Which came first; the chicken or the egg, DNA or protein, the COMACC Cage Match or the initial reaction to a specific film? Well, at least one of those questions is easy to answer. Obviously you can’t have a cage match without first knowing your response to a film. That didn’t stop COMACC writers Dave and Ashleigh from trying. Which leads us to a new conundrum; how do you orchestrate a cage match if both combatants feel the same about the subject matter? Well, in order to rightfully followup COMACC’s groundbreaking and wildly influential inaugural cage match, we’ve decided to approach our latest topic, the horror/comedy Teeth, with a slightly different purpose. Rather than attempt to determine whether the film is good or bad (I think we can both agree it was severely flawed), we’ll be tackling the subject of gender roles in films and, somewhat foolishly, the concept of cinematic romance as a way of determining whether Teeth‘s intentions were worthwhile or not. So, in a way, this cage match isn’t so much a battle of egos, but a battle of sexes and I’m sad to say that the outcome will once and for all determine which is the greater sex (and no, the release of the Sex and the City movie cannot reverse the results).
Ashleigh: Teeth is a movie that revels in the cold, hard sexuality of adolescence. A coming of age saga of sorts, Teeth follows its protagonist Dawn, who is as rosy and emergent as her name would indicate, through the dark journey of losing her innocence. However, for Dawn, innocence lost directly equates to a significant loss by anyone who becomes sexually entangled with her. Bright-eyed and naïve, Dawn takes a vow of abstinence which is broken when her boyfriend Toby forces himself on the unwilling teen. Emotionally unequipped to deal with this trauma, Dawn’s body fights back, taking something of a souvenir from the aggressive boyfriend: his severed penis. Apparently, Dawn’s body has evolved into a Darwinian-style feminist, capable of castrating sexually deviant males with a single chomp of the labia. At once a cautionary tale, a dark comedy and a feminist fable, Teeth manages to encapsulate weighty themes into the relatable journey of sexual discovery. From horny adolescents to smarmy gynecologists, Teeth creates a sci-fi avenue that enables women to find power in the one thing of which they were taught to be most ashamed.
Dave: Weighty? You bet. Relatable? Hardly; unless your idea of progressive thinking and reasonable discourse is largely in tune with the Fox News brand of irate shouting matches. You see, Teeth is precisely the kind of dark comedy that supplants insight and sarcasm with polemical inanities. Director Mitchell Lichtenstein (whom imdb tells me played the “Gay Republican Spokesperson” in the 1999 film Flawless; not that that’s relevant, but I found it slightly amusing) seems to view the world with the same kind of nauseating grit reserved only for the most down-on-their-luck and pitiful individuals humankind has to offer. This is the kind of world where sex is treated so cheaply that one malcontent doesn’t even bother to wait until he’s done screwing to call up his friend and brag about how he won a bet to fuck the abstinent Christian girl.
Maybe this sort of shit flies in a college improv class, or with the bottom-feeding Sundance film crowd, but as far as I’m concerned, it isn’t fit for even the most limited of theatrical releases. It’s not the ravenous feminism that bothers me (although I’m not entirely sure what to do with the fact that it was directed by a man), it’s the lopsided nature with which it’s etched out. We’ve seen this kind of blunt attempt at social commentary before in the vastly overrated American Psycho. Both films believed that dehumanizing its male characters served as a fitting way to flesh out their, shall we say, less-than-appealing character traits.
Fair enough, douchebags like this do exist in the world. I’ve witnessed secondhand many a flirtation in which I had to practice all means of restraint to keep myself from shouting out, “Seriously, you can’t tell what a total ass this guy is?” But this black-and-white perspective has little real-world application when you get right down to it. And besides, that same guy probably thinks the same thing of me when he sees me talking with a woman. Maybe it’s an issue of jealousy. Who knows? To get back on topic, my point is that in films that seeks to attack traditional gender roles cinema invariably ends up lumping men into the same two broad categories. Either we’re jackasses who seek to exploit women by whatever means possible, or we’re pushovers who cling to some grandiose, but ultimately pathetic notion of love and consequently have our hearts trampled upon for, I don’t know, having some sort of outdated sense of chivalry.
It’s time for filmmakers to stop attempting to sidestep the difficulty of portraying the real issues motivating gender roles by either demonizing one sex or pacifying the other to the point of total submission. It just seems like a complete cop-out to me. There’s more to it than that, and all the severed penises in the world won’t set it right.
