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Volume 70, Issue 132, Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Opinion

Low-brow humor destroying cinema

James Davis
Opinion columnist

I saw something the other night at Late Nite Pie that quite literally made me want to vomit. No, it wasnit the food. It was Freddy Got Fingered, the cave painting of a movie flickering on the pizza parloris television screens. Why the restaurateurs decided this was an appropriate film to play while people were eating is beyond me. One particularly appetizing scene features Tom Green swinging a baby around his head by his umbilical cord. In another, Green sprays his father with elephant semen. I decided to pass on the ranch dressing for my buffalo wings.

Sure, Freddy Got Fingered is an extreme example, but it typifies the degradation of entertainment in our nation. Revolting displays have become the standard for American cinema and television, so ubiquitous that theyive invaded our neighborhood pizzeria.

Itis not that gross-out tactics make me uncomfortable that is so offensive: Several scenes in The Exorcist turn my stomach, but few can argue that this is not an excellent movie. Itis that these strategies are so easy that irritates me. Believe it or not, turning peopleis stomachs is not that difficult. Get a sufficient amount of animal waste or disembodied appendages, amalgamate them in a suitably implausible fashion, and the audience will react. Youive succeeded in exploiting a formula. Itis not a question of taste; itis a question of craft.

So what sets The Exorcistis bile spewing on a higher plane than Freddy Got Fingeredis baby-twirling? I donit have the definitive answer, but maybe it has to do with believability. In The Exorcist, Linda Blairis character is richly developed. Her debased actions make sense. She is so convincingly demonic that when she spews bile, we are surprised, but not distracted. Greenis character, on the other hand, is not developed at all. He is merely an agent of disgusting behavior. When we see him fondle a horseis penis, we donit see a character somehow motivated within the story to fondle a horseis penis; we see a man deliberately trying to nauseate us. The suspension of disbelief is broken, and the movie becomes desperate and lifeless.

It should be difficult to incorporate crude elements into a story. But when vulgarity is included correctly, it is effective and serves a purpose other than agitating the audience.

In all the movies Iive seen in my lifetime, there has only been one fart joke that I felt was successful. In Ghost World, Seymour (Steve Buscemi) discusses his dysfunctional relationship with Enid (Thora Birch), confiding in his mooching friend Joe (Tom McGowan). When Joe suggests that Enid isnit interested in Seymour, his sentence is punctuated by a blaring fart. Somehow, the fart acts as dialogue, expressing the futility of the situation and dashing Seymouris hopes. It is not a stand-alone gag, and it serves a necessary function within the story.

Instances like this, however, are few and far between, and more and more, media producers are relying on vulgarity as a crutch, allowing them to provoke a reaction without creating a satisfying story. 

Why am I so concerned? Simple: Historians derive their impressions of past civilizations by their art. Imagine what archaeologists will think if they unearth an old reel of Freddy Got Fingered. Is this how we want to be remembered? Our media should be bold, intelligent and challenging, if not for our sake then for our posterityis.

Still not convinced? Fine, but you may as well save yourself some trouble. If your idea of a good time is to be nauseated -- nothing more, nothing less -- then go take a deep whiff from an open sewer. Why pay for something you can get for free? 
 

Send comments to dccampus@mail.uh.edu

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