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Film Critic Says Misogyny a Small Price to Pay for Jokes about Alf and Legwarmers

April 11, 2010

image via Slate

As feminists, we’re experts at recognizing offenses like misogyny and homophobia on the Big Screen.  We point out the flaws in Jason Segel’s attempt to romanticize the “emosogynist.”  We call shenanigans when directors cast convicted rapists in their films.  We point out the problems with Tucker Max’s entire existence

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Mainstream film critics, on the other hand, are not always so good at pointing these things out.  So when Dana Stevens and John Swansburg noted the “rank misogyny and homophobia” in Hot Tub Time Machine during their Slate Spoiler Special podcast, I did a fist pump.  “Way to go, guys,” I thought, as the critics said that the gay panic and fairly obvious woman-hating ruined their enjoyment of the film.

Here are just a handful of the film’s extensive offenses:

– A gag about how Craig Robinson’s character is so submissive to his wife that he agreed to hyphenate their last names when they married.  By the end of the film he learns to stand up for himself and tell the castrating bitch/love of his life what’s what.  (Note: Ed Helms played exactly this same character in The Hangover.  Except he got to keep his own name! But he had to wear dowdy sweaters tied around his neck and lie about his excursions to Vegas.  So it’s hard to tell who was more emasculated.)

A scene in which John Cusack’s character gets back at the woman who’s dumping him by telling her that her future self gets “fat… And I mean, like, FAT.”  (If you follow the link to the trailer, the offending moment starts at 2:11.)

– A plot point that rolls homophobia, misogyny, and rape culture all into one: because of a bet gone wrong, Rob Corddry’s character gives a blow job to Craig Robinson’s character while an 80’s-style bully (played by William Zabka from Karate Kid) holds a gun to Corddry’s head.  A cheering/jeering crowd looks on.

Dana Stevens notes that the latter scene invoked “mob violence and forced rape at gunpoint.”  For her, those themes seem awfully “hard to build a gag around.”  Swansburg adds that not only are the jokes misogynist; they’re also stale.  Before the movie even began he bet Stevens that the plot would include at least one character lorded over by a castrating wife.  Moments later, the writers delivered the Craig-Robinson-takes-his-wife’s-name gag right into his lap.

Unfortunately for Slate’s reputation with this feminist, Swansburg and Stevens were not the only two voices in the review.  Dan Kois, who reviews for both Slate and The Village Voice, made an appearance as the Guy Who Finds the Movie Unequivocally Hilarious.  For most of the podcast, he makes the argument that the plot is funny because it’s an homage to a whole series of favorite 80’s films.  When Swansburg asks him whether he considers all the nastiness part of this “homage,” he says:

I guess I viewed it as… the movie does have a certain aspect of the kinds of things that you have to put in R-rated comedies now to get them made, right?  Like all the barfing and the shitting and the blood… and the sort of base-line level misogyny and the fear of emasculation.

To me, I viewed those sort of as the price of admission to make that comedy in 2010, which is to say that if you’re going to convince a studieo to let you make a throwback comedy that’s an ode to trashy 80’s movies and you want it to have a better budget than Wet Hot American Summer, you’re probably going to have to include a bunch of that crap in the same way that in the 80’s… for Savage Steve Holland to make the movie that he wanted to make, he had to include some boobs.  Well, he probably wanted to include the boobs.  But in general he had to include a bunch of crap that potentially offended him as well and that offends our sensibilities now when watching those movies.

He goes on to say that, while he doesn’t necessarily have a good explanation for why the blow-job-rape gag is funny, the audience he was with certainly did laugh at it!

So I guess his point is that the laughter makes anything okay.  If his audience enjoyed the blow job scene – if they got a good laugh out of it – it doesn’t matter that the material reminded Stevens of rape at gunpoint, or that it contributes to the overarching problem of rape culture.  Because it was funny!  Ha ha ha ha ha ha!  And maybe the filmmaker didn’t really think the gag was funny.  Maybe he was previously an unknown who couldn’t get a budget to make anything.  And when the studios heard this “hot tub time machine” idea, they laughed him out of the room.  But when he came back to them and agreed to add in some homophobia and misogyny, they said, “Great!  We were just withholding money from you until you agreed to do a rape scene for laughs.  Since the rape scene also invokes homosexual panic, we’ll give you even more money.”

Kois is shamelessly using a feminist argument about the patriarchy against feminist interests here.  While it’s true that studios often include offensive content in films because they believe it will bring in money from their target young-man demographic, directors should still be held responsible for the films they make.  I have trouble believing that the directors and writers of contemporary comedies are pure, innocent beings who would never crack a misogynist joke on their own.

Kois himself proved my point when he interviewed Tucker Max back in September of 2009.  Because studios had by and large rejected the big screen adaptation of I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell, Max used his own funds to help produce  promote his infamous anti-woman filth.  Kois lauded the decision, implying that Max and his audience of young white males were an under-served niche minority.  Now, in spring of 2010, he’s attempting to argue the exact opposite – that directors are a persecuted minority and the young white male audiences are the ones pulling the strings of oppression.

By providing writers, directors, and producers with this kind of easy excuse – the excuse that “I had to include all that awful stuff to get my movie made!  Waaah!” – Kois is privileging the success of a Hollywood film over the safety, security, and welfare of women and the LGBTQ community.  As long as blatant hatred is considered an acceptable “joke” in the mainstream, such attitudes will always be mistaken for “harmless fun” rather than for the vile and dangerous misogyny that they are.

And these filmmakers will continue to be seen as “decent guys” just trying to make a living in the Hollywood machine.

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