An adult film star, virginity loss and cross-dressing. These days in pop have been, as a notorious Yonge Street adult bookstore and cinema once proclaimed, “Totally Concerned with Sex.”
Retired porn goddess Sasha Grey appeared, as a part of the program Read Across America, before a class of first and third grade children at Emerson Elementary School, in Compton, Calif. She read the children's book Dog Breath, by Dav Pilkey, and she’d do it again, the bewitching actress informed outraged parents and aghast commentators.
On Glee, three-quarters of a straight and a gay male couple lost their virginities, to the tune of West Side Story’s One Hand, One Heart. The ensuing controversy was predictable and confined largely to the representation of teen sex, not the male teens’ romantic soiree: The Parents Television Council found it “reprehensible” that the show “celebrate[d]children having sex.”
Show creator Ryan Murphy said he once again, received “death threats,” which, at least, function as badly needed boosts of the show’s relevance and popularity.
In other sexy news, Adam Sandler released Jack and Jill on Friday, a film in which he plays antagonistic twins, one of whom he plays in full drag. That is, Sandler performs a female version of himself. His Jill is not gorgeous, but she is the recipient of lustful attention from Al Pacino (playing himself): He writes his phone number in mustard across a big fat hot dog, one of the many indications that she-Sandler is good news to his diehard fans.
Consider the old Seinfeld episode in which George began dating a dead ringer for Jerry, which Kramer immediately identified as his homoerotic longing for his best friend. George himself unhappily admitted that in finding a girl Jerry, he had found everything he had ever wanted: In this episode, we see the seeds of the now-commonplace bromance, the man-crush, and a still-developing new model of drag, in the mainstream.
Questions about the appropriateness of Sasha Grey’s school appearance or the depictions of the cherry-losers on Glee are, by design, tediously conservative; yet Jack and Jill, as a film and pop event, asks us, fascinatingly, how multitudes of straight men feel about each other on a deep, psychosexual level.
The film has already been roundly vilified, and received an unprecedented zero rating on Rotten Tomatoes on opening day. This number has since climbed to 3, yet the film is loathed by virtually everyone – on Flick Pix, Rolling Stone’s Peter Travers asked if “zero-minus” is a viable rating. “I choose that,” he said.
The bad reviews are jubilant: Critics clearly enjoy hating the film, which did well over the weekend, coming in second place to the beefcake-fest, Immortals. This sense of excitement among the competitively vicious reviews indicates that Jack and Jill (tellingly, slang for male and female onanism) is a genuine phenomenon. Not, like Showgirls or Plan Nine from Outer Space, a film we will come to love to hate, but one that may well signal the agonized end of the cinematic bromance as we know it.
The notion of the bromance was always a clever bit of misdirection: Having a “man crush” is not a strange instance of inordinate affection, but, quite simply, homosexual attraction. And what of it? Why all the phraseological tap dancing?
Conversely, Sandler dressed a woman, in the changing face of drag, is merely Adam Sandler in a dress, a scarcely embellished representation of the man’s erotic appeal to straight men, so to speak.
Sandler’s audience, the guys who came up in the mid-1990s, during the Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore era, are probably relieved that he is making this kind of work – infantile, absurdly funny – again.
In the classic Sandler comedies, which are, oddly, simpering yet violent, women are always marginal, yet hotly gorgeous, almost a boy’s dream of one of the accessories of his future. Billy Madison explores this theme of arrested development ingeniously.
Is his audience even more relieved to find, in Jill, everything they have been looking for, in Jack, or Sandler?
Impossible to know, but the film appears to be a fantastically uncomfortable case study, prised from Freud’s journals, about what it is, exactly, that makes us “male” or “female”; about the malleability of gender, and about the confusing, often double (or twinned) nature of our sexuality.
Could Sandler be making his own mind (the actor is a terribly laconic recluse) the subject of Jack and Jill? Exposing himself and his art to a horrified scrutiny that has yet to view the film beyond its grotesque similarity to Mrs. Doubtfire? Playing a divided self with an erotic subtext, and hostile text.
Kurt Cobain might have sung, “What else should I say? Everyone is a gay narcissist.”