In a theater near you
Regurgitation, a necessary physiological function for humans and most mammals, allows us to expel the contents of our stomachs. Vomiting is initiated involuntarily or voluntarily. Frequent voluntary vomiting may be a symptom of an eating disorder.
Regurgitation can purge unwanted substances from our stomach that pose a health risk. Vomiting is generally a good thing, but always a private matter.
Evidently, vomiting can also be humorous; at least Hollywood thinks so.
In the 1986 smash hit movie Stand By Me, the most memorable scene has a stout young man named Davey Hogan entering the pie-eating contest at the local fair. He intends to get revenge on a community that had given him the humiliating nickname “Lardass.”
He had secretly consumed a quart of castor oil and a raw egg before taking his seat at the table. When the contest started, he gobbled down five blueberry pies in a row as the crowd repeatedly shouted “Lardass.” Soon after, his stomach started to rumble like a “logging truck coming at you at 100 miles per hour.”
Seconds later Davey spewed copious amounts of blueberry lava from his stomach onto the contestant sitting next to him. Then everyone in the contest started vomiting on each other, which, in turn, caused everyone in the crowd to do the same. Davey Hogan had gotten his revenge!
It was, as the narrator said, “A regular Barforama.”
I saw this film in a theater and noticed the audience during this scene, and nearly everyone was laughing uproariously. Although, a few turned their heads away.
It was funny because this segment was the product of a 10-year-old boy’s imagination – it was just a tall tale within a tale. The scene fits neatly with the film’s theme: A quintessential coming-of-age movie about prepubescent boys. And boys think that bathroom humor is funny.
But, in the following decades, Hollywood went way overboard in depicting scenes of upchucking, barfing, puking, throwing up, retching, hurling and hugging the porcelain goddess.
I am not alone in thinking that it had become a necessary element in most films – a meme if you will. Even when it is not relevant to the overall plot.
I imagine scriptwriters assembled around a large conference table, figuring out where to insert the requisite vomit scenes into every screenplay that came into their hands.
“I say we put the barf scene in just after the bachelorette party; what do you think, John?”
“I don’t know, Frieda. Perhaps the lovers could both throw up on each other in the London Eye Ferris Wheel scene.”
Stand By Me did not have the first graphic vomiting scene in a film; that honor may go back to the Exorcist in 1973.
For decades, the movies in which barfing was appropriate to the storyline were carried out discreetly. Now, vomiting is ‘in your face and on your lapels, with or without chunks.’
From the bathroom to the bedroom, American films evolved over time by slowly introducing a broad range of human activities and language that was theretofore taboo. It was scandalous in 1939 when Clark Gable uttered that famous line in Gone with the Wind, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”
The first sex scene in film is credited to a 1933 Czech flick called Ecstasy – and it was pretty tame by today’s standards. America, with its puritanical values, (at least in public) was slow to catch up to the French films when it comes to steamy Ooh La La scenes.
But today? Sex scenes in American TV and movies would make Caligula blush.
On to the bathroom.
Although a toilet was flushed in the movie Psycho, it was merely a way of getting rid of criminal evidence. It was left up to Archie Bunker in a 1971 episode of All in the Family to flush after making a deposit of effluent in said toilet. His timing couldn’t have been better – right in the middle of Mike and Gloria’s wedding; one floor below.
Many films and TV shows today depict characters sitting on the can. Often the door is open for all to see and hear their bodily functions.
Flatulence on-screen was unthinkable until Mel Brooks broke through the gaseous ceiling with Blazing Saddles in 1974. If you are one of the three people in the U.S. who have never seen this movie, I will reluctantly fill you in on the scene that everybody remembers.
A Stetson-donned posse is sitting around the campfire eating beans when their stomach’s gastric juices began liberating the hydrogen sulfide gas from the oligosaccharides in the beans.
You see, the hydrochloric acid is… oh, the hell with giving a scientific explanation – the cowboys sat around farting for a full 25 seconds. There, I said it.
Just wait until the entertainment industry figures out how to provide us with the fragrances associated with these malodorous scenes. Hollywood spares no effort in providing viewers with the total experience.
Thanks, but no thanks.
Back to the ubiquity of vomiting scenes in movies.
In a 2013 conversation with a friend, also a film buff, I asked her if she noticed the recent proliferation of vivid vomiting scenes in movies. She thought a moment and replied, “You are just kidding, right?”
This was typical of the responses I received when asking other friends, the same question. I began to think that my concern about excessive spewing on-screen was just my overactive imagination.
My eventual vindication came in the form of a March 2014 article in the New York Times by Neil Genzlinger. In summing up his discussion of the growing number of projectile vomiting scenes, he said, “Tastefulness begins to give way to retching excess.”
Mr. Genzlinger sees this gratuitous upchucking as going a bit too far, not leaving anything to our imaginations.
As I started researching my assertions about this rise in unnecessary vomiting scenes in film and TV, I soon found others with the same opinion.
Claudio D’Andrea writes in a post on medium.com called Enough with all of this Puking on Screen. He comments that “It’s gone from a trend to a torrent of gross stuff splashing on the shores of cinema. And we’re being forced to bath in its vile spew.”
One film critic randomly picked four recent movies and scanned them for vomit scenes; sure enough, three of the four had at least one of its characters puking.
So, what does this mean? Perhaps vomiting is seen, like flatulence, as something funny to share with viewers. One thing is for sure, Hollywood has brought private and distasteful human functions out of the closet and forces us to watch it whether we wish to or not.
I no longer feel alone in recognizing the accelerating creep of bringing our basest activities to the screen as a form of entertainment. Particularly so when we must brace ourselves for disgust every time we turn on the TV or watch a film.
And, if you enjoy eating a meal while viewing a film, you may want to think twice.
But, on the bright side, waiting for commercials to fetch a snack will be replaced by people regularly exclaiming, “I could sure use a beer, but I am going to wait until the vomiting scene to get it.”
Hey, Hollywood – enough already!