The sticky history of masturbation on film
My sad brown sack of Build Your Own Burger sits crumpled and forgotten in the corner of the room like a wad of tissues, the grease from the burg like some hellish artery-clogging lotion. This may be a history of grease on film, but not the kind you use to fry your chicken fingers.
Grab yourself some tissues, Bubba! This is going to be a wild ride through the history of the five-knuckle shuffle in cinema.
Though pornographic film has existed since the Lumière Brothers first pioneered projected film in 1895, the subject of being one’s own best friend wasn’t tackled until a quarter-century later. On July 1, 1919, The Solitary Sin shocked audiences across the U.S. with its strong sexual subject matter. In the film, Charles Spere’s character goes clinically insane from pulling the pud too much. Audiences raged at The Solitary Sin and thus, it received a minimal theatrical release.
But after that, you don’t see much in the way of choking the chicken, or sex of any kind, really, until the late 1960s. Thanks to Presbyterian elder William H. Hays, The Motion Pictures Production Code (MPPC) came into effect on Mar. 31, 1930. The MPPC governed the moral content of studio films released in the U.S. Under the guise of the code, Hays – who became Hollywood’s chief censor – could condemn any picture that he deemed immoral. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the Hays Code was abandoned in 1968 for the far more liberal MPAA film rating system, which led to a fresh batch of folks shaking hands with beef.
Radley Metzger began his career by importing European nudie films into his native New York. By the early 1960s, he had begun directing his own feature films. 1968’s Therese and Isabelle remains one of Metzger’s most celebrated works. It is a beautifully composed film about lesbian sexual awakening within the confines of a stifling Swiss boarding school. Though considered soft by today’s standards, Therese and Isabelle was also met with harsh critical reception.
The liberal sixties soon gave way to the apathetic seventies. It is in this decade, that petting the parrot would gain its most widespread notoriety. The first five years of 1970 gave us Fritz the Cat, The Exorcist, and A Boy and His Dog. These films each hold special places in self-stimulating history because they are animated, feature blasphemy of religious iconography, and feature a human male milking machine, respectively. Already, the 1970s descended into a moral quagmire that the previous decade had only dreamed about. Post-1975 cinematic diddling was largely handled by European filmmakers, particularly in films like Pier Pasolini’s Salò and Rainer Fassbinder’s Satansbraten. North America was taking a much-needed break from the spank race.
On Mar. 19, 1982, Porky’s was released in North America. The film was helmed by Canadian director Bob Clark and strongly represented North America’s re-entry into pocket-pool films. Porky’s, a film that’s both incredibly vulgar and liberal in its sexual attitude, is the highest-grossing-Canadian-made movie of all time. Another notable example from the decade comes to us from the classic American stoner film Fast Times at Ridgemont High, in which Judge Reinhold beats the bishop while wearing a pirate costume.
Soon, 1980-something turned into 1990. At the turn of the millenium, two competing schools of cinematic chicken choking emerged, vying for dominance over the other: dramatic and comedic. While the dramatic has enjoyed relative success in films like American Beauty, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and the critically acclaimed Black Swan, comedic clown punching took off like a pocket rocket, and indeed, helped spawn the “frat pack” brand of comedy.
Since we sat awkwardly through Ben Stiller’s most private moment in 1998’s There’s Something About Mary, comedy has seemed unable to move past flogging the dolphin. Films like Mary opened the door for movies like a series about a rather popular dessert that shall remain nameless beginning in 1998, But I’m a Cheerleader in 1999, and the Scary Movie franchise which started in 2000.
Though I’ve studied its origin fairly extensively, I still can’t comprehend exactly why rubbing one out became such a pervasive device in cinema. It seems that people would shy away from such an intrusion into their private sexual lives, even if that sex only involves one.
No, tossing one off on film isn’t going anywhere. Rest assured, there will be many more awkward cinematic moments to sit through from this point forward. Just keep your hairy palms off of the popcorn, would you?