Monday, January 21, 2008

"They're not talking about me . . . right?"

(Reference appears at about 3:40. NSFW, as Michael found out.)

(Cross posted at

I just finished watching Superbad this morning. I rented the movie with the impression that it wouldn't be as bad as I had made it out to be. I thought to myself, Maybe my friends are right. Maybe Superbad was "so funny". Maybe it was really a story about the relationship between two high school boys who are best friends. Maybe the message is actually about "respecting women."

Yeah, no. Not only do I stand behind everything I have ever said about Judd Apatow, Seth Rogen, Knocked Up and Superbad, I am now saying that I was being kind. The statement that I made on Feministe about last week's episode of Gossip Girl applies to Superbad as well: it was at best lazy writing and at worst both dangerous and insulting to their audience.

I could go into detail about how my assertions about the movie were correct: almost every female character was depicted as a potential sperm receptacle; every main character was a white male, and almost every supporting character was white; almost every person who speaks in the movie was white. But those realities only served to set up a context for my disgust.

Here is the premise of the movie: two teenage boys hatch a plan to acquire alcoholic beverages so that they can get two girls drunk and have sex with them.

Here is an excerpt from Section 261 of the California Penal code:

261. (a) Rape is an act of sexual intercourse accomplished with a person not the spouse of the perpetrator, under any of the following circumstances:

  • (3) Where a person is prevented from resisting by any intoxicating or anesthetic substance, or any controlled substance, and this condition was known, or reasonably should have been known by the accused.

In case you haven't connected those dots yet, in California, where the movie was filmed, if you have sexual intercourse with someone you know is drunk, you can be charged with rape. Also, as I initially learned when I was leading the first-year Summer Orientation program at my university, it does not matter if you are drunk as well. If the person you have sex with is drunk, you can be charged with rape.

Even if that were not the law in California, WTF, dude? How are you going to make a mainstream movie about trying to get girls drunk so you can have sex with them? I don't care how the movie ended. I don't care that the two main characters realize that they love each other. I don't care how funny Seth Rogen thinks he is. I don't even care about the "vag-tastic" porn featured in the first scenes. I don't care that the writers created this script when they were thirteen; they are grown men now: have some perspective, idiots.

The entire time I was watching Superbad, two things were in my head. The first was certain friends of mine, all female, partially or wholly defended this movie after they saw it. These people also make up most of my readership, so, Hello friends! I have also listen to these same people make the following complaints:

  • Why can't I get respect from the people in charge who are mostly men?

  • Why isn't my female-dominated section of my industry taken seriously?

  • Why can't I be accurately represented in the media?

  • Why won't anyone hire me even though I'm obviously talented, experienced and eager?

  • Why aren't more women feminists?

These same people then called Superbad "hilarious" and "surprisingly sweet", because the movie had "jokes" and the two main characters were nice to their objects of prey in the final scene. However, having Michael Cera's character Evan raising a toast to "respecting women" while he's trying to hook up with a fallen-down drunk Becca was akin to D.W. Griffith inserting a clip of Dr. King's "I Have A Dream" speech in the middle of Birth of a Nation. Both situations are ridiculous, and the latter is anachronistic.

Almost every verbal insult spewed in the movie involved attacking the other person's masculinity by accusing them of not having a penis, being a gay male, being a woman or being a vagina. The loathing of anything female became more palpable as we learned about Bill Hader's character's ex-wife, who was an actual whore when he married her. But it was Jonah Hill's "Seth" who took the cake by openly lusting for his best friend's mother; repeatedly calling Becca "a bitch" because she told their elementary school teacher about his penis drawings; and losing his mind when the adulterous stranger Seth was grinding on menstruated on his leg. The people who created this movie--the directors, the writers and the producers--clearly have a simultaneous hatred, fear and ignorance of women, quite possibly due to their respective painful adolescences. But I repeat: you all are grown men now. Don't just regurgitate your teenage fantasies on to the screen. Reflect on your thoughts and feelings with an adult mindset, then film them.

