Under 30

I can't complain but sometimes I still do

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"The nonalcoholic beer of porn"

Andy Selsberg has written a ridiculously fascinating examination of 1980s teen sex comedies for The Believer.

I can't tell how serious Selsberg is about this. His approach is very scholarly; his subject is perhaps the most disreputable of all film genres. Either way, the man obviously has given "Porky's," "Screwballs" and "The Last American Virgin" a lot of thought.

An excerpt:

Teen sex comedies—each of those words defined incredibly loosely—blossomed from 1982 to 1985.[1] These movies burgeoned in the cultural airspace cleared by ’70s porn, back when porn thought it needed plot. Usually structured around a crude story about a group of high school or college students who want sex, and featuring plenty of nude or near-nude female bodies but no close-ups of genitals, sex comedies are like the nonalcoholic beer of porn. Twelve-year-olds may get intoxicated, but that’s about it. With a lose-our-virginity-or-bust belief system, the films and their characters pole-vault over ethics to get at sex—like they could crash maturity as they would a party. In the mid-’80s, the pole snapped. The movies didn’t have enough heart to make it, though the formula came out of retirement in 1999 to execute one improbably graceful vault in the form of American Pie.

Teens, sex, comedy: sounds like a new holy trinity of American popular culture. But these teens were, as sex-seeking robots, too one-dimensional to be sympathetic. And their ideas about sex were off-balance—a mixture of debauched aggression and deep weakness (even the repeatedly uttered goal of “getting laid” ultimately implies passivity). It’s sex without a connection—male-female relations as a grudge match. And it’s hard to appeal to the groin and the funny bone at the same time; the movies are, with a few exceptions, witless.


Sadly, most of these films haven't made it to DVD yet. This story makes me curious to see them again. As it is, my only memory of 80s teen sex comedies comes from frustrating late-night viewings on USA Network where I cursed the gods for cutting out the good parts. Ah, puberty!

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