Many believe political correctness is good. It keeps us in line. It reminds us that almost all segments of society should be treated with dignity and respect. A joke at the expense of someone’s gender, race or ethnic background has no place in movies today.
Of course, there are those who disagree, who believe political correctness is wrong, who feel that it only creates resentment toward the offended parties. A PC world is a world of oppression, they say, where freedom of speech is allowed in theory, but not in practice.
Personally, I’m not sure how I feel. Ideally, I’d like to straddle the line between both so as not to offend anyone.
But it’s safe to say that comedies are the targets of most PC discussions when it comes to movies. That’s because comedies have to make fun of something, and many times that something has to do with the differences in people. The movie business has a rich history of creating humor from the very essences of who people are, for better or worse.
That trend has slowed down considerably in recent years. They just don’t make racial, ethnic or sex jokes like they used to in motion pictures, although occasionally they still try. Again, some feel that’s the way it should be. Others disagree. But it’s undeniable that these are different times — PC times — and students of comedy surely can appreciate the evolution of the genre to today’s more sanitized state.
The following is a list of 10 comedies that really went to the precipice of good taste and decorum in the quest for laughs. Most are older, but a few were made fairly recently. Viewed now, many will still create laughter while others might meet with disgust. Of course, in most cases that was the reaction when they were first released:
The granddaddy of them all when it comes to language and situations that wouldn’t fly today. Mel Brooks’ Western spoof came out in 1974, when certain indelicate references to race and womanhood could still elicit guffaws rather than protests. Cleavon Little plays Bart, an African-American who is assigned by evil politician Hedley Lamaar (Harvey Korman) to serve as the new sheriff of a town in the hopes his presence will so offend the citizens that he’ll drive them out so Lamaar can grab their land. Because the townspeople apparently were expecting a white man, Bart isn’t exactly embraced. A particular slur that starts with the letter that comes after “M” is sprinkled liberally throughout, but there are also plenty of sexual references as well, including the scene soon after Bart arrives and the folks dive for cover when he reaches into his pants to retrieve a document and says, “Excuse me while I whip this out.” Since Brooks is an equal-opportunity offender, he assaults the sensibilities of Native-Americans, Jews, Chinese, Irish, women, horses, the handicapped and others. If “Blazing Saddles” were pitched in Hollywood today, Brooks would have been hastily escorted off the lot, and executives would quickly issue a statement that the move had nothing to do with him being short and Jewish.
Directors Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker skewered the disaster genre in this 1980 release that hurled one gag after another at audiences without the slightest regard to whether it rubbed anyone the wrong way. There was the bit with the two black gentlemen seated together whose speech is incomprehensible to the flight attendant until Barbara Billingsley of “Leave It To Beaver” fame offers to translate, explaining, “I speak jive.” There was Peter Graves’ Captain Oveur, who makes suggestive remarks to a young boy visiting the cockpit including, “Do you like gladiator movies?” There was the little boy who asks a little girl seated next to him how she likes her coffee: “Black, like my men.” There were the repeated drug references by Lloyd Bridges (“Looks like I picked the wrong week to give up sniffing glue.”) There was the Air Israel plane wearing a yarmulke. And on and on. Today the PC police would have to hire extra help in order to monitor this one picture.
“There’s Something About Mary”
An argument can be made that brothers Peter and Bobby Farrelly should be honored in the politically incorrect category for their entire body of work rather than just one picture. But “Mary” is not only the brothers at their tasteless best, but also at their funniest. The hair gel scene is probably the one Farrelly brothers moment that is most famous, and the one that generated enough good word of mouth to make this a big hit. But they also create laughter with men surprised at a rest area pursuing their feelings for each other. And when Matt Dillon jump-starts a dead dog. And when Ben Stiller gets his zipper caught in an area where no man should get his zipper caught. And when Dillon tries to impress Cameron Diaz by boasting about his “work with retards.” The film is a sweet romantic comedy that is drenched in crude humor, creating a rare and hilarious subgenre.
Probably more in the gross-out category than politically incorrect, this 1980 laugher starring Bill Murray, Chevy Chase, Rodney Dangerfield and Ted Knight nevertheless had enough moments that would make a censor cringe to qualify here. For instance, early in the film Rodney shows up at Bushwood Country Club with an older Asian gentleman who has a camera around his neck and is taking pictures of everything. Dangerfield implores, “Hey Wang, c’mon. It’s a parking lot!” He also tells Wang: “This place is restricted, Wang, so don’t tell ’em you’re Jewish.” The nephew of Knight’s Judge Smails explains that his marijuana must be good because “I bought it off a Negro.” Chase’s Ty Webb asks young Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe) whether he takes drugs. “Every day,” answers Danny. “Good,” replies Ty, although that was later cleaned up for some TV showings. Don’t forget Murray undressing the female golfers with his eyes and mumbling dirty talk to himself. And of course, there’s the Baby Ruth at the bottom of the swimming pool, which Murray chomps on. Enough non-PC moments mixed with revolting jokes to satisfy anyone’s inner slob.
