“Spaceballs is a good one for family movie night,” Mr. December told me. What did I know? I’d never seen it before, but I knew it starred people like Rick Moranis and John Candy, who I really only knew from family-friendly movies. I deferred to his judgment, and the decision was made. Unfortunately.
Readers, I’m sorry to tell you that Mel Brooks is not aging well. His movies, I mean — he looked hale and hearty last time I saw him on YouTube. But some of the moments in Spaceballs are truly awful: sexist and racist jokes that wouldn’t have passed muster ten years ago, along with all the “Druish princess” gags that reinforce pretty much every Jewish stereotype. While those stereotypes show up in plenty of self-deprecating Jewish jokes, they’re not jokes I would tell in mixed company. There are enough antisemitic tropes flying around these days — no need to add to them ourselves. Every time another “Druish” joke came up, I felt icky.
I shouldn’t have been surprised that my kids didn’t get any of those jokes — but I was. It seems we only see the progress we’ve made if we remember to look behind us. Some of the jokes were so passé that the kids didn’t even realize what they were hearing. When “Dark Helmet” ordered the surgeon to restore the princess’s old nose, Mr. December and I howled with laughter. The kids didn’t get it at all, and I found myself feeling thankful that they’re growing up in a world where people seem to be less and less interested in erasing their “ethnic” features. Maybe not the whole outside world, mind you, but certainly the sphere in which I’m raising my kids.
The Producers aside, I’m putting a moratorium on screening Mel Brooks films in this house unless they’re accompanied by a history lesson explaining why it was funny then, but isn’t anymore. Which is a shame, because I generally like Mel Brooks. His movies, though, are a product of the times in which they were made — times that I don’t remember as being filled with prejudice and misogyny, but apparently were.
(Just so you know, it took me fifteen tries before I spelled misogyny correctly. #notawomensstudiesmajor)
The good news is that apparently we’ve made significant progress. Next time someone tells me that our society is going to hell in a handbasket, I’ll tell them to go watch some old Mel Brooks movies. Those films have not aged well, but at least they make us look pretty darn enlightened.