Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The 40-Year-Old Virgin: Sex Ed

--INTRODUCTION:--
I am writing a piece about Judd Apatow. I am watching major Apatovian releases that I either (a) saw too long ago to remember, or (b) haven't yet seen.

This is the story of my descent into madness.



The 40-Year-Old Virgin
begins with what, I submit to you, is the perfect Apatovian tableau: a grown man, surrounded by toys. He has movie posters! He has action figures! He has exercise equipment, and instruments, and all sorts of crazy business! He also has a boner, and lacks a vagina to put it in and hence prove his masculinity, and this is the crucial obstacle he must, in this timeless cinematic triumph, overcome.

Fucking makes the man: Andy has a number of male co-workers, including Seth Rogen (sporting a truly pubic-looking beard) who have all accomplished the quintessentially manly act of fucking. We are shown this by the way they swoop in on and battle over customers who have made the vast mistake of having lady bits, and relish anecdotes about the various nameless women who have pleasured their man-parts in ways that maybe a seventh-grader would think were hot or shocking or even vaguely plausible (the ladies' pleasure is never really addressed: it's about what they're willing to do for the dudes, never what they actually like) and/or the donkey shows they were shocked to find depressing. (An economically marginalized sex worker performing an extremely painful and humiliating act for no-doubt-low pay in front of a bunch of privileged white boys? WHO KNEW THIS COULD BE OTHER THAN HOT.)

Andy is far less normal or cool than these dudes, as we are shown by the fact that they believe him to be "a serial killer." The only dude who is even close to being as universally looked-down-upon as Andy is Dave, played by Paul Rudd, who had a girlfriend he really liked and misses her. I mean: liking a girl? Like, the way you would like a person? Icky. Fortunately, he's also stalking her and makes kind of a point of calling her a "bitch" and a "whore" on a regular basis, so it is not as if he is a pussy.

(Note: this girlfriend is played by Mindy Kaling. She is severely underutilized - there are, like, three seconds of her in the movie, all amazing - and this, in and of itself, is a crime against humanity.)

Anyway, these dudes are large of heart and spirit and (so they would like to convey) of wang, and are willing to help Andy become a man through the enjoyment of numerous vaginas, or "bitches," as they are also known. They do this through such commendable and not-at-all-date-rape-training-exercise-like acts as taking him to bars to find drunk women. I must convey to you that it is imperative for these women to be very drunk. The word "drunk" is repeated, in the early seduction-training sequences, often enough to stop being mildly annoying and become truly fucking sinister. It is repeated, friends, in lines such as these:

"Remember, it's more important that she's drunk than that she's hot."

Super. And:

"When you pick up a drunk woman who's falling down on the way out of the bar, you should probably drive."

Ha ha, what an awesome practical tip! For targeting girls to fuck who are drunk past the point of fun and to the point of being vulnerable and/or incapacitated. Which you should do.

These early scenes contain numerous bits of useful information, such as: the existence of a trans woman, who is (as in every Hollywood comedy ever since the beginning of time) a sex worker, is at once disgusting and hilarious. Asian women will smile and giggle and behave subserviently when you scream at them. Black people speak in a wacky manner that differs from the speech of white people, and should a white person attempt the distinctive wacky speech of black people, this will be comical in the extreme. Black people also speak very loudly in response to movies; black women are quite sassy, and black men proud of their large penises. Women who are your employers are hard-asses who probably just want to get laid, and one can say "fuck you" to their faces while remaining employed. "Gay" is an insult, which is useful if one wants to convey one's distaste of Coldplay. The 40-Year-Old Virgin is full of life lessons for you, Viewer.

But, surprise! We are not supposed to like these guys or to take them seriously! This has been explained to me numerous times by advocates for The 40-Year-Old Virgin; we are made to dislike them by a delicate strategy on the part of the director, which consists of giving them loving, personal attention, and letting us learn about their hopes and dreams, and making sure that they never face any negative consequences for their actions. Fun Fact: most of the people who tell me that we are not supposed to like these guys also specify the scenes of these guys talking as the funniest and most appealing parts of the movie. Here was my favorite scene, for the record, and it takes place between Steve Carrell (Andy) and Seth Rogen (Cal):
ANDY: What if she laughs at me?
CAL: If she laughs at you, punch her in the head.
ANDY: I'm not going to punch her in the head. She's really sweet.
CAL: No, I mean, punch her in the head emotionally.
I can only hope that this is one of the many scenes that Seth Rogen is reputed to have improvised for the movie. Its quality is so unrehearsed! Its performances, so buoyant! Its endorsement of abuse, so clear!

