Take Celluloid Out Of the Toilet
|By: Matthew Kinne; ©1999|
|Why is it that a two-year-old understands that “doing your business” is private, but Hollywood seems to feel that it is a valid theme for movies? Is it “prudish” to feel that toilet humor is not appropriate? How can something that is a “natural” part of life be a problem? Matthew Kinne of MOVIEGUIDE examines these issues.|
Take Celluloid Out Of the Toilet
Last year when my niece was only two years old, she would on occasion simply disappear from all the family activity in the living room. I said to my sister, “Uh-oh. Where’s Brianna?” My sister would reply, don’t worry, she’s “doing her business.” I wasn’t quite sure what my sister meant, so when I went to look for Brianna in her room to inquire about her business, Brianna quickly closed the door and told me to go away. Was Brianna being mean to her Uncle Matt? No, she was aware, even at two-years-old, that some things should be done in private. Even though she couldn’t even use a potty, she knew that doing her “business” was a solo effort not to be used as entertainment for others.
I hope Brianna doesn’t lose her discretion when it comes to such matters when she gets older, but if today’s movies have any influence at all on young minds, then I fear she, like today’s cinematic comedians, may flush away propriety and caution.
1999 seems to be the worst year yet for toilet humor in Hollywood. Toilet humor can be defined as any comedy derived from bodily functions usually involving fluids and/or waste. It also may include crude references to body parts and taking care of such parts.
Now, before you call me a prude, let me tell you my father is an OB-GYN, my mother, as a nurse, cleaned many a bed pan, and I have a B.A. degree in biology and have viewed and dissected almost every part on the human body including its contents. Being aware of biological functions, human needs, and even being aware of their comic possibilities is almost a requirement of being fully human. What young couple doesn’t use humor to get through the messy aspects of raising young children? Humor adds levity and releases stress to the challenges of life.
What I object to in today’s comedies is 1) the complete abandonment of discretion in the use of toilet humor, particularly in PG-13 rated movies, 2) the repetitive use of such humor, 3) the marketing of it to children, 4) the abandonment and dismissal of other forms of humor, 5) the assumption that America craves toilet humor, and 6) the certainty of increasingly grosser humor in films to come.
Before I go into detail about the above six points, it is important to examine a few moments in our recent past, which may have contributed to today’s crude state. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, comedians George Carlin and Lenny Bruce featured stand-up routines on bodily functions. In the late 70s, National Lampoon began making films for young adults such as the gross-out classic Animal House. In that movie, John Belushi stuffs his face with food and then pretends he’s a pimple that bursts. Mel Brooks made a few ribald comedies in the 70s also, such as Blazing Saddles featuring the infamous gas-passing scene at the campfire. Then came Porky’s, Zucker-Abrams films such as Airplane and Naked Gun, Ace Ventura movies, Dumb and Dumber’s laxative scene, and last year the wild runaway success of There’s Something About Mary with its gross masturbation scene. Hollywood, in jump-on-the-bandwagon fashion, is following suit, hoping that the money will flow, and when done with carefully planned marketing skills and A-list stars, it is succeeding.
This year alone, so far, we have seen excessive toilet humor with Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me, Big Daddy, South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut. All of these films are aimed at broad audiences. The first two are PG-13, and the South Park is a cartoon featuring children. All these films are leading their media campaigns with the certainty of gross-out jokes, but several of the smaller teen comedies, like She’s All That, also feature a scene or two to turn the stomach.
Up until recently, R-rated movies had a lock on ribald material. Porky’s, Animal House and There’s Something About Mary were all rated R, and, if the movie theaters were doing their jobs, which it seems now that most aren’t, then the little ones are denied access. Today, however, many PG-13 movies have genital jokes, urination jokes, and even PG-13 rated Wild Wild West, which is selling itself on action more than comedy, has a veiled bestiality joke and other crudities. Yikes!
South Park creators Matt Parker and Trey Stone tell the press with pride that they purposefully tried to make something that will offend everyone with their recent feature film. Entertainment Weekly asked Mike Meyers if there is anything that he won’t include in his movies (suggesting restraint), and he replied, “No. Not if it’s funny.” Of course, if he and Adam Sandler are getting massive returns on their movies, how can they argue that America doesn’t enjoy it?
Both Meyers and Sandler have running gags in their movies. Meyers barrages the viewer with jokes about the male member, while Sandler jokes about urination continually. This continual assault may be outrageous, and the initial idea behind the joke may contain a grain of humor, but to attack the viewer with repetition dulls the viewer to future jokes on the same subject. These men are setting up a condition where the humor must be bigger and grosser to produce the same laugh or it won’t be effective. Many people who have seen these movies aren’t impressed and simply say the humor isn’t humorous, but their children and/or less discerning friends are consuming this refuse indiscriminately. Filmmakers who see the dollars generated by toilet humor and are motivated by “artistic freedom” and corrupt power are emboldened to create even more extreme versions of toilet humor to satisfy the tarnished funny bones of their audiences.
With the cult of personality on full force and the herd mentality shouting “any teenager who is cool is going to see it,” it can be very difficult telling your teenagers not to attend the latest PG-13, or even R, gross-out comedy. Alternatives include other feature films playing today, like Tarzan and An Ideal Husband, a “classic” video watching party, games, outdoor activities, etc. If your teenager does attend a gross-out comedy, you can talk to them about it and remind them that the behaviors seen on screen are not appropriate in real life. Perhaps, the best you can do yourself is to model loving, fun, but appropriate, behaviors for your teen to emulate, respect and ultimately accept.
We are all human. We all sometimes make funny noises, and our bodies can do funny things. Jesus Christ Himself came to earth as a man, dwelt among us, ate with us and talked with us, yet it is worth noting that the record of His life didn’t include the more “personal” moments of His business. The Gospel writers obviously believed that mentioning these moments were irrelevant to the bigger story, the story of Christ’s love and redemption of mankind. We did not need to read about Christ’s “personal business” because the other incidents from His life were sufficient to communicate that He was fully man, fully God, full of emotion, full of love, and full of purpose. Jesus Christ protested with choice words and preached with simple stories.
MOVIEGUIDE® friend Ron Maxwell, who created Gettysburg, continually states that he tried to depict the pain of war without the grotesqueries of war because ultimately the story wasn’t about battle, but about human loss and the threatened destruction of a way of life. Big Daddy is really about assuming adult responsibility for children, and Austin Powers is about good vs. evil, adjusting to a new culture and preservation of one’s identity. All of these themes could be communicated with humor, wit, charm, and cleanliness. The message did not need to be filled with details of their “personal business.” We know Adam Sandler and Mike Meyers are human. Let’s accept that and move on to seeing their humanity, communicated with emotion and choice words, not toilet humor. Humanity is not merely defined by all the same body functions and body parts we share, but by the fact that we are all created in God’s image with emotions, intellect, souls, and a need for significance and purpose.
No doubt the answer is to support good films which bring balance and completeness to the story of man trying to make it here on earth. Also, support your families with love and knowledge of He who is love. Continue to read MOVIEGUIDE® and learn to discern the wheat from the chaff. Toilet humor in movies isn’t our ultimate enemy, there are far worse evils in this world, but even sewers have walls to provide containment.