Scott Cawelti

About Scott Cawelti -

Scott Cawelti was born and raised in Cedar Falls, Iowa. He taught writing, film, and literature at the University of Northern Iowa (UNI) from 1968-2008, and has written regular opinion columns and reviews for the Waterloo / Cedar Falls Courier since the late 1970s.  He played for years in a folk duo with Robert James Waller and still regularly performs as a singer/guitarist/songwriter. Scott continues to teach as an adjunct instructor at UNI.

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  • Retro Boys Everywhere

    • Posted on Sep 18, 2005 by Scott Cawelti

    9-18-05

    “Retro” seems the rage:  Retro cars, retro clothes, retro furniture, and retro boys.  I mean certain males, thankfully not all, who seem like throwbacks to the bad old days when young men tried to be “manly” and little else.

    I’ve been seeing them everywhere. In my UNI classes, on College Hill in Cedar Falls, and in movies like “Sideways,” “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle,” and “The Forty Year Old Virgin.”  Characters that a few years ago would have been considered low-level oafs now garner attention as being both fun and funny.  

    Go figure.

    Retro boys (none dare call them men) are back in style, it seems, and god knows why.  Maybe it’s because conservatives are now largely in control of the government, and gaining on controlling the culture.  Die-hard conservatives do celebrate the bad old days more than most of us, and that would mean the male throwbacks. 

    How to tell a retro boy from a grownup man?  Five ways, and they have to fit only two or three of these:

    (1)   They’re aggressively predatory toward woman.  They see women pretty much as life support systems for female sexual organs, and treat them as such.  Check out the character of Jack in “Sideways,” who engineers two sexual encounters while on a road-trip with his friend Miles—the week before Jack’s marriage.  Jack can be funny, but one laughs more out of pity than jollity.  The same with the both Harold and Kumar in “Harold and Kumar go to White Castle” and Cal, Jay, and David in “Forty-Year Old Virgin.” Only Andy, the virgin in that movie, escapes into early manhood by the end of the movie, somewhat redeeming the whole enterprise.  

    (2)   They’re driven by alcohol or drugs, or both. They’re essentially alcoholics or dopers, but don’t admit it.  They seek various forms of drug-induced oblivion as being the next best fun after sex.  When they’re sober, they think they’re dull, and that’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without regular doses of alcohol and sex, retro boys would have no lives at all.  The whole premise of “Harold and Kumar” is their search for a White Castle hamburger joint because they’re got the marijuana munchies.   

    (3)   They love toilet humor.  Addictions of all kinds lead to stunted growth, so retro boys, thanks to their addiction to mindless sex and alcohol, stall out at about 12. That’s the age when boys find puberty so threatening that they take refuge in toilet humor.  If they don’t grow up, that’s where they stay, and retro boys find anything related to bodily functions utterly hilarious. It wears as thin as toilet paper for others. 

    (4)   They’re prone to violence when they get drunk, and watch mostly violent action-adventure movies.  Whenever possible, they avoid the dreaded “chick flicks” that they sometimes endure in order to please some female carrier of sexual organs, a.k.a. a date.  From what I hear about noise levels and vandalism in neighborhoods around UNI, retro boys must occupy a fair number of apartments and houses in that area.  They’re out half the night, drunk, screaming obscenities, breaking out car windows, and keeping Cedar Falls police busy.  Shades of “Animal House” frat parties.  How retro is that?

    (5)   Finally, they’re sports-obsessed. Nothing seems more manly than cheering a team on.

    Direct TV has instituted a new service where the screen fills with eight video “tiles,” or screen partitions, showing eight different games and scores at once.       

     Retro boys must find this sports TV orgy nothing less than paradise, as long as           they have beer and a date later.  Notice, by the way, who tears down goalposts      after a game and vandalizes cars on city street after their team wins, or loses.        Retro boys, probably modeling themselves after any number of such “heroes” of   retro-boy movies.

