American Dad takes his wife and daughter to the cinema

I’d sat through I love you Phillip Morris, uncomfortably jiggling on my rear – not from latent homophobia but a stair tumble injury which mimicked, like Rory Bremner reincarnated as rectal tissue, the effect of a forced instrumental insertion into my Mandleson. It was the perfect physiological accompaniment to a movie that was ostensibly about the identity crisis of a hedonistic wastrel and his white-collar crimes, but was, in reality, about Jim Carrey proving to himself and the world that he was more than a facial contortionist, he could play gay. The film wasn’t very funny but it was as camp as a plastics factory and for some that will be enough.

Exiting the screen I walked into an extraordinary confrontation between an American émigré or vacationer, no way to know which, engaged in a dick swinging contest with the female cinema manager. She was ill-equipped to respond in kind but tried to overpower his belligerence with a cocktail of incredulity and legal authority, neither of which he recognised as legitimate.

The argument tapped reserves of hatred which would be better directed at social injustice; sex trafficking perhaps or child poverty. However, because I’m fundamentally selfish, one of Thatcher’s atomised sociopaths, unmoved by any cause except my own, it’s the freak spasms and oddities of social experience which cause spikes in my emotocentre. It’s good to feel something of course because most days I’m almost completely numb.

Let’s discuss the argument itself. This man, from somewhere USA – my ear isn’t attuned enough to be geospecific but we’ll choose California because it’s plausible, had brought his family to see Kick-Ass, a comic book movie aimed at genre literate teenagers and fully aware of their preoccupations; sex, scatology and violence.

From the exchange it was possible to discern the following; he’d made the decision to take his five year old daughter to see the film, perhaps because she’d asked Daddy very nicely, perhaps as bribery for her silence, and became aware, prior to the purchase of tickets, that UK film censorship laws forbade her entry. He queued next to a sign which alerted him to this fact, reminding him that if his daughter was 15 or under, which unless she’d been suckled on coke, was almost certainly the case, he’d be obliged to prove her age or expose her to psychological violence in the form of Emma Thompson’s Nanny McPhee.

He had, he told the manager, chosen to ignore the warning, including the key point which was “the manager’s decision is final”. He then purchased three tickets for the film, certificate 15 for strong instances of Nicolas Cage, and attempted to go in, only to be caught by uncharacteristically attentive staff, who went to break the news that his conspicuously young daughter would not pass. Outraged that the cinema would dare tell him what his child could and couldn’t see, he left the law at the door and argued the case for paternal primacy.

Whatever your view of the BBFC or the British system of film certification, statutory age restrictions for certain movies in contrast with the MPAA’s revenue hugging, in-effect, advisory system, there was no doubting American Dad’s arrogance, or the breathtaking ineptitude he showed in dealing with the situation.

We British laugh about the stereotype of the arrogant American abroad, lauding their domestic attitudes around with a superior swagger, but here was that set of cultural clichés personified. The horror made flesh. To evident frustration from the manager, flanked by security staff, Dad argued that in America the film would have an R certificate, meaning that he’d have a legal right to take his daughter to see it if he so chose. Government is fine when it legislates in your favour you see. Filmmakers actively cut American movies to avoid the dreaded NC-17 rating, the only cast-iron statutory age restriction the US has, as the loss of revenue guarantees box office failure. We may consider that odd, surely there are enough adults to support movies made for an adult audience? But then Hollywood doesn’t make many movies for adults which don’t involve penetration and it’s clear that American parents like to take the kids. I think we can all agree that Hostel wouldn’t be the same without your toddler and wasn’t Showgirls more fun with your teenage daughter uncomfortably eyeballing Elizabeth Berkeley’s labia while Dad kept the popcorn centred on his crotch?

