I Saw A Film!

I hated the idea of this movie when I was in high school and I avoided seeing any of the handful of sequels as well as this original. I didn’t know this was a 1950’s era coming-of-age product. I also had no idea that central to the story was cold-hearted racism and abuse by a criminally deranged father. Does that rescue the basic premise of a tale of several boys trying to get laid at a Florida brothel that pulled a fast one on the boys and also used the local sheriff to enforce the will of Porky in the rural community? I’m not sure. But I can tell you the film is a bit more complex, though still largely focused on immaturity, than I originally realized. A coming of age film is useless to a kid who has not yet “come of age” (me) and so the film was unlikely to have appealed even if I had seen it. It’s both a better film and also exactly what I thought much of it was. The famous sequence, pictured on the box cover, involving the boys peeping on girls in the shower, and literally boldly poking their dicks through the hole, and–no surprise–getting humiliated by the wrong women. Left me with no uncertain lack of interest in the wholehearted insulting clownishness of the fellows.

I think my biggest issue with these stories of easily manipulated young men, who end up naked and terrified together (due to a promise of sex, and then a hoax scare by a “big black man”,) is that I was a stubborn outsider/non-conformist with a strong aversion to being naked around naked men. Call me silly but it was always difficult for me to imagine myself in the place of some of these goofy characters as they gladly gave up cash to sit nude with each other in hopes of pooning with a middle-aged whore. This scenario is so familiar, however, common in stories about GIs for example, that I have to imagine that it wasn’t that unusual in some earlier time. A generation or two back for boys to be buck naked together and think nothing of it. I guess I’m the shy one.

In the end, the story of the boys being pranked by the unlikable Porky, and managing to exact their revenge by pulling down the place and running across the county line into the protection of the law officer brother of one of the boys is a rather dull one. It’s hard to care very much about this tale when there’s a subplot of a Jewish kid fighting for his place in the mid 50s Florida public school world. On the other hand, being obsessed with sex is a human constant that basically represents the “coming of age” tale. The story of the fight of minorities for their representation and rights happens alongside the more ludicrous one of exacting revenge for a well played prank/hustle. It occurs to me that if the unlikable Porky were replaced with a matron overseeing the bordello, say a popular and likable actress like Dolly Parton, the story would easily shift to one of smart, blue-collar women exercising a kind of right to con and teach the boys a much needed lesson about underaged sexuality and objectifying their ladies. Creating the Porky character as ugly and unlikable (and having him in a sort of split between the corrupt sheriff and the bordello owner) ensures the boys are the sympathetic if entirely doofy protagonists.

What I’m saying here is that the story hinges on some contrivances that aren’t necessarily objectively morally obvious. And it’s OK to have some ambiguity but, you also have to leave room for interpretation of that moral ambiguity. The difference between a film like Porky’s and say American Graffiti, or something like the current popular animated show Big Mouth, lies in the complexity of the characters and the expansiveness of the experiences those characters are put through despite all largely representing coming-of-age. Clown representations or representations of purely evil characters, necessarily limits our accepting the fantasy world being created and winds up delivering a product that either preaches too much, or is simply laughable in its believability. Don’t do this, or don’t be this guy, or see how bad behavior is repaid by the victims of said bad behavior (often producing more bad behavior from the other side) really doesn’t make a great or memorable film. The best it can do is make us guffaw at some clowning moments, and then lean on the story of the Jewish kid for the anchor of honesty and gravity.

Many folks who enjoyed Porky’s would say at this point, c’mon it’s just a comic romp that doesn’t require this much thinking . . . But when gym teachers named “Ball-breaker” are dragging kids dicks through holes in the wall, you have to wonder how we’re supposed to make the gymnastic stretch to get to that position. We are talking about love and hate and our desire to understand better who we are through these offerings. Why did I forever avoid Porky’s? Because I was worried that it was the empty suitcase of a movie that merely slapped us with its gags. And it mostly is, but there are a few redeemable features.

This runs free on Prime and is both better in some ways than I anticipated (in family caring for one another and friends protecting each other despite minority differences) and just as bad as I expected in terms of nude guffaws and falling into the swamp slapstick.

3 thoughts on “Porky’s (1981)

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