Note: This was supposed to run yesterday, but due to working a later shift than expected, it was held until today. Please enjoy!
The world of pop culture is constantly evolving. Yearly, monthly, even daily, the state of art changes with society’s tastes. As a critic and a journalist (or as I prefer to put it, “I am a writer, a doctor, a nuclear physicist and a theoretical philosopher. But above all, I am a man, a hopelessly inquisitive man, just like you”), I am expected to study these trends, analyze them, and form an opinion. However, I’m going to let you in on a little secret: I have no idea what the f*ck I’m doing. And no one really does. I can’t explain the reason for things any better than you can. No “expert” really knows anything, no matter how much he tries to act like he does.
However, that doesn’t stop us from trying to figure things out, traveling to the edge of the abyss to find out what makes these things tick. The Internet is built on the theories and articles that people write to discover the truth behind these things, and this site is no different. And so, starting with this article, I will begin a series of essays dedicated to different aspects and subjects in the world of pop culture. This series will be titled Friday Night Dinners (yes, it is named after Gilmore Girls, because why the hell not?), and will run periodically on the site. As I said, there is no way for anyone to truly understand what causes each of these subjects, so these essays will just be my own personal thoughts. They will contain theories, problem solving, and criticism to see if, by the end of the article, I am any closer to understanding it, or if I’m just going to have to chalk one up to the Unknown. The subjects can range from something innocent and comedic to dark and thought provoking. All that matters is if its something I have wondered about and am curious about getting to the bottom of it.
One final point I’d like to make: as much as I love writing 2000-3000 word essays just for fun (I guess you could say I majored in it, because I did), this segment will truly shine through a community atmosphere. Agree with me, disagree with me, tell me something I missed…that’s why I have a comment section. All that matters is that you engage with other readers and myself about lingering questions about the massive world we call art. And now, after this overly long introduction, let’s get to the topic of the day:
Is Get Out A Comedy?
Over the past week or so, controversy has begun to swirl over the news that the film Get Out was being pushed at the Golden Globes as a comedy. Released in February of this year, Get Out was the directorial debut of comedian Jordan Peele, and told the story of a young African-American man who traveled with his white girlfriend to meet her parents, only to slowly realize that things are not as they seem. Filled with rich imagery, metaphors, and symbolism, the film was a perfectly executed horror, a surprise coming out of the very funny Peele. However, despite its official “horror” label (actually it skews closer to “social thriller” like Silence of the Lambs, but I digress), Universal and Blumhouse Studios recently announced that the film would be competing in the Musical/Comedy categories at the Golden Globes (for those unaware, the Globes split the top prize and the two top acting categories into two groups: drama and musical/comedy), an appeal approved by the Globes nominating committee. The decision drew ire from fans across the country, an ire seemingly exacerbated by Peele’s recent tweet: “Get Out is a documentary.” With such shade, several fans on Facebook and Twitter declared their outrage in the face of blatant “white privilege” and “downplaying nature” of this decision. But is it really all that bad? Today I’d like to look at why this scandal was misinterpreted by the media, why the decision may be an important one for the film, and above all else, if the film is in and of itself a comedy.
