Quick Thoughts On Porky’s

Porkys

I recently watched Porky’s for the first time.

Late in the day, I know.  Most boys of my generation saw it back in the Eighties, sneaking their peeks during sleepovers through the good graces of older siblings or unwary parents.  No doubt there are thousands of old VHS tapes out there with that scene worn to nothing through constant replaying.  Me, I didn’t have very good connections and my family didn’t buy a VCR until high school (my parents thought it would lead to an unhealthy degree of couch potato-ism, and they were probably right).

By the time I got old enough to watch whatever videos I wanted without sneaking, the Father of Gross-Out Sex Comedies was not high on my list.  I was too busy being disappointed by all those horror, sci-fi and fantasy movies with awesome covers and horrible…uh, everythings…that I hadn’t been able to watch when I was a kid.

Over the last few years, though, my movie watching has taken something of an…educational turn.  In addition to the movies I watch for fun (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey ROCKED), I also watch movies of historical significance, movies that have been deemed classics, and sometimes just movies that “everybody knows” – if only so I can get everyone’s jokes and references.

For the record, Nosferatu has some scenes that were creepy as hell to this day, but I’m glad that I watched Birth of a Nation in class back in college, so I don’t have to watch that steaming, bubbling puddle of corrosive venom now.

Anyway, Porky’s is mostly in the third category, of course, though it’s not entirely without claim to the second.  After all, many of the gross-out sex comedies and teen comedies you see today (neutered and diluted as they are in comparison) can be considered the children of Porky’s (and the grandchildren of Animal House, but that’s for another time).

But anyway.  Enough rationalizations.  Watched Porky’s.  Enjoyed it.  I like nubile, naked women as much as the next hetero male.  I’d like to personally thank Kim Cattrall for dropping trou in this movie.  I’m glad that worked out as a career path for you, though I suspect your co-workers in this film could tell you how lucky you are in that respect.

Also, I was impressed by how accurate and true Porky’s was in its depictions of teenage boys.  That might not seem like such an impressive feat – after all, the writer/director and the producers were all teenage boys once, right?  But nostalgia and general fading recall can do funny things.  The guys you grew up with become the best friends you ever had.  Conflicts are either nonexistent or grand, life-changing dramas.   

Porky’s is a bit more honest.  The Boys From Angel Beach have been together their whole lives; they met in kindergarten (or earlier) and became friends for reasons that they only half-remember and which would probably be irrelevant by now anyway.  Now, they’re friends out of inertia: they hang out together because they always have, and because their options are limited in Angel Beach anyway.  They know that Tim Cavanaugh is a bullying, bigoted asshole, and they’re troubled by that, but they can’t bring themselves to cut him off for it or even call him out on it; the best they can bring themselves to do is stand around uncomfortably and try to apologize for him.  Pee Wee is sex-obsessed even for a teenage boy and extremely annoying, and it’s clear that his friends endure him more than actually enjoy his presence, but they do so because he’s been their friend for so long (please God, I wasn’t as bad a Pee Wee, I know I was socially awkward and annoying but please not as bad as Pee Wee).  Chances are good that these boys will lose touch once they go their separate ways, a few reunions and nights of reminiscing about their great victories over beers notwithstanding (if nothing else, they’ll probably be glad to escape Pee Wee), but for now they present Angel Beach with a united front.     

The girls, of course, are nowhere near as accurate.  They’re more like caricatures of what teenage boys wish teenage girls were like: witty and pretty, but largely untroubled by being spied on in the shower (retaliating with a minor prank at worst.  Also, they seem to practice cheerleading routines in the shower, instead of getting in and out in the bare few minutes they have), and possible to obligate into sex with a simple bet.  In other words, they’re what you’d expect from the Father Of Gross-Out Sex Comedies.   

What surprised me about this movie is how dark it actually is. 

Tim the Bullying, Bigoted, Asshole is abused by his father, but that’s not what I’m talking about.  That ends as well as such things possibly can – as well as they imaginably can – and much better than most ever do.  That part is actually pretty hopeful. 

(I wonder about the girl that’s always on the back of Tim’s father’s bike.  She looks to be about Tim’s own age.  She’s clearly supposed to be the elder Cavanaugh’s girlfriend/groupie, and I can see why he’d be glad to have her as such, but what does she get out of it?  If she wants a bad boy, why not one her own age?  Is he that charming when he’s not punching out his son?  How bad is her home life that a middle-aged ex-con is preferable?)

