The Taming of the Dude: ‘Catherine’ and the Sex Comedy

My fellow Moving Pixels contributor, Kris Ligman, said recently of Catherine that it is “not as misogynistic as I’d feared.”(Catherine Is Fun to Play but That’s About It”, PopMatters, 8 August 2011). I’m not quite sure how misogynistic she expected Catherine to be, but it is definitely a game with a plot that is not especially sensitive to its female characters. A clear and stereotypical binary is established between the two female leads. Katherine, the protagonist Vincent’s longtime girlfriend, largely serves the role of “the shrew” throughout the story. While the younger woman in Vincent’s life, the succubus Catherine, serves the role of “the slut.” However, the plot falls very much into the tradition of farce, a form of comedy in which such extreme stereotype, is generally the rule. Farce is not especially known for its fully rounded characters, as it wants to include broadly drawn characters to allow for the potential for social critique as well as the most absurd humor possible. After all, such comedy is usually comprised of a parade of fools that we are intended to laugh at, not necessarily sympathize with.

The extreme negativity towards femininity extends into its portrayals of men as well, though. In this regard, the farce is often as much misandrist as it is misogynist in its portrayal of its cast. This seems to me to be the case with Catherine, as its distrust of women in controlling men (through nagging and ultimatum in the case of Katherine or through sexual manipulation in the case of Catherine) is — at least during the bulk of the story — equal to its distrust of men to basically be capable of getting their shit together.

Masculine “types” are introduced to us through a cast of minor male players that co-inhabit Vincent’s favorite watering hole, the Stray Sheep bar. All three of these characters become stereotypical representatives of male attitudes. Toby is inexperienced and seemingly the most “boyish” of the group (though all of these characters demonstrate enough immaturity that they tend towards less than adult attitudes — their worldviews are so narrowed by their typologies that hardly any thoughtful consideration of an issue is possible for any one of them). He plays the part of and speaks with the voice of the Fool throughout the story. Orlando is Toby’s seeming opposite, as he is divorced — in other words, he’s “been there, done that.” The most overt misogynist in the cast, his misogyny seems born of his experience with his ex-wife. Her infidelity has left him embittered towards women. He wants to sleep with them, but caring about them has now become to him a clear error in judgment. Rounding out this triumvirate, Jonny might seem to represent a much more positive masculine figure. Brooding and idealistic, he is the dark haired, dark eyed romantic, discussing partners that men are “destined for” and, thus, seems the most sensitive of the group. However, the nightmare reveals Jonny’s façade, as he cannot actually live up to his own ideals and is much a cheater as any other man in the world of Catherine.

This leaves us, of course, with our hero, Vincent, a slacker and drunk, who when his girlfriend of five years, Katherine, begins to place a bit of pressure on him concerning marriage, begins an affair with a younger woman and whose dreams come to represent his flight from the possible responsibilities that marriage might represent.

I have found myself struggling a bit when discussing Catherine with fellow gamers in classifying the game’s comedy. It is, as I mentioned before, farce, and as such, I keep wanting to call it sex farce or bedroom farce, two subgenres that are not especially common in American comedy. Zany antics, mistaken identities, and bed hopping frequently occur in these more often European (especially British comedies). Americans tend to seem (at least of late) to prefer sex to only reside in comedies which titter at breasts and genitals rather than those that might confront the political or social concerns surrounding sexuality and relationships.

In that regard, the only recent sex comedy that I can think of in American cinema that might want to critique the notions of marriage, responsibility, and obligation is — maybe — Knocked Up. Frankly, barring Woody Allen movies, the sex comedy about adults seems to be one that has largely been missing from the American scene since the late 1970s or maybe the 1980s. Dudley Moore, Bo Derek, and Julie Andrews turns in 10 represent comedic stereoptypes that might serve to describe the kinds of characters caught up in the type of story that Catherine is interested in telling. Indeed, these characters very much resemble the attitudes of Catherine’s characters with a man uncertain about settling down being pulled at from both sides, on the one, by a woman insisting on responsibility and decorum, and on the other, by the fantasy of a woman that represents freedom and sexual gratification without consequence.

What many of these cinematic examples (and their misandry) come down to is a distrust of men’s seemingly innate irresponsibility (featuring as these comedies do slackers and layabouts as representative of masculine normativity), and the need for men to come to their senses, get their shit together, and get married. Dudley Moore’s character “learns his lesson” as the open, progressive attitudes of “the slut” teach him that he needs to get his ass home and act like a grown up again (because “the shrew” represents morality and decency and marriage to her will get him back on that track).

In this regard, much of the driving force of Catherine’s ethics seems to be moralistic in its similar consideration of marriage as the means of “taming the dude.” Its dichotomy for masculinity rests on the moral barometer that helps to determine its multiple endings, which is one that suggests that men can be either lawful or chaotic by maintaining attitudes that either support responsibility or allow for individual freedom. It is interesting that if Vincent chooses to be with either the shrewish (and thus responsible) Katherine or the slutty (and thus carefree) Catherine that marriage is still the only way for him to grow and move on with his life. The barometer’s extreme ends both boil down to this traditional means of taming men’s seemingly wayward instincts and end up ironically representing a single ideal, marriage. However, unlike most moralistic sex comedies, a third alternative is proposed that does leave Vincent a bachelor. In order to achieve such “true freedom,” though, he has to leave any kind of recognizable and familiar cultural environment at all. He, like the undomesticated, unmarried cowboy heads off to the frontier, in this more contemporary instance by leaving earth for space.

Because if the dude can’t be tamed, he may not be something that we can trust to reside among us.


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