Let’s start by addressing the outrage and getting the facts of the case straight before we actually answer the questions. The first question we must address is “Why are the Globes letting this appear in the comedy category when it was marketed as a horror?” Well, there are two answers to that, actually, and both deal with the way the Globes address categorization. You see, the Golden Globes don’t just lump things into “comedy” or “drama” as we know the definitions (i.e. slapstick vs. period piece). They rely on the traditional definitions as applied to the Greeks. Greek theatre only possesses these two genres as well, but that’s because they define them a little bit differently. Drama was defined as a story or play about great tragedy, about women killing themselves and heroes plucking out their eyes (Jesus, that’s depressing). Comedy, meanwhile, was described as…well, everything else. Comedy didn’t just apply to slapstick and the comedy of manners. It applied to everything that didn’t apply to drama: romance, musical, fantasy, and yes, even certain horror productions. So by the Globes’ standards, anything that doesn’t fit the common mold can and will be considered a comedy. This means that decidedly unfunny films, or even more dramatic projects that have very funny moments, can and have qualified as a comedy. This is why past nominees and winners include decidedly non-comedic films The Martian, American Hustle, The Big Short, Joy, Nebraska, Charlie Wilson’s War, Big Fish, and Chocolat. Furthermore, the Globes have a horrible sense of “starf*cking,” and tend to give films a pass so they can hang out with celebrities. This has resulted in cases such as Sherlock Holmes, Alice in Wonderland, and most egregiously, The Tourist. These are the reasons that Universal submitted Get Out as a comedy. However, no matter what prompted their decision, it would be morally reprehensible to submit it in a completely “belittling” category without the creator’s permission, right? Of course right. However, while many people look at that “documentary” tweet and consider it evidence, they fail to read, listen, or observe Peele’s greater point. When asked about the film in interviews, he actually agrees with the comedy placing. He feels that the film, while technically a social thriller, is by design uncategorizable, and could be whatever the audience wants it to be. As he puts it, “All I wanted to do was make the film that black people have been wanting to see for years.” His only fear is that people will consider the film “trivial” if it is deemed a comedy (more on that in a minute), and he isn’t sure that white people have the capacity or the life experience to fully comprehend how funny certain scenes are (black people are supposed to laugh because “been there;” white people are supposed to cringe because “Oh my God, been there, but not as the hero”). Peele’s tweets were never intended to say the film wasn’t a comedy, but were instead revealed to be a critique of the studio’s decision to plan the awards campaign without Peele’s insight (not uncommon for a first time director, but still stupid). So now that we’re all on the same page, and we understand the reasons going into dubbing the film a comedy are a lot more complicated than “white privilege,” let’s talk about why it’s important that the film advertises itself as one.
So I’m not sure how much you guys realize this, but the Oscars, at this point, are one big publicity stunt. The Oscars are closer in spirit now to political elections, with different teams spending tons of money to try to make an impact on the overall race, all while keeping their clients from saying something stupid that ruins it all. It’s been this way since the nineties, when a certain producer whose reprehensible name I won’t write here first started spending millions of dollars on well-staged advertising to turn the awards race from a choice of “what’s best” to a race of “what can market itself best.” It’s why Shakespeare in Love beat Saving Private Ryan, why Crash beat Brokeback Mountain, why The King’s Speech beat The Social Network, and even, to a degree, why Moonlight beat La La Land. Winning an Oscar is all about proving yourself along the way, sort of like how you need to win a certain amount of games to go to the playoffs. Get Out is a wonderful film that broke box office records, but it has an uphill climb that makes it a dangerous awards prospect. For one, it’s made by a first time director, dangerous territory for the Academy. For another, only four horror films have ever been nominated for Best Picture (The Exorcist, Jaws, The Silence of the Lambs, and The Sixth Sense, with Black Swan depending on your justification). And finally, while certainly more liberal and socially aware than other groups out there, the Academy tends to balk at films that are “too black.” That sounds terrible, and it is, but it’s the truth: last year’s Moonlight was a massive anomaly. The odds are heavily against Get Out, despite being one of the best films of the year. In order to get a nomination and get the acclaim it rightfully deserves, it’s going to have to play the game. While there are several ways to have an in for the Academy, one of the best ways is to win a predecessor award. Whether it be the New York Film Critics Circle or the Screen Actors Guild Award, getting nominated and winning here is a surefire way to get yourself on the shortlist for taking home an Oscar. At this point, I’m sure you’re wondering, “What does this have to do with the Golden Globes? It’s simple: films that win the top prize at the Globes tend to go on for the big prize, even if they are in comedies. Seven of the last ten winners of Best Motion Picture – Musical or Comedy went on to be nominated for Best Picture. Now, say what you will about Universal, they aren’t stupid. Looking at the map, the Best Drama category will include Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, Dunkirk, The Post, The Shape of Water, Darkest Hour, Call Me By Your Name, Phantom Thread, The Florida Project, and Last Flag Flying. And that’s just off the top of my head. The odds are not only stacked against Get Out winning, I would seriously doubt its chance to even be nominated. However, despite a great year for comedy, the only real contenders for the top prize are I, Tonya and Lady Bird, and neither has the serious support needed for a win. By placing itself in the comedy category, Get Out has managed to build a scenario where it could win the Golden Globe, go on to be nominated for Best Picture, and eventually bring home the true top prize. While it may feel emotionally dishonest or misleading to place the film in the easier category in order to help flounder its awards chances, this is the only way Get Out can finally earn the kudos and acclaim it deserves.