“Love and Death”
This 1975 historical romp is a takeoff on epic Russian novels and explores the deeper questions of life via slapstick humor and pseudo-intellectual mumbo jumbo. It was Woody Allen’s last film done strictly for yuks, until he segued into more serious fare with “Annie Hall” two years later. It has unforgettable moments of offensiveness, like when Diane Keaton’s character Sonja explains to Father Andre that Woody’s Boris had contemplated committing suicide “by inhaling next to an Armenian.” In the same scene, the holy man tells Sonja that he has discovered over many years that the secret to life is “blond 12-year-old girls. Two of them, whenever possible.” Woody also slips in a Polish joke with this line: “My brother was killed in the line of duty, bayoneted to death by a Polish conscientious objector.” In most of Woody’s earlier funny films, he managed to poke fun at just about everybody, but “Love and Death” is one of his more potent efforts.
“Kentucky Fried Movie”
The “Airplane!” team of Abrahams, Zucker and Zucker scripted this 1977 exercise in comic lunacy, but John Landis handled the directing chores. Whereas “Airplane!” was a series of sketches and bits attached to the spine of an absurd story derived from old airplane and disaster flicks, KFM really has no story at all. It jumps around from one zany situation to another, making sure to pierce society’s taboos. Who can forget “Catholic High School Girls In Trouble,” with its revealing shower sequence? Or “A Fistful of Yen,” the chopsocky spoof where one prisoner is killed by an evil emperor, and then his partner is condemned as well: “And as for you … send him to Detroit!” The prisoner is then led away, pleading, “No, no! Not Detroit!” How about the game show announcer who mentions contestants named Hung Well, Long Wang and Enormous Genitals? And there’s Rex Kramer, Danger Seeker, a daredevil who puts on a helmet, approaches a group of African-American men shooting dice against a wall, yells the “N” word and runs away with them hot on his heels. Today the FCC could double its annual revenue from fines with one showing of KFM on network TV.
“Team America: World Police”
Few political satires exist at all. Fewer still jab the right and the left equally hard, and do so using marionettes and extremely bad taste. Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the creators of “South Park,” made this 2004 parody of the old “Thunderbirds” TV series with the intent of ridiculing all elements of the war on terror. It includes a reference to the Film Actors Guild by showing a news clip with the words “Alec Baldwin — F.A.G.” They make fun of the Broadway show “Rent” with their own called “Lease” that includes the song, “Everyone Has AIDS.” The film ridicules foreign languages like Spanish, French and Arabic by boiling them down to caricature levels; Kim Jong-il, the bad guy in the movie as in real life, greets people with “Herro” and calls weapons inspector Hans Blix “Hans Brix.” This picture is politically incorrect in the most virulent manner because it exists not to express a point of view, but rather to harpoon a broad section of the famous and powerful while offending as many as possible.
In 1982, “Porky’s” was trashed by critics and gobbled up by audiences. It is a simple tale of simple high school boys in Florida who set out to lose their virginity at a bar/brothel called Porky’s, get humiliated and kicked out, and then plot their revenge. The controversy here was over a series of infantile jokes at the expense of women. If you were a young man, you laughed. If you were a young woman, you probably laughed too, but insisted later to your feminist theory professor that you didn’t. There is a memorable shower scene with an unwanted intruder, and a woman (Kim Cattrall, laying the steamy groundwork for “Sex and the City” much later) known as Lassie because she howls during orgasm. The raunchy humor is counterbalanced a bit by a message against anti-Semitism, but only a bit. Mostly this is about penis jokes and naked women, taken to the Nth degree.
“Song of the South”
This mixture of live action and animation probably doesn’t fit snugly into the category of politically incorrect comedies, simply because it isn’t a straight comedy but more a lighthearted family picture. Also, the depictions of African-Americans here weren’t mean to elicit laughs, but were done in earnest in an attempt to portray life in a particular time period, right after the Civil War. But there’s no doubt this could never be made today the same way. In fact, Disney has refused to even release the film on home video in the United States (although it is available overseas) because the portrayals of African-Americans would create a firestorm today. Uncle Remus, a wise old black man, tells the story of Brer Rabbit and his pals to cheer up little Johnny, a white kid. But most of the black people are shown as subservient to whites. This isn’t exactly “Birth of a Nation,” but in terms of racial stereotypes, it’s in that ballpark. “Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah” won the 1947 Academy Award for Best Song.
Proving that even in these politically correct times a film can sneak through the studio filters and offend just about everybody, “Bad Santa” is probably the filthiest comedy produced in the last 10 years, and certainly it is the dirtiest Christmas film of all time. The 2003 release stars Billy Bob Thornton as Willie T. Stokes, a drunken, lecherous, mean-spirited department store St. Nick who never met a bottle of booze he wouldn’t guzzle or a women’s body he wouldn’t plunder. On top of all that, he continually curses out the sweet little boy who adores him. It takes most movie-goers about a half hour or so until the shock wears off, the story gets going and it becomes clear that director Terry Zwigoff is going somewhere besides the toilet.