Bored with boors: Jerk chic comes home to roost

Some years back, on March 25, 1994 to be exact, I had a story in the Phoenix called "Jerk Chic" in which I discussed how many films were coming out featuring heroes who were louts, boors, assholes, and so on. Fifteen years later I'm happy to report that there aren't nearly as many jerks on screen any more and most of those -- in Woody Allen's "Whatever Works, " "Bruno," "The Hangover," "Inglorious Basterds," in "The Baader-Meinhof Complex,"  for example -- are mostly intended negatively or ironically. The bad news is that now the jerks have taken over real life. Joe Wilson, Kanye West, Serena Williams; there's a new one every minute. Bullying, boorishness -- it's the way we relate to people and express ourselves these days. What passes for discussion in the marketplace of ideas consists of yelling, ad hominem attacks, distortions, hysterics and lies. In the past we all fantasized about acting that way and that's why the asshole character was popular on the screen. Now the fantasy is accepted as standard operating procedure.

Why is this? Maybe ideas of civility changed when those ultimate assholes, Al Qaeda, expressed themselves on 9/11. Talk radio and the talking heads on TV didn't help. And then there's the internet, which has become the cyber equivalent of obscene phone calls. If you don't think the internet has lowered the bar of critical discussion  then you should just check into the comments section to any Armond White review on "Rotten Tomatoes."

Maybe, though, we've reached a saturation point. Etiquette experts are being tapped on news shows to offer insight on the rudeness phenomenon. CNN is finally taking to task some of the blowhards they have given a pass to, such as Mark Williams, one of the leaders of the Tea Bag movement. Even Glenn Beck might be up for a long overdue takedown.

And there's also a suggestion that the reality might be returning to the movie screen where it belongs, as evidenced in the film "I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell," the feature debut of infamous macho pig and quasi-date-rapist blogger, Tucker Max. True, Max did open the premier at Harvard Square Theatre by being a live asshole in front of 520 of his fans [Here's Tom Meek's report on the proceedings.]. But maybe we can hope that he'll be safely isolated as a film image, and that being a jerk will be a personality trait that returns to the realm of moviedom, to the fantasy world where we can be entertained by our worst impulses but don't have to act them out.

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