It would not have been understood. My Thanksgiving thoughts, jaundiced as they may be, would have sprinkled awkwardly over the All American ambiance: an afternoon of football, the latest video games, the turkey dinner; the Hollywood movie. I’d stopped by the previous evening for the initial gathering of the clan. My arrival was greeted with good spirits, good-natured yet somewhat edgy verbal jabs. My neo-Hobbit hairstyle would take a hit over the next day or so; so too would my age, now halfway through its forties, but getting an advanced estimate by reps of the younger generation in attendance. It was a loving if unknowing occasion, with tight hugs all around to replace words that might get in the way of the basics. We are all living disparate lives, in truth: there’s a sense that everyone is nurturing ambitious ideas inside while being passingly aware of each others’ trials. The exceptions are those events that become known through soundbites: the busy working life, the tough job, the grades from the last quarter, and most thankfully–the successful operations. We substitute games for conversation, and play it safe with our vanilla “what’s new” overtures. The rooms in which we bond have little room for intimate talk, and in its place we are becoming stranger and ever more bizarre and unconscious in our repartee.
The after dinner mint was the aforementioned movie, much hyped as a comic action film to have us rolling about, guffawing in concert with contemporary pop culture. “We’ve seen it three times!” boasted one viewer, apparently eager to give it a fourth run. The would-be gem in question, The Heat, received proselytizing laughter throughout from guests predisposed to its appeal. However, it was in my opinion an excremental cop adventure; an exercise in casual misandry disguised as light, if vulgar comedy. As buddy movies go, this flick was not without its social conscience, though it is this very conscience that should cause offense. Sandra Bullock plays a nerdy (but quietly “hot”, of course) and careercentric FBI agent saddled with an obnoxious partner, played by Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy’s character is a cross between Jabba The Hut and Roseanne Barr, and aimed at audiences who have at least forgotten who Barr is. Bullock is a gifted light comedienne of Mary Tyler Moore pedigree, and the juxtaposition of her act against the antics of McCarthy are tolerably entertaining for about a half hour. After that, the movie’s attitude becomes harder to stomach.
About two thirds of the way through, the movie sort of announces that it has something to say about the mistreatment of women, especially in the workplace. This from a script which features, by my rough count, about a half dozen scenes in which men’s genitals are either shot at, maimed, or plainly insulted. High minded morals/hypocritical low humor, coupled with staggering inattention to irony: sadly, this is a Hollywood tradition, though I can’t remember the last time I watched a movie in which such comic cliches were resorted to quite as often. Then there’s an incongruous scene in which McCarthy’s character callously brushes off a former one night stand after grabbing the man’s face and kissing him aggressively. The joke here appears to be that she is an unlikely manizer. But what else is the point, I wonder?
Now, let us pause. Had I given voice to any of the above opinions at any time during the holiday festivities, then two things would have occurred: firstly, my comments would have been drowned out by the teasing over my use of unnecessarily 50-cent words like misandry (BTW: merely the analogue of the popularly-known word misogyny); secondly, I would have been taken to task for being ill-humored and over-analytical. “It’s only a movie,” some say, implicitly disrespecting an entire medium. I obviously disagree, and I’d put it to my nay-sayers that if The Heat had instead made light of violence towards women, especially sexualized violence, then each and every one of them would have thought it the cinematic atrocity that it actually is.
But the blinkered political correctness doesn’t stop there. Also of note are the racial demographics depicted. By my observation, there are three male characters in The Heat (out of many) who are not portrayed as being either villainous, stupid, or feckless. There is the Latino supervisor of Sandra Bullock’s character, a more or less decent, if disapproving man; a charming, if benign African-American character played by Marlon Wayans, who appears to have a crush on Sandra Bullock (this plot point goes nowhere–an indicator of scenes being cut, maybe); and a comic, though street-smart drug dealer, also African American. All the other men: White, Irish, or at least European-looking, are buffoons or villains. Again, if those demographics had been reversed, I’m convinced that many would and should complain, light comedy or not.
Full disclosure: a backdrop of this latter reaction is that I have been largely unexposed to the opposite trends which have no doubt persisted for decades. Though I know from childhood that Westerns have traditionally given a raw deal to Native Americans, for example, I have not followed the racial-profiling trends of action or action/comedy films nearly as much over the last twenty to thirty years. This is mostly to do with taste. Since becoming a discerning viewer, I simply have not patronized action movies with any kind of regularity, so I have not observed the raw deal that minority actors have gotten through movies with titles like–come to think of it–Raw Deal.
Regardless, this issue is a beta element, as psychoanalyst Wilfred Bion would have said–it is meaning drawn from a thin pastiche of life. The bigger issue is that of fragmented discourse in all units of society: across social groups, between branches of government…within families. The first pair of arenas are big sandwiches to bite into. Closer to home, I have to wonder, if privately, what the rules are for the youngest and, in all probability, least conscious of observers. At some point over the holiday, the youngest member of the dinner gathering, an 11 year old who seemingly enjoyed The Heat, learned that he would not be allowed to watch Monty Python’s classic Life Of Brian (admittedly, not a “light” comedy) because–get this–it features nudity. I held my tongue. Not my place, and all that. I guess the biases of this society are reflected in such moments, or else implied by a ridiculous movie ratings system. So, imagine the memorandum from studio heads to producers, directors, and writers: “penises can be blown off as long as they are clothed during the process.”