Ashleigh: Listen Dave, nobody goes to see a campy horror film expecting to find Godard. That being said, the horror genre is at its finest when creators are able to embed real-life anxieties into the subtext of the film. With Teeth, the film indicates that truly horrific circumstances are created when young men and women are taught to fear their own sexualities. Specifically, the Vagina Dentata disease from which Dawn suffers is supposed to indicate an embodiment of man’s fear of female sexuality. This is not a new idea, as it bears close resemblance to Sigmund Freud’s own theory of Castration Anxiety. In the film, this is displayed by an openness of the male anatomy in Dawn’s high school Sex Ed textbook, while a large gold sticker meant to preserve the “natural modesty” of the female genitalia simultaneously covers the diagram of the female anatomy.
Now, don’t even begin to tell me that, especially at the apex of your adolescence, you never felt the least bit conflicted with the way sexuality was portrayed. This film is only meant to intensify and satirize that notion. It is the same Fox News Media ideology that you mention which also teaches that sex is bad, an ideology which Teeth actively mocks. Your insistence to indicate that one high school boy called another to brag about sleeping with the abstinent Christian only proves my point, in a world where sex is treated with such secrecy, how are adolescents supposed to determine what, exactly, constitutes normalcy in regard to sexuality? I’m not denying that the film plays upon the typical teenage male’s indiscretion and poor decision-making in his quest to get laid (this has been the underlying theme of countless teen-driven horror films to which Teeth pays homage); however, I do not think that the film paints these boys in a one-dimensional light. Instead, when their ill-timed sexual misadventure goes awry, their faces twist in genuine anguish, hurt just as much by rejection and battered pride as they are by their lost member.
However, when men’s fear of sexuality is projected onto women, it allows each of the women in the movie to become borderline subservient. The woman continually bedded by Dawn’s maladjusted stepbrother is treated, quite literally, like a dog. I mean this both in reference to his feeding her a post-coital doggy biscuit, as well as his insistence to only penetrate her doggy style. But, then again, that’s probably the same kind of behavior that will get you high-fives in the locker room, right? Throw all your bullshit human decency and faux moral high ground aside, Dave, and just tell me, did you nail that bitch?
Dave: Between swooning over a new pair of shoes, having gay men cup her breasts, and living in the secular hellhole that is her apartment, I think deep down inside, Ashleigh has forgotten the true meaning of love. It comes with the territory. You can’t live a life in which you don’t view homosexuality as a threat to the sanctity of marriage or feminism as a threat to Bill O’Reilly and not have the purity of love suffer in the end, right? You see, what Ashleigh forgets is that love is sort of like a house of cards. The structure is ornate and beautifully set from a distance, but at its core the foundation is terribly weak and delicate. The slightest vibration or the gentlest of breezes threatens to shakes its fragile foundation. So long as you observe it from a distance, you can sort of cheat yourself into thinking it has some internal integrity and (sigh) even some fleeting beauty. God forbid you should ever lean in for a closer look or, Christ, even attempt to touch it. Such reckless abandon will almost certainly cause it to collapse. It’s that level of magnified self-awareness within the system, practiced with such unconscionable ferocity by the jaded 20-somethings that represent this site, that exposes (and ultimately widens) the previously invisible gaps, breaking down its integrity and sending us along a slippery-slope to gay marriage and, if you believe the Fox News gang, bestiality.
Of course, I’m being facetious. I promised Ashleigh I’d churn out some ham-fisted metaphor for love, and, goddammit I delivered. But all kidding aside, I’m all for liberating sexuality — why wouldn’t I be? — but this film creates a different type of fear: a paranoia concerning intentions. It suggests that all sex is cheap and that all encounters essentially deceptive. Isn’t this just as harmful as telling our children the vagina is something to either be ashamed of or fear?
Listen, I’ve had a little to drink (correction: a lot to drink) so I can’t hope to formulate a coherent argument on the matter. All I’ll say in my defense is that, yes, love (by which, of course, I mean sex) can be awkward and riddled with mistakes, but that doesn’t excuse Mr. Lichtenstein from unfairly honing in on the more calculated of those mistakes and using it as the basis for criticizing and condemning a rite of passage on the basis of some misguided poetic justice. To put that previous metaphor to some legitimate use, Teeth is kind of like that house of cards. On the surface it seems to represent some sort of cleverly constructed satire, but prod at it for a little while and it collapses under the weight of its own foolishly lofty goals. ‘Nuff said.
And for the record, if I did “nail that bitch” as Ashleigh so eloquently put it, all I can say to that is I never kiss and tell, unless, as Ash suggested, it’s in a boy’s locker room amid a flurry of high-fives.
p.s. – This is COMACC’s 200th post, so make sure you congratulate each and every one of us for our tireless efforts. We don’t get paid shit, so your thanks will have to do.
Tags: Ashleigh's Secular Hellhole of an Apartment, Bill O'Reilly, Dave's Apparent Alcoholism, Gender Roles, Misogyny, Severed Penis, Shoe Shopping, Teeth, The C-Word, Vagina Dentata, Vagina Teeth, Vaginas, War on Terror