Tuesday, November 15, 2011

How tasteless can Harold and Kumar get?

A few years ago, my friend Larry and I rented Time Bandits. We watched about forty to forty-five minutes of it, breathlessly waiting for it to be as funny as it was when we were seventeen. I’m quite certain I wasn’t stoned when I watched it the first time, so my only explanation is that my sense of humor has changed.[*]

So when I watched what I could stand of Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle, it was with a sense of having been sold a pig in a poke – my older brother’s family insisted it was a scream. What I saw was a crudely overdone remake of Up In Smoke, without the laid-back grace of Cheech Marin and Tommy Chong. The closest I got to actually laughing was when Kumar (Kal Penn) started fantasizing a romantic relationship with a garbage bag full of weed; however, the scene couldn’t squeeze even a chuckle out of my larynx.

Needless to say, I found no desire to see Harold & Kumar Escape from Guantanamo Bay. There are just some movies that you can tell from the trailers are going be stupidly bad … for instance, if the title begins with American Pie, or if the star is Adam Sandler or Mike Myers (the good thing about the Shrek movies is you can’t see Myers try to act).

And now we have A Very Harold & Kumar 3D Christmas. Not confident that a dope-smoking Father Christmas, a little girl who snorts coke, and further self-parody by Neil Patrick Harris can justify extending the franchise further, director Todd Strauss-Schulson and writers Jon Hurwitz and Hayden Schlossberg have gone even further down the low road to cheap laughs and thrown in some anti-Catholicism: lesbian nuns, pedophile priests chasing an altar boy, trashing a statue of the Blessed Virgin and shouting obscenities at Jesus Christ.

And you thought Mr. Hankey the Christmas Poo was tasteless.

I can’t say I’m too fussed about the pedophile priests and lesbian nuns. We’re going to have to deal with this sort of thing for at least another decade to come, until non-Catholics no longer find such jokes funny. Really, if I had to get outraged every time somebody like Jay Leno referenced the scandals for a cheap laugh, I’d never get any sleep.

If there’s any blame, it descends on hierarchs such Abp. Rembert Weakland and Cdl. Bernard Law, who failed us all — the victims, the parents, the faithful and even the perpetrators themselves. And the sexual violation of consecrated virgins is a staple in pornography … if you need any further proof of porn’s demonic origin.

But why in the world would anyone consider yelling obscenities at Jesus or destroying a statue of Mary funny?

It’s not that I’m stunned by the depths of irreligiousness to which the Strauss-Schulson/Hurwitz/Schlossberg team have descended; religious insensitivity never surprises me. Rather, I’m missing the context. Does Kumar just walk up to the Lord while the latter promenades down the boulevard (minding his own business? signing autographs?) and start calling him names, causing the Messiah to back away in consternation? Does Harold drop the BVM statue in a fit of pot-induced clumsiness, or does he swing a baseball bat at it in a fit of cocaine-fueled rage?

Understand that I think Monty Python’s Life of Brian is funny even though, as a satire of religion, its premisses are way off-base, requiring a level of credulity equal to (or greater than) any religion’s adherents’. The “Romans Go Home” scene is worth the price of admission by itself (“What’s this … Romanes eunt domus? ‘People called “Romanes” they go the ‘ouse?’”). Part of the humor I find in the movie is its ludicrous assumptions about first-century Jews and their Messianic expectations, not to mention the lengths to which the Pythons went to explain away miracles.

But as Eric Idle admitted, “[Jesus is] not particularly funny, what he’s saying isn’t mockable, it’s very decent stuff ....” Even if you don’t take Christian claims about Christ seriously, insulting Jesus the Moral Sage doesn’t sound like it could be funny except to a high school bully, like giving Confucius a wedgie or stuffing Mahatma Gandhi in a school locker. Nor does breaking a statue sound any funnier than breaking an 8” x 10” framed photo of one’s parents; it just sounds disrespectful.

Now, if you wish to send an e-protest to Warner Brothers about Harold & Kumar 3, then just follow this link here. I’m almost against it, though; protests are the kind of advertisement you just can’t buy. On the one hand, people who might have gone to the movie might stay away because of the blasphemous and disrespectful treatment; on the other, people who might not have gone might waste their money on it just to spite “the religious types who want to repress free speech” and all that rot. Rotten Tomatoes has given H & K a 72% based on 97 reviews, plus there’s a built-in audience, so I have no real hopes that the film will be yanked off the projectors any time soon.

Just as our society has developed in us a taste for junk food, it’s also created a market for junk films: movies that are aesthetic and intellectual non-starters, made for a culture slipping back into barbarism … not with a bang or a whimper, but with a puff of THC-enhanced smoke and a phat beat. The Visigoths need not invade; they already live among us. Let the collapse of the West begin.

[*] Marijuana never did much for me, nor did I indulge regularly. I smoked my last joint seventeen years ago, and I can’t say I miss it in the least.