There’s little surprise in the box office numbers from last weekend. “The Amazing Spider-Man” has made its expected killing, despite widely disparate critical reaction in comparing the new Garfield/Webb version to the previous Maguire/Raimi franchise.
Excuse me for yawning. I think they’re all more than competent at what they do, but I think the movies are inconsequential other than the money they make.
I was more interested in what happened at the box office the previous weekend.
“Ted,” yet another movie about a full-grown man who acts like a junior high schooler, rose to No. 1 with $54 million in ticket sales on the strength of a raunchy teddy bear.
Mark Wahlberg joins the ranks of leading men such as Jonah Hill, Seth Rogen, Adam Sandler, Paul Rudd and others who have found success playing adults who have avoided growing up.
That same weekend, women demonstrated their own box office clout by spending a whopping $39 million on “Magic Mike,” a movie about the world of male strippers.
A couple days later, Andy Griffith died.
“The Andy Griffith Show,” which depicted the innocence of small-town life in the rural South, has never left the air since its success in the early 1960s.
I couldn’t help thinking about the odd juxtaposition of Sheriff Andy Taylor, the ultimate family man, and the worlds of “Ted” and “Magic Mike.”
They say art is a reflection of the culture that produces and embraces it. I started thinking about how we, as a culture, have changed since “The Andy Griffith Show,” “Father Knows Best” and “Ozzie and Harriet” were on TV.
What would Andy Griffith have to say about that?
It’s worth pointing out that Griffith didn’t only play nice guys like Sheriff Taylor, Matlock and the bumpkin star of “No Time for Sergeants.” He was also cynical, power-mad Lonesome Rhodes in “A Face in the Crowd,” who scorned the naive innocence of his broadcast audience even as he played to it.
And Griffith’s last movie role was as Grandpa Joe, popping Viagra and looking for action in the old folks’ home in “Play the Game.” Griffith made sure we knew he was not above a little raunchy comedy himself.
But what about this fixation on grown men who act like kids with sex lives?
Well, I reasoned, raunchy comedy is not exactly a new phenomenon. It’s been popular at least as far back as “There’s Something About Mary” in 1998.
But could the man-child thing have something to do with the number of guys in their 20s who have been forced to live at home because of a rough economy and a lack of jobs for fresh graduates?
Is it a factor of the baby boomer generation’s parenting? Did we spare the rod and worry more about kids’ self-esteem than their work ethic or a sense of personal responsibility?
In my mind, there’s no question that the nation lost a chunk of its innocence in the 1960s and ’70s, amid assassinations, war protests, race riots and an escalating drug problem. Somewhere in the middle of all that, women’s liberation and a sexual revolution also shifted the nation’s zeitgeist.
Recent history has rattled our faith in government, religious institutions and corporate morality.
I’m not at all convinced most people want to live in Mayberry anymore. We like to revisit the place and remember fondly a simpler, less dangerous, more innocent time. But we’re not giving up our iPhones.
“Magic Mike” and “Ted” suggest we have moved on.
On the other hand, the third-place movie of the July 1 weekend was “Brave,” a PG-rated cartoon that topped the box office the week before. And another cartoon, “Ice Age: Continental Drift,” is likely to be the top new title opening this weekend.
It’s probably not wise to draw any sweeping conclusions about American sociology from the movie box office anyway. If you go to a multiplex on a summer weekend, you’re unlikely to find a representative cross-section of the American populace there. More likely, you’ll find a younger demographic.
People my age might be more interested in a larger dose of reality, or at least maybe a little more substance than summer blockbusters offer. I hear friends talking about titles like “Moonrise Kingdom,” “People Like Us,” “Safety Not Guaranteed,” “Savages” and “Your Sister’s Sister.”
But like Andy Griffith, I’m also not above raunch, pure escapism and light entertainment as opposed to mental stimulation. The need for escape in the face of difficult, polarizing times is unlikely to go away anytime soon.