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Some Like It Hot, Dr. Strangelove, and Blazing Saddles are the top-rated comedy movies of the twentieth century and respectively directed by Billy Wilder, Stanley Kubrick, and Mel Brooks. Social issues exist in each of the movies. Nancy Goldman, in her article Comedy and Democracy: The Role of Humor in Social Justice, learns from many performers that humor can “challenge an audience’s assumptions, present alternative perspectives, generate conversation, and broaden the scope of thought” (3). All the movies utilize humor to enhance their messages. If Some Like It Hot challenges public perception of gender and sexual identity and emphasizes the perpetuation of social class though gender, Dr. Strangelove attempts to bring laughter to an audience stricken with fear of nuclear bombs, and Blazing Saddles satirizes racism.
Some Like It Hot is a satire and comedy farce. The movie challenges our perception of gender and sexual identity. Throughout the movie, the male protagonists cross gender line between men and women. Jerry and Joe change their clothes and masquerade as women in a all-girl band. Before, they always look at women as love interests. Jerry compares women to cakes and pastries in bakeries. When they are first in drag, they feel sympathetic with women when the wind blows their skirts up: “It’s so drafty. They must be catching colds all the time.” Their struggles to walk on heels imitating the movements of jello on springs help them recognize the struggles of women: “It’s whole different sex.” Moreover, the camera first points to their large shoes and legs before their faces. Jerry complaints: “I feel so naked. Like everybody’s looking at me”. This statement and camera’s shooting angle shows a drag queen’s self-consciousness of unfeminine features. In her article, Nancy Goldman quotes George Carlin’s saying about the effect of comedy:
“No one is ever more herself or himself than when they really laugh. Their defenses are down . . . They are completely open, completely themselves when that messages hits the brain and the laugh begins. That’s when new ideas can be implanted. If a new idea slip in at the moment, it has a chance to grow.” (2)
During the time of Some Like It Hot playing in theaters, the public strongly discriminated against homosexual people and perpetuated stereotypes about them. The movie brings up images of drag queens to the audience in a way that they comfortably take in homosexuality.
This movie also talks about social classes through gender issues. Both the protagonists and Sugar Kane are poor musicians. Jerry and Joe are heterosexual, but they are willing to pass off women to protect their lives from the mobs. Jerry feels the need to marry Osgood, and he sings and dances in his hotel room after Osgood proposes to him. Jerry visualizes the outcomes of the marriage and unconsciously celebrates them in his bed. Jerry even disregards contemporary “laws” and “conventions” which are against gay marriage and homosexuality when Joe reminds him he is a man: “This may be my last chance to marry a millionaire.” The moments of being secured turn Jerry in a different person. Sugar Kane’s fantasy is to marry a millionaire who reads the Wall Street Journal. She considers a marriage for security. “If my mother could only see my now.” Sugar Kane is afraid of her mother’s figuring out that Sugar lost her innocence and feelings of security, all of which Sugar had when she was younger and lived with her mother. Jerry as Daphne, who is poor and pursued by the mobs, shares a similar thought with Sugar about marrying for material gain and security. Through humor, the movie exposes the insecurity of both women and men in a lighted-hearted way that they unconsciously reflect back on themselves.
Dr. Strangelove is a dark and sarcastic comedy with farce and morbid humor. In the movie, music talks for what is going on. The soundtrack plays the noticeable theme song “When Johnny Comes Marching Home” from American Civil War when captain King Kong puts on his ten-gallon hat and carries out the bombing plan sent by General Ripper from Burpelson Air Force Base. The sound track plays the song again when the crews fly to its new objects. The song ironically glorifies the mass killing of humans and equates the nuclear bombing to the war of the previous century. The sound track also plays “Try a Little Tenderness” as the tanker aircraft extends its rod to fuel the bomber below. The song evokes a sexual theme of the two aircraft making love to each other. At the end of the movie, the famous song of World War II “We’ll Meet Again Some Sunny Day” plays in the contradicting effects with the nuclear bombs of the Doomsday Machines of Russian while the bombs are exploding the world. By ironically playing in the background, the song ridicules Cold War and lessens people’s fear of nuclear bombs.
