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The Thrill of Naughtiness

If South Park opens the door for latent hostility against faith to be ventilated, Christians should brace themselves for a rough time ahead.
1999This article is part of CT's digital archives. Subscribers have access to all current and past issues, dating back to 1956.

I didn't go to see Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me; I went to see the historic theater where it happened to be playing. But when those psychedelic colors started spilling off the screen, I couldn't resist. Austin Powers, the ersatz James Bond, is a weenie with a Herman's Hermits haircut and an unlikely welcome mat of chest hair. Girls find him irresistible, and he doesn't blame them; he is radiant with undeserved self-confidence.

This latest Austin Powers won't be a comedy classic, but it enjoyably evokes the exuberance of the era. What was out of tune, though, was the film's fixation with toilet humor. There are long stretches where one just has to sigh and wait for a scene to be over. It's like entertaining a four-year-old who erupts occasionