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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Let us celebrate Billy Madison and other Sandler-created classics of revolutionary cinema

Illustration for article titled Let us celebrate Billy Madison and other Sandler-created classics of revolutionary cinema
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Adam Sandler is many things. He’s a stand-up comedian, the star of approximately half of Netflix’s original comedies, and a Saturday Night Live veteran soon to host his very own episode. He is also, it turns out, a hidden subversive who uses movies about roaring boy-men in backward baseball caps to criticize the failings of capitalist society.


Miles Klee, in an article for Mel Magazine, offers a pretty persuasive argument for Sandler’s early films representing a “[challenge to] the grim authority and corruption of American empire.” While the first memories associated with mid-’90s Sandler movies like Billy Madison and Happy Gilmore are likely to have more to do with Nudie Magazine Day and Bob Barker fight scenes, Klee wants us to consider the revolutionary subtext embedded in these stories.

Billy Madison, for example, is the tale of “the drunk layabout idiot son of a hotel magnate” whose position as heir to the family business is only jeopardized when he embarrasses his dad at an important dinner. The villain he’s up against is an executive set to take over the company who’s “finally undone by his total failure to produce one cogent thought on the topic of business ethics.”

In Happy Gilmore, Sandler gives us the tale of “a populist hero against a backdrop of obscene wealth and elitism” who wants to earn money playing professional golf only to save his poor grandmother’s house. Gilmore upends high society by hiring a homeless caddy (“an act of radical solidarity with the impoverished”) and ultimately triumphs over “the snobbish and vindictive Shooter McGavin.” One of the final scenes sees the evil McGavin “chased offscreen by an angry mob for stealing a championship jacket he hasn’t won—a perfect ‘eat the rich’ moment.”

Klee highlights other films, from Mr. Deeds to The Wedding Singer, that show Sandler’s movies as a collection thematically linked by their hatred for corporate greed and praise for the kind, blue-collar workers who humbly emerge victorious in the end of every story.

While he does point out that Sandler’s a registered Republican, there’s no denying that his work has a distinct, recurring message. And while much of the capitalist critique identified above is subtle, there’s certainly no denying that Billy Madison’s dueling shampoo and conditioner bottles introduced many young viewers to dialectics—a foundational concept to grasp on the road to Marxism.

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Contributor, The A.V. Club. Reid's a writer and editor who has appeared at GQ, Playboy, and Paste. He also co-created and writes for videogame sites Bullet Points Monthly and Digital Love Child.