Saturday, July 26, 2014

Celebrating Hollywood's Exciting New Movie Genre: The Vom Com

An unflinching examination of Hollywood's unflinching examination of some things that really should be examined only flinchingly, if at all.  The movie industry has become obsessed with—well, read on.

I have a strict policy about growing older and growing up:  succumb to the former, because it beats the hell out of the alternative, but resist the later.  For that reason, certain forms of juvenile, sophomoric humor still tickle me.  Chief among them is bathroom humor.  I admit it:  there is just something intrinsically funny about certain biological functions going awry.

Every person’s body has at least three major avenues of substance ingress and/or egress.  Sometimes they’re under our full control, and sometimes they’re not.  It’s the egress part that gets you.  Because of long-established tribal taboos, there are only a few socially acceptable places for seeing to such functions, and woe betide the person who has a misfire.  The importance of this is impressed on us from a very early age.  And it takes a long time to get it right (some of us take longer than others).  Early incidents where mistakes were made tend to leave a lasting impression.  Such regrettable episodes, and the embarrassment that comes with them, serve to guide our future behavior and help us fit into the sometimes complicated matrix of human social interaction.  Stacks and stacks of books and research papers have been written about this, starting with Sigmund Freud.

Enter humor.  Humor, at its heart, contains two basic elements:  surprise and cruelty.  If you don’t believe it, spend ten minutes watching America’s Funniest Home Videos.  90% of them feature something hurtful happening in a surprising way (well, half the time it isn’t much of a surprise—stupid, painful things often happen at the end of stupid, irresponsible actions, and the audience sees it coming a mile away, even if the poor schlub on screen didn’t).  People who are the victims in such videos often suffer horribly.  But because, in the aftermath, they live (the video doesn’t always make it clear whether they live well) we get to laugh.  Just try not to, and see if you can do it.  Some of these things are funny as hell.  Had the victims died, of course, we wouldn’t react that way.  Instead of laughing at such unfortunates on television, we’d go find the video on some underground website and laugh at them there.

Take the aforementioned social taboos and imperatives involved in bathroom training, cross it with the concept of humor, and what do you get:  bodily functions happening at inappropriate times or in inappropriate places, or the results thereof being left out in the open for people to find, preferably in such a way as to mortally embarrass someone.  Ewwwwww.  But funny.  Sometimes.

I’d like to be able to say I’m a morally superior human being and so never laugh at the misfortune of others, bathroom related or otherwise.  But I would be dissembling.  TV news people are particularly infamous for their propensity to chuckle, giggle or guffaw in the face of tragedy.  Folks in my profession like to say that journalists sometimes laugh in response to human suffering only to keep from crying.  But the truth is, we laugh because we’re a**holes.

And since I’m in confession mode, I will allow as how I once participated in playing a joke on a TV anchor that involved some bathroom humor.  Our station had just received a CD filled with sound effects, and our audio director noticed that one of the tracks was labeled, “Digital vomit.”  So naturally, he played it to see what it was all about.  Now, why anyone would think that a TV station would ever have need of such a recording is a mystery.  But there it was, and it was fine.  Picture someone getting violently and copiously ill onto a tile floor.  The recording was so crystal clear, and the splash sounded as if it were echoing off close tile walls with such realism, that you couldn’t help but glance down at your own shoes to make sure none had gotten on you. 

So what do you think we did?  What could we do?  During a commercial break of our newscast, we piped the track to our anchor via the audio feedback button lodged in his ear.  Numerous times.  After first telling him that a viewer had recorded a comment he needed to hear.  The results were spectacular.  He almost wasn’t able to compose himself in the short time remaining before the commercial break ended and red camera tally light came back on.

I say all that to make the point that I am no prude, and I love a good laugh.

Now, once upon a time, movies completely ignored such bodily functions.  No one ever did #1 or #2.  Ever.  Not on screen.  Not off screen.  Movie and TV characters were freaks of nature who simply never ever had the need to do anything like that.  Sometimes, to advance a story line, illness had to be written into a script.  But any scenes involving nausea and its usual outcome were executed in such a way as to have the action take place off screen, usually without even so much as a sound effect (actor slaps hand to mouth and dashes off screen—point made, with clean efficiency).  Sometimes the omissions were so noticeable that you had to wonder what’s going on.  I remember watching the movie Marooned when I was a kid, where the viewer spends two hours observing three Apollo astronauts who are crammed into a tiny capsule that’s stuck in orbit.  Not once did any of our heroes ever have to take care of any business.  I wondered about that.  And did anyone but me notice that neither the Jupiter 2 of Lost in Space, or the Starship Enterprise on Star Trek, had any bathrooms? 