However, Andy must grow past the adorable and fun and carefree lady-punching society of his friends. He must undergo the quintessential rite of passage for all Apatovian males: finding some ridiculously tolerant mommy-lady to make him grow up.

Steve Carrell, as an actor, is capable of tremendous sweetness. Catherine Keener can do pretty much anything, including bringing the dead back to life like Superman by reversing the orbit of the planet. When her power is combined with that of Steve Carrell, an amazing thing happens: the movie almost stops sucking. You are so captivated by how wonderful they are that you do not notice what is going on, which is: he behaves like a freak, she seems not to notice, she is framed as a motherly type who is willing to delay sex for a ridiculously long time so you know she's not a slut or anything, and then they have seven thousand separate conversations about how he needs to "grow up" and sell all of his toys or at least take them out of their boxes so that he can Be a Man, but Steve Carell, in these seven thousand conversations, talks about how important it is to keep his toys and did you know you should never take your action figures out of the box? It damages their value. Andy really, really needs to keep his action figures "safe" and untouched, you guys.

PS: THE ACTION FIGURES ARE A METAPHOR. FOR HIS DICK.

Perhaps the defining scene of "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" comes when Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener break up very briefly, and he goes home with a very attractive lady for hook-up purposes. After they go home for hook-up purposes, she acts as if she is looking forward to sex, which of course weirds Steve Carell out because he doesn't want some vile sex-liking lady to unbox and touch his action figure, and this is all neatly resolved when Andy's sex-having man-friends literally break into this girl's house and have a very loud conversation while gazing at her naked self, which she does not notice. They are worried for him, you see, because this girl is very scary and a pervert slut. Here is a sample of their conversation:
CAL: That girl is a freak.
ANDY: You think so? (Nods to woman engaged in perverted sex act just off screen.) ...That woman scares the shit out of me, and I want to go home.
The freaky, perverted, terrifying sex act in which this woman is engaged is: masturbating.

Seriously. She is masturbating. With a detachable shower head. It terrifies them all.

Then, once most of them flee the home of the monstrous Woman Who Is Capable of Touching Her Own Privates, Cal (Seth Rogen!) stays behind, and wanders into the bathroom where she is masturbating, and is basically like, "hi, I am in your apartment now without your permission, how about you pleasure me, since you are a whore." The scene cuts abruptly, and given the fact that we do not see her scream and/or call the police and/or press charges and/or beat him to death with the showerhead, we are pretty clearly meant to presume that a woman capable of such harlotry as masturbating in front of a hook-up who has just asked her what she likes sexually (shit, didn't you ever see "Mr. Wizard?" That's a scientific demonstration) will consent to fuck any penis in the world, even if it comes attached to a home invader who is, more or less, sexually assaulting her.

This isn't some raunchy, uninhibited, too-crude-for-prudes sex comedy. This is a comedy for and about people who are terrified of sex, who don't seem to have any real, useful sexual experience outside of what they've gathered from their boxes of very boring porn, who are basically so entirely clueless about fucking that they fail to realize that female sexual desire is not some repugnant mutation or mark of the Devil. Steve Carrell and Catherine Keener don't even screw until after they get married. Sex is just that dangerous and bad.

Which brings us to the central lesson I gleaned from the movie: a man may fuck, and fuck, and stay a virgin.

26 comments:

  1. "Which brings us to the central lesson I gleaned from the movie: a man may fuck, and fuck, and stay a virgin."
    I seriously did a triple-take at this. "Did she —? Wait, did she really...Oh my shit. She did."

    My tables — meet it is I set it down, that Sady is a fucking genius.

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  2. Gods I love this blog. Keep it coming! :)

    Oh noz! I said "coming"! I must be one of those slut-crazy-self-touching-freak women! AAAGH! NO ANNOYING CRAPPY FUCKWIT MAN WILL TOUCH ME! AAAGH!

