Though it’s kind of embarrassing to admit, I used to be a timid, passive consumer of pop culture. I took a lot things at face value, and my superficial definition of “cool” was based largely on the herd mentality of my biased peers. (I mean come on, I had a Scarface poster in my freshman dorm room years before watching the goddamn movie. Guilty.) But over the past decade or so, my brain developed a spine. I evolved into a more thoughtful, critical observer, attempting to form my own opinions based on introspection and carefully weighed research instead of knee-jerk reactions and sensationalistic Internet blurbs.
While reflecting on this fact, I found that my tastes in movies—particularly those regarding sexuality and profanity—have changed drastically in the last three years; a lot of flicks I used to get a kick out of in college aren’t even appealing on a nostalgic level anymore. This makes sense, I guess, since everyone has to [allegedly] grow up sometime. But since I enjoy psychoanalyzing myself, it’s time to delve into the back of my frontal lobe, starting with my…
Did anyone else grow up with conservative parents who took movie ratings literally? For those who didn’t, here’s the general breakdown:
G = “OK, sit still and learn about anthromorphized gender roles so Mommy can drink her special juice in the kitchen and forget about your hyperactivity for a while.”
PG = “Sure, you can watch it, but only if I’m in the room. Just because those teenagers are turtles doesn’t mean it’s OK for them to kick people in the face.”
PG-13 = “Last I checked, you’re still 12 for a few more weeks, mister. I’ll be sitting right here the whole time. What more do you need to know about the Titanic, anyway? Doug’s mom told me all about that couch scene, and if you think I don’t know how to work the fast-forward button on the VCR, you’re dead wrong.”
No boob for you!
R = “Not in my house.”
Fine, fine, this is all a bit hyperbolized, but you get the idea. And here’s the thing about demonizing stuff (especially movies) as a parent: if you’re not careful, your kid will only want that stuff more. There’s a fine line between “demonizing” and “glorifying.”
Anyway, from a very young age (i.e., as long as I can remember), I was taught that swearing and premarital sex were detestable practices under any and all circumstances. Fair enough; morals are morals, I suppose, and my mom had scripture to back up her rigorous censorship in spades.
But I didn’t know what gave those “dirty” words power. Not really. I only knew they were powerful. And forget about gratuitous sex or violence. The closest I got to either before middle school was that sword-fighting scene from The Mask of Zorro—with both my parents in the room. Woof, that’s a brand of eye contact I don’t want to make with my mother ever again.
Pictured: a Catherine Zeta Jones that teenaged Teej could never fully appreciate.
Needless to say, I was behind the curve when adolescence hit, but eager/desperate to catch up. Not only was I underexposed to all the movies my super-cool friends had seen years ago (“What do you mean you haven’t seen Braveheart, dude?”), but during the process of high school socialization, socially-awkward TJ would happily side with his presumably knowledgeable peers if it meant avoiding the ridicule that came with admitting he’d never seen any of the Terminators at the age of 17.
Which brings me to American Pie. I don’t have any hard data to back me up here, but I’d say this flick set the pace for my generation’s sensibilities toward R-rated movies (at least in the sexuality and gross-out humor department). If it didn’t, try explaining away three sequels and four direct-to-DVD spin-offs, not to mention all the copycats in between (that’s Stiffler in Road Trip, right?). This franchise paraded all the taboos of my childhood around like a semen-and-dessert-covered banner, and by the time I graduated from high school, my friends and I liked our movies the same way we liked our Go-Gurts: colorful, synthetic, and sort of retarded if we thought about them long enough.
Admittedly, some of us were kind of late bloomers.
Of the many skills I picked up on the way to Diplomaville, learning how to read movies was one of my favorites. I’d never tried that before, but a few professors pushed me in the right direction. Once I got started, I couldn’t stop. As I drank in films like Snatch, Pulp Fiction, Donnie Darko, Reservoir Dogs, Y Tu Mama Tambien, Trainspotting, A Clockwork Orange, Cannibal Holocaust, Boogie Nights, Monster, and so on, I realized how much time I’d been wasting on superficial flicks like…I dunno, anything with pre-2004 Jim Carrey in it. I started to appreciate how violence can impact character development; how profanity can be used to organically punctuate monologues; how sex scenes can deliberately (and artistically) evoke discomfort as opposed to arbitrary titillation. In effect, I was retraining my brain.
At present, my attitudes toward sex and profanity in the movies have evolved from ignorant titillation to thoughtful appreciation. If a particular sex scene contributes to an overall narrative, terrific. But come on, isn’t anyone else sick of the whole “unrated” trend with comedies nowadays? The same goes for vulgar language; profanity-for-profanity’s-sake can be annoying at best, detrimental to the script at worst.
“Just like the crap you saw in theaters, but with 6% more tits and F-Bombs. Huzzah!” —Hollywood
So have I come full circle? Worse, have I turned into my mom (the way my exes always said I would)? Hardly, but unless it serves a purpose, leave the swearing to my racist Uncle Mort, and the gratuitous sex to the broadband Internet I pay good money for. I’m trying to watch a movie here.