The Gayest Thing About The Babadook is that He Barely Appears Onscreen

Writing about memes is silly business. By the time I publish this piece, it will have been well over a week since the story of the Babadook’s strange path to becoming an LGBTQ icon peaked, which in internet terms is a relative eternity. It’s still a funny story, though. Reportedly, a Netflix user noticed that the Jennifer Kent-directed instant cult classic horror The Babadook had been mistakenly filed under the LGBTQ Cinema category on the site’s streaming service. Users across social media platforms like Tumblr & Twitter then ran with the mistake, declaring the Babadook to be a gay icon. There has since been an immeasurable flood of memes inserting the Babadook into rainbow flag backdrops, stills from RuPaul’s Drag Race, and any other queer spaces that could easily be ‘Dooked. There have even been in-the-flesh sightings of the Babadook at Pride parades and the filming of the Drag Race finale. It’s been a bizarrely fun way to kick off 2017’s Pride Month​ celebrations and, unlike most memes, I hope this one never dies.

On one of our fist posts as a site, we declared The Babadook to be one of the best films of 2014, a very close second to the South Korean sci-fi epic Snowpiercer. We did not, however, have Netflix’s courage to declare that the film qualifies as LGBTQ content. It’s funny to return to Kent’s film now in search for glimpses of queerness, a context that was presumably far from anyone’s mind, Kent’s or otherwise, when it was first produced. It’s easy to make flippant jokes (and plenty have) about the Babadook’s dramatic presence in the arts (a children’s book about himself), how he’s a fancy dresser (complete with a signature top hat), how he’s kept locked away in a closet (actually, it’s a basement, but whatever), and his tendency to chat at length on the phone (about himself). If you really want to reach for something more substantive, I guess you could find interesting subtext by looking to the scene where the main character is prevented from masturbating with her ancient sex toy as an act of sexual oppression or by considering the fact that the Babadook himself is oppressed but never truly goes away as a kind of metaphorical struggle. The joke, though, is not necessarily that the film The Babadook is gay, but that its titular character is. This is still a film about a parent’s daily struggle with grief, depression, and resentment of their own child. The monstrous manifestation of that struggle, the Babadook, just happens to be a gay character within that story (according to current kayfabe, at least).

Keeping that separation of narrative and character in mind, there is something undeniably gay about the Babadook: he barely appears onscreen. In GLAAD’s recent scathing report on LGBTQ​ representation in major Hollywood productions, the organization took major studios like Disney & Sony to task for the pitifully minuscule amount of screentime they afforded queer characters in 2016. In one of the most absurd (and most damning) factoids from the report, it’s stated that the Lonely Island comedy Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping accounted for 20% of all LGBTQ representation in major Hollywood productions last year, all because of a single Macklemore-spoofing song that satirizes a “no homo” brand of mainstream queer acceptance. Yet, you’d think that things were getting better than the report suggests, thanks to overblown flashes of queer representation like a suggestive campfire confession in the latest Power Rangers movie or an equally vague hint of LeFou’s homosexuality in the latest Beauty and the Beast. Audiences desperate for queer content will look for same sex romance in slightly suggestive friendships between characters like Poe & Finn in The Force Awakens or Steve & Bucky in the Captain America series, despite there being very little to support it, even in terms of subtext. Fans have to reach for those unspoken romances & declarations of queer identity because there’s nothing explicit to hold onto in most mainstream Hollywood productions. Worse yet, corporations like Disney will encourage this desperation because it sells tickets in certain demographics, yet they will do little to follow through on the promise.

The Babadook knows the struggle between lip service & onscreen representation all too well. His name is often spoken and his 2D image sometimes flashes in the form of his eponymous children’s book, but Babs himself does not appear onscreen until over halfway into the film. He’s relegated to the shadows, mostly locked away from eyesight, and the audience is blocked from getting the ‘Dook they want so badly. If we’re going to establish as a culture that the Babadook is gay, we’re also going to have to accept that the way he’s villainized and minimized in his own damn movie is sadly typical of how queer characters are represented onscreen. As an Australian indie director working on a minor budget, Jennifer Kent is far from a Hollywood big shot (and, breaking kayfabe for a minute, The Babadook is far from an LGBTQ film). It is funny, though, that as her horror genre monster has been gleefully co-opted as a queer icon that his minimized screen presence incidentally mirrors the way LGBTQ characters are typically represented (or not represented) in major Hollywood productions. It’s almost as funny as it is monstrously depressing.