Cold War terrified people throughout the world, especially in America and Russia. It is an important theme in Dr. Stranglove. However, leaders in the movie lack qualities to resolve the conflict, and the war room resembles a playhouse. The urgent meeting between the president and his advisors resembles a poker game in which people sit on a large and big table facing each other. However, only a few people talks during the meeting. Other people just fill in the seats and do not contribute to the discussion. Thus, the leadership proves dysfunctional. On one wall is the Big Board with blinking lights resembling a pinball board. The room has plenty of food on the buffet table in the middle of the war negotiation. The setting of the meeting indicating indulgence and pleasure contradicts with the purpose of it. Moreover, the monologue of President Muffley undermines his credibility as a leader when he is speaking on the phone with the Russian Premier. He struggles to convey his idea to the Premier, but his efforts are futile because they cannot find any solution:
“Well, listen, how do you think I feel about it? Can you imagine how I feel about it, Dmitri? Why do you think I’m calling you? Just to say hello? Of course I like to speak to you. Of course I like to say hello. Not now, but any time, Dmitri. . . . All right! You’re sorrier than I am! But I am sorry as well. I am as sorry as you are Dmitri. Don’t say that you’re the more sorry than I am, because I am capable of being just as sorry as you are. So we’re both sorry, alright? All right.”
The repetition of childish and crude language covers the whole conversation between the heads of the two countries controlling most of nuclear weapons. As Goldman studies that “humor has the ability to block negative emotions of fear and anger, emotions that make us more reactive than proactive and more rigid than flexible,” the amateur and incompetent leadership and the recreational setting of the war room overwhelm the fear of hydrogen bombs (5).
Not only do the leadership and the setting of the war room in Dr. Strangelove trivialize the nuclear war, but sex also arises to lessen the distressing effect of wars. The conflict of the movie originates from sex. General Ripper initiates the bombing plan because he conjectures that Russians attempts to fluoridate drinking water of Americans based on his sexual impotence: “I first became aware of it . . . during the physical act of love . . . a profound sense of fatigue, a feeling of emptiness followed. . . Women . . . seek the life essence . . . But I do deny them my essence.” To him, protecting his sexual potency is more important than other issues. Sexual potency diverts the audience’s attention from the disastrous effects of war. The love affair of General Turgidson and Miss Milky Way also amplifies the prominence of sexual matters while the war is still on progress. Turgidson answers a call from his mistress during the critical moments of the meeting: “Well, look baby! . . . My president needs me. Of course Bucky would rather be there with you . . . Of course it isn’t only physical. I deeply respect you as a human being . . . Listen, you go back to sleep.” Although Turgidson acknowledges his advice is important to the President, he still finds time for his personal affair in middle of the negotiation. Sex intermingles with war to create humorous effects that divert the audience’s attention from the distress of ongoing threat.
Blazing Saddles is a parody of Western movies and a satire of racism in America. The movie satirizes the rhetoric behind racism. When Bart’s family moves to the West, the Indians stop them but then let them go. The Sioux chief reasons that because the skin of Bart’s family is darker than theirs, the Sioux will be safe. This rationale is as absurd as racism because its establishment is based on skin color. However, it implies the Indians’ fear of European Americans, who drove the Indians out of their land and forced them to migrate to the West on Trail of Tear. Therefore, if Indians see people with dark skin, they can reassure themselves that these people are harmless.
Furthermore, the movie ridicules racism. When Bart comes to Rock Ridge as a new sheriff, the residents point their guns at him because he is an African American. Bart has to point his gun against his head and threaten to contaminate the town with hit blood in order to escape: “Hold it. The next man makes a move, the nigger gets it…Drop it! For I swear, I’ll blow this nigger’s head all over this town. Oh Lordy-lord, he’s desperate. Do what he says. Do what he says.” The racist townspeople do not shoot the Bart because they are afraid of his blood. Even after Bart saves the town from Mongo, they still discriminate against him but in a lesser degree. The old lady expresses her gratitude to Bart by furtively visiting and giving him a pie. Before she leaves, she has him promise to keep her visit as a secret. By utilizing humor, the movie satirizes racism and exposes its absurdity.
Moreover, the movie is a parody of Western movies. The fake town built by Bart and his friends parody typical Western movies where typical farmhouses and cowboys exist. Bart appears as cowboy sheriff, but he does not know how to shoot his gun. Bart convinces the townspeople to follow his plan to build the fake town by comparing himself to Randolph Scott, who is a famous Western hero at the time: “You’d do it for Randolph Scott.” When he mentions Randolph Scott, the townspeople take off their hats and place them on their hearts. The movie satirizes the public’s fanatical worshipping of Western movies and heroes.
Humor is a great entertaining tool and social corrective. Some Like It Hot utilizes comedy to encourage a greater acceptance from the public for different sexual identities and to remind them of the everlasting of social class. Dr. Strangelove attempts to lessen the public’s fear of nuclear weapons by trivializing the negotiation in the War Room, satirizing leadership, and intermingling sex with war. Blazing Saddles ridicules racism and the absurd rationale behind it. Comedy has the power to create changes in society. It engages people in examining social issues and encouraging actions for change by first making them laugh.
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