Trey Parker, Verisimilitude, and “Orgazmo”
Thursday, April 3, 2008
Author: Bryan S. Ghingold
When an individual is asked to name a few superhero movies, it is a good bet that Orgazmo will not likely make it on their list. Even though it had a theater run, it tends to sit more on the fringes of the genre, rather than a representation of the genre. However, some conventions of the superhero genre are displayed more accurately in Orgazmo than other films more easily recognized as superhero texts. In this paper, I will argue that Trey Parker had a solid understanding of the conventions of the superhero genre as displayed by the adherence of Orgazmo to genre conventions such as Robert Ray’s Thematic Paradigm, the concept of verisimilitude, and John Cawelti’s inverted convention technique of genre parody.
Orgazmo is the story of a Mormon man, Joe Young (Trey Parker), who is offered the chance to be in a pornographic film when his fighting skills catch the eye of adult film director Maxxx Orbison (Michael Dean Jacobs). Hesitant at first, Young is convinced when Orbison promises him enough money to marry his fiancé Lisa (Robyn Lynn) in the Mormon temple. The film, about superhero Orgazmo who defeats his nemeses with his “Orgazmo-radar” gun becomes a critical success, transcending the world of adult film, and entering the mainstream culture. Orbison, who also happens to be the leader of the local mob, twists Young’s arm into doing a sequel by kidnapping his fiancé. Ben Chaplesky, PhD (Dian Bachar), who plays Orgazmo’s sidekick in the film, develops a real life “Orgazmo-radar,” which he and Young use to defeat Orbison and his mob.
Orgazmo adheres to conventions of Ray’s thematic paradigm, which leads me to believe that Parker, who wrote, directed, and stars in the film, knew what he was doing before he went into it. His other works such as South Park, Alferd Packer: the Musical, Team America: World Police, and others all speak to his intellectual understanding of the genres he spoofs. Joe Young fits neatly into the mold of an official hero: he functions in the city of Los Angeles, going door to door evangelizing the church of Latter Day Saints. He is a societal man bound by the laws of man and the laws of G-d. He is engaged, and plans to marry. He is by all accounts civilized, and he even acts as a teacher, trying to evangelize to the porn actors and actresses on the set of “Orgazmo.” In Ray’s Thematic Paradigm, he offers “the official heroes embodied the best attributes of adulthood: sound reasoning and judgment, wisdom and sympathy…” (Ray 60). Innocent, fumbling Joe Young is nothing if not the perfect model of what a neighborly adult man should be.
Interestingly, by contrast, his sidekick Choda Boy (Chaplesky) takes the role of the outlaw hero, to foil Young’s Orgazmo. While Orgazmo fights to save his fiancé, Choda Boy fights his past; terrible memories revolving around the “hamster” fighting style. After they defeat Orbison, Choda Boy uses a dildo rocket to blow up Orbison’s mansion. Orgazmo has a look of shock on his face (after all, he only wanted to punish evil within the confines of the law). At the sound of police sirens, Choda Boy remarks “Come on Joe, let’s get out of here… we don’t have to explain this to the cops.” Choda boy also engages in “flings” with the porn star actresses, but has no intention of settling down or marrying. The fact that the movie is set in the pornography film industry gives Parker a good excuse to have Chaplesky’s “flings” be with the uncompromising relationship…with the “bad woman” (Ray 60).
The aspect about Orgazmo which intrigues me the most is the humorous way the film addresses verisimilitude. On the set of the fake porno, Orgazmo wears a magenta suit with a green cape and huge silver shoulder pauldrons. Meanwhile, his sidekick Choda Boy has a strap-on harness (which acts as his Batman-esque utility belt) over plain boxer shorts, a leather body harness, and a helmet with a large erect dildo protruding from the top. When they become their alter egos to fight Orbison and his gang, their costumes translate into “real-world” equivalents. Joe’s Orgazmo wears black vinyl pants and a black vinyl tank top (highly reflective, of course), and a black masquerade mask. Choda Boy has gone from practically nude to wearing a red tank top and shorts. His utility belt has evolved from the childish strap-on harness to a heavy-duty black belt. Most notably, he lost the dildo-helmet in favor of a black ski cap and goggles.
