After a few years of continuous success, Whitest Kids You Know was picked up as a TV show in 2007, and after one season, they moved to the Independent Film Channel where they would continue their run through much critical acclaim, popularity and controversy up until the show ended in 2011. While Moore and Cregger’s foray into feature films was an unmitigated disaster, they are still remembered fondly for their quirky, off-beat sketch TV show. Which is a stroke of luck, because Miss March could have easily killed ANYBODY’s career.
I’m not going to say every sketch they ever created was a good one… Seriously, name any sketch comedy show you can think of, take off your nostalgia goggles, and I guarantee you it had more bombs than you remember it having… But when they were good, their style of comedy could best be described as applying to the following formula; Take a really stupid idea, think it through from every possible angle, present it in the most intelligent way possible without sacrificing laughs, and never skimp on effort or sincerity. It’s because of this formula that they could impress people with concepts like little kids accidentally talking about fingering people, an adult losing control of his inhibitions because it’s Saturday, and two idiots in the back of the school bus having a mutual epiphany about communism without ever appearing to be stupid themselves.
So, what happens when you apply this formula to a smart idea? A story concept that’s ridiculous, but still grounded in believable reality, and actually has some depth and meaning to it? To answer this question, we’re going to take a deeper look at one of Whitest Kids U Know’s most popular and infamous sketches… The Grapist. A clip so well known that I became aware of it’s existence you long before I even knew that Whitest Kids U Know was a thing. Yes, I’m seriously doing this, and for the uninitiated, here’s a link to the clip.
For those of you who didn’t want to view that link, the sketch opens up with two children sleeping snug in their beds. A man dressed up as a bunch of grapes bursts through their wall, yes, just like the Kool-Aid man is famous for doing, scaring the poor kids who demand to know who he is. Instead of answering, the intruder offers them a new grape flavored beverage from a fictitious company called Johnson and Hedges, after which he tells them that he’s going to grrrrrape them in the mouth!
The video pauses, and it’s revealed that these events are happening in a commercial, the director of which is pitching it to three representatives from Johnson and Hedges. They have reservations about the commercial, and one of them claims that it’s use of the word sound way to close… Both phonetically and contextually… Like the word rape. The director is both offended and baffled by this, arguing the merits of his complaint. We go back and forth between the commercial and the reactions its viewers have to it, as WKUK proves just how diverse the concept of an extended rape joke can be.
But is it just a joke about the fact that grape and rape sound similar, tied to one of their more clever concepts? Or is this sketch an allegory for the inevitable conflict between creative intent and critical reception?
Now, to anybody watching this sketch, it’s abundantly clear what’s going on in the pitched commercial. We see an aggressive man in a costume named “The Grapist” screaming at a couple of little kids about how he’s going to grape them in the mouths, and then claiming he’s going to tie them to the radiator, grape them, and then go upstairs and grape their parents, we’re obviously looking at a heavily on-the-nose rape joke. But is that what the creator intended? I don’t think so. His reaction to the implications of a rape comparison sound genuinely shocked and disgusted. It’s feasible that he came up with this entire concept with pure and innocent intentions, with each and every rapey detail coming to him out of a place of creativity, rather than malice. So who’s right? Is it the observer, who echoes the viewer’s thoughts, or the creator, who outright denies them?
Over the last few months, I came under fire on Facebook for making some less than positive interpretations of a couple of popular anime shows. I criticized Noragami for trivializing and belittling the very real problem of depression and suicide by suggesting that no matter what’s going wrong in your life, no matter what hardships you’re under, you won’t even attempt to kill yourself unless a demon attaches to you, and killing that demon magically solves everything… Except for the trouble and hardships that got you to that point in the first place. I also accused Another of being gore porn that straight up sexualizes the deaths of most of the female characters. I was accused of reading too much into the material and perverting the author’s intent… So I guess that means the Johnson and Hedges executive was wrong, and that commercial really was just as innocent as it’s creator claims?
