Please welcome Seattle theatre artist Roland Carette-Meyers, who writes his first 10YA piece on Blades of Glory, “oppression as comedy,” and Jay Z.
Blades of Glory: Wherein I reflect on how fucking great Watch the Throne is
Ten years ago, I was taking the final steps to ensure graduation from art school. I was telling my teachers and family that I would be taking a gap year before college and I was looking for a place to live on my own, a nice studio that looked out over the Port of Tacoma. Ten years ago I had hair down to my chest and was that vegetarian that made your meals difficult. I was working pest control and thought that those pictures of George W. that made him look like Hitler were super edgy and made any difference to anything.
I’ve been reading this blog (am I using that word correctly?) since my wife, Kiki (read as: Life Copilot), started writing for it last year, and what struck me more than anything was that ten years ago might as well have been another planet. We’re looking back at these films and memories and moments as though they’re unknowable Prothean relics.
I played with a lot of fire ten years ago. For example, I was way into Limewire. (You know, that early peer-to-peer software that allowed you to either download a movie or to blow your computer up with an actual stick of dynamite?) One of my first Limewire victories (read as: one time I didn’t explode my laptop) was Blades of Glory, which even then I knew was little more than a high-budget dumpster fire. I was still requoting Elf, Anchorman, and Will Ferrell’s mad rad SNL tenure. Talladega Nights was a bit of a fucking waste of my time, but I had faith and so ten years ago, I huddled up to the dumpster fire and laughed at least a little. Snap back to March of 2017, wherein I receive a politely worded invitation to my ten-year fucking high school fucking reunion. No better time for an existential crisis and intentional reflection on everything wrong with this terrible movie, right?
So last night, Life Copilot at my side and a line of IPAs at the ready, I set forth.
Blades of Glory, produced by none other than auteur and legend Ben Stiller (lolololololololol), tells the ~beautiful~ story of two rivals hitting rock bottom at the hands of their own egos, and then overcoming doubt and prejudice to reclaim what they thought was irretrievably lost (dignity?). It also tells the story of Peacock Napoleon Dynamite and Sexual Predator Ron Burgundy scissoring on the ice, and we were supposed to laugh because a) they were two dudes whose junk was touching, and b) OMG THAT’S HOW LESBIANS MAKE SEX ISN’T IT I LEARNED THAT FROM THE INTERNET!!
This moment is very emblematic of the film’s underpinning thesis: Queerness is Fun
In the first moment we meet Sexual Predator Ron Burgundy, women are rubbing their reasonably priced pink underwear on his cheek and flinging themselves at this crotch. He is described as an “ice-devouring sex tornado” and Peacock Napoleon Dynamite is laughed off as a hyperfeminine waif. I am supposed to laugh at this juxtaposition: figure skating is supposed to be super “gay,” so the trope of the hypersexual cowboy being turned on its head in a “Feminine” sport like figure skating is meant to be hilarious. I am supposed to laugh at hairy man knuckles delicately wrapped around bony man hip when the two are (spoilers) forced to work together later in the film. In 2007, a lot of us did laugh at this. At this time there was only one state in the Union that recognized gay marriage.
Sexual Predator defends his masculinity by comparing Peacock to a girl and Peacock defends himself, landing the two in front of a figure-skating tribunal headed by Broadway’s William Daniels, AKA John Adams from the stage and screen classic, 1776.
Broadway’s John Adams lays down the law and the two are banned from the sport. Sexual Predator thinks it is funny to describe something not to his liking as “retarded.” This is designed to make us laugh. I probably laughed at this in 2007. Looking back? I used this word a lot to describe shit I didn’t like. That behavior was and is unacceptable. Come the fuck on, Will.
It is important to note here that the rest of this big bad figure skating tribunal is comprised of actual figure skating legends: Nancy Kerrigan and Dorothy Hamill, for example… but no Michelle Kwan, the most decorated skater in the history of the sport, which is especially important to note because about thirty minutes later, we are treated to a lewd story about Kwan from Sexual Predator Ron Burgundy.
This illustrates the film’s second big idea: People of Color are props.
“Three and a half years later,” Sexual Predator discovers that performing in “on ice” shows written for children is a really as tequila-soaked and degrading as you think it is, while Peacock uses a box cutter for the first time ever, apparently.
I’ll spare you a play-by-play of much of the rest of the movie, as it’s basically 90 minutes of “Wait, why did we think that was funny?” and product placement. We are treated to the second-best of the two Will Ferrell bunk bed scenes I can remember and Craig T. Nelson wearing a series of increasingly comfy-looking sweaters. There’s a joke about Italian currency. I don’t know what else to say about that except to point at it quizzingly.
We are also subjected to an unrelenting volley of homophobic rants where Sexual Predator and Peacock try to emasculate one another on the ice. We see John Heder’s reasonably average skinny dude body.
About 40 minutes into the movie, a person of color finally has the chance to make any impact on the plot and he teaches the leading pair some elaborate choreography. (The only other person of color that even touches the story is a young boy in a bathroom who knocks over a trash can.)
This goes on for a while and they eventually do, of course, end up winning the “Winter Sport Games” through death-defying CGI, but who gives a shit? The plot relies so heavily on homophobia, toxic masculinity, testicle-smashing, and whitewashing for its comedy and is bad and boring. As Life Copilot put it: “This is so dumb.”
I don’t mean to suggest that these 93 minutes were purely wasted—we got to watch BoJack Horseman and Leslie Knope emotionally manipulate Pam Beesly, and that’s pretty great. (For fucking real, the first second Will Arnett is on screen was my first real laugh. Not even this terrible movie can make Will Arnett not funny.)
I knew this was a bad movie rooted in white boy bro biases, I knew that then and I knew it when I first raised my hand and asked to write for this pillar of film journalism. Why? Three words: WATCH. THE. THRONE.
In 2011 this film had a bit of a moment in Jay Z and Kanye West’s astonishing collaboration, “Ni**as in Paris.” Kanye describes the song as an articulation of his very core: “I am where art meets commercial. The sweet spot between the hood and Hollywood… Jeezy in Paris, that’s what it is.” Stuck in the middle is a sample of some Blades of Glory dialogue:
“We’re gonna skate to one song and one song only…”
“I don’t even know what that means!”
“No one knows what it means, but it’s provocative—”
“—no it’s not-!”
“—it gets the people going!”
In 2011, we were celebrating wealth and extravagance and the brilliance of two of the leading artists of our time (together known as Jeezy). Our hair was too long and we were stuck in relationships we weren’t too happy with. In 2011, I was applying for graduate school and I found myself reflecting a lot on what 2007 and the college application process meant for me.
In 2007, my hair was too long and I didn’t have my driver’s license. In 2011, I still hadn’t admitted to myself that I was in love with Life Copilot. In 2017, I’m as unsure as ever about most everything (except, of course, that I love Kiki super a lot—no doubts there, duh). In 2011, I lost my shit to the Watch the Throne tour, where Jeezy smashed through five renditions of “Ni**as in Paris” and I went hoarse from screaming and was still a little drunk on the bottle of wine I had inhaled on the ride down. (I was in the passenger seat, calm your shit.)
What does any of this have to do with Blades of Glory?
Ten years ago, I had no idea where I was going. Six years ago, I was still lost. But there is something constant, something that was the same then as it is now… Blades of Glory is fucking terrible. It preys on oppression and hate for its few laughs and how dare you waste Leslie Knope on incest humor? Another constant? Jay Z is the best rapper alive.