Tuesday, January 02, 2007

These Baffling Movies with Anonymous Teen Casts about Kids Who are Deadly Serious about Their Really Gay Extra-Curricular Faux-Sports

Apparantly when I was a teenager I missed out on a major part of adolescence. That is, the part where you pick some random, mildly gay, fundamentally uninteresting extra curricular activity - like frisbee tag or ham radio - and then immerse yourself in the secret world of its cutthroat, hyper-competitive, elite upper tier.

This was the message I gleaned from the current fad of movies where teens take their extra-curriculars waaaaay too seriously. As my post title indicates, I'm referring to these movies where unknown teen actors play high schoolers who balance complex social lives with their struggle toward the national championships of.... A capella singing. Or ice sculpture. Or capture the flag.

And this message comes to you bullshit free. Which is to say, I've actually SEEN these movies and can report faithfully on them. I have seen Bring it On. I sat through Drumline. I watched several scenes of "Stick it" - and, most tellingly, I saw most of "Center Stage" - the movie that dared to portray male teenage ballet dancers as macho guys. I will say in my defense that all of these viewings involved being over at friends' houses, deciding to watch a movie (from the friend's massive DVD collection), and then letting the friend's wife/girlfriend make the choice. The wife always gets to make the choice, doesn't she?

(And just a little aside on that. The unwritten rule of wife-makes-the-choice has resulted in me watching a whole lot of crap. The Heath Ledger one where he's the knight? The Drew Barrymore one where she's the princess? I drew the line at American Pie. I still refuse to watch that. Why doesn't any wife ever want to watch, say, The Score with Robert De Niro and Edward Norton? Wouldn't she be the coolest wife of all time?)

So these movies cover a diverse array of gay extra-curriculars: the four I mentioned are about Cheerleading, Marching Band-ing, Gymnastics and Ballet. All of them activities that a few dudes, for whatever reason, choose to participate in.

Out of these four, the most ridiculous by far is Drumline. These are marching band drummers who have turned the gentle art of halftime music into some kind of martial and aggressive interpretive dance of anger and ferocity and badassedness. They've managed to change halftime drumming from the poofy-hat-wearing effeminate display that it is - the sad performance of people who can't actually BE on the team yet still want to participate - into this macho peacock strut thing. It is, simply, the stupidest idea of all time. And moreover, the drummers of one team "battle" the drummers from the other team - challenging each other in that special "you got served" style of coordinated dance - a method of demonstrating superiority that seems to be reserved exclusively for people with both intense pride and nothing whatsoever to be proud of.

And I do want to take a quick second to point out that the drummers in Drumline have practice uniforms.

Meaning, when you show up for drumming practice, you presumably need to be wearing your drumming practice shorts and your drumming practice shirt. If you showed up for, I repeat, drumming practice, in a regular old t-shirt and shorts, would they kick you out? Would they yell in your face, drill sergeant style, about commitment and honor as you stood at attention with eyes forward?

But just how fictional is this whole culture of macho, in-your-face, halftime drumming? According to some of Drumline's imdb reviewers, these badass drummers are quite real. Here are some real quotes from the imdb...

I marched in one of these bands (Southern University in Louisiana) 20 years ago and back then, band camp was FAR MORE INTENSE than anything you see on the screen in this movie. YES, it is that competitive. YES, it is that grueling. YES, it is that disciplined. Black College marching band is serious business and this film gives you only a small sample of what it takes to "make the band."

Performing in a competitive marching band is HARD work. Everybody thinks the football players have a rough practice. We would practice on the field adjacent to the football team. We would be on-line ready to march at 0700. The jocks would ramble in about 0900. We'd practice 'til noon, have a 1 1/2 lunch; practice again until 5:00 pm. The footballers would leave at noon and not return to the field until 6:00pm. After dinner, we'd continue practice 'til 9:00 - 9:30 pm...My point in all this is everybody thinks band members are a bunch of weenies. Well they're NOT.

Yes. Yes you are a bunch of weenies. You're taking your little halftime show waaaaaay too seriously. Let's think about this for a second. Why would a person join the marching band's drum squad? Seems to me there are maybe two reasons. You like drumming, and/or you want to support the football team. What am I missing? How did this harmless activity morph into "battling"? You're twirling a wooden rod and doing synchronized percussion and dance. That's Ga-Ay. How is this something that you can stake your ego on? It's the friggin halftime show. You're the entertainment. Your entire purpose in the stadium is to provide an alternative to taking a piss. The more serious you take the drumming, the less serious anyone can take you. I mean, if your school janitor came home with a trophy from the national mop finals, could you take him seriously either?

Another feature of these extra-curriculars movies is that they get some very, very low star wattage courtesy of a b-list actor playing the coach. Is there any surer sign that you're a has-been actor than when you get cast as the brooding coach in a teen extra-curriculars drama? Observe Jeff Bridges and Peter Gallagher:

Remember when teen movies were significantly better than this? Or is my nostalgia clouding my judgment? We had Better off Dead. We had Ferris Bueller. We had Revenge of the Nerds. We had the pouty angst of Molly Ringwald and the stereo-over-his-head-holding John Cusack. Naturally, a Duckie or Booger sidekick was standard issue. We had Spicoli ordering pizza in class. We had a hot chick materialize out of Anthony Michael Hall's computer. We had Val Kilmer holding a penis-extender. These were the salad days. The John Hughes days. A whole era defined by that eye from Porky's peeking into the girl's shower room.

Booger = Good

Jeff Bridges = Less Good

What do we have now? Taj? Stifler? The comedy stylings of Ashton Kutcher? These are dark days for teen cinema. Where is Christian Slater and his underground radio station? Where are the cliques of girls all named Heather? I say for shame. Enough with these modern teen comedies where the "joke" is that someone is tricked into drinking spooge. Enough with the teen dramas where the pathos is provided by ascending to the highest competitive levels of Bake-Offs or Indoor Climbing or Darts or Mock Congress.

Napoleon Dynamite aside, this generation has nothing on the teen movies of yore.

I want my two dollars!


Dr. Ian Clark said...

I'm sitting at my TV starved for sports one night. I turn in to old ESPN, hoping to catch a great old fight, or a good, hard-fought game of college football. What I saw brought tears of rage to my unbelieving eyes. Two teams of kids - naturally, pumped up, aggressive, and full of fighting spirit - trying to... wait for it... stack cups as quickly as they could. There was the prerequisite tough-as-nails couch yelling at them to stack faster or better; the beads of sweat running down intense brows. Oh, how many hours I've practiced for this moment! the kid's expression wailed. Oh, the pressure! Somehow no one seemed to be saying the obvious - competition is only honerable if there's some genuinely interesting purpose behind it. Being competitive about, say, how many ice chips you can fit in your mouth, and devoting hours of study to the perfection of your calling, should get you a psychiatrist, not a prime slot on ESPN. Bottom line, sure it's embarrassing to take cheerleading or drumming too seriously. But the man who spends more than ten minutes learning to stack plastic cups has moved beyond parody into a heartbreaking world of shame and self-loathing that we should all come together to destroy.

Rowsdower said...

You know, I think I saw a video of some champion cup stacker. Let me see if I can find it. ... Ahh forget it. Just watch this video of someone beating Super Mario Bros 3 in 11 minutes instead. http://www.ebaumsworld.com/

LN said...

I think I'm gonna make my husband and his friends watch "bring it on" and "certer stage." What is more disturbing is... that I almost found those gay looking dancers attactive and hot. Try to avoid being my husband or even his friend.

p.s. I went to the "national" cheerleading competition today..