“It’s not the job of the government to tell me what my child can and can’t see, that’s my decision” he went on. He’d have read up on Britain before coming over of course – Orwell’s 1984 is a popular travel guide, though the stuff on TV needs updating, but this surely was so far beyond his cultural experience as to be an abstraction? Was this what it felt like to be British and have a libido in an Arab country? The government’s undeclared interest in his family’s viewing habits aside, it was their right to set whatever prohibition they deemed appropriate, yet he persisted. “My daughter has seen Lord of the Rings” he said, so we knew him to be a cruel father, a sadist, and he went on to list other movies, many of which were violent or had sexual content, which she’d seen, without it seemed, any deleterious effects. Sure, there had been bed wetting, unexplained temper tantrums, self-harm, crayon drawings depicting images of death and she was reluctant to go anywhere near Dad when he was in the bath but her viewing habits were harmless.

So there he stood, with his meek wife sitting nearby, expressionless, silent – probably no longer human in any real sense following years of being sodomised and beaten and told she was nothing and that he’d kill her if she ever left, and with his daughter, sitting next to Mom, not really knowing what the fuss was about and holding a bucket of popcorn which made her look like she’d been miniaturised because it was so very large, trying to intimidate the cinema manager with more anger, more self-righteousness, (because might is right), more vitriol, more engorged tissue, more girth, hoping that despite his total moral and legal failure, he might yet prevail.

“I want these tickets refunded or exchanged” he demanded. The cinema manager reminded him that he’d broken the law and wasn’t entitled to a refund or an exchange. But wasn’t Britain just a protectorate of the United States? Weren’t our laws, if you could call them laws, just footnotes to the US statute book which we wrote to make ourselves feel important? Yes, in theory we had our own system of governance, an independent executive that legislated and was sovereign and which passed Acts and statutory instruments which its subjects, never knowingly citizens, were obliged to follow, but in his own country he could take his daughter to see Kick-Ass and here he couldn’t. How could the cinema manager be right – after all, wasn’t she almost certainly a socialist?

So now, with his pendulous member violently swinging toward her face and connecting with each cheek with a thwack in time to the star spangled banner which he was playing in his head, he sought to destroy her completely by refusing to recognise her authority. “I’ll write to the president” he said, and for a moment I could see Obama opening the letter and shaking his head, fist slamming on the oval office desk and the usually calm President grabbing Biden by the tie and demanding to know “what the fuck are we going to do about this Joe? Those limeys have crossed the fuckin’ line – she only wanted to watch Kick-Ass for Christsakes!” and Biden in turn recommending a proportionate response, perhaps an embargo on all US movies to Britain, but then American Dad ruined it all by regaining breath and finishing his sentence, “…of Vue.” So that was his plan, to argue to the CEO of one of Britain’s major movie chains that his daughter alone should be exempt from Britain’s censorship laws because she was an American citizen and not only that but the staff of the O2 franchise should be dismissed for enforcing the rules.

Now that the argument had transcended sense and was naked for all to see as an exercise in placating this man’s wounded pride, the only thing that mattered was the cinema manager sticking to her guns. I have a natural hatred for all people who might, through force of personality or good luck, wriggle free from the social constraints that I deferentially adhere to because I’m quite afraid of life and lack the temperament to challenge authority. I despise people that will push back, because I want them to be servile and frightened, as I am. That was the prospectus upon which my loathing built and festered and all that would make the world rational and safe and comforting, would be for this man to be escorted from the premises and thrown down the escalator, both wife and daughter resettled in a refuge and given the chance to begin again without this ogre controlling their lives.

But the incident was suffused with the politics of identity and sexuality, which are the only true laws. He was a brooding, angry male and worse, confident, middle class and articulate. His nemesis tried to tough it out and tossed in the occasional grenade “we’re under no obligation to refund you” etc, but she was a proxy authority for a ephemeral corporate entity while American Dad, though wrong, was determined, strong and unshakable.

Eventually they stormed off together, girl and mother struggling to keep up, heading for the ticket counter. Minutes later, hanging around in the lobby, I could see them heading toward another screen. He’d secured an exchange despite having no more right to do so than you and I would were we to walk into a cinema and demand free tickets because we fucking wanted them and actually, while I’m here, why don’t you throw in a free trough of nachos as well as you spineless bastards?

Thus, another tiny corpuscle of positivity, oxygenating the human experience, was destroyed on the day that American Dad took his wife and daughter to the cinema.

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Published in: on March 29, 2010 at 14:42  Leave a Comment  
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