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Jewish World Review July 12, 2000 /9 Tamuz, 5760

Don Feder

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Potty humor keeps getting worse -- THERE'S AN OLD SAYING that an Englishmen finds his humor in the drawing room, a Frenchman in the bedroom and a German in the bathroom. If so, these days Hollywood is wallowing in Teutonic humor.

When it comes to what passes for comedy, the motion picture industry is a toddler playing with a pile of feces, an inane grin on its face.

The new Jim Carrey movie, "Me, Myself and Irene," is probably the winning entry in this summer's cinematic gross-out competition. For sheer repulsiveness, one-uping it will be no mean feat -- and neither is describing it in a newspaper column.

Any description must be couched in euphemisms. Your 17-year-old can see it in theaters (when it comes to cable, in about a year, your 8-year-old will share in that delight), but a columnist can only intimate at the truly hilarious stuff in this film.

There are sight gags about defecation, urination, masturbation, a breast-feeding cop and objects placed in places where they manifestly do not belong. Surprisingly, there was no projectile vomiting -- probably an oversight on the part of the producers, the Farrelly brothers.

The plot is a cliched excuse for a series of sick jokes. Here, the talented Carrey is a Rhode Island state trooper with a split personality. Half of him (Charlie) is George W. Bush on tranquilizers, the other half (Hank) is raging hormones and unbounded ego, Bill Clinton on steroids.

Hank is the vehicle for the Farrellys' potty humor, a retch a minute. It's "The Three Faces of Eve" meets "Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me." Every summer, it gets worse. "There's Something About Mary," "Road Trip," "Big Daddy," "Kingpin," "American Pie" and "South Park" are all about four-letter words and bodily functions of every sort imaginable.

Slapstick is as old as vaudeville. But, in the past, even at its most raucous -- The Marx Brothers, The Three Stooges, Our Gang -- comedy was always restrained, not to mention creative. How hard is it to get adolescents to laugh at a pile of poop?

There's something ugly and ultimately fatal about a culture where everything is a subject for comedy.

It took millennia, and a lot of couching, customs and taboos, to civilize man -- to get him to relieve himself in private, to guard his speech, to restrain his most primitive urges. What took generations to achieve is being obliterated overnight. In the name of hipness and the obscene pursuit of profits, Hollywood heads the demolition crew.

From its inception, cinema has had a powerful impact on culture. Along with home, church and school, it set the parameters of proper behavior.

Since the '60s, all of those other influences have waned, while Hollywood's clout has metastasized. Moviegoers ages 12 to 24 account for 38 percent of all ticket sales. Hollywood is sludge poured into empty craniums.

In speech, dress and manners, the young imitate the most popular movies. Opinion surveys show teens look to actors and actresses, more then their parents, as role models.

No, I'm not suggesting that "Me, Myself and Irene" will lead to a wave of teens defecating in public or playing proctologist with live chickens. But every movie of this sort contributes to the collective crudeness of our culture and, along with it, the general loosening of restraints.

On a Sunday in June, after an ethnic parade, a series of gang assaults took place in New York's Central Park. As many as 47 women were doused with water, stripped and groped. Six young men used their hands to penetrate an 18-year-old tourist.

The assailants thought it was a riot. Like Carrey's alter ego, Hank, they had cast off society's artificial restraints. Who taught them to act like animals? Their parents, teachers, ministers?

Is there any doubt the culture had a starring role in shaping their consciousness? Not "Sense and Sensibility" and "Saving Private Ryan," but "Porky's" and "Idle Hands" were the invisible hand in Central Park that day. When I caught "Me, Myself and Irene," the most disturbing sight wasn't on the screen. It was the boobs in the audience, laughing uproariously, lapping it up like Carrey's breast-feeding cop.

Civilizations have ended in blood and even tears. Ours may be the first to end in moronic laughter.

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest books are Who is afraid of the Religious Right? ($15.95) and A Jewish conservative looks at pagan America ($9.95). To receive an autographed copy, send a check or money order to: Don Feder, The Boston Herald, 1 Herald Sq., Boston, Mass. 02106. Doing so will help fund JWR, if so noted. To comment on this column click here.


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