A few years ago, movies began making up for decades of ignoring the issue.  The trend started dramatically—after Linda Blair’s performance in The Exorcist, who among us will ever look at pea soup the same way again?  But after that, there was no major rush to bring on the gross.  Perhaps directors thought the final word on the subject had been said.  The movement toward embracing the bathroom moved slowly.  But it did move.  In the years since, there have been good examples, and bad ones.

Good examples:  The Baby Ruth scene in Caddyshack.  The bathroom scene in Dumb & Dumber, which made me laugh so hard I thought I was going to hurt myself.  The cat spew scene in Madhouse—hysterically funny.  Mr. Hanky the Christmas Poo on South Park (the original appearance) sent me into such paroxysms, it prompted an asthma attack that nearly killed me (and that’s only a slight exaggeration).  But then the Extra Features section on the DVD took it several steps further in a skit that was not funny, only gross. 

And there are other examples that are just plain yucky.  The exploding man scene in Monty Python’s Meaning of Life:  with apologies to Monty Python fans, that one is just 50 Shades of Nasty.  As was the toilet scene in Trainspotting.  It was very artistic and all that, but it put images in my mind that I would give cash money to unsee.  Slumdog Millionaire:  If you don’t know the scene I’m talking about, then trust me, you don’t want to know.  Even simple romcoms like Sex and the City now have to get in on the act.  Charlotte did what in her what?  It was bad enough that it was my wife’s turn to pick the movie that weekend, and I therefore got dragged to see a chick flick.  Having to sit through Charlotte’s mortification so added to the enjoyment I was anticipating.  (I later got my revenge by making the wife sit through two submarine movies).  There have been other such examples.  I won’t recount them all.  But in recent years it seems like the next director wants to outdo the one before, each trying to push the needle of the Disgust-O-Meter another point higher. 

But those examples don’t bother me half so much as the number of casual, it’s-not-a-big-deal scenes that take place these days in bathrooms, or in settings doubling for such when no bathroom is at hand (alleyways, bushes, car windows, etc).  The camera just has to take us into the john, so we can hear Joe and Fred chatting at the urinals, complete with piddle noises.  Cue the sound effects clip:  Blubeta blubeta blubeta.  “Hey, Joe.”  Blubeta blubeta blubeta.  “How its hangin’?”  Blubeta blubeta blubeta.   “I don’t  know, Fred.”  Blubeta blubeta blubeta.   “You’re standin’ right next to me.”  Blubeta blubeta blubeta.  “Take a look and see for yourself.”  Blubeta blubeta blubeta. 

Really?  We have to do this?  I don’t know about you, but when I’m in the men’s room, I really like to take care of what I came there to do and then get the hell out.  I don’t talk to other people and I don’t want them to talk to me.  What I want them to do is focus on the task at hand, or in hand as the case may be, and then move on, and let me do the same.  I didn’t come there to hang out with the boys, in any sense of the term.   At home I’ve been known to run water in the sink to mask the sound of whatever I’m doing.  So why do movie directors, who previously pretended such bodily functions didn’t exist, now have to wallow in them, and bring us along with them?

Bride of the Bloviator and I are a couple of boring homebodies.  We typically watch four or five movies every weekend.  In the course of doing so, we began noticing that we couldn’t get through a weekend without having to see someone taking a piddle, making a doodie, or ralphing up their lunch on screen.  Inevitably, at least one director among the movies we’d chosen would feel the need to take us there, with little or nothing left to the imagination.  This past weekend, we thought we’d finally broken the streak, after making it through four movies without having to know about anyone’s fluids.  But then we made the mistake of starting Season 6 of Mad Men, to which we’re just now catching up via Netflix.  If you haven’t seen it, I won’t spoil it for you, but suffice it to say that a character commits massive hurlage in a very public way.  And the episode also features an incident of on-screen squirtage.  A tinkle and a vom, in one sitting.  (But to be fair it was a feature-length double episode). 

So, congratulations, Mad Men producers.  Thanks to you, the bride and I have now gone 22 straight weeks without missing our bathroom/vomit fix.  And after this past weekend, it occurred to us that this is no accident.  Hollywood has, in fact, come up with a new genre for all of us.  Since they haven’t yet seen fit to name it, we will:  the Bathroom and Vomit Comedy, to be known henceforth as the vomcom. 

Innovation.  It’s what makes America great.


Post Script:  I wrote this several weeks ago during a burst of creativity, when I was trying to get ahead on the blog.  In the intervening time The Bride and I have not missed a single weekend without having to sit through a vom, squirt or doodie in some movie or TV show.  This winner this past weekend was the Halloween Costume scene in the rom-com parody, They Came Together.  This is week number 36.  The Vom Com.  You gotta love it.

If you enjoyed this, please share with your friends.  You can find more snarkograms here.  My well-reviewed novel Messages, a TV news exposé and crime drama, is written largely in this style.  And I invite you to subscribe to this blog.

©2014 by Forrest Carr.  All rights reserved.

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