So to answer your questions, friends, this is part of the reason you are having trouble gaining success and respect. Misogyny is acceptable and encouraged in our media because it's "funny." Just because you personally can deconstruct a highly flawed movie like Superbad in your minds by separating stereotypical images from appropriate behavior in reality, does not mean that the rest of the movie's audience can. They can't even conceive of that notion. For many of the viewers--both men and women, both boys and girls--that movie is reality. To them, all girls dress like prostitutes and therefore should be ogled; girls are always naturally lubricated; girls are stupid enough to believe that a pre-pubescent teenage boy is really a 25-year old Hawaiian man with a singular name more unbelievable than Sting, and will then inexplicably have sex with said boy; girls love to get drunk, strip for you, and offer you "blow-Js"; and, if you fail to get a girl drunk to have sex with her and tell her this, she'll probably still be your girlfriend, even if you have no redeeming qualities.

The second thing I was constantly thinking about was American Pie. Same general premise, with the following notable exceptions:

  1. There is no significant impetus to get anyone's sexual partner intoxicated.

  2. The female characters do not need a male chaperon during their scenes. They can just talk to each other if they want. They also have distinct personalities and goals.

  3. The male characters in American Pie are way better looking than the male characters in Superbad. I mean, really. You can even leave Seann William Scott and Chris Klein out of the equation, and the comparison remains striking.

That ends my Superbad rant for now. Onto Barack Obama.



Stephanie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Bianca Reagan said...

Hooray, a comment!

You didn't call it hilarious; another one of my friends did.

I think Michael Cera is adorable too. It's nice that he doesn't need to do much character research for his consistent roles.

I don't blame you. I like listening to what other people have to say. It gives me insight into them and into the effects of our society.

Pizza Diavola said...

Oh my god, your post is so, so, so awesome! I completely agree with you, and the only thing I would add is that Seth's plan to make Julie his girlfriend fits perfectly into tropes of rape:

a. get her drunk so he can fuck her--the implication is that she would say no, otherwise, so he's deliberately overriding that refusal by getting around it.
b. Somewhere in the movie, he says that if he can fuck her at the party, she'll have to be his girlfriend the rest of the summer.
c. Since she'll have to be his girlfriend the rest of the summer, he also says that he'll get to fuck her more.

This is so unbelievably creepy and wrong--it's like he's read a book on how to be the perfect rapist: rape your victim; get her to stay with you, since she belongs to you after sex, keep raping her. The implication is that Julie will think that the sex was consensual, either out of shame or to convince herself it wasn't really rape, and so she'll stay with her abuser the rest of the summer. Great. It's like how too many rapes play out in real life, except that this is a widely lauded piece of pop culture.

I hate this movie so much, and how it's specifically targeted at adolescents who don't know much better because they're certainly not getting reliable sex ed and or being taught respect for their partners at school. I hate how it's popular and how it could even be produced--who financed this film? Who produced it? Who brokered the national distribution deal? Among all those people, why didn't a single person notice how incredibly misogynist, rape-promoting, and vile this movie was?

Pizza Diavola said...

Does blogger not do trackbacks? In case it doesn't, just as a heads up, your post motivated me to finally pull my own Superbad post togther (had been on the back burner since October).

Bianca Reagan said...

Blogger does do trackbacks, but I haven't figured out to make them work yet. pizza, you have reminded me why I keep writing, even when other people think I'm crazy.

Anonymous said...

As much as I like Seth Rogen, I still agree with the review of "Superbad" here. I've seen some of Rogen's earlier work; this guy is obviously capable of doing more intelligent writing. (SO DO IT ALREADY.)

Although I found many parts of the film hilarious, I still have to agree with the Bianca's statement on how not enough people are able to discern how much of this film is a satire and how much is actual depiction of teenage life.

Bianca Reagan said...

Thanks, anonymous, and welcome!

Cortney said...

I am so glad I found this post. I promised my high school students a movie for the last day of class and they wanted Superbad. I went out and rented it but I wasn't going to watch it until I read this.

Brilliant post, saved me from embarrassment and now, having seen the film, I agree with all of it. Not even sure if I feel the need to write about it in my own blog anymore!

I used to love Judd Apatow so much. Freaks and Geeks was a great show and the female characters were well drawn, complex and realistic. Clearly, he is capable of such an understanding of women. He just sold out. It is really telling that a show like Freaks and Geeks was so unsuccessful while Knocked Up and Superbad did so well.

Bianca Reagan said...

cortney, I'm glad you found it, too! How did you find it?

You can post about Superbad, too. Or you could save your brain space for other ideas, and link to mine and the many other posts on the subject instead. That's what I like to do. :)