The ‘Douchebag Classic’
The ‘Douchebag Classic’ is a term that isn’t often used in popular or mainstream film society, existing almost solely in the fringes inhabited by out-of-the-way critics (where I first learnt the term by way of MovieBob at The Escapist Magazine), film snobs and hipsters – all of whom to some extent are usually biased to at least a minor degree.
And despite the actual term ‘Douchebag’ being synonymous with the lesser in, particularly American, popular culture, when used in conjunction with “classic” in regards to film, it fabricates a new meaning contradictory of what the original use may imply. In fact I suppose it would be fair to call it a ‘subgenre’ (notably under the drama category), and one which generally refers to the audience of the films in particular. And now we’ve reached over one-hundred words, it may be time to actually define the ‘Douchebag Classic.’ With that in mind, let’s look at perhaps the single most famous/infamous example.
**Potential spoiler warning from here onwards for a number of films. **
David Fincher’s 1999 epic Fight Club which exists as a stepping stone in cinema, arriving at the turn of the century to less than stellar box office take, only to find itself becoming critically acclaimed on home-video, is a film that I’m sure we can agree is a cinematic masterpiece – a qualification that shouldn’t be thrown around lightly, although in actuality a lot of the films classified in the subgenre meet the criteria for various reasons – and is perhaps the definitive article to analyse.
Needless to say I would prefer to not spoil the narrative in any way but I like to think that any prospective reader will have seen Fight Club, but if you haven’t, stop reading, go watch the film and only then continue.
The film itself spends a lot of time exploring the male psyche, questioning what it is to be masculine in our modern society, and is a portrait illustrating ‘masculinity in crisis.’ Out of context, this includes: insomnia, men fighting each other, no central father figure (despite essentially being a “coming of age” film), failure on an irrelevant Bechdel test, – which will be coming up again soon – terrorism, and soap. It’s being labelled before as anti-feminist (the Bechdel test being a contributing factor) which I would consider completely wrong, if for no other reason than not everything has to be about women. But back on topic, the problem with the film, or more accurately, the audience, is that the aforementioned ‘Douchebags’ completely miss the point.
And therein lies the most defining characteristic of a ‘Douchebag Classic,’ the (erroneous interpretation of a) misleading plot that allows the audience to completely misread the message of the film. Whilst in no way could you conceivably disagree with Fight Club’s presentation of events of the film, after all fighting and terrorism are suitably “macho” analogies for defining one’s masculinity, the film (and the book by association) are harshly condemning the actions and lifestyles preached by Tyler Durden as a feasible way of life. So it would seem that a definition of a ‘Douchebag Classic’ would be: any film which promotes a particularly grandiose/counter-cultural lifestyle which the audience could dream to emulate, only to avoid the very real condemnation of said lifestyle portrayed.
So it would seem that a definition of a ‘Douchebag Classic’ would be: any film which promotes a particularly grandiose/counter-cultural lifestyle which the audience could dream to emulate, only to avoid the very real condemnation of said lifestyle portrayed.
It wouldn’t be amiss to admit that I could probably finish here having already established what the ‘Douchebag Classic’ is for any and all prospective readers (as well as suggesting you watch Fight Club) but I would prefer to believe that at the very least I’m slightly more professional than that. So as a means of reinforcing my definition, and recommending some movies on the journey…
Now remember the Bechdel test mentioned 4 paragraphs ago? In case you don’t already know what exactly it is, I shall outline it now. To pass the Bechdel test, a text must have: at least two women in it, who talk to each other, about something other than a man. Now in modern cinema I don’t particularly understand the relevance of the test when something as awful as the recent live-action The Smurfs movies can pass the test yet Fight Club can’t despite being a widely-regarded good film, so in theory it is ultimately flawed by this logic. But in terms of the ‘Douchebag Classic’ subgenre there are very few instances where a film can pass the Bechdel test whilst the main characters are all women, yet Harmony Korine managed this in 2013 (technically 2012 due to the Venice International Film Festival) with the sleeper-hit Spring Breakers.
The film itself is concerned with four female disenfranchised college students desiring to embark on the rite of passage known as spring break. To procure enough funds for the trip they rob a convenience store before partying up in Florida. However due to naivety they soon become embroiled in the criminal underworld (with James Franco no less) and things literally escalate. There is also a large amount of dubstep, stylised candy-coloured visuals, partying, and just enough Britney Spears to offer a very eclectic film that just works. To be blunt, it’s worth watching solely for the visual and musical aesthetics which blend seamlessly – including one of the most potent montages featuring the juxtaposition of music and action (go to YouTube and search for “Spring Breakers Britney Spears Full Scene”) – yet it has so much value beyond that.
As a rule the lifestyles endorsed/demonised by ‘Douchebag Classics’ tend to evoke the notion of fun, and Spring Breakers has this in spades. The teenagers portrayed in this film are having the time of their lives partying whilst James Franco’s Alien essentially has complete freedom due to his profession, as does the film’s antagonist Big Arch, who gets to relax in a Mansion and drive fast cars. The question should then be why would you not want to live like this? But as it easily fits into our subgenre of discussion, it should be pretty obvious. Living in these ways isn’t particularly productive, beneficial or sustainable. People get hurt (or killed), arrested, society as a whole suffers due to crime and the money that has to be spent on repairs due to the aforementioned partying would be astronomical.
Spring Breaker’s isn’t telling you to live like this but the exact opposite, or at the very least when the extra-curricular activities are legal then do so in moderation.
This perception of fun is perhaps most apt in our most recent example of the subgenre, 2013’s The Wolf Of Wall Street directed by Martin Scorsese. Within the context of the film we are fully aware that Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio) is at the very least a bad guy. He is both morally and ethically flawed, a misogynist, a narcissist, just generally an unpleasant person. But we don’t mind so much because the life he chooses to live is just so much fun and by being their audience, we get to join them on the ride. One man who sums up this compassion for our, villainous protagonists, is Laurent Bouzereau, whose book Ultra Violent Movies states ‘Also novel was the gritty, often offensive, racist and sexist dialogue; these men are certainly no angels, and while they deserve what’s coming to them, the audience has fun listening to their obscure patter.’
And again this is where the subgenre’s boundaries become prominent as once again, the aforementioned ‘Douchebags’ in the audience are again going to inevitably miss the point of the film.
I personally had an experience where a friend, as a result of watching this movie, has a desire to leave England for America to become a stock broker. At times like that words fail me. But in hindsight it’s hard to dismiss this new dream. It would be cool to earn that much money, nefariously or otherwise.
The challenge for the audience is to shelve these grandiose ambitions in favour of a realist view of the world. And whilst a bitter pill to swallow it’s favourable to living as despicable, heinous rogues who favours only themselves.
Of course this talk necessitates an addendum to be introduced to our earlier definition of the ‘Douchebag Classic’: any text which promotes a particularly grandiose/counter-cultural lifestyle grounded in a reality nigh-on identical to that which the audience inhabit, enabling the audience to aspire to emulate yet avoiding/ignoring/not recognizing the very real condemnation of the portrayed lifestyle.
And for the artist to be able to create a true ‘Douchebag Classic’ is to know that they themselves have mastered the art of disguising true intentions.