I recently watched Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, a 1989 movie that I wore out on VHS as a 9-year-old back in the day. It’s a relatively innocuous buddy-dude comedy, but there’s one scene in which Bill and Ted hug after one was previously thought to be dead, only to release each other and say “fag!” in unison.
It’s a small example of media from my childhood and teen years that I’m forced to look at with a different lens as an adult. We’ve definitely had to critique our mainstream entertainment before – remember some of the horrible racist cartoons from the early 1930s – but those of us of a certain age have to reconsider the stuff filmmakers, actors, musicians and the like got away with before social media kept us all on our toes and public draggings became de rigueur.
If you’re anything like me, you probably question your own moral scruples if you revisit some of this material and maintain the appreciation you had for it when you were younger. Alas, our programming is often a tough challenge to surmount, and if there’s a god, I suppose he isn’t done with me yet. At any rate, here’s a (far-from-exhaustive) list of shit that you probably loved at some point if you’re over 30, but have to wonder if you fuck with it at all in 2018.
Wanton homophobia. In everything: It’s not easy to mock or belittle gays or non-gender-binary folks in 2017 without getting dragged to Hades and back on Twitter, but it was a common practice in popular media before the mid-aughts. I could spend so much space writing out examples that your ISP would charge you extra for it, but I just noticed an egregious example in 2003’s Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines, in which Arnold Schwarzenegger’s T-850 encounters and steals clothes from a caricature-level gay male dancer. The writer who came up with the dancer’s “Talk to the hand!” line should be dragged into someone’s public square and flogged.
Big Pun: It was an open secret around the turn of last century that Pun was a master-class wife beater. But, as is the case with many very bad men (see: Cosby, Weinstein, whomever makes the news before you finish reading this sentence), our public outrage comes with an embarrassing delay. Pun’s son, rapper Chris Rivers, recently released a track addressing that abuse called “Fear of My Crown.” Pun is by no means the first or most popular artist who routinely beat on women, so expect shit to get real when we finally start getting at still-living domestic abusers.
The portrayal of little people: Lots of popular media from the 1990s, especially comedies, poked fun at physically disabled people (see: any Farrelly Brothers comedy). Entire running gags on little people, in particular, were totally acceptable not very long ago. In 1995’s Friday, Tony Cox’s character existed solely as a comic relief contrast to his on-screen wife, Kathleen Bradley’s buxom Miss Parker. Also, I doubt Verne Troyer’s “Mini-Me” from the Austin Powers series would fly in 2017.
Hoteppish lyrics: In the 1990s, it was still considered “responsible” to sing or rap to women about how they should be dressing or behaving in order to avoid all that pesky rapin’ going around. Lest you assume that these songs would come exclusively from poop-butt rap niggas, several mainstream woman artists were in on the patriarchy. Lauryn Hill’s “Doo-Wop (That Thing)” doesn’t sound so hot under the lens of contemporary gender politics (part of the reason Shamira Ibrahim skewered her whole 1998 album). Even y’all’s queen Beyonce did her shaming on “Nasty Girl” from Destiny Child’s 2001 album Survivor: “Nasty put some clothes on, I told ya/Don’t walk out your house without your clothes on, I told ya/Girl what ya thinkin’ ’bout lookin’ that to’ down, I told ya/These men don’t want no hot female/That’s been around the block female, you nasty girl.”
American Beauty: Because Kevin Spacey has been more or less canceled in his entirety, there’s little chance that he’ll land a role in anything for years, if ever again. But this pretentious 1999 awards bait of a film (exceeded in Best Picture Oscar winner mediocrity by Crash five years later) is now even more specious when you take one of the film’s plot lines – Spacey’s Lester Burnham lusting after, and almost sleeping with, his teenaged daughter’s teenaged friend – in context with the actor’s real-life behavior. If they’re smart, HBO, Showtime and the like will have scrubbed the shit out of this movie from their rotation.
DMX’s first two albums: It’s amazing to imagine that, less than 20 years ago, two albums with the lyrics “I got blood on my dick because I fucked a corpse” and “If you got a daughter older than 15, I’mma rape her” both went many times platinum and launched a successful career. But hey, this was the era in which Eminem could achieve the best-selling single-disc rap album of all time (a record he maintains) with a song in which he stabs his wife to death. Shit, I think us older hip-hop fans all need to look inward on these.
Use of the ‘R’-word: The word “retarded” was common in 1990s youth parlance. But it’s somewhat baffling that the Black Eyed Peas not only thought it was okay to include a song titled “Let’s Get Retarded” in their let’s-toss-in-this-white-girl-and-sell-all-the-way-out weed plate of a third album, 2003’s Elephunk, but that the song became a Grammy-nominated earworm and the theme music for the NBA Playoffs after being reworked into “Let’s Get It Started.” In the Twitter era, the original probably wouldn’t have made it on the album.
Movies with men placing money on women: Gabrielle Union might be aging like the finest of Chenin blancs, but 2003’s Deliver Us From Eva has not. The movie revolves around three chumps paying a ladies’ man (LL Cool J) money to date and distract Union’s title character, an uptight career woman, from meddling in the affairs of their relationships with her sisters. So much is wrong with this movie – not the least of which is the idea that a woman could be made “better” by a man initially driven by money who – gasp! – realizes at the end that it’s not all about the money and the feelings are real! See also: 1999’s She’s All That.
Damn near all of “In Living Color:” Because “In Living Color” is my single favorite sketch comedy show of all time, it’s a bit tough to watch now and see jokes that I thought were hilarious just 10 years ago give me pause. The Men on Film skit featuring two (presumably) straight men playing gay men with joke endorsements like “Ben Gay” and “Nuts N’ Honey?” Jim Carrey and Jamie Foxx in ugly drag for laughs? Keenen Ivory Wayans’ show is emblematic of a bygone era completely unconcerned with political correctness, and it doesn’t feel as right as it did when I was a kid and I didn’t even understand half of the humor.
Falling Down: A movie in which a white dude frustrated with the “system” points his guns at a whole bunch of people (including minorities) in Los Angeles. This could have been a Charlottesville recruitment tape.
Many (if not most) of our favorite stand-up comedians: Reconsidering legendary black comedians is a very difficult thing to do, especially for a dude like me who grew up watching and listening to Richard Pryor, Redd Foxx and their ilk with my parents. But the rampant sexism and homophobia woven throughout these routines rings out loudly in 2017. Eddie Murphy’s Raw and Chris Rock’s Bring the Pain are two inimitable classics that would be boycotted and think-pieced to death if they dropped today. Considering how Louis C.K.’s career has been all but ruined for real-life behavior that mirrored his routines, time will tell how the comedy legends will ultimately go down in history.
Weinstein Company anything…?: I put a question mark here because this is where things get hairy. It’s widely accepted that R. Kelly should not get one more goddamn penny of our money, but what’s the word on dropping coins that will line the pockets of these terrible dudes? For the sake of argument, let’s say that Weinstein and Russell Simmons both catch the big red the cancel button – we’re looking at pitching laundry list of movies, albums, television shows and clothing lines. I don’t have the answers, but every day I’m hoping someone I love doesn’t get exposed for awfulness. Like, if it comes out that Nas sexually assaulted a bunch of women, I’d just cut my ears off so I no longer have to listen to music.