Sunday, March 25, 2018

you men, stop that

The thing about Police Academy--in particular, but also several of the other films from my childhood that preached irreverence through most of the story--is that that, in the end, the status quo is held up. At the beginning, these new recruits are jokes. By the end of the film, they have all bought in to the police academy, even Mahoney, who was forced into it, and Jones, who happened into it because of Mahoney. The film reifies law and order, promotes conformity, and reinforces heteronormativity.

Regarding the latter, the film starts in on masculinity at least right away. The second segment is Mahoney at work and he shames a guy for having a wig. Losing your hair is an easy mark for a measure of one's manhood. McCann, Plummer, and Minichiello (2010) explains:

Humour's role as an 'othering' technique has two functions: first, it marks out what is to be taken seriously such as stoic, heterosexual masculinity, and what can be devalued by being laugh at. (p. 519)

Flacker's wife is shrill, demanding. Yet, Flacker's is not an ideal--read: masculine--male. But, he's joining the police academy, he's going through this boot camp. Flacker's is not one of the characters we really get to know, though. While he could be a larger presence, a deliberate transformation, in the end, he hasn't actually changed much. During the riot, he instead picks out a new outfit in the midst of ongoing looting.

Martin Arrives with a car full of women, all his "girlfriends".

To appease the Chief when he criticizes the mayor, Lassard replies, "The bitch." A gender-specific insult in a film that, like many films through the 80s, is stuck very much on sex/gender and sexuality.

Mahoney tricks Thompson into offering her phone number and, almost, her thighs. Later, she will describe her thighs to him, and even later she will show them off while in shorts. She is little more than a sexual object. (The only time we really learn anything about her is when Mahoney asks her why she wants to be a cop and she replies, "I like to dress like a man.")

Barbara's dog is male, but named Princess, so Harris calls the dog "a queer".

Blankes, Copeland, and Martin are told to report to the barber because their hair is longer than average. Blankes' and Copeland's crew cuts--very masculine--are judged "damn good haircuts" by Harris.

McCann, Plummer and Minichiello suggest: "Ideas of 'real' or 'failed' masculinity are so continually portrayed through media that they operate below our daily perception" (p. 510). I'm eight years old when I see Police Academy. I laugh at the Blue Oyster Bar bit, I'm probably amused by Martin dressed as a woman. I laugh at Lassard mistaking Mahoney and Thompson kissing in their uniforms for two men. Because that is what you laugh at in 1984. Especially if you go to church and have bible class in school and they're telling you that being homosexual is an abomination, especially if America under President Reagan is all about, what Rich (1980) calls "compulsory heterosexuality", and 1980s pop culture, action movies especially, is all about lifting up masculinity, lone male heroes (sometimes duos, rarely groups) taking down innumerable amounts of bad guys to save women in peril, or to save whole groups of folks in peril.

The 1980s brought us Tootsie and Bosom Buddies. But also Rambo and Rocky.

Callahan tackles Barbara to the ground and all the men want to be tackled by her. Later, Martin will be forced into bed by her and love it. It's almost like the film thinks it is being progressive but it doesn't know how.

Like the names. Harris' first name is Thaddeus. Copeland's first name is Chad. Mahoney's first name is Carey. Leslie Barbara is a male character. These aren't classic (or is it a modern, homophobic affectation?) masculine names. They are male names. But not particularly masculine. Not to mention Kyle Blankes. Because shooting blanks is a popular put down for a man who is sterile. (Plus as a cop, there's a secondary implication that he won't be able to manage this gun-centric occupation either.)

Moses Hightower, the big black man who acts out of rage and that's what gets him kicked out of the academy, used to be a florist, and goes back to being a florist after. The movie has these little details that could work so much better at a different time, maybe, or with a different director.

