Chick Gross-Out Movies

                The most exciting day of the week for me as a child was Wednesday.  That was “dollar night” at the Riverside Drive-In of Norman, Oklahoma.  My mom would make a grocery bag of popcorn (cooked in bacon drippings and seasoned with coarse salt, by the way) and my parents, my sister and I would ride out to the show in our ’52 Chevy.  They let the whole carload in for a buck because the movies were not new releases.  They were classics.  Sitting in the back seat, I got to see some of the great movies of the mid 20th century: Hitchcock thrillers like Rear Window and Vertigo, comedies, noir films, family movies (I was pretty much in love with Hayley Mills after The Parent Trap and Pollyanna), sci-fi, horror (I had to beg my folks to let me see those great Hammer Frankenstein flicks) and of course westerns like Shane, High Noon and Red River (one of the most traumatic experiences of my young life came when Gary Cooper was almost lynched at the end of The Hanging Tree).  I grew up loving movies and understanding the differences between film genres.

                Because I’ve been aware of movie genres and subgenres for fifty years now, I feel as if I’m on pretty firm ground when I say that a new subgenre has emerged, one I’m wrestling with and frankly a little irritated by.  We all know what “chick flicks” are (recent example: The Notebook) and we’re all familiar with “frat boy” movies that rely on disgusting adolescent topics for laughs (The Hangover for instance).  Over the last few years a new subgenre has emerged that combines these two.  I guess we could call them “chick-gross-out-movies” [these are not to be confused with “gross out” movies that have chicks in them, like Saw].  These are movies clearly intended to be viewed primarily by women, but they have a strong element of disgusting behavior or dialogue that disqualifies them from being true chick-flicks.  They are really less chick-flick than romantic comedy, but the “not for mixed company” conversations and events disqualify them from that genre as well; plus there always seems to be a girl-and-guy-finally-get-it-right-at-the-end theme.

                One of the prime examples of this was the 2007 movie Because I Said So, that begins with a middle-aged mother and two of her daughters having a cell phone conversation with a third daughter about the penis of the uncircumcised man with whom she is about to have sex.  I’m sorry I described that, but you probably understand the dynamic I’m talking about now.  The same sort of dynamic is at work in Something’s Got to Give (did we really need to see Jack Nicholson’s naked behind or Diane Keaton’s gratuitous frontally nudity?), Knocked Up and a number of other recent pictures.  Recently I got talked into seeing The Backup Plan, that begins with Jennifer Lopez in the stirrups having in vitro fertilization and goes downhill from there.

                I’m at a loss here.  This is an honest question: who really, fully enjoys movies like this?  We actually had a family discussion about this not long ago.  My older son offered the opinion that the disgusting elements in these movies were put there to give guys a reason to sit through them with their girlfriends.  Maybe so.  After all, if you look at the list of producers, directors and writers of these movies, they are mostly men; plus they are all “Hollywood” shows and therefore essentially created by cookie cutters.

               On the other hand, if you want to appeal to frat boys, you get fewer laughs with a baby-being-born-“I-shouldn’t-have-seen-that”-scene than a scene of someone getting drunk and throwing up.  Can it be that the young women of the world are striking a blow for equality, asserting that females can be just as disgusting as males—and enjoy it?  Of course, perhaps this is just a sign that a new plateau or threshold has been reached: maybe it has just become that much more difficult to be shocking and outrageous, and if the movie kind of sucks you need that to distract your viewers.

               Another possibility is that I’m just old, irrelevant and out of touch.  I have to be open to this possibility I suspect.   Heaven knows, there are a lot of intimate human events, but I don’t play them for laughs, or use them to make my readers gag.

              Going back to the Riverside Drive-In, one of the first things I learned from the master storyteller Alfred Hitchcock is that you don’t have to show skin to be incredibly sexy or show graphic wounds to convey violence (in Psycho you never see the knife actually strike its victims) or shock people to scare them (the suspense of waiting for something that might happen is much more compelling than having somebody leap out of the dark and make a loud noise).  So I’m just going to keep being old-fashioned and strive for quality in my writing, and know that some filmmaker somewhere has the same values I have.

Lazarus Barnhill is the author of Lacey Took a Holiday and The Medicine People, available from Second Wind Publishing.

7 Comments

Filed under Lazarus Barnhill, writing

7 responses to “Chick Gross-Out Movies

  1. I think these movies are just trying to hit a different target than the sweet romantic comedies. They are for girls that want the romance but also like that gross out humour. There weren’t really movies like this before. You either saw a gross out or a rom-com. Now they have both. Though, that shouldn’t eliminate the traditional rom-com.
    Personally, I’m not a fan of the gross-out-rom-com. If I’m watching a romance it is because I’m in the mood for sweet. If I want shocking I’ll watch an action or horror.
    Thanks for sharing your views on this.

  2. Wanda Hughes

    I honestly haven’t a clue. I’ve seen some of the shows you mentioned and frankly wasn’t that impressed but then I’m old too. heh Maybe it’s a generational thing.

  3. Good piece, Mike. I’d like to add two more points: garbage in and garbage out, and the desensitization of America.

    The first is fairly self-explanatory—throw enough garbage onto the silver screen (or the printed page) and it becomes mainstream, acceptable. The second has to do with what television has managed to accomplish in the last 50 years.

    There was a time when the viewer wasn’t allowed to see Rob and Laura Petrie in the same bed together; today we have all manner of soft porn in prime time, and sex is used to sell everything from beer to automobiles.

