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Shock Plus Nothing

by Ross Douthat

A review of Ted

On the weekend before the Fourth of July, Americans lined up for two raunchy, R-rated exercises in transgression. In heartland cities like Indianapolis, Nashville, and Kansas City, notionally havens of decency and family values, the movie of choice (mostly for women) was Magic Mike, a beefcake parade starring Channing Tatum as a male stripper on the make. Meanwhile, in liberal metropolises like Boston and New York, notionally havens of tolerance, multiculturalism, and political correctness, audiences (mostly male) preferred Seth MacFarlane’s Ted, a bawdy modern fairy tale whose comedy depends on generous doses of misogyny, ethnic stereotyping, and gay panic.

This filmgoing polarization cries out for some sort of generalization about the Red America/Blue America divide. So here goes: In more conservative parts of the country, perhaps, sex and nudity still retain enough of their traditional frisson to make the prospect of watching the matinee idol of the moment strip and gyrate seem like a genuine cinematic event. In more liberal areas, though, political correctness is the only remaining form of puritanism, which means that filmgoers looking for a transgressive kick are more likely to get it from jokes about Asians or the mentally handicapped than from the sight of a handsome movie star in his skivvies.

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