McCann, Plummer and Minichiello explain:

Humour may utilise 'othering' to create a target onto which social tensions underpinning the group are enunciated. In the case of race-based humour, different ethnicities are subjugated to instil power in the humorist's group; in sexist humour, one gender positions itself as different and generally superior to the other by highlighting perceived biological or social differences between them. With homophobic humour, hegemonic heterosexuality performs its self-ascribed superiority over the other, often by aligning the gender of the target with its gender opposite, i.e., gay men are derided as effeminate and lesbians are positioned as 'mannish'. (p. 507)

Similarly, Martin's put-on 'Spanish lover' persona runs along side his dressing as a woman to get into the women's barracks. Callahan's physical prowess, and her domination of Martin, suggests a masculinity to counter Martin. She's not a lesbian, though, because that would be taking it too far. She does get a "feminist" moment, though in smiling when Hooks finally gets over the wall.

Of course, Copeland and Blankes (Chad and Kyle) at the gay bar is played for laughs. Lassard thinks it was Mahoney--and not the female prostitute because he didn't see her--who fave him a blow job, so when he goes to report the incident, he cannot go through with it.

Wednesday Less, writing for Screen Rant, calls the whole Blue Oyster Bar segment "the ugliest intolerable humor of Police Academy... The big joke is that Blanks [sic] and Copeland spend their evening surrounded by predatory leather-clad gay men in a setting they're afraid to leave." And which they're afraid the next day to say they have ever entered.

Copeland calls Mahoney "Mahomo". Mahoney says "sleeping is for fags". The film deals in casual homosexual jabs as well as the more overt Blue Oyster Bar stuff.

And, we haven't gotten much better since. The casual jabs don't make it into popular culture so much anymore. But, they still do. Gay characters are left to the sidelines, left as punchlines, or are left out entirely. The recent Love, Simon is "groundbreaking" because it is the "first mainstream teen romantic comedy to feature a gay lead character" and Jacob Stolworthy, writing for Independent, points out that director Greg Berlanti "was adamant that [the studio] did not downplay the orientation of the titular lead character".

Ultimately, here in Police Academy Mahoney goes up on the roof to save Harris, but specifically in order to save Thompson who is pinned down behind a crate in the middle of the street. He's there to save the woman in peril. He, in turn, is saved buy the big, bad, black, masculine florist.

Notably, Steve Guttenberg pointed out in an interview in 1984 that Mahoney" is not exactly a deep character [and] Police Academy set out to be light entertainment, and that is what it is." But, light entertainment carrying such casual deprication of homosexuality and gender presentations outside the norm. For me, Christian kid, the humor worked, at the time. But, imagine if I had known openly gay people then like I know now. I saw a discussion on Quora while doing some research for writing about all this today--Why is the LGBT agenda being pushed so aggressively, especially towards children? And I was very glad to see that the responses were basically denying the premise, denying that there is any LGBT agenda, and denying that such an agenda would be a bad thing at all because if there is any agenda, it is about accepting other people for who they are. Police Academy, were it made today, would probably have to involve a Blue Oyster Bar reference for purposes of nostalgia, but I imagine it might be progressive enough to have an openly gay character as part of the diverse ensemble. For 1984, the film feels a little progressive, and a whole lot transgressive. But, in the end, it reinforces norms and doesn't really lift up any of the marginalized people represented within, except just enough to be funny.

WORKS CITED

Lee, W. (2016, August 28). 15 '80s Comedies that Are Way More Offensive than You Remember. Screen Rant. Retrieved from https://screenrant.com/offensive-80s-comedies-worst-remakes/

McCann, P.D., Plummer, D. & Minichiello, V. (2010). Being the butt of the joke: Homophobic humour, male identity, and its connection to emotional and physical violence for men. Health Sociology Review, 19:4, pp. 505-521.

Rich, A. (1980). Compulsory heterosexuality and lesbian experience. Signs, 5: 4, pp. 631-660.

Stolworthy, J. (2019, March 18). Love, Simon: The groundbreaking first studio teen film to feature gay protagonist. Independent. Retrieved from https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/love-simon-first-gay-studio-film-lgbtq-nick-robinson-greg-berlanti-riverdale-a8261866.html

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