However, all of these questions so far have avoided the key issue I’d like to address: is Get Out truly a comedy? That’s a complicated question, and my infuriating short answer would have to be yes, or at least to a certain extent. Get Out is, indeed, a comedy, but not in the way you’d think. You see, where Get Out shines best is as a social satire. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the term, satire is a form of social critique executed through exaggerations and turning a mirror on society. Oftentimes, it is bitingly funny, but that is not always the case. For example, 1984 is a social satire, and that book has some of the darkest imagery I’ve ever read. Where Get Out thrives is in the smaller moments where it satirizes liberal “wokeness.” While most films touching on racism would go after the much-easier target of Southerners or blatant racists, Get Out goes after the much more subtle target of the white “allies” that want to seem diverse and culturally sensitive while slowly trying to destroy any sense of individuality or self in their African-American friends. The film finds humor in its specificity of target – while Jordan Peele says the humor is directly intended for African-American audiences, I personally think anyone who has witnessed their “ally” friends saying things like “I would have voted for Obama for a third term” to an African-American or asking to sexualize and idealize their bodies will be able to get a chuckle out of the situations. The film clearly is expressing the humor of mild exaggeration in its filmmaking, even if the film is still exploring the tension of the Other realizing something is up even if his white comrades are oblivious (or intentionally ignoring) to these inherently creepy goings-on. And let’s not forget the character of Rod, a TSA agent on a one-man mission to save his friend, and delivering the ridiculously badass line “I’m TS-motherf*cking-A.” This film is defiantly without a sense of humor. However, what this film also shares with satire is that there always comes a point where the comedy stops and things just take a complete turn. Dr. Strangelove ends with the world being destroyed in a nuclear holocaust. Okja ends with the brutal slaughtering of thousands of animals we’ve come to know and love. And Get Out ends with a horrifying journey into Hell as our hero must escape the mutilating captors and return to the real world a traumatized-but-living individual. And sure, there are moments of levity – the aforementioned line from Rod is a crowd-pleaser, and Allison Williams drinking milk through a straw and listening to “(I’ve Had) The Time of My Life” while searching for “Top NCAA Basketball Prospects” is one of the funniest images of the year. But as a whole, it works because that final third isn’t funny. It’s straight horror. And that’s what satire does best – it slowly drains away the comedy until you’re left with bitter contempt for a system at large. Hell, even the comedic moments come with a greater understanding of the world around us. Rod’s side quest to rescue his friend, while hysterical as the cops come by in droves to laugh at his theory, delivers a sobering point about the under-investigation and reporting on missing African-Americans in our society. The exchanges with Rose’s family are hilariously awkward, but they speak to how out-of-place African-Americans can feel in a society that still treats them as inferior. And the portrayal of the African-American servants, while chuckle-worthy even as they send chills down your spine, critique the way African-Americans have to portray themselves in public in order to avoid upsetting white people. Comedy is commentary, and it always has been. I get the feeling that the people who are upset this film is being considered a comedy are part of the movement to trivialize the art-form, thinking instead of Dane Cook and Judd Apatow, and less of the way that Tootsie took on sexism in the workplace, Blazing Saddles attacked racism in the Western mythology, and The Apartment took on corporate America. Despite modern perceptions, comedy is anything but trivial, and when a film that’s this funny, this dark, and this special comes along, it shouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of that opportunity.
So that’s my take on Get Out. It is definitely a horror film, and a social thriller, but it also has a strong sense of humor, not unlike the great horror directors of old, like Kubrick, Romero, and Todd. It’s a film that blends genres to create a greater understanding of the things in society that we don’t address, and ironically critiques some of the very people out there accusing the ruling of “white privilege” (I’m looking at you, white allies. We are all culpable, and we have to own it). I think the best description I’ve seen of the film comes from L.A. Times film critic Jen Yamato, who attended a special awards-consideration party for the film. The party’s theme was “The Garden Party,” a giant image of Daniel Kaluuya crying (the film’s banner image) was cast across the wall, and a band played jazz covers of Lil Yachty. Yamato tweeted out: “It is a comedy and a horror and a documentary, nominate it in all the categories.” Get Out has no genre. It is its own special film, and any attempt to earn it the nominations it truly deserves should be treated as a godsend.
However, I understand that some of you may feel differently. If you have a different take, or agree with mine, feel free to discuss it in the comments! Thanks for reading, and hopefully I’ll have a new article up in the future.