Friday, March 6, 2015

you can take your moral turpitude...

Bob Clark directed Black Christmas, Porky's and A Christmas Story.

There is either something really wrong with that fact or something really awesome. On the one hand, those are three very different films. A horror film, a sex comedy and a nostalgic family picture. I don't think the odd man out here is A Christmas Story, though. I think it's Black Christmas. Black Christmas, whatever its faults--check this blog last December for details on that film and A Christmas Story--is a fairly straight forward film, played for realism (unlike the over-the-top remake). Porky's and A Christmas Story, on the other hand, are actually both quite nostalgic. The simpler time for A Christmas Story is 1939-40, before World War II really twisted the 20th century around, before the Cold War. The simpler time here in Porky's, on the other hand, is decade and a half later, World War II has come and gone, young men are fighting across the world in Korea now, but it's not the good war that World War II was for America. Meanwhile, the economy's doing pretty well (which in 1982 when this movie came out, well, not so much, even though we may think of (and I remember) the 1980s as more affluent like the 1950s (hell, the mid 80s definitely was, with conspicuous consumption taking over America).

But anyway, my point is that the main characters in Porky's would actually be younger than Ralphie from A Christmas Story, and they're the same folks who might be beatniks or hippies as the '50s got on and the '60s exploded. The thing is, despite its raunchy content, Porky's is just as nostalgic as A Christmas Story. Not all nostalgia has to be directed toward innocence, first of all. But, second, Porky's actually is innocent. Full of profanity, sex talk, nudity, and it's still innocent. These are just kids trying to grow up. These are the same kids who would have been imagining themselves with a Red Ryder BB gun a decade earlier. This movie relies on a very specific, forgiving attitude--the whole notion of boys will be boys. Regardless of their age, for that matter. Take into account Coach Brackett who has sex with Honeywell and Mickey's police officer brother, who helps them succeed at their revenge in the third act. A user review on IMDb says this film transports him "back to a mythical time in America when it was great to be a teenager. Life was a lark, issues were black and white, and all endings are happy." Similarly, you could say A Christmas Story takes us back to a time in America when it was great to be a kid. Life was a lark, issues were black and white, and all endings were happy. And, there was no threat of nuclear war... I wrote in January, while watching Commando, about growing up in during the last stretch of the Cold War, regularly told that World War III was a possibility. Porky's takes us back to a time when, thought nuclear weapons exist, they have not gotten that scary yet...

Or had they? Porky's is supposed to take place in 1954, the same year that Them!, for example, was in theaters. Them! is considered to be the first of the nuclear monster movies; in this case, the nuclear monsters are giant ants. The Soviet Union had detonated an atomic bomb in 1949, the United States had detonated several, including Little Boy over Hiroshima and Fat Man over Nagasaki. In Slate, 31 January 2013, Katy Waldman cites Susan Sontag's "The Imagination of Disaster" to suggest:

...the job of science fiction was at once to "lift us out of of the unbearably humdrum... by an escape into dangerous situations which have last-minute happy endings" and to "normalize what is psychologically unbearable, thereby inuring us to it." In other words, a good horror/fantasy/sci-fi flick provides a healthy dose of escapism, but it also keeps one eye fastened on what we wish to escape from.

Waldman tells us that these films "trafficked in the strange and fantastic--mutants, alien invaders, robots--but they also made real dangers mundane..." Real dangers in 1954 are entirely ignored in Porky's because these characters are preoccupied with being young and getting laid. Real dangers in 1982--a CDC task force on what they called then "Kaposi's Sarcoma and Opportunistic Infections" was set up in 1981--are ignored by the film itself, building so much of its comedy around casual, unprotected sex.

Of course, "A.I.D., for acquired immunodeficiency disease, or GRID, for gay-related immunodeficiency" had only afflicted 335 people according to the New York Times, 11 May 1982. The same piece suggests Federal concern for "tens of thousands more homosexual men [who] may be silently affected and therefore vulnerable to potentially grave ailments." The point is, a new sexually transmitted diseases was on the scene and, if one wanted to place Porky's in its historical context, that is where it sits, at the beginning of a new sexual era, and it is not at all concerned because it is looking backward. The worldview of Porky's is entirely conservative, stuck on a simpler time when sex was fun and a young man could stick his "tallywhacker" through a hole in a bathroom wall and no one would be afraid he was a homosexual...

Actually, it's quite remarkable how little homophobia (or even reference to homosexuality) is present in this film, considering several scenes take place in the boys locker room, and the Cherry Forever sequence involves a handful of teenage boys sitting naked together--

Interruption, because in the scene in which Tim's father beats him up and Ted intervenes, there's this exchange:

Tim: "I'm not afraid of you. If you ever come near me again, I swear to God I'll kill you."
Mr Cavanaugh: "Looks like I'm gonna make a man out of you yet, boy."
Tim: "A man? If being a man means being what you are, I'd rather be queer."

And, after Mr. Cavanaugh walks away, Billy (I think) helps Tim with his bloody nose and Tommy (I'm pretty sure... I am having trouble telling all these white boys apart) says, "Okay girls, if you're gonna kiss each other, let's get it over with." This is, I believe, the only overt reference to homosexuality in the entire film. That doesn't mean there is not, perhaps an ongoing reference to homosexuality throughout the film. All these horny young men spend most of their time with each other rather than with young women. Though Cherry Forever, I'm pretty sure, is an actual prostitute they have hired for the big prank in act one, neither Billy nor Tommy actually has sex with her, instead just faking the whole thing even though they are behind closed doors. Porky's is known for the (heterosexual) sex available there, but these boys are unable to partake. Not only that, this illicit sex is far away from the nice wholesome town of Angel Beach, and getting they must go there clandestinely. And, when heteronormative sex is forbidden at Porky's, what do they do? They tear down the entire place. It's like conservative America's nightmare about homosexuality destroying the world for the rest of us wrapped up in a nostalgic story about nice, healthy young men trying to sow their wild oats.

Essentially, Ralphie Parker fantasizing about his teacher's praise is the same thing as Pee Wee's fantasizing about sex with Cherry Forever. Different boys, different ages, different fantasies. But, Middle America can at least rest easily because there's nothing perverse about either fantasy, nothing immoral.

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