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  3. My god.

    Feminist readings are like post-structuralist or Marxist readings, but they're, like, for real and have actual utility in the world.

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  4. (followed link from somewhere to "Um"; added you to my Bloglines)

    Thank you for watching these movies so nobody else has to. I already got the "Seth Rogen = no thanks" memo, but even as man-child comedies go ... urgh.

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  5. Dear lord, and to think I almost rented that movie! Thanks to your blog I now know to stay far, far away from Apatow movies. You've performed a valuable community service :-)

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  6. You get a nonillion points for mentioning Mr.Wizard.

    By far the most depressing thing about Apatovian cinema is that people I am close to and love, say, the husband, DO NOT pick up on the sheer creepiness. I have to continually point shit out. Unfortunately, my analysis never makes much sense due to all the apoplectic cursing. I'm totes stealing notes from you, Sady. Thank Maude you're such a clear thinker. All I have is rage.

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  7. This post = EPIC WIN!!!

    I've posted about Seth Rogen and his ilk. Here, though, you better articulate what my beef is with Apatow and Co.

    I appreciate that.

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  8. You are my favorite person on the internet.

    I see you skipped over the part where the scary boss lady was a victim of statutory rape by a minority pool boy. But she totally enjoyed it. Now she's aggressively sexual, which is completely embarrassing because she's no longer a pubescent girl.

    I've had several people (men) try to explain, "But, see, his friends are pathetic, but sort of lovable douchebags. That's the point. All of their advice is wrong." I now reply with direct quotes from the movie. There are many you could use, but this one in particular sticks out:
    "All you got to do is use your instincts. How do you think a lion knows to tackle a gazelle? It's written, it's a code written in his DNA, says, "Tackle the gazelle." And believe it or not, in every man there's a code written that says, "Tackle drunk bitches."
    Gee. How could anyone not see that his friends are "lovable" douchebags.

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  9. "Nanella said...

    Dear lord, and to think I almost rented that movie!"

    The sad thing is, that one's the best of the lot.

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  10. Sady? I'm so glad you're on the internet dissecting evils of the Apatowian manchild-meets-mommy-lady bromantic comedy. You should get paid for this.

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  11. Three things.

    1. This movie is so much worse than I remember.
    2. Mindy Kaling rocks and needs to be in more and better movies.
    3. You are a saint. In fact, you are the patron saint of hilarious feminist takedowns of misogynist shit. Rock on.

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  12. i'm feeling foolish. i remember liking this movie. i saw it shortly after it came out, so it's been a few years, but still, i'd like to think i was old enough to know better. maybe not?

    i do remember thinking his friends sucked. but the message i read in the movie was something like this:

    ==========

    all the hypermasculine douchbagery might get you laid, but it comes at a price... your relationships will be empty and shallow, and you will be lonely and unfulfilled.

    however, if you stay true to yourself, your innocence, your decency, and if you treat women with respect, and see them as peers to bond with emotionally rather than mere objects, you might not get laid as often, but you will find happiness, fulfillment, and love.

    ===========

    like i said, it's been a few years since i seen it, but i do think that message IS there in the movie. unfortunately, this good message is mixed in with all this other shit that you pointed out... the sexism, the racism, the homophobia... the pro-rape propaganda.

    did you (or anyone else who saw this movie) also catch whif of this message that i saw? or was i deluding myself?

    i remember a friend of mine saw this movie, one of those guys who felt grouchy because he felt he was a nice guy who finished last (he'd once been turned down by a woman he liked very much who outright told him he was "too nice"), and he said it helped him be comfortable with remaining "nice" (i.e. not a manipulative player) even if it meant he struck out with women a little more often than he might if he changed his ways to be more of a douche. i don't think he was planning on becoming a douche, but he did sometimes express bitterness that women he knew tended to go out with douches.

    anyways, i'm wondering if other people who saw this movie agree it can be read in this more positive way? or must we "throw the baby out with the bathwater"? or is there no baby at all and just pure bathwater?

    i think when i first watched this movie i over-focused on the good message, and blocked out and minimized all the crap. like i said, i feel pretty foolish about that. your critique of the movie is scathing, and well deserved.

    also, it's funny i'm asking this question since i rather disdain post-modernist arguments about multiple readings, multiple truths, etc.... not because i disagree that there are multiple truths or multiple ways of reading things, but because i think some truths are more true than others, and most things have a particular way in which they are most likely to be read.

    but yeah, damn postmodernism is usually used to justify the worst sorts of crud, such as bdsm-porn, or "married...with children" ...so i feel a little hypocrtical to be even bringing up this multiple readings / multiple truths thing.

    anyways, what do you-all think?

