Sunday, May 10, 2015

Cruising at the Blue Oyster

Exploring the Impact of Police Academy on Long Island City Radio

Walker doing his best imitation of the Turin Shroud.
Being a long-time resident of Long Island City and a denizen of Dominie's Hoek (for outsiders, it's a bar in LIC where only the finest degenerates congregate), I recently started listening to Walker's show on LIC Radio. Those who listen to the show and know (the mononymous) Walker in person, know that what they hear is very much the real Walker. Sure, the show is Long Island City focused, but only to the extent that he uses air-time to bust the chops of his neighborhood cronies, and occasionally snidely delivers something resembling local news. Mostly, it's just Walker being Walker: Playing a few tunes, riffing in an exaggerated radio banter voice (again, he sounds like this in real life) that both indulges in the tacky morning show style lowbrow humor while snarkily satirizing it at the same time. All the while, he relies heavily on a bank of sound effects, partly to enhance that morning drive-time jockey effect, but mostly it's just for his own amusement.

So I felt Walker's pain when I heard that he had lost access to one of his favorite sound-bites: a sample of the opening notes of the song "El Bimbo," as heard in the Police Academy movies. Most people don't even know the name of the song, but  because of its association with the gay leather bar in those movies, it's usually referred to as "The Blue Oyster." Also because of that association, Walker playfully and relentlessly (and with impish political incorrectness) uses it a way to poke fun at his friends.

I took it upon myself to get this sample back into Walker's arsenal. After all, I do have the DVD of Police Academy. I bought it around ten years ago at a time when there was an interest in making sequels and re-boots of 1980s "snobs vs. slobs" farces. The interest was apparently brief, as both Police Academy 8 and the proposed Revenge of the Nerds reboot were cancelled sometime around 2006. For some reason, I remember being upset by this at the time. These movies, while hardly quality films, were quite a big part of my childhood. While on the surface, they were mostly just cheap laughs and gratuitous nudity (not that there's anything wrong with that), the message behind most of these movies is that the weirdos, the un-cool, the misfits can prevail. For a dork in the eighties, that was one hell of a message.

So on one hand, I loved the movies because they spoke to me as an outcast, but on the other hand, it was simply an example of a style of movies that became ubiquitous during my youth. I mean, if you went a multiplex or had cable TV in the 80s, there was no escape from this particular brand of entertainment.

Bear with me for a second and I will explain exactly how, for a time in the eighties, almost every comedy was a variation on Police Academy.

Ted McGinley knows how to wear a sweater.
The term “Snobs vs. the Slobs” can be attributed to the ad campaign for Caddyshack, an early, but certainly not the first, film to use these simplistic archetypes as vehicles for sexual and scatological humor. While neither epithet sounds particularly appealing, inevitably we are supposed to side with the “slobs,” who somehow represent a counterculture (or maybe an anti-culture), despite the fact that they, while often free-spirited, tended to be apolitical. Their sworn enemy, “the snobs,” obviously represent the status quo. They are “the man” that we are to “stick it to.” Again, specific political ideals are eschewed; instead they represent a basic elitism. In these movies, it usually coming from inherited wealth, visually illustrated by a tendency to wear a sweater draped over one's shoulders with the sleeves tied together forming a make-shift ascot. While a class war is insinuated, in the movies, they rarely are more than bullies or party spoilers. Keeping the archetypes as simple and stereotypical as possible is hugely important because character development requires time that could be better spent on a tasteless gag, often involving a horse.

Even though it was the promotional materials for Caddyshack that first employed the term, it was arguably Animal House that was, if not the first, certainly the most celebrated early example of the genre. Using college life as its locale and its vehicle, the film elegantly and voluminously heaped on the gross-out humor without ever being overshadowed by the plot. The characters were painted in broad strokes of black and white. In fact, the movie appears to be quite deliberately and self-consciously apolitical, taking place in 1962, a time before the civil rights movement and the war in Vietnam made college hi-jinx considerably less quaint.

Caddyshack added the element of sports, giving the story a built in curve, climaxing with a final competition. This became standard for so many subsequent movies of this type. Underdog literally beats the high and mighty at their own game. Think Rocky with fart jokes (or Rocky II, because yes, I know that Rocky lost the first bout). It ended up spawning a plethora of B-movies involving misfits, tits, and some type of ski race or white water rafting.

Police Academy, on the other hand, borrowed most heavily from the third major example of the genre: Stripes. The classic Bill Murray/Harold Ramis movie took the “snobs vs. slobs” genre into a militant, institutionalized setting, giving the lovable slob the opportunity to buck the system initially, but ultimately to excel within the institution in spite of, or because of, his or her anti-social tendencies.

One could say that Animal House, Caddyshack, and Stripes, created the blueprint for virtually all films that were on after ten o’clock on any pay cable station in the mid-1980s (with the occasional regurgitation of Cannonball Run thrown in for good measure every now and then), Police Academy obviously included. And it goes without saying that none of these second generation movies were in any way as good as the initial triumvirate.

Steve Guttenberg does not approve of this article.
Police Academy does stand apart from this riff-raff, however. Seriously, how many of these cheesy 80s movies spawned six, count them, six sequels? Even Revenge of the Nerds only spawned three, and two of them were made for TV. Also, we can’t forget how the series helped to kick-start the careers of luminaries such as Kim Cattrall and… David Spade… uh, Bobcat Goldthwait, and uh… well, I guess that’s about… no wait, how could I forget Michael “I could sure used some work right about now” Winslow? You know, the guy who made all the mouth sounds? The guy who cracked up everybody back in 1984, but looking back, doesn’t really do much in the movie? Okay, you know what? I can make fun all I want, but the fact that the movie spawned six sequels (and almost a seventh), two TV series (one animated, one live-action) and a theme park show is pretty amazing when one considers that the actual level of quality is such where one might hear oneself say: "Man, those movies started to go downhill when Steve Guttenberg left."

Yes, the movies were crap. But they were my crap. The first Police Academy movie was probably the first R-rated movie I ever saw in a movie theatre. Sure it was crass, politically unenlightened, homophobic, exploitative, and just plain moronic, but... well, there were a lot of tits, and a guy got his head stuck up a horses ass, and there was that guy who made funny noises, and did I mention the tits? (Not Kim Cattrall's though, who was clothed the whole time, the film's biggest flaw.)

Does this make me sound immature? Hey, I was seven years old when I saw this movie (yes, my parents took me when I was seven). This was the days of giggling at Dad’s Playboys, kissing the pages and getting a miniature version of an erection that I didn’t know what I was supposed to do with yet. And yet, immature as I was, watching Police Academy made me feel more adult, because the grown men in that movie were as sexually insipid as I was. Ogling and clumsily chasing Kim Katrall's luxurious thighs (her words, not mine), or Leslie Easterbrook’s ample nay-nays, all the while showing no more experience or sophistication that I had as a kid in elementary school. It was as if these guys were just overactive kids in men’s bodies. Trying to go all the way before midnight strikes, their cop car turns back into a pumpkin, and they turn back into the seven year olds that they really are, running back to their friends to tell them how they got to grope a boob.

So, yeah, that's why I happened to have Police Academy on DVD.

Where was I ? Oh yeah, Check out Walker's show on LIC Radio. Weekdays at 3:00pm.

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