The reason this interest me so much is that growing up, one of my favorite aspects of superhero movies was the visual enjoyment of how they would rationalize the comic or television look with something that would be practical and functional in the real world. Much like Cyclops’ comment to Wolverine in 2000’s X-Men, superheroes cannot function effectively in the real world running around in yellow spandex. Granted, I did not know the term verisimilitude, and I doubt I understood the concept of rationalizing fantastical elements in the real world, but it has always been a fascination of mine. I think Parker’s rationalization of the magenta jumpsuit and dildo helmet is nothing short of genius. He makes sure to emphasize the real-world transition when, on their way to save Lisa from Orbison, Choda Boy declares “QUICK! To the Orgazmobile!” Joe responds with a puzzled “what?” to which Choda Boy confidently and with a straight face replies “My Buick Century!” The next cut is to the exterior of the car, followed by two close ups on the car; one of the word “Buick” followed immediately by the word “Century.” Parker did this to stress the real-world transition Orgazmo and Choda Boy have to go through in order to function in the “real world.”
Finally, Parker demonstrates and understanding of John Cawelti’s genre transformations. In his article, Cawelti describes the second form of burlesque; inverted conventions and expectations. “In addition to these sudden confrontations with ‘reality,’ conventional patterns can be turned into laughter by inverting them. A good example of this device is turning a character who shows all the marks of a hero into a coward, or vice versa” (Cawelti 252). Parker, who has demonstrated his mastery of the burlesque and comedy convention (his hit show South Park has been on the air and arguably Comedy Central’s most popular show for over ten years.) In Orgazmo, Parker uses this inverted convention in the most absurd way he can, so blatantly out of place, it is as if he is hitting the audience over the head with it. His main character is a Mormon porn star, and a Mormon superhero.
But perhaps the biggest inverted convention Parker employs in his film is the fact that when Young and Chaplesky make the transition from actors playing superheroes to actual superheroes, their roles reverse. Young, as Orgazmo has the cool gun, but he is such a timid person that when thrust into the “real world” of crime fighting, he emulates the sidekick role, while Chaplesky as Choda Boy occupies the superhero role. The scene that comes to mind is their first outing as Orgazmo and Choda Boy. They are on their way to a club to take a contract from the mobsters, who made their friend give up his sushi bar. While in line at the club, Chaplesky asks “Ok, what’s the plan?” Young replies “Why are you asking me?” Chaplesky, sounding put on the spot begins thinking out loud “ok… we go in the front door, uh, walk to the back, grab the contracts, and if one of the guards tries to stop us… we FUCK HIS SHIT UP!” Young chirps back snidely “that’s a great plan Ben, really well thought out!” When they actually get to the room with the contract, the thugs engage them in a 1960’s Batman-esque fight. Choda Boy takes the lead, and yells fighting direction to Orgazmo.
Parker has been making comedy media since 1992 (imdb). Most, if not all of his productions are satire in one form or another, and pretty much everything I have seen of his work has demonstrated to me his mastery of the comedy genre. His knowledge of the conventions and themes that make up a genre is imperative for his spoofs to be effective. Based on that fact, and the arguments I have presented in this paper, it is a reasonable conclusion to presume that in making Orgazmo, Trey Parker knew the superhero conventions well enough to manipulate them for the sake of comedy. In this essay I have proved that Trey Parker has a solid understanding of the conventions of the superhero genre as displayed by the adherence of Orgazmo to genre conventions such as Robert Ray’s Thematic Paradigm, the concept of verisimilitude, and John Cawelti’s inverted convention technique of genre parody.
1.Cawelti, John G. “Chinatown and Generic Transformations in Recent American
Films.” Film Genre Reader III. Ed. Barry Keith Grant. University of Texas Press, 2003. 243-261.
2.Orgazmo. Dir. Trey Parker. Perfs. Trey Parker, Dian Bachar. DVD. Kuzui
3.Ray, Robert. “”The Thematic Paradigm – The Resolution of Incompatible Values.”
The Hollywood Cinema 1930-1980 (1985): 55-69.
Images taken from the internet used without permission for illustrative effect and not for profit