    Then there was Gunsmoke, a popular western in the 60s. Maybe, as her name suggests, Miss Kitty really was a woman of ill repute; but if so, I never suspected. I only ever saw her as the saloon owner with a penchant for overdressing. If they were to redo that series today, would Matt be one of Miss Kitty’s paying customers?

    Whenever someone was shot on Gunsmoke, Bonanza, The Big Valley, they grabbed their abdomen and died and we never saw blood; today we see autopsies in gruesome detail. When I first saw A Fistful of Dollars on the big screen in the mid-60s, I thought disgusting the death at the end, where the heavy spits up a fair amount of blood. Today I barely bat an eye at what I see on shows like Criminal Minds and CSI. Granted, in the 60s I was a preadolescent; but consider what Generation X has grown up watching on the tube. Is it any wonder they’re depressed and have been desensitized to violence and sex?

    It’s almost as if the network executives have decided that, in order to maximize viewership, they must push the envelope—more violence, more sex equates to Nielsen ratings success.

    And yet I found commendable Spielberg’s faithfulness to the depiction of war in the European arena in Saving Private Ryan. War has for too long been glorified. There is never glory in taking another’s life. Wars are political, and are fought in the trenches by kids only following orders and who only fight to prevent from being killed. That the horrors of war should be shown for what they are—horrors—I thought long overdue.

    So is the difference that one is simply for entertainment, while the other is intended to educate?

  4. Again, like others who have commented, I’m old, so what passes for funny or “real” may differ for me. I’ve written erotic scenes as well as scenes depicting birth, illness and death–all common human experiences–without stinting on the details myself, but what passes for “entertainment” in these movies, and on TV, escapes me. I’m continuously reminded of Steve Allen’s comments in his “Vulgarians at the Gate.”

    At the same time, I remain a fan of the first of these movies: “Animal House.” This was not simply gross, but written with wit and irony. In many ways, the historical setting is as finely drawn as any British costume drama. The parts I most enjoyed weren’t simply the Belushi “gross me out.”

    Hollywood has seen the gross-out factor as a huge money maker–and they’ve had success because slob humor appeals to a wide audience-but when the social satire disappeared, my interest in attending these movies vanished.

    And as I seem to have wandered off topic, I’ll go a bit further. I find the female gross-out stuff a manipulative corporate response to the concept of “gender equality.” For instance, I’ve been a bicyclist for 40 years, and I clearly remember the era when the teen-age girls driving Daddy’s car began to behave as dangerously and with as much disregard for others sharing the road as the testosterone-laden teen boys. Equality to behave like a Yahoo isn’t much of an achievement.

  5. christinehusom

    Good post and comments.

    There may be some who enjoy crude and offensive scenes and themes in movies, but I don’t think the majority do. I remember reading statistics a few years ago that indicated Hollywood was out of touch with mainstream America. They are trying to show us/tell us what they think we want to see.

    The old classics–movies and tv–are rightly called that. They’re classy. Alfred Hitchcock incorporated genius techniques to keep us on edge, or lightly entertain us without blood or guts or nudity or graphic sex. He, like so many writers/directors of his era knew how to awaken the imaginations of his viewers. From The Philadephia Story to Rear Window to Mr. and Mrs. Smith to The 39 Steps.

    Movies meant to entertain or educate can do so without gross-out factors. The older I get the more I appreciate the Hallmark movies. I know, I know.

    Like J. mentioned–I thought Miss Kitty ran the saloon. And had a crush on Matt Dillion. Period. The early television years, a family with children of any age could sit and watch almost any show on TV, with the exception of Twilight Zone, Chiller, or Thriller–they were pretty scary!

    Shows like CSI where the female officers are wearing low cut tops revealing a LOT of cleavage, really removes any credibility the show could have. That’s why I love Cold Case–the officers dress and act like real officers–and they’re pulling it off the air. I digress . . .

  6. Christine: I sometimes catch an episode or two of The Twilight Zone on the SyFi channel during some summer holiday marathon, and I gotta tell you, scarey they ain’t! Which may be a commentary on our desensitization; they certainly were frightening in the 60s. Who can forget William Shatner seeing that golem on the wing of his airliner at 35,000 feet?!

    Concerning Cold Case, the main female character (sorry, I don’t watch the show often enough to know her name) is so pale she looks as if she belongs on an autopsy table! But your point is well made: In the real world, if anyone in the work place were to hug someone (as depicted on a host to shows) they’d be hauled down to HR to be reprimanded. Also, why is that on sit coms all the homely overweight guys are paired with attractive wives, and husbands are stereotyped as idiots good for only bringing home the bacon, while the kids are all smarter than their parents?

    I, too, think Hollywood is out of touch with reality and what America wants to see on the silver screen; on the other hand, someone is paying to see these films, which in part is why they continue to make them. Low budget, I guess, results in a quick profit.

  7. christinehusom

    I agree, J, The Twight Zone is not as scary now–but it was when I was a kid. I remember an episode on either Chiller or Thriller–it was the movie, “House on Haunted Hill” with Vincent Price. I haven’t seen it in 45 years, but still remember some of the frightening scenes. In the cellar a guy falls into pool of acid and pops back up as a skeleton. Someone opens a suitcase and there’s a dismembered head in it. When people stood in a certain spot in the house, blood starts dripping out of their wrists, to name a few. That was a low budget B film of the time. A little different than the low budget, quick profit movies of today.

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