Friday, December 21, 2007

O ado please shop!

Every few years or so a story will pop up in the news about a group of students at some prestigious university who are industriously making their own pornography. Feathers will be ruffled, panties will be knotted, and people will ask if Ivy U. should be allowing it's students free rein to shoot smut on school property. Many editorials will be written on this topic; sadly, none will be entitled The Ivory Tower Becomes Red and Engorged.

What these people forget, of course, is that no university gives its official imprimatur to porn production; they just can't do much to stop it in an age in which everyone has a camera of some sort and a certain percentage of 20 year old kids dream of becoming porn stars. A university that could prevent sexual experimentation in all of its dorms, buildings, Greek houses, and tailgate parties would be more like a reform school and less like a university. Smut happens.

To be honest, I'm a libertarian on this issue. I really wouldn't care if a university was funding pornography so long as there was an open discussion about it. What's interesting to me though is that there are a lot of really lousy professional movies that are shot on university campuses with official imprimatur and profit-making and not a peep of complaint. In fact, I suspect that the profitability of renting out campus space to film crews is what prevents people from taking offense. Well, okay, our old State U. was rented to shoot "National Lampoon's Fartin' Fraternity"; but at least they did it for the money.

Campus sex comedies are likely the majority of what's shot on campus. After the classic Animal House, there were a slew of far-lesser films made about fraternity brothers, boobs, booze, and their boners. To say that the movies lack any artistic merit is stating the obvious; however it's strange to think how many of the films are essentially opposed to the goals that most universities set for their students. Not only do they inevitably make the case that students who study are schmucks because, after all, cheating is much easier; they also tend to be weirdly retrograde in their politics. The young women are childlike sluts, minorities are totally hysterical, but not as funny as overweight people, etc. etc. etc. It's like listening to an unfunny Uncle crack lame jokes all night.

When you stop seeing universities as a business and understand them as cultural institutions (which is what they actually are) this phenomenon becomes even stranger. Imagine if churches- another venerable cultural institution- were rented out to film crews shooting: "American Pie 8: Naked Church Sluts". It's hard to argue that universities are still shining cultural beacons, with their money pit boozy gladiatorial arenas, and hipster junior faculty offering courses on the Semiotics of The Sopranos; but it's fascinating to me how widely understood it seems to be that it's somehow completely naive and ridiculous to think of the university in the way it's always been understood. Why would any of those people who gnash their teeth at student-produced porn have a problem with Fartin' Fraternity anyway? There we know that the university doesn't condone it; they're just in it for the money. And that's what academia is all about.

I thought about all of this while watching American Pie Presents: Beta House: a film entirely about douchebags, clearly targeted at douchebags, and judging by the commentary track, apparently written and directed by douchebags. It's been a source of comedy in our household ever since this summer when the film was shooting on the campus of McMaster University, where I was studying, and the University of Toronto, where I was also studying. We talked about picketing the set with signs reading "Stop Making Bad Movies!!" For some reason, I thought it would be fun to rent the film and see if it was as bad as Claire and I had imagined.

It was far worse. I remembered how stupid these films are, which doesn't really bother me. After all, I own movies like Basket Case. But, somehow, I'd forgotten how the average frat-bag actually views women: that weird combination of simmering annoyance, hostility, and sexual need all feeding off each other. I remember the original American Pie as having intelligent and endearing female characters; this one has no female who I would recognize as exhibiting human traits. They're all constantly horny and sexually submissive, while showing no flicker of active intelligence. Necessarily, they have far less dialogue than the males. Aside from always being wet and ready for sex, they don't seem to have any interests of their own at all; they're constantly waiting to find out how they can better support their frat boyfriends. I can't remember a single character trait for one lead female; the other one won't take off her underpants so the frat boys fear that she has a dick.

I turned the thing off when we got to the arch-enemy frat, the Geeks. I enjoyed the geek jokes, but the main shtick was that all of the geeks have "super hot" girlfriends. Why, you might ask? As we're informed by a narrator, it's because geek boys are now getting rich and so college girls now try to "nest" with them. If you were wondering why so many young females go to university at all, since they're so dumb and horny- it's to find a man to support them. I gave up watching at this point. I just couldn't make myself watch this thing. I'll never know if the girl has a dick.

Don't get me wrong: I'm not terribly concerned that universities rent their campuses to film companies making shitty movies; I'm basically libertarian about that as well. Let them make their money. But it's interesting to me that bringing in funds that will, theoretically, go to nobler pursuits tends to justify a masive amount of cheap hucksterism.* Signing kids up for free credit cards at the bookstores, stadium box seats for local millionaires, advertising across the campus, etc. etc. etc. It's fascinating that people wring their hands worrying over the sexual experimentation of university students and the subversive politics of university instructors, while largely accepting the whoring of fundraising university admins.

* One example: my own university just got a gift from a Starbucks CEO to build a student lounge (after having put a few Starbucks on campus) and issued an official university press release describing the lounge as "a warm, wood-paneled room where people can engage in spirited conversation and collaborate; not unlike the ubiquitous Starbucks." Barf.

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