There are other, less self-vindicating examples we can look at. In 2013, Robin Thicke released the music video for his song Blurred Lines, and despite some notable success, the video and accompanying song faced a shitstorm of controversy over what people claimed were overtones of misogyny and sexual aggression. To use a more simple term, it was accused of being ‘rapey’. Not only has Thicke claimed that it’s just a song about him hanging out at a club with his happily married friends, but he’s also publicly called it a feminist song. You can balk at that if you want to, but if that’s what the original creator says his intentions were, does that sweep the more widespread audience reaction under the rug?
There are plenty of other examples of this, too. Tommy Wiseau intended for his magnum opus The Room to be one of the most socially important dramas of our times, but as it turns out, the general public decided to accept it on their own terms, as one of the funniest bad movies of all time. Quiet, a new character from the Metal Gear Solid, has come under fire for being sexualized with her overly revealing outfit. Fans of the MGS franchise have fired back, pointing out that her outfit ties in perfectly with the fundamentals of her character… But ironically not pointing out that she’s wearing way more clothes than Raidan did when he was introduced. Are the feminists right? Are Men’s Rights Advocates right? Should she be viewed as a character, or as a broad representative of women? Each side has a point, and a clear argument to make, but which one is right?
And speaking of MRAs, Gamergaters came under fire with the anime community recently. Well, recently as in the time of this writing. I don’t think this will be posted until November. Anyway, the people at Funimation who were in charge of writing the dub for the anime Prison School decided to take a cheap shot at them… And yes, the writer has admitted the line was written to start a fight. He changed one character’s line from (And I’m paraphrasing, here) “You should look at an upperclassman with more respect” to “Stop staring at me. What are you, one of those Gamergaters?” A huge debate was instantly established as the people who thought the joke was clever and appropriate, and that Gamergaters are terrible people vs. Gamergaters angry at being called out for no reason and non-Gamergaters furious at Tyson Rhinehart for abusing his writing responsibilities for his own personal agenda. I even brought up the idea that the joke will become badly dated in a few years, to which Jamie Marchi herself replied that it makes the show into a period piece.
This is an instance where the creator clearly defines his intent, admits he was trying to start a fight, and then royally makes himself look like an immature hack by responding to the people he insulted, claiming they’re horrible people who deserve to be mocked, and thoroughly makes an ass of himself, and yet thousands of people still stand beside him and claim it was a sensible artistic decision. At the same time, people like myself who have no love in their hearts whatsoever for the Gamergate movement or those involved in it are defending them, claiming that even awful people deserve to be treated fairly in the media… not necessarily in a positive light, but at least in a fair light. This is evidence of a cold, hard truth… The intent of a creator only matters to them and the people who agree with them. What is, and has always been more important than intent, is perspective.
What The Grapist illustrates is the importance of perspective. A fictional work, much like any work of art, will mean different things to different people. Each viewer, as well as the original creator, will take something different away from it, and no one answer is truly correct, even if the creator states otherwise. This is why there’s no such thing as an objectively bad movie… Because it’s all a matter of personal perspective and experience. This is why, when you let people know what your interpretation of a piece of art is, you’re not stating cold hard facts… You’re making an argument, to which the more mature of us would expect either an additional perspective or a counter-argument. Does The Grapist touch on a deep or profound issue? No, but it is an issue worth thinking about.
Hell, even the interpretation I’m giving about The Grapist is only an analysis from my perspective. It’s entirely possible… In fact, knowing the style of humor that WKUK followed, it’s also incredibly likely… That somebody on their crew just happened to notice that the word Grape rhymed with the word Rape, came up with the term Grapist, and decided to write a sketch that would exploit this joke to the fullest. I might be the only person on Earth who watched that clip and found depth in it. Does that mean I’m wrong? I don’t think it does. But then again, that’s why it’s just my perspective. So the next time you see somebody saying something you don’t like or disagree with in relation to a fiction that you love, don’t be afraid to engage them over it, and especially don’t be afraid to hold your ground, but don’t take it too personally. They’re criticizing the story, not you for liking it. Debate the meanings behind a piece of art like respectful adults, or I’ll tie you to the radiator and grape you.