    ~Harmony~

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  13. Yeah I really fucking hated this movie.
    I remember I watched it with a (now ex) boyfriend at the time, and come to think of it he was a real jerk too. But yeah, I just sat through that whole movie complaining about how it wasn't actually funny. At all.

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  14. THANK YOU! Practically all of my friends thought The 40-Year-Old-Virgin was hilarious and awesome; it's good to hear I'm not the only one who thought it, uh, wasn't.

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  15. I have to second Susan and thank you for watching these movies so we don't have to. I also want to thank you for such an amusing critique. I love sarcasm. And while the themes you discussed outrage me, your use of it keeps me from having cardiovascular related problems.

    Harmony has a good point that there can be things learned from this movie. You can often learn a great deal from crappy situations in life (crappy movies included). I think most people view it as entertainment and will miss out on those learning opportunities unfortunately. And there's always that pesky risk of sexual assault being normalized in society.

    I'm not a fan of Seth Rogan and probably more accurately, movies by Apatow. I remember when my fiance watched Pineapple Express. I didn't exactly watch it with him but I was in the room doing other things. Even not paying attention fully I found myself swearing under my breath and calling most of the main characters douchebags.

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  16. "i remember a friend of mine saw this movie, one of those guys who felt grouchy because he felt he was a nice guy who finished last (he'd once been turned down by a woman he liked very much who outright told him he was "too nice"), and he said it helped him be comfortable with remaining "nice" (i.e. not a manipulative player) even if it meant he struck out with women a little more often than he might if he changed his ways to be more of a douche."

    Feminist revelation time: Any man who contemplates --for even a nanosecond -- "becoming a douche" because he thinks he'll be rewarded with pussy for turning to the dark side IS ALREADY a douche. You've just described the archetypal Nice Guy(tm), who, in actuality, isn't. It never ceases to amuse me how unattractive/socially inept jerks consistently mistake the onerous task of refraining from abusing women with having genuine character.

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  17. The sad thing is, that one's the best of the lot.Yeah, and that's only because Steve Carell and Catherine Keener (along with some great cameos, the great Mindy Kaling, and the always funny Jane Lynch) are in it, are playing (albeit through the lens of Apatow) somewhat real people, and are, for the most part, using their amazing acting talents. The core premise, though, is just horrible from the start.

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  18. @Cait: DEVIL WOMAN! DEVIL WOMAN! AAAAGH!!!!!!!!! So, um, hey, want to come back to my place later?

    @B. Michael: Oh, hey! Well, thank you very much.

    @Katherine: Well, it's SO NORMALIZED. We're constantly being told that this is the way guys "naturally" think and act. Lots of guys may think and act that way in a society where we're constantly being shown that this is a hiliariously funny and cool way to be, but that's kind of part of the problem, isn't it?

    @amellifera: God, SO TRUE, and I didn't even get to address that. You did an amazing job, though, so thank you.

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  19. @Harmony: Your comment is long and kind of involved, so I wanted to respond to it specifically. Basically, the "redeeming message" that you see, I don't see or feel, because it comes across as Apatow trying to have it both ways.

    Like: first we get the typical man-child bromance, where objectifying women and vilifying them sexually and not engaging with them as friends but targeting extremely drunk women to fuck is a laugh riot. Which is one popular aspect of misogyny in this society. Then we get the "true love waits, get married and give your virginity to your true love, because female sexuality is acceptable within the bounds of marriage and for the purpose of procreation" message. Which is ALSO a very popular aspect of misogyny in this society, and no less conservative, in terms of gender and/or sex. Knocked Up was the same thing, where we were shown how much more fun it would be to be a bromosocial man-boy who only interacts with women as one-night stands or filmed images of nakedness, and were shown that marriage was a shitshow and women were nagging holes of emotional need, but then the message that "saved" it was that abortions are evil and you should Stay Together for the Kids because Good People enter into procreative monogamy. Like, how is the "good" message any less sexist?

