is depressed, at least according to Simon and Cherise.

There is a neon sign on the wall of Championship Vinyl that reads “No CDs.” As soon as people see that, the music snobbery of the show is established. The idea that Rob does not make enough money to afford her apartment or to keep running the store are real-world concerns that are not actively addressed in the show, and for season 1, they almost don’t matter. What matters more is what happens to these three people as they date, work and attempt to understand themselves in an increasingly hostile world.

“High Fidelity”: diversity in casting and in music

While one of the critiques of the show is that the characters of Cherise and Rob have musical tastes that are too diverse, that is actually what makes the show believable. First, the characters are black women. As such, they have been exposed to the music of their parents and possibly grandparents, plus the music of their generation, which is going to include rock music. Liking Riperton’s classic song, for example, does not mean that a person will like all of the music done in that style. Also, the person (people, in this case) will not necessarily like all of the bands in what looks to be his or her outlier genre, so for black women, it would be rock music. They are not fans of all bands. Certainly, they are still fans of quite a few rock bands. But a mix of seemingly incongruous song choices seems modern to me. There have not been enough studies and representative examples shown in popular culture for people to accurately rate how realistic it is to show black American women engaging with forms of rock music as a means of expression. Once that begins to happen largely, the phenomenon will be easier to judge. Until then, anecdotal and esoteric narratives will have to suffice.

But, it isn’t just Rob’s musical tastes that are diverse. Her dating choices are diverse, as well. From Simon, to Mac – – a well-adjusted, professional black man who keeps trying to put a ring on it and it scares the commitment-averse Rob, to Ian, the wunderkind performer who is barely legal, but is old enough to break hearts, to Clyde, a well-adjusted white man who tries to do the right thing, Rob does not seem to have a type.

Something about Rob is likeable. Her lifestyle isn’t one a person should choose for success, or even to avoid legal liabilities, but her inability to be the person she should be, when she should be it, and her ability to recognize it, makes “High Fidelity” ring true in all its comedic glory.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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