October 18, 2006

Fratboy Films as Emotional Props.

The phenomenen of films which rely upon physical humour, political incorrectness and disgusting antics is one that has recently assailed the cinema screens near you: a brief history of the genre can be found in today's Telegraph and stimulates some thought. Why would someone want to go and see a group of people perform humiliating and often revolting tasks (Jackass, Dirty Sanchez) or watch a group of kids incompetently grope their way through a film (American Pie) or any of the other so called fratboy comedies. Why would people go to see these films, why not go to see other more intelligent films?

Firstly its worth remembering that some of these 'fratboy' films as identified by the Telegraph aren't the genuine article- Starsky and Hutch for instance is mischaracterised as only a Fratboy comedy- admittedly having Carmen Electra as a co-star is not like having Lauren Bacall let alone Scarlett Johansen- but on the other hand the film was also about adventure and about the dynamic between two characters. Many of these films thrive upon observations about characters- they might be called a character drama oiled by bodily fluids and fueled by bodily functions- American Pie for instance offers good observations, the father in the series is the archetype embarrassing over attentive father. Some of the following observations therefore won't apply to all these movies- but they do apply to a fair few.

But there is a justness in saying that these films take acting often to new lows (especially female acting) and there is rather more of the oil than there is of the character analysis I commented upon. Some films like Jackass go the whole hog and just exclude women and plot completely. So what drives them? Why would people go and watch them?

The secret I think is to be found in the fact that many people feel overtaxed and frustrated within modern society. These films are whatever they are not serious. They are not preaching anything and their endings typically are conventionally happy- characters aren't faced with existential angst but with worries about whether they can pull a girl or eat a slug, worries which we know will go away by the end of the film. Someone walking in worried about the state of the world, can be reminded that life is about belching burping and begetting. These films objectify shamelessly- they demand no imagination, no consideration- they are a warm bath for the mind in which nothing is challenged from their target demographic and all sorts of attitudes whether occasionally thought, covertly held or outwardly proclaimed are sustained.

The Fratboy film is also a remarkeably tolerant genre- it reduces life to its animal essentials which are accessible to us all and it also grounds our higher emotions in the earth from which they sprung, the muddy roots say of love in sex are never neglected in these films in a way that they can be in romantic comedies or in the great Hollywood classics. You may not be able to love like Bogart, but any man can be an idiot like Tom Green. A film which doesn't have deep roots encourages its viewer to live for today not for the great cause of tommorrow- to make the single man look to the next lay not the next lifetime love and there is something deeply psychologically healthy about such an outlook.

Not merely are they psychologically healthy in that way but they offer to young men something special- an affirmation and sarcastic take on their qualities. The attitude of a film like American Pie to women is fascinating, on the one hand the boys concerned look at the girls they like as ethereal beings that they want to sleep with but can't find the language to persuade them through- on the other the film mocks their inability- but because the mockery is tied so much into the world view it becomes very gentle, American Pie enables a young man entering sexuality to think on the one hand that I am absurd but also not to judge himself as much as he would otherwise thinking that thought. It offers him a way of both understanding his present situation and laughing at it through regarding the story. One could say the same about risk say and Jackass- but I think the point has been made here.

The Fratboy picture therefore whilst being on the surface a fairly objectionable entity (and having many objectionable features)- fulfills some real needs. It allows psychological release in a society becoming more and more hectic and committed to mental stress, it isn't contributing to the huge idealisation of the pinacle of society but spreads that promise to all who can belch out an uncouth melody with their buttocks. It also allows people to understand, accept and find comic some of the parts of their personality as it develops that they would not neccessarily understand or acknowledge otherwise.

If we view the Fratboy films as rubbish floating on the surface of society then we mistake their function- like most things in popular culture- underneath they reflect the needs and anxieties of individuals confronted with the world. The Fratboy Film no matter how crude, rude and stupid fills a need within those individuals' minds- a need to cope with the vastness of the world and smallness of the human being confronting it.


Yasser said...

and still jackass 2 is making a killing and got a remarkable review from the new york times

Gracchi said...

Yeah I'm not attacking the film at all nor am I defending it- it isn't my taste it might be yours but I'm trying to analyse exactly what it is about a man doing things like that that attracts people- why do they want to see that film. And generally I think its because it takes them out of themselves- noone's mind is changed by Jackass 2 no matter how good it is- but it fulfills various needs within them- much as me seeing a football match does. What I'm interested in is what needs it fulfills- it doesn't stimulate them intellectually so what does it do. That's waht the post is about- ta for commenting though.

Anonymous said...

I like the term 'warm bath for the mind'. The key element in this is that the demographic that many films are made for is American teen boys. I'm not sure why. Perhaps they buy the most popcorn etc. It's probably some part of a marketing segmentation study.

For this there needs to be some degree of aspiration and affirmation as, to be honest, that's what a lot of being a teenager was about from my recollection.

My guess on Jackass is that it has an appeal as in most comedy in that it is quite unsettling (although not necessarily in a disturbing way) to watch people either mangle themselves or threaten to do so.

Much of this is a guess though and I have a friend who did her Ph.D. on success factors in the movie industry. It's quite entertaining as the definition of a 'good' film, unsurprisingly, depends on who you talk to but there are a lot of people who 'know' what is a good film. I remember one woman at a seminar, when my friend was giving a paper and stating that it was difficult to ascertain what was a good film, stating 'but it's perfectly obvious what is a good film and I would be happy to explain it to you...' oh dear.

Anyway, it's late and must sleep.


Gracchi said...

Thanks Ben, yes I agree with you about the warm bath for the mind point- and also about the affirmation point. That's basically what I was trying to get across- they are definitely films for an immature constituency- lack of character shows you that. But I think its still interesting to reflect upon their impact and the way that they convey to their constiuency an affirmation of their way of life. Pretty confusing answer but basically we agree!

Anonymous said...

You see what worries me is that I like them too. And I'm old...oh dear

Gracchi said...

Well I like football and that's about as bad. :)