Dealing with social acceptance themes in offensive, graphic, shock-based comedies
The sub-genre of comedy that focuses on shocking sexual depictions, over-the-top jokes, and hyper-unrealistic scenarios seems to be going strong in 2019. Films such as American Pie (1999), Superbad (2007), and The Hangover (2009) cemented a place in the medium for these narratives with all of their try-hard humor and problematic treatment of identity (homophobic and misogynistic jokes galore!). Weaker off-shoots began to form as quick cash-grabs for studios looking to ride the wave of the main-stream comedies noted, and now the market seems to be saturated with them.
My interest with this sub-genre has taken shape after watching Blockers (2018), a film in which two up-tight parents (Leslie Mann and John Cena) team up with a laid-back father (Ike Barinholtz) to prevent their daughters from having sex on prom night. While Mann and Cena have more obvious motivations – not wanting to see their children lose their innocence – Barinholtz’s goal is more nuanced. He’s fully convinced that his daughter is gay (something she is still unsure of herself), and he is concerned that she is being pressured by her friends to have sex with a guy in order to feel accepted.
The set-up is the perfect representation of the interesting dichotomy that this film, and similar films in the sub-genre, present. While the plot is filled with ridiculous humor that is overly vulgar, graphic, and inconsistent, the "heart" or "message" of the film is clearly a positive one. In the case of Blockers, it’s incredibly blunt in addressing identity politics to differing levels of success, but I believe it would be hard for the audience to walk away angry with the normalizing way in which the gay character is casually accepted by her friends and family, acknowledging the next stage of inclusive progress needed in the U.S.
My question for this topic is – does the graphic, vulgar, shock comedy sub-genre have the potential to encourage social acceptance, or is it a futile attempt that should be abandoned since the sub-genre has been pigeon-holed (by the creators and public) into a category of film that is designed to profit from being anti-politically correct or overtly offensive to shock the audience? I would love to hear additional thoughts on this topic as well as more titles that may fit into this small movement of shock comedies that are grappling with socially positive themes.
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