Hollywood Can’t Get It Up: Superbad and the Retreat from the Erotic

The MPAA tag explaining the R rating it gave to Superbad is almost hilarious in its exhaustiveness. (It’s also one of the longest I’ve ever seen.) “Rated R,” it says, “for pervasive crude and sexual content, strong language, drinking, some drug use and a fantasy/comic violent image – all involving teens.” I imagine those last three words italicized and written in boldface, though the MPAA doesn’t actually do it that way. They seem written to be spoken aloud with a sudden exhaling of breath, or through gritted teeth, as if in a last-ditch effort to dissuade anybody’s mom or dad from accompanying them to a screening of Superbad. Won’t somebody think of the teens?

Not so many years ago, Clerks was threatened with an NC-17 because somebody at CARA thought one scene contained too much talk about blow jobs. But that film’s dick-sucking diatribe seems downright quaint compared to the awesome sustained vulgarity of Superbad, which opens with star Jonah Hill discussing a (fictional?) online porn site called “Vag-tastic Voyage” and ends with a lengthy (and, amusingly, kind of disturbing) cartoon-penis montage. However, the MPAA ratings board seems to have gotten tired of hearing how repressive it is, and has gone into a sort of crouched, defensive position, giving a rating to stuff like Hostel 2 (“rated R for sadistic scenes of torture and bloody violence, terror, nudity, sexual content, language and” — wait for it! — “some drug content”) with a wrinkled nose and a sigh.

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