It’s the dirty secret of film critics: we’re in it for the swag. I won’t even mention the junkets, those trips to LA, New York, London, or Hawaii where they put us up at four-star hotels with a hefty perdiem, well-lubricated parties, pricey room service, and interviews with glamorous stars (which have no influence on our subsequent reviews). Nor the pathetic rush of getting one’s name attached to a blurb in an ad for a big movie. Of course, some are in it for the love of the art and an idealistic urge to preserve its integrity. But for most it’s the swag, those tasteless gewgaws and trinkets and occasional items of real value that make for freaky collectibles and steady eBay trade.
In a way, the history of film criticism over the past few decades is the history of swag. It reveals how the studios regard the increasingly powerless coterie of those who deign to put in their two-cents’ worth to add to the millions spent on marketing. At best, we are seen as a necessary evil, a tick on the butt of the entertainment industry, whose only function is to sustain the illusion that a profession exists to evaluate their product according to genuine standards of excellence. Lately, though, that nominal respect seems to have declined, judging by the items they have sent to woo us.
Let’s take gross-out comedies. You’d expect such films to maintain their edge of crudeness and cruelty in their choice of gifts, but at one time even they tried to maintain a level of dignity. In 1998, the people marketing the Farrelly brothers’ There’s Something About Mary sent out a replica of the unfortunate dog from the movie, complete with body cast and lifelike tongue. Only about 400 were made, or so I heard, and I keep mine in a safe place, expecting it to accrue far more value than my 401k.
But as the years passed and it became clear that critics had no effect on the fate of films, all pretense to deference vanished. At the junket for the Farrelly brothers’ next movie, Me, Myself and Irene (2000), critics returned to their hotel rooms after the screening to find a half-empty bottle of hand lotion in the nightstand and their bedspread covered with suspiciously used tissues. It was a reference to one of the more outrageous scenes in the movie, but talk about feeling violated. Still, the lotion did turn out to be useful for many.
Taking up this theme, the Road Trip (2000) people sent out condoms and a semen receptacle. For Big Momma’s House (2000) we got a Momma-size bra and panties. To top it off, a film as innocuous as Jimmy Neutron, Boy Genius (2001) treated us to a brown rubber Jimmy Neutron wig that made the wearer resemble a huge lump of excrement. So this was what we were in the eyes of the medium we so loved and strived to please: a pack of onanistic, fetishistic shitheads.