    It's rare for a movie to engage in both frat-boy sexism and family-values sexism - typically it's just one or the other - but the fact that Apatow films have it both ways doesn't hide the fact that he's only giving us those two extremely limited and regressive options.

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  20. @Nanella: I really appreciate your input and support, but again, could you try not to be so harsh to the other commenters? I would love that. Thanks.

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  21. what an awesome take down of this movie. I clearly did not pay enough attention when I watched it. Reading your critique really made me think about everything I missed and why. SO normalized hast the rape culture and the Madonna/Whore complex become that things that she be alarm bells often go by unnoticed.

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  22. Back atcha, Sady - after reading your recent series? You could take me back to your place for a lengthy period of consensual, totally-wanting-it sexual behaviour.

    Cause that's the kind of crazy, monstrous, vagina-having, self-touching, bullshit-detecting kinda gal I am. :D

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  23. re: women getting punished for daring to *gasp* masturbate

    Makes me think of a personal story: Back on the night of the release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, I was with two girls and we were walking towards the car belonging to one of them, I'd gotten my copy and we were going to another store where she'd reserved hers. I was talking about boys and sex with the other girl, and then she interrupted, saying "Hey! I've barely kissed a guy, shut up, you're making me jealous!" So I said "Oh pshaw, sex with boys is overrated anyway, masturbation for the win."
    Enter three ratty men who proceeded to call out to us and then follow us. It took expert driving on the part of my friend to escape them. Like, fuck you assholes, I said "MASTURBATION for the win" and the last time I checked, your penis is not part of the equation in that. Another example of punishing a woman for daring to be sexual?

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  24. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7PTxl4lkhqU

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  25. Sady: There are totally some truly revolting aspects to this film. But I have to admit that when I saw it, I found it funny. It was only the second Apatow movie I'd ever seen (the first was Knocked Up) & I was more laughing at the outrageousness of it taking the kind of private misogynistic bonding rituals that happen between some guys to complete extremes. It was funny because their behaviour/advice was so revolting and clearly wrong. At no point did I sympathise with any of the 'friends' in the film, nor did I think I was supposed to. And Steve Carrell is such a fantastic comedian, I find it impossible not to laugh at his hilarious physical comedy. However, I do sadly have to agree with you, particularly having now seen other Apatow films, there is much about it that is icky and sexist.

    However:

    Harmony: I also agree with you, I got that message from the film when I saw it too, and it's only with Sady's reading of it that I'm revising my impression.

    I think it's worth saying that I saw the film with a male friend who is a 27 year old virgin (by circumstance rather than design), and who I think feels sadly out of place and somehow 'unmanly' and afraid of even talking about his lack of sexual experience because of our culture which values sexual prowess as a sign of masculinity and worth in men, that derides men who haven't had sex by the age of I don't know, 12, as 'pussies'. I think this film helped him feel a bit more normal, because it presented a guy who was 40 and still a virgin - and yes, I realise that in the context of the film being a virgin at that age was freakish, however just having something presented in popular culture, however ineptly, helps to normalise it and make it ok to talk about. (40-Year-Old-Virgin is the only film I can ever recall about male virginity or lack of experience in adulthood, EVER.) It certainly made my friend feel less awkward and more comfortable with his sexuality, and with the idea that whatever woman he ends up in a relationship with will not revile him for his lack of experience. This has made a shy and decent guy a bit more comfortable around women and in his own skin. Because of that, because of giving my friend a bit of breathing room and allowing him to be at peace with his own specific brand of masculinity, I am simply unable to dismiss this film out of hand as a sexist piece of rubbish.

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  26. Holy crap, I had no idea this guy was this much of a total asshair. Not much chance I would've rented this or any of his other oeuvres (also didn't know he directed all the ones that he did), but still, yeah, thanks for the public service. gah.

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