Grin and Bear It
A few Christmases ago, I was standing amongst an expectant crowd of paralytics, heads cosied with Santa hats, at Islington’s Club de Fromage. All eyes were fixed on the stage. Suddenly, a man who looked a lot like generational throwback Dirk Benedict, star of The A-Team, emerged from behind a curtain. A roar went up from the sardined drunks. My God, it was Dirk Benedict. He was boffing balloons now; volleying them over the crowd. The oily compere, tongue in cheek, goaded the horde, encouraging them to savour this moment with a kitsch icon. Benedict stood there, jeered, a broken man. Icarus had flown too close to the sun and had fallen into a pit of character assassins. Their malfunctioning weapons were irony and superiority. Dirk’s face told the story; the fixed smile, the confusion, the realisation that his dignity wasn’t worth the meagre fee. I cheered of course; I was a farm boy at Nuremberg; but deep down I felt a pang of empathy with Dirk. His shame and mine were uncomfortably intertwined.
Sam Jones’ extended cameo in Ted, Seth MacFarlane’s slacker reworking of Harvey, reminded me of this dark episode. In what is less a movie, more a ragbag of 80’s pop cultural references hung on a storyline, Flash Gordon has pride of place. As in Family Guy, where half the jokes rely on audience recognition, as yesteryear’s archive is plundered for the collective memories that double as shortcuts to punchlines, Ted’s gags demand that you know your stuff, but more importantly recognise that stuff to be junk, its stars ripe for send up.
MacFarlane’s work has a smug, self-congratulatory feel to it (can you imagine?); often it’s flippant in place of being witty; and when poor Sam is unveiled, dolled up to look like 1980, you can almost feel the physic hand of Seth guiding yours to point and laugh. You get to be superior, just like the writer. What a wonderful feeling, it’s just a pity that Jones’ flaunting is mean-spirited. He’s a target who’s been duped into believing he’s guest of honour. Sure, he’s not the first lowbrow relic to be dusted off in order to stimulate your irony gland, but he at least can claim to have been part of something that created its own iconography. Extract the post-modernism and Ted is just a foul-mouthed teddy bear. That’s one joke subdivided over 106 minutes.Pages: 1 2