Month: June 2014

Bad Grandpa: Badass Critique of Gender & Sexuality


photo credit: The Aristocrat

          Bad Grandpa (2013), Jackass pranksters’ latest stunt-filled spinoff, follows Knoxville who channels all his bad-boy angst and disgusting gags into, indeed, the crudest, horniest, and baddest grandpa most of us are liable to come across. Aged expertly by makeup gurus, Knoxville as Irving takes grandson, Billy (Jackson Nicoll), on a wild road trip soaked in strippers, stealing, granny corpses and good old-fashioned male bonding—all the while scaring the bejesus out of clueless spectators!   Dismissed by highbrow crowds as cheap entertainment for man-child fandom, the movie does not receive the recognition it deserves. Bad Grandpa sheds light on the fallible nature of gender while highlighting the disturbing correlation between male identity and female objectification.


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          Many of the film’s laughs result from seeing Irving, an old man, hit on much younger women in front of his adorable grandson, presumably passing on his suave tactics to the new generation. Age disparity and audience awareness of gags endow explicit gestures with humor.   We don’t expect an old man to be so overtly sexual—especially in front of a child. But when we realize that young people are bombarded with erotic images by all forms of media, we should understand that it is the exception not the rule for kids to be naïve about sex. In pop culture, women are featured in degrading roles that grant men power. In fact, women come to expect unwanted sexual attention, as is the case in Bad Grandpa. Instead of being disturbed by Irving’s propositions and hounding, many found his ways funny and even played along. If younger men behaved like Irving, the audience would not laugh, because they would be witnessing the norm.



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          The strip-club scene turns conventional sexuality on its head by showing male dancers ogled by women. Women become aggressors while men are transformed into pleasure devices. Through its unexpected expression, the swap in sexual hierarchy extracts giggles.  After all, who expects to see men in such a vulnerable position? Irving, a white man, flirts with black women who exploit black men. In so doing, he reveals class tension. Even though African American women are powerful in their racial community, they are still aggravated by white interest. For his patronage, Irving is welcome in the club until he questions a male dancer’s heterosexuality.   An inquiry about “size” spawns homosexual panic as the dancer threatens Irving. Even when gender sexuality is inverted, same-sex desire is still forbidden, pointing again to the flawed sexual structure perpetuated by a society stuck to tradition older than all of our grandpas.

billie at pageant

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          The beauty pageant scene is most insightful. Taking a page from Little Miss Sunshine (2006), Billy enrolls as a girl and outshines his competition with coy glances and a superb strip routine to Warrant’s “Cherry Pie.” Billy’s fantastic performance and Irving’s coaching show that men know how to be a woman better than women themselves since gender is a male-devised concept. The sexualized performance pokes fun at the creepiness synonymous with pageants. After all, little girls wear provocative dresses, too much make-up, and flirt with the audience enough to make even non-pedophilic males orgasm. While grandsons are taught to pickup women and granddaughters are taught to seduce men, sexuality and gender, like Knoxville’s entire ruse, are shown to be just an act.

billie and johnny

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               Some might argue that laughter marks consent, but I say that it adds to a much-needed dialogue surrounding sexuality in this country. If we’re laughing about something, at least we are aware of its existence.