As we recover from the holidays, many of us recall the times when watching something—anything—as a family was preferable to enduring another post-dinner hangout session where Uncle Jeremy inevitably picks a fight about Libertarians, or whatever. In that spirit, we’re asking you a question we last asked way back in 2012:
What awkward pop culture experience have you shared with relatives?
My parents were big Monty Python fans, and were happy to expose me to the group’s deeply silly worldview from a very early age. (And thus probably owe an apology to anyone forced to spend more than an hour with me at any point over the last 30 years.) I have distinct memories of Monty Python And The Holy Grail being shown on PBS when I was maybe 9 or 10, and them letting me stay up past my usual bedtime to laugh along happily at the witch-burning scene and the bloody chaos of the Black Knight. Holy Grail is less perverse than, say, Life Of Brian—no exposed Graham Chapman penis here—but I think my parents had forgotten about the Castle Anthrax sequence with Michael Palin’s Sir Galahad and the castle full of comely maidens. One innocent, “Mom, what’s the oral sex?” later, and things got a lot quieter and less funny for a while. (Sadly, my parents didn’t immediately send me to bed, which means I spent most of middle school rattling off the Bridge Of Death bit, largely unprompted, and introducing myself as “There are those who call me… Tim.” Fate worse than death, indeed.)
My parents were unwaveringly chill about the pop culture my siblings and I consumed, and I even remember my grandma watching South Park with us and thinking it was funny. But the extended sex scene in the uncensored version of Team America: World Police was too much for me to handle when I watched with my dad, chill as he was. I was 15, a pretty bad age to be viewing explicit sex on the couch next to a parent, even if the sex was being performed by marionette puppets. I only remember our initial laughter slowly curdling into an uncomfortable silence. I’ve blocked the rest out.
I went to see The Cell with my dad while it was still in theaters. I have no idea how this occurred: An ordained Episcopalian priest, but lover of action and sci-fi movies, he had a generally tolerant attitude toward pop culture but drew a pretty hard line at horror films. I was in high school, though, and weirdly jazzed about a surrealist horror flick, and so we buzzed through a matinee one afternoon. We made it through a good bit of the preamble, but once the harmonium wound up and the weird sex dolls started gyrating, we looked at each other and bailed. We have never even mentioned the incident in passing to one another since.
When I was a child, my parents were very lax about what I would watch. Unlike in some of my friends’ households, The Simpsons, Beavis And Butt-Head, and South Park were all fair game, and my dad would show me R-rated movies as far back as I can remember. (I have an early memory of getting in trouble for calling a blender a “douchebag” after picking it up from my pre-K viewing of Revenge Of The Nerds.) In high school, I would often drive my grandma, who lived with my parents, around town, because she never learned to drive. As a “cool” teen, I would listen to the then-new technology of mix CDs in my car. That’s how it came to pass that I was driving one day with my grandma in the passenger seat when Nine Inch Nails’ “Closer” came on the stereo. Instead of changing the track, or turning on the radio, or doing anything to stop this situation, I let the song play. Despite the opening lyrics about desecration and penetration, the first half of the song passed by smoothly. Right after the first utterance of “I want to fuck you like an animal,” my grandma turned to me and said, “Well, this is a lovely song.” I apologized, but still let the rest of the song play as my grandma continued to make disapproving sounds from the passenger seat. I still don’t know why I didn’t change the song, whether I was fearing the next song would be worse or out of some kind of teenage rebellion, but after that I made sure to have more grandma-friendly music at the ready for next time.
There’s absolutely no reason in the world for Caddyshack to have a sex scene. Danny Noonan’s hookup with Lacey Underall is gratuitous to say the least, especially since it has no ramifications and affects no other relationship. In fact, all that dumb scene did accomplish was to make my family extremely uncomfortable on our cable watch when my brother and I were in grade school. Faced with Lacey’s nakedness, my mother practically threw herself in front of the TV and suggested that we go make our beds right at that moment. I wanted to fall through the floor. That scene only lasts a few moments, but somehow it was interminable. They should have tacked on another nonsensical Bill Murray monologue instead.
My father thoroughly models an artist’s disposition. He easily gets lost in swirling rumination about mood and significance and feeling, frequently to the detriment of hard-edged detail. I offer this preamble as a way to show how, with only the best of intentions, my dad could think it was a good idea to sit down with 12-year-old me and watch A Clockwork Orange. For him, it fell under the same umbrella of generation-defining cinema ranging from West Side Story to Seven Samurai that he’d introduce to me with his ubiquitous term of “A Very Important Film.” He wanted to share this benchmark movie with me, somehow forgetting what a horribly violent spectacle it is. At the very first note of Wendy Carlos’ provocative score, showing young men resting glasses of milk on their massive codpieces or tables shaped like naked, thrusting women, I suspected the movie may not be for me. By the time I was hidden behind a door, half-peaking in horror at the infamous “Singin’ In The Rain” scene, my suspicions were confirmed. “This movie is more rough than I remember,” my dad commented with bemused concern. A shame, too, because without the violence, I’m sure pre-adolescent me would really have picked up on the film’s deeper themes of civilization as an inadequate mask for our animal instincts.
I still remember with horror the time my mother decided to watch the film Parenthood with me one afternoon when I was a child. Weirdly, my father had taken me to see it with him in the theater, meaning I had already experienced the film with a family member, to little or no awkwardness. (The collective laughter and darkened anonymity of the theater probably helped, to be honest.) But my mom got it in her head that we should watch it alone, as mother and son, apparently with the sole goal of making me feel as uncomfortable as possible. To wit: Following the scene in which it’s suggested that oral sex while driving led to Steve Martin’s frazzled dad getting in a car accident, a brief chuckle on my part was followed by my mother pausing the film, turning to me, and saying, “Why do you think that was funny?” Mortified, I mumbled some BS about Mary Steenburgen’s head obviously getting stuck on the steering wheel or equivalent nonsense, and promptly clammed up for the rest of the film—which, you may or may not recall, includes explicit talk about erections, jokes involving a dildo, and more. The family-friendly tag this movie gets is such a damn lie.
When I was a senior, my high school baseball team accepted an offer for a tournament in Tampa (a five-hour bus ride from our home in Miami). We’d traveled for games before, but this was the first time we’d ever been blessed with a bus equipped with TVs and a VCR. I’m not sure why I even had it, but I suggested my bootleg (ripped from Starz, I’m sure) copy of Mallrats. Not a single alarm bell went off—that is, until the protagonists pull into a flea market with the aim of visiting a fortune teller. But not just any fortune teller—no, it’s one of the topless, three-nippled variety, played by Priscilla Barnes (best known as Suzanne Somers’ replacement on Three’s Company). It’s important to note here that I went to Catholic all-boys school, and that almost all of our (also Catholic) parents were on the bus with us. The scene itself only lasts a little over two minutes, but on that bus getting grilled by the parents who hadn’t been been paying a lick of attention to any of the Kevin Smith-penned verbal filth preceding it (“What kind of movie is this? Leo, why did you pick this?”) while simultaneously watching all my teammates squirm with glee, it felt like it lasted an hour. The parents let us finish the movie, but they were squarely in charge of the programming the rest of the trip, which I believe consisted of screening of the family-friendly trio of Apollo 13, October Sky, and My Dog Skip.