No, what I’m talking about is the lawlessness.  Porky’s is set in a time and place where there is no rule of law. 

Porky seems to be the richest citizen of his unnamed county.  That, combined with the fact that his brother is the local sheriff – and note, his brother is not the one with the power in that relationship, Porky makes it clear that he can take that job away – allows him to rule his little fief with absolute impunity.  Running a brothel in the back woods isn’t really that impressive by that measure – he could probably do that just by greasing a few palms – but he has the police acting as his personal enforcers, helping him in humiliating and extorting a group of boys who are from outside the county, and thus fair game.  When Mickey persists in demanding his money back and is beaten into the hospital, there is no talk of dealing with the matter legally.  Even Mickey’s older brother Ted, a police officer himself, plans to respond with violence instead of legal proceedings.  Assault is a local crime, and the law in Porky’s home county will not touch him. 

So the protagonists take advantage of the same lawlessness.  They sabotage and destroy Porky’s nightclub (and for a moment, Porky is humanized as you see how devastated he is by this: “It’s gone…Porky’s is gone.”  This was more than his livelihood, this is something he built himself, investing enormous money and effort.  If he wasn’t so horrible, you’d feel bad for him), then flee for the county line.  Porky chases after them, vowing to kill them, and you know what?  I think he means it.  When he says it, he isn’t bellowing and blustering, he’s still devastated.  I think that if he’d caught the Boys From Angel Beach, their bodies may very well have disappeared into the swamp.

But he doesn’t catch them.  Instead, he and his brother cross the county line…into Ted’s jurisdiction.  After forcing Porky to give up his legal claims against the boys – after all, the story of the whole vendetta begins with Porky allowing underage boys into his bar and stealing money from them under pretense of allowing them to visit the prostitutes who do, in fact, work at Porky’s nightclub – Ted re-enacts Porky’s final humiliation of the boys, destroying Porky’s beloved car bit by bit, all the while assessing “fines” for the vehicle not being streetworthy. 

This was…disturbing to me.  I know that slapstick comedies have a time-honored tradition of characters getting away with acts that really should get them arrested.  Revenge of the Nerds is one grand carnival of sexual assault, and the Deltas of Animal House commit theft, vandalism, assault, reckless endangerment, animal abuse and a long list of property crimes, to name two of the most prominent examples.  But in those examples (and most others), the law is largely absent.  In Revenge, they handwave some reason that the police don’t come on campus.  In Animal House, the police chase Our Heroes around a bit, but apparently once Our Heroes escape immediate capture, they’ve gotten away entirely. 

Porky’s isn’t like that.  The police of Angel Beach step in at several points to moderate the boys’ shenanigans, they intervene in cases where mere boys are helpless (as in the case of Mr. Cavanaugh), and of course they’re key to Porky’s ultimate defeat.

So the law exists in Porky’s…but it exists in the form of isolated, feudal fiefdoms where the police (and/or their paymasters, in Porky’s case) wield absolute power within their jurisdiction.  There is no higher authority, no appeal, and the justice you receive depends on your personal relationship with them. 

What’s more, the writers (to say nothing of the characters) seem to take this completely for granted.  It’s such a fact of life that no one seems to have any clue that it’s even wrong.  Absolute, unquestioned police power and corruption can be positive forces if they’re working for the good guys!

That’s dark. 

I have to ask: is this even close to an accurate representation of the South at the time (1954)?  Today?  If not today, then when did it change?  It seems like there must be some truth to it, since the local Boss and the omnipotent sheriff are taken-for-granted aspects of fiction set in the South in works ranging in tone from Cool Hand Luke to The Dukes of Hazzard (especially the “Cool Hands Luke and Bo” episode).  Police corruption is hardly limited to the South, but this seems to be a very specific flavor of it.  On the other hand, could it be a bunch of Northern and West Coast writers and filmmakers portraying the South as a bunch of lawless barbarians?  Porky’s and Dukes seems too affectionate for that. 

Or, again, is it just taken so completely for granted that the writers don’t even notice that they’ve written a dystopia? 

Or maybe I’m overthinking a movie whose most famous scene involves boys peeping into a girls’ shower room, whose second most famous scene is Kim Cattrall howling like a dog while having sex atop the laundry in the boys’ locker room, and whose third most famous scene is tied between “My God, the boy’s deformed!” and “Have you seen this prick?”

Still, for a setting detail that the writer/director didn’t seem to believe needed any comment, it certainly leaves me with questions.  Anybody got anything for me?

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Filed under Reviews, Writing Theory

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