Sunday, June 6, 2010

Musings on MacGruber

Posted by David

MacGruber, in case you didn't know, is a recently-released movie that is based on a recurring Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name.  The basic premise is centered on the character of MacGruber, a MacGyver-like fellow, who is always in the process of defusing a bomb but keeps getting bogged down in inter-personal issues leading to the detonation of the bomb and the death of all those involved.  Over and over again.

NOTE: There are spoilers that follow, so you have been warned.

I won't get into the plot of the actual movie, as that is not the point of this post.  I will say up front that, on the whole, I enjoyed the movie a great deal.  It was silly and knew it and had some clever set pieces and elicited good comic performances from its main actors Will Forte, Kristen Wiig, Ryan Phillippe and Val Kilmer.

What I want to mull over are the few instances where some of the humor leaned towards what one might perceive as homophobic.  Now "homophobic" is a strong term and often evokes a knee-jerk reaction from those who hear it when used to describe something.  I want to be clear that at its very worst, the humor was vestigially homo-phobic, probably noticeable only to those, like me, who can be somewhat over-sensitive to it, in the same way that a rape victim might be over-sensitive to jokes about a woman "asking for it," while a young woman who has always felt safe around men would think such a reaction was unsubstantiated.  Of course, that's why God created the term "subjective."

So here are my admittedly subjective observations.

In the first instance, after being assigned a highly vital military mission, MacGruber sets out to assemble his team.  We see a shot of a list of type-written names and then one by one we cut to the guy - usually a real bad-ass looking fellow - as MacGruber approaches him.  The fellow recognizes MacGruber and grins an assent that communicates "hell, yeah, I'm down for the mission."  Then we cut back to the list and the name is checked off.  This progresses until we get to one particular name.  We cut to him and he is yet another brutal-looking individual working in a garage.  He sees MacGruber and smiles his "hell yeah" smile, then a very pretty young man walks up next to him and they smile at each other and kiss deeply.  Then we cut back to the list and the name is being vigorously crossed off.

Hah hah.

One thing about this sequence that I did not know, which was later explained to me by my movie companion who is a good deal younger, and that is important to note is that all the bad-asses - gay kisser guy included - are actual members of the World Wrestling Federation that is seen on TV and are well know to the young folks who are the presumable target audience of this movie.  This adds an additional, potential layer to the joke.  Is it "hell no, we don't want no fags on our bad-ass team!" or is it "Ha Ha, look what they made Paul Wight (the real wrestler) do in the movie!" or is it both?  It is worth noting that at the very end of the movie there is a wedding and gay kisser guy and his boyfriend are invited guests at the ceremony and catch the bridal bouquet.  Kind of cute.  

But still, the incident left me feeling just the slightest bit queasy.  What is the movie saying?  Gay people are cool as long as they are just wedding guests and not integral members of your team?  One could argue that this reinforces the argument against the repeal of Don't Ask Don't Tell, although one has to jump through quite a few logic hoops to assume that Will Forte and the other screenwriters had this in mind when they came up with the gag.

The other joke, which turns into a running gag, is that due to a mishap, MacGruber is told that he has been taken off the mission.  A mission that he has taken very personally.  And so he begins to plead with the commanding officer to keep him on the mission.  He offers to get on his knees.  He is begging.  And then he tells the officer, in tones suggesting that nothing is too debasing for him to consider, "I will suck your dick."  He repeats this offer a few times, his tone again implying that there is no level too low for him to sink in order to remain on this mission.  This sequence repeats itself a second time a few minutes later when MacGruber pleads with the officer's second in command.  This time, MacGruber adds the incentive of offering his ass to the officer.  He even drops his pants in desperation and turns to bend over.

What bothered me in this instance was the implication that sucking a dick was the lowest that a man could stoop in order to humble himself before another man.  He might beg and plead, but if it was necessary to truly reach for the depths, then a blow job was the place to go.  And then, if that was not vile enough, offering up his ass was the absolute rock bottom.  The implication?  That anyone who actually, voluntarily would want to suck dick or get his ass fucked has to be pretty low to begin with.  I don't buy that the degradation is only implied in a situation involving straight men.  It is not who is doing what that is put forward as the degrading act, it is what is being done.  So it bothered me a little.

But once again, there is another level to this joke.  The bigger joke is that anytime MacGruber has to beg for something, and you get the feeling this happens with regularity, he immediately goes for the offer of oral sex.  This adds on a subtle undercurrent of "why is he always offering blow jobs?"  This is what makes the second offer comical.  That "oh here we go again" joke.

It is important to note, though, that MacGruber's heterosexuality is reinforced twice during the course of the film with scenes of him screwing women.  These are both handled humorously and show him as a ridiculous love-maker, but one who is resolutely attracted to females, which waters down the "he always offers blow jobs because he is secretly gay" implication that might have mitigated the distaste I felt for the original joke.

Interestingly, there is a considerable amount of rear nudity in the film and all of it is male.  There are no tits or girl ass on view at all.  Though all the male skin is used for comic effect it is never used as gross-out moment.  That's somewhat noteworthy and needs to be part of the formula when determining if any of the possibly anti-gay jokes described come from a place of malice.  Will Forte is not a bad-looking man, and neither is Phillippe, so all the male eye candy could be seen as a taunt to the straight male audience who are notorious for not wanting to see naked guys.

Considering that there were nearly hundreds of gags throughout the movie, that fact that only two of them had potentially negative gay subtexts contributes to the mildness of my displeasure regarding the film.  My point has been to air my ambivalence, not to make any accusations.  Overall, I really liked the film.

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