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Kick Ass Controversy

January 31, 2011

“Okay you cunts, let’s see what you can do now.” – Hit Girl

Most critics responded well to Kick Ass. It received strong reviews and was hailed as a hugely enjoyable and subversive spin on superhero movies. I approached the film from a position of familiarity with the comic book work of scribe Mark Millar, whose comic book of the same name was adapted for the screen (although he reportedly raised the idea as a film initially with director Matthew Vaughn and screenwriter Jane Goldman before writing the comic itself), and subsequently didn’t find it all that shocking in terms of the kind of material Millar and other offbeat, “mature-readers”, comic book writers have produced over the years. Mark Millar was also the writer behind the comic book Wanted, the story of a young loser who discovers that he’s actually a super-villain, and it featured some truly subversive content and extreme humour. The main character there confronted a Latino gang with the line “Hey, do you know why spics smell? So blind people can hate them too.” and, later, another character paraphrased a PJ O’Rourke quip, “You say fascist as if it’s a bad thing but have you ever met a woman who fantasizes about being tied up and raped by a liberal?” Needless to say, none of this content found its way into the eventual screen adaptation with Angelina Jolie and James MacAvoy, a film that resembled the original comic in title only. I found Kick Ass overall a very fun flick (and it’s far better than the terribly shitty Wanted) but the reviews I had read beforehand had primed me for something greater and more groundbreaking.

The film generated a lot of press on the back of the wonderfully amusing character Hit Girl, played by the actress Chloë Moretz, who was 11-years-old at the time of filming. Moretz was the driving force behind the most effective moments of black humour in Kick Ass as her character indulged in moments of hyperkinetic ultraviolence whilst uttering frequent profanities, and she is widely recognized as having stolen the film with her superb performance. Predictably, uncensored trailer footage of Moretz uttering the word “cunts” and chopping off the legs of nameless henchmen caused an oxymoronic mild uproar that was itself a mere prelude to the proper controversy that got underway following the general release of the film. Roger Ebert didn’t find the depiction of children committing sickening violence all that funny, condemning the film as “morally reprehensible”, but in the UK it fell to a critic employed by The Daily Mail to really jump the shark in his critique of Kick Ass and launch an attack replete with some rather hysterical conclusions. Chris Tookey declared Hit Girl a “sexually aggressive” character depicted to look “as seductive as possible”. He stated “paedophiles are going to love her” before inferring a link between having Hit Girl swearing on screen with underage sex amongst teens and rehashing the old canard that the scenes of the child superhero character wielding guns and knives would possibly inspire real-world consequences with kids looking to emulate her. Not content with the impact of his Paedogeddon musings, he also alluded to the infamous child murders of James Bulger and Damilola Taylor in a stunningly shameless attempt to somehow connect those tragedies with a film he hadn’t enjoyed. Reading The Daily Mail is a rather sordid activity that will drive one inexorably closer to a state of abject fuckwittery with each passing minute so this isn’t something I took great pains to delve too deeply into, and I don’t recommend others make any such similar attempts. However, Tookey’s review generated a heated backlash of people raising suspicions of his perception of Hit Girl as overtly sexualized, with many concluding that Tookey himself was likely one of the paedophiles he was so fervently warning against (as well as assertions that he likely sucks donkey’s dicks and responds to sexual invitations from dogs). Tookey, seemingly surprised at receiving an enthusiastic torrent of online abuse from teenagers anonymous and otherwise responded with further articles claiming that he was a victim of cyber-bullying and drew parallels with his experience to that of a number of distraught youngsters who had killed themselves  after being tormented on social networking sites. Most of the sexuality he was perceiving in Kick Ass was conveyed through the phallic symbolism of all the guns, apparently, and it should be obvious to anyone, “especially professional critics”.

"She was like John Rambo meets Polly Pocket."

Anyone familiar with this tabloid will know that daft moral crusades and accompanying narrow-minded rhetoric are its bread and butter but there remains something altogether futile and tedious about all this hot air. As becomes increasingly true with each passing day, there is no such thing as bad publicity and the only people likely to heed the warnings of Ebert and Tookey were well out with the target demographic of Kick Ass anyway (Ebert admitted as much in his review). I once watched a television programme on Elvis Presley that featured early footage of his career and public reaction to him at the time. At one point, a middle-aged couple stood beside a sign reading “Whites Only” in front of the petrol station they owned and explained how the manner in which Elvis Presley swung his hips onstage represented a threat to civilization itself. Elvis was once a hugely controversial figure, a subversive cultural phenomenon, but the very idea that Elvis Presley poses any kind of threat or corrupting influence now is utterly ridiculous and it has been so for some time. Not only are such controversies invariably phoney media bullshit, they also don’t last very long at all and the fleeting memory that certain films, books, songs or other artworks were once regarded as offensive prompts little other than baffled amusement. Chris Tookey was at one time the leading campaigner against David Cronenberg’s Crash and it should surprise no one remotely sane that the film, and the novel it had been adapted from (published decades before the film was made), failed to inspire members of the public to emulate the content therein and begin deliberately crashing their cars in order to become intensely sexually aroused. This despite the seemingly sincere, outraged warnings spewing forth from Tookey and his ilk.

Time never fails to unveil the censorious, morally panicked buffoons as the clowns they truly are but I want to argue against the interim period. Such people, and the publications paying them for their screeds of palpable nonsense, should be dismissed immediately as these manufactured controversies are all merely tomorrow’s irrelevant silliness-in-waiting.

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