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Thinking pop culture

The Vagaries of Vulgarity and Honour Among Perverts

Vulgaria - now showing.

Some of my favourite films – Marnie and Elegy and Secretary and Mammoth and Happiness – each have single-word titles.

Pretending however, that I went to see Vulgaria because I had hopes that it would reach those lofty heights would be fraudulent. I saw it because I’m interested in the “dirty”: just what constitutes filth? Offence? Vulgarity? Perversion?

To (Chapman To Man-chak) is a struggling film producer who’s taken money from Triad gangster Brother Tyrannosaurus (Ronald Cheng). Together, they’ll remake a porn classic.

So is it vulgar? Did it warrant the verbose warning at the beginning? Did it really need to offer a ten-second pause to allow the freaked-out to exit early?

Sex with mules.

Fellatio with a mouth full of Pop Rocks.

Cow vagina served with pickled vegetables.

Yep, there’s some stuff that justifies the MA15+ rating. That said, is it anything that we haven’t seen before?

Vulgaria is pretty much a Chinese Adam Sandler film. Not good Sandler like Funny People or Punch Drunk Love, but bad Sandler like… well, everything else he’s done. It’s sophomoric and it’s forgettable.

But I’m of the camp that believes all art has its offerings. For Vulgaria and it’s a fantastic example of sexual hypocrisy.

I mentioned the mules earlier. So Brother Tyrannosaurus likes mule sex. In fact he’s in a relationship with one. Brother’s T’s predilections don’t end there though: he brings a couple of mules to dinner and insists To has sex with one.

Later, Brother T discovers that To didn’t use a condom. And he’s revolted. So revolted in fact, that he doesn’t want to continue sharing a table with the producer.

I love this! I love that even the most perverted of characters has standards: Brother T forced To to have sex with the mule, but evidently not using a condom makes To the filthy bastard.

This sexual spin on the honour among thieves idea is not a new one, of course.

In a scene from Stieg Larsson’s book The Girl Who Played With Fire (2009), the protagonist, Lisbeth, wanted to lure forward her sadistic father to allow her reach to attack him. To do this, she suggested he come closer for sex. Her father — a brutal, murderous, sadistic sex trafficker — declined saying, “No, thanks, all the same. That would be perverse.”

In an episode of the spectacular television series House, a father held no remorse about having had sex with his daughter; he was, however, visibly disgusted when he discovered that she was biologically male.

House opening credits.

In one episode of Big Love, polygamist Lois (Grace Zabriskie) referred to monogamous couples as “sickos.”

Big Love opening credits.

I love that in these scenes even the kinkiest of kinks are shown to have their limits, to have their own set of norms and boundaries and things that make them queasy.

Shock horror, even the kinky have standards! And even the kinky can be hypocrits. Because even the kinky are normal.

I’ve written a lot about perversion, about how sex and sexual interests - more so than any other practice - too often come to define a person; that an interest like sadomasochism or cross-dressing or panda-costume wearing becomes the total of a person’s identity far quicker than any other identity attributes. Cue an old, crude but poignant joke.

I wouldn’t say Vulgaria is worth seeing for that one scene. It does however, provide a nice reminder that for good and bad, we’re all more complicated creatures than what we do under our doonas.

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