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Happy Birthday, Son: The Kids in the Hall vs. the Male Rite of Passage

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Thursday, Aug 12, 2010

In the Delaware tribe of Native Americans, when a young boy begins to reach manhood, he is to undertake a “vision quest”, going into the woods alone to forge for himself and reach a greater spiritual awareness. To that boy’s counterpart in modern middle-class society, this may sound insane. This could be because that particular demographic is woefully displaced from the greater spiritual concerns of more indigenous peoples. Or it could be that those suburbanites’ own rites of passage are just as insane.


“Becoming a Man” is one of the six sketches troupe member Bruce McCulloch also directed for The Kids in the Hall. The sketch originally aired in 1993, and it deftly shows McCulloch’s fondness for exposing the surreality of the North American socio-cultural experience. As Chad’s father gets more and more drunk, McCulloch’s use of quick cuts captures the young boy’s jarring encounter with the grown-up world, as does the expression on the uncredited child actor’s face.  Also turning in a grand performance is troupe member Kevin McDonald. The Kids in the Hall as a troupe often played the female roles in their sketches, but in this case, it especially helps to lighten the darker undertone of the sketch, to provide a sort of comic relief, as it were. McDonald also aptly portrays the suburban mom: completely out of the loop as to the events of the day and left in the wake, forced to keep the party going, a smile plastered to her face. But upon Chad’s return, that genuine smile of understanding lets the audience know that Chad has at least some positive emotional base at home.


The rite of passage for young boys in our modern society is rarely heralded by fanfare; in fact, it is rarely acknowledged at all and has become more and more individualized over the years. But as The Kids in the Hall skews the tradition, it seems the greatest rite of passage, the one in common for all young men, is the day they realize their parents—and by extension, all adults—are as scared and weak and confused by life as they themselves are.


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