Artwork by Chloe Leeson
Comedy is undoubtedly one of the biggest genres in the movies and everybody loves a good laugh, but sometimes writers can tear down a script of great belly laughs and fun to make way for ‘that joke’. The joke that offends, whether this be sexist, racist, homophobic or anything in-between, appealing largely to ‘edgy’ people that believe ‘we should be able to laugh at anything’, these jokes just make us shake our heads in shame. Here’s some of our most prevalent examples:
SIXTEEN CANDLES (1984)
Like many teenagers post-1980s, John Hughes films became a staple and expression of my teenage experience. These movies were hilarious and sweet, touching every part of my adolescent heart. One of my favorites was Sixteen Candles. I loved the movie, but growing up and becoming aware of social issues has dampened my adoration for it. Sadly, it’s offensive and problematic. In the views of a young girl and through a nostalgic lens, it took long for me to notice these problems.
The absolute WORST part of this film- is the date rape scene. When I was a kid, I didn’t realize that it was ‘date rape’. I just sort of accepted this part of the film, didn’t question any part of it. How wrong was I. It’s horribly sexist, echoing many controversies in which drunk women are prey to men that take advantage of them.
Jake Ryan and The Geek talk after a party, where Jake Ryan boasts, “I got Caroline in the bedroom right now passed out cold. I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to.” The Geek replies “What are you waiting for?” Jake Ryan lets The Geek take the drunken Caroline out. “She’s so blitzed she won’t know the difference.” Ted brings her to his friends, taking a photo of her drunk and confused, as proof that he hooked up with her.
The next morning, Ted (after engaging in some more drinking himself) asks Caroline if they had sex last night. He says he enjoyed it, and asks Caroline if she did too. She replies, “You were pretty crazy … you know what I like best? Waking up in your arms.” This is John Hughes’ way of validating that it was okay that she was taken advantage of. Validating that girls, drunk or not, are still asking for it. I love John Hughes films, but this one definitely crosses the line. It’s nostalgically viewed as one of the best romantic teen comedies of all time, and while I felt that way when I was younger…it was funny until I grew up. –Caroline Madden
THE INBETWEENERS (2008-2014)
‘The Inbetweeners’, I must admit, is a guilty pleasure of mine. One of the reasons that I find it so very enjoyable, I feel, is how worryingly accurate it is in terms of a portrayal of British teenagers. I have, in my time, met many straight, white boys in England and, sadly, it would be fair to say that the characters of ‘The Inbetweeners’ are only slightly exaggerated versions of these people. As a result, I have always enjoyed watching the show and laughing at such similarities so, this year, I went to go see the second Inbetweeners movie, hoping that it would be a promising example of the occasional brilliance of British humour. However, while the film did raise a few laughs, I was ultimately disappointed with the endless barrage of damaging jokes that caused an unnecessary amount of offensive with myself and, also, amongst the rest of the audience. Of course, ‘The Inbetweeners’ is based almost entirely on sex and, specifically, the poor attempts made by teenagers to navigate their way through this particularly confusing period and, often, it is both hilarious and somewhat touching, as the importance of friendship in youth is explored, yet the film focused far too much on squeezing as many jokes about sexual assault and degradation as they could into almost every scene. Three of the only female characters in the movie were presented in highly misogynistic manners, as one shamelessly manipulated a member of the Inbetweeners themselves, another was conveyed only as the unbelievably boring ‘psycho girlfriend’, a trope that has long become unfunny and rapidly transitioned into something altogether uninventive, and one was simply presented as a ‘bitch’ and shamed for her body type. This portrayal of women was not just unsatisfactory but also sadly misogynistic, as I had expected something far more innovative and witty from two of Britain’s most talented comedy writers.
So, to conclude, as joyful as the film could occasionally be, its use of sexism, low-key homophobia and poorly executed attempts at traditional slapstick all reduced it to something far less funny than I first expected. –Hannah Ryan
HORRIBLE BOSSES (2011)
In all honesty, I never found Horrible Bosses that funny to begin with, but it would be ridiculous to dismiss some of the horrendous attempts at ‘jokes’ within this movie. This isn’t ‘feminist nit-picking’ this is blatant staring you right in the face, rape jokes.
Charlie Day’s character Dale is a dental assistant and is the subject of much ridicule from his peers (Bateman and Sudekis) because he doesn’t want to have sex with his boss Dr. Julia Harris (Jennifer Aniston) who makes constant advancements on him. At one point she gropes him and makes him uncomfortable on one occasion by appearing in her office wearing nothing but lingerie and her lab-coat. She grinds upon him whilst he’s under anaesthetic initiating sex. She literally engages in sexual assault.
Dale makes the smart move and reports her for sexual harassment, fearing it will jeopardize his relationship with his girlfriend, apparently this is HILARIOUS. His friends mock him to no end! Man is pursued by very attractive woman and has a girlfriend??? Great. Playerrrrrrrr. Does not excuse the fact that she is a rapist. The idea that Dale has no interest in Dr. Julia when she is clearly way above his league seems absolutely ludicrous to the audience because he should enjoy it right? Take what he can get? There’s nothing wrong with a pair of un-wanted boobs in your face? No. This isn’t funny, it’s worrying that this is presented as something to laugh at, that we aren’t meant to pity Dale and take his side. The (men) laughing at this are probably also the ones that say ‘men get raped too’ when talking about female sexual assault too so, go figure.-Chloe Leeson
WEIRD SCIENCE (1985)
John Hughes’ other foray into teen humor is Weird Science, which is a bit more on the nose for exploring gender politics. In a 1980s Frankenstein, two boys use a computer to create the perfect woman, a sex object for all to desire and to cater to the boys’ sexual whims. Once they create her though, they’re too shy to act out on any of their lurid fantasies. There’s a scene where they stand in the shower with her with their underwear on.
So the computer dream woman, Lisa, takes pity on them and decides to use her awesome computer powers to lure them on misadventures to prove that they’re much more capable than they believe they are. Lisa helps the boys develop their self-assurance to go out with (or rather, just get laid) real girls, girls their age. The whole relationship is still weird though, because Lisa still ends up kissing one of them. (Who’s half their age)
But the scene where it all stops being funny and starts being uncomfortable is this one, where Lisa brings them to an urban blues club. When Anthony Michael Hall’s character gets drunk, he imitates the black men around him.
While Weird Science has a funny premise, it’s only funny until it’s actually executed. The scene above would never be in a film today, and for good reason. Imagine if Hollywood did a remake where a pair of girls made the perfect man? Perhaps that might shake up and truly question the notion of gender politics. Boys of course are always viewed as sexual creatures; most teen films revolve around their quest for sex or loss of virginity. Not for girls though. But let’s leave scenes like the one above out if it. It’s not funny. -Caroline Madden
Categories: Feminist Criticism