    Of course we should all worry about these guys. They’re not only self-destructive, they can’t sustain a real relationship or anything but a minimum wage career.    

    Aggressively predatory toward women, stuck in adolescence, dulled by alcohol and drugs, retro boys seem unable to realize that the longer they maintain their retro boyhood the more pathetic they become.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
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  • "Spiderman" and "Unfaithful" A Blockbuster and a Heartbuster

    • Posted on May 19, 2002 by Scott Cawelti

     5-19-02

    Two current films deserve a look, and they're  as different as films get, at least on the surface.  One's a blockbuster, the other a heartbuster:  "Spiderman" and "Unfaithful."  

    "Spiderman" tells the story of a conflicted superhero, and "Unfaithful" the story of a conflicted superwife.  Neither ends especially happily, and both contain genuine surprises.  And both tap into America's current fears, "Spiderman" for adolescents, and "Unfaithful" for middle-agers. 

    Peter Parker, as anyone who follows comics knows, becomes "Spiderman" accidently when bitten by a spider.  In the comics, the arachnid was radioactive, but in the film, he's a bioengineered creature of science gone awry. 

    That's our first fear:  Arrogant scientists tampering with nature producing unintended catastrophes.  

    In Parker's case, he becomes part spider, but learns to use his insect-born powers to stop criminals in their tracks. All the stuff of adolescent fantasies, comic-book melodrama, but with a difference.

    Peter Parker/Spiderman's motivation as a hero arises more from guilt than from any special desire to do good.  Parker's beloved uncle Ben becomes the victim of a thug that Parker didn't stop when he had the chance. So Parker feels partly responsible for his uncle's death.

    That's a second fear: The world remains forever beyond anyone's control, and terrible things happen to innocent people.  Incidentally, "Spiderman" takes place in New York, a city that experienced that hard truth firsthand last September 11.   

     And yet there's a third fear that Spiderman embodies.  He's perpetually misunderstood. He must wear a disguise to perform good deeds, just to avoid being mobbed.

    No one knows his real powers, and he can't tell them without blowing his cover. Indeed, he's often castigated as a villain, making him both hated and loved.  He's a frustrated mess of a character, hiding his true self beneath a literal mask. 

    Surely that's an embodiment of what most adolescents and many adults fear: Living a lie, never being known for who you are. 

    So Spiderman reaches viewers as a product of bad science, a guilt-ridden superhero that few understand or appreciate. What film could be more appropriate for our angst-ridden times?

    The answer:  "Unfaithful," a film about a perfect wife in a perfect marriage who gets swept up in a lustful affair with a much younger man.  It's a heartbuster, a sad morality tale of lust gone awry. 

    The wife's infidelity virtually destroys her and her marriage, so it serves as a warning to would-be adulterers. Yet it also reveals the powerful, addictive attraction of illicit sex, the hidden romance, the dramatic break from a too-routine life.   

    "Unfaithful" won't reach adolescents.  It's made for middle-agers who struggle with ongoing challenges of adulthood:  Sexual passion and its comings and goings, the workplace, with its mix of boredom and anxiety, and youth itself, appreciated most when it's gone.

    Middle-aged people fear going astray, of losing their passion not just for their partners, but for life itself, always on the verge of becoming too comfortable.  And they certainly fear the consequences of getting caught should they stray.

    Such adult fears explored in "Unfaithful" makes Spiderman's worries seem like a walk in the park, at least to this middle-ager.  It's a disturbing, highly engaging film. 

    I especially appreciated the film's lack of easy explanations.  There's no neat tie-up, nor any clear reasons given for the wife's behavior, making it more of a puzzle for pondering than a wrapped-up morality tale.

    "Spiderman" will appeal to the anxious young, who rightfully worry about their future. "Unfaithful" will resonate more with the post-thirty crowd, who struggle more with finding joy and passion in the present, within too-comfortable and routine lives.

    Neither "Spiderman" nor "Unfaithful" offers answers, only unsettling questions that demand attention.

    Go comment!
    Posted in
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