‘Superbad’ & Me – The New York Times


The raunchy coming-of-age movie nonetheless (principally) holds up. But I could have liked it for the fallacious cause.

Aisha Harris

Maybe it was the ridiculously detailed penis doodles that hooked me.

There’s a scene in “Superbad” through which Seth (Jonah Hill, in his breakout function) admits to his finest pal Evan (Michael Cera) that when he was youthful, he had an obsessive behavior of drawing penises in every single place. In flashback, a classmate discovers a type of photos and tells the principal — and Seth is pressured to see a therapist, forbidden from consuming phallic-formed meals.

“You know how many foods are shaped like [expletive]?” Seth asks. “The finest varieties.”

Or it might have been the uber-nerdy Fogell (Christopher Mintz-Plasse) displaying off his pretend ID card, and a flabbergasted Seth and Evan dissing his option to go by the singular title McLovin. “What, are you trying to be an Irish R&B singer?” Evan groans.

Every now and then I would return to the movie, and it would be (mostly) like old times. At some point I was troubled by the casual, unchecked homophobia peppered throughout the dialogue, an unfortunately all-too-common side effect of revisiting the things you loved in your more oblivious youth.

During a more recent rewatch a couple of years ago — it might have been around the dawn of the #MeToo era — I was hyper-aware of the inherent bro-iness of the film: The piggish jokes the police officers, played by Bill Hader and Seth Rogen, make about Hader’s character’s wife (and ex-wife), whom we never see onscreen. Seth’s horndog remarks about women’s body parts that suggest both fixation and revulsion. (“Have you ever seen a vagina by itself? Not for me.”) The woman Seth dances with at a house party, credited as Period Blood Girl. The flatness of Jules (Emma Stone) and Becca (Martha MacIsaac), who exist solely as the objects of Seth and Evan’s affections.

Yet “Superbad” was far from ruined for me. It’s still fun, and what I probably appreciate the most now is the film’s surprisingly progressive (for its time) view that taking sexual advantage of drunk women is really not O.K. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve also re-examined why I was drawn to certain things when I was younger. When it came to “Superbad,” it was all about optics.

At some point as a kid, I unconsciously inherited the belief that to be a girl was to be less than, and thus undesirable. Classmates mocked throwing/kicking/running “like a girl” in gym class. The boys and men in the movies and TV shows I consumed were usually the protagonists, the ones the audience is supposed to identify with from beginning to end. Girls and women were often outnumbered and peripheral, siloed as the love interest. For every “Never Been Kissed” or “Love and Basketball,” there’s a seemingly infinite supply of “American Pie.”

And so I attempted to identify with the male heroes of these stories, perhaps to the point of overcorrection. I couldn’t feign even a passing interest in ESPN, but when I became obsessed with all things movie-related around middle school, it was easy enough to channel my own version of the “cool girl” (as Gillian Flynn so astutely defined women who assume the identity of a demeaning male fantasy in “Gone Girl”) into film nerd-dom.

When you’re an impressionable teen entering that vast world, you’ll look to devour the canons and seek out the so-called authoritative voices on film. The “definitive” lists of the “best” and “must-see” movies. You might date guys who insist Wes Anderson is God and Quentin Tarantino’s gender and race politics aren’t up for debate. Your film history class may only devote one session to female filmmakers for the entire semester.

And if you’re a woman or a person of color, you may not immediately notice that hardly any of the movies or filmmakers in these collections speak directly to your existence, because the erasure is so deeply woven into the fabric of pop culture that it seems unremarkable. You’re just reveling in your obsession.

I saw — and still do, to some extent — one’s movie preferences as a deliberate form of sartorial display. As much as I enjoyed “Superbad,” there was also a bit of performance to my enjoyment. It was a way for me to both conform and stand out as a black girl who could love a raunchy, cartoonishly violent buddy comedy relying heavily on penis jokes. Putting, say, “Mean Girls” on my dating profile when I was in my early 20s was to be expected. (Based on its cross-cultural popularity in the mid-’00s, “Anchorman” was also predictable.) “Superbad” was a “cool” and edgy choice; it showed men that I was chill. Or so my regrettable thinking went.



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