film

Bad Grandpa: Badass Critique of Gender & Sexuality

irving

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.

JACKASS PRESENTS: BAD GRANDPA

photo credit: thisisinfamous.com

          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.

stripper

 

photo credit: http://www.thedailybeast.com

          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

photo credit: somewhatnerdy.com

          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

photo credit:  www.kmov.com

               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.

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Blog Post #1: Male Fantasy, Female Nightmare

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*Picture from “ashleygriffinofficial.blogspot.com”

In her essay, ‘The Image of Women in Film,” Sharon Smith discusses the problematic portrayals of women in film.  According to Smith, women are most often presented as pretty playthings to satisfy the desires of the male hero.  The central mission of female characters is almost exclusively tied to finding a male love interest.  Written by males, women are either frigid shrews, frustrated by repression, or sexually savvy, bodacious babes.  The shrews, inevitably, are “saved” by the suave charm of the virile male lead.

Sexuality in men is applauded; their conquests seen as badges of erotic esteem, while pleasure in women is deemed unnatural.   Females who enjoy sex are commonly depicted as femme fatales—vixens whose beauty poses obstacles to the morals and mission of the protagonist who is, of course, male.  Think of films like Carrie.  After reaching puberty, the girl’s powers manifest in horrific ways, leading to the destruction of the student body.   Or Bedazzled, in which the devil is played by bombshell Elizabeth Hurley.  Sexual potency becomes a recipe for evil.  Then think of films like Wedding Crashers.  The protagonists are depicted as likable, fun-loving buddies, who are well-intentioned despite their promiscuous playboy ways.

With women on the screen, intellect and individuality are subservient to fulfilling fantasies of heterosexual men—an observation made more troubling when one recognizes real world parallels.  There are men who, indeed, grow to view women as sexual objects rather than flesh and blood beings who deserve equal representation in the political, business, and domestic sphere.

Smith believes:  “Films use all their powers of persuasion to reinforce—not the status quo, but some mythical Golden Age when men were men and women were girls” (17).  This is where we disagree.  She believes film representations are more grounded in fantasy than real world roles.  I, however, believe it is the norm—the “status quo”—for women to be expected to rely on appearance to advance in society.  I believe it is the “status quo” that fuels a culture in which rape is trivialized and glamorized; that women are deemed ditzy inferiors incapable of political prowess and business expertise.  Films are more than just fantasies; they are social scripts.  This provides a dangerous challenge.  For how are we to overcome this cycle?  Merely adding female filmmakers to the mix won’t suffice since women, too, are brainwashed by sexist ideology canonized in motion pictures.

The problem is not that women are presented sexually; it’s that they are ONLY presented sexually.  Men, contrastingly, are shown in a variety of lights, highlighting a diverse, more complete human experience.  Women in film are designed by male filmmakers to bring their fantasies to light.  Until we have women representing uniquely female fantasies, the same tired tropes are bound to appear again and again and again.  Like Smith, I believe studying females in the field is instrumental in providing models.  But effective change, I believe, is impossible without massive action on the part of female viewers and creators alike.

Source: Smith, Sharon. “The Image of Women in Film: Some Suggestions for Future  

          Research.” Ed. Sue Thornham. Feminist Film Theory: A Reader. New York: New York

          UP, 1999. 14 – 19. Print.