-Brandon Ledet

Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever (2014)

EPSON MFP image

three star

campstamp

Do I have a soft spot for talking animal movies or something? Earlier this year I found perverse entertainment in the talking dog pro wrestling movie Russell Madness and then presented the talking-pig-saves-the-day epic Babe 2: Pig in the City for our August Movie of the Month selection. And now I’m here to report that the Lifetime Original Movie Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever isn’t actually all that bad. “Not actually all that bad” is far from high praise, I know, but for a made-for-TV movie about an internet meme in which the main character repeatedly breaks the fourth wall to complain about how awful the movie is, it’s a fairly surprising distinction. Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever knows exactly what kind of movie it is & doesn’t pretend to be anything more. It self-references its protagonist’s meme fame by adopting I Can Haz Cheezburger font for multiple gags. It willingly points out when it subs a stunt puppet for the real Grumpy. It “jokingly” promotes Grumpy Cat merchandise with little to no pretence. When its self-described “sappy melodrama” plot kicks into high gear, Grumpy complains “Don’t get sappy on me. Oh wait, I forgot. It’s a Lifetime Movie. Go ahead.” Self-deprecation & self-referential humor can sometimes be low hanging fruit, but it kinda works for this movie, given the limited possibilities of its Grumpy Cat: The Movie premise.

I guess a lot of what saves Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever from being the worst movie ever is in the casting of Aubrey Plaza as Grumpy Cat’s voice over (and as Aubrey Plaza in a sound booth). Just like when Plaza played a live-action Daria Morgendorffer in a spoof trailer comedy sketch a few summers back, the casting just makes way too much sense. Her comedic persona is basically of a human cat, right? Her wry, detached, disinterested sense of humor sets the bar so underachievingly low here (in a good way!) that it’s always possible for the movie to succeed. The plot involves some kind of depressive Gordy situation where only one grumpy preteen girl can hear Grumpy Cat talk. This girl gets mixed up in a small-time heist situation involving two rock & roll douches & a Peep Beep Meme Creep mall cop dweeb. While she thwarts their evil deeds Grumpy Cat shows zero interest in getting involved in the goings on. She just sorta riffs on the idiocy of the plot, hanging back, essentially life-tweeting/hate-watching her own movie. Imagine a family comedy with its own MST3k commentary built in, but skewing to a younger crowd & you pretty much get the picture.

Even though it aims a younger audience, though, the movie manages to get a few subversive jabs in there. It introduces its shopping mall setting as “a soul-sucking bastion of consumerism which serves to drain people’s bank accounts and alienate them from the true meaning of life.” Plaza also injects a lot of her own comedic persona into the role, especially in the way she calls her costars “terrible human beings” & “witches”. There are plenty of non sequitur asides distracting from the plot, but the most fucked up of all is a brief tangent in which Grumpy Cat is sentenced to prison (the pound) & promptly executed (put down). Quite the light-hearted gag, that. Worse yet is an exchange after the whole botched heist ordeal concludes & Grumpy Cat’s human’s mother asks her formerly-grumpy child, “Those guys didn’t do anything to you, did they?” & Grumpy Cat responds “That’s a different kind of Lifetime Movie.” I know this is a movie about a cat with a mean streak, but yikes. That one’s got bite.

For the most part, though, the moments I enjoyed most about Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever weren’t subversive at all. The film works best when it embraces its own hokey stupidity. When Grumpy is propped up in front of a green screen to simulate driving, flying, setting off explosions, or going Rambo with a cat-sized automatic paint gun are dumb & simple enough to get by on their own half-assed charm. My favorite moment of all in Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever, though, is Plaza’s line-reading of “We’re in a movie!” during the film’s action-packed climax. It’s a sublimely dumb moment in a thoroughly dumb movie about “the Internet’s biggest cash cat”. In 2014, Grumpy Cat seemed to be doing a lazy, half-hearted victory lap, soaking up the last of her short-term fame in moves like appearing on Monday Night Raw & starring in her own Christmas movie. Anyone tuning in for a dumb made-for-TV Christmas movie about a cantankerous cat should be well-prepared for what’s delivered here, especially considering how the film warns you of its emptiness with early onscreen references to Keyboard Cat & Nyan Cat (come to think of it, Lil Bub was snubbed). Grumpy Cat’s  Worst Christmas Ever doesn’t ask much of itself, which is oddly enough what makes the whole thing work in its own diminutive way. Well, that & Aubrey Plaza, who is delightful in her refusal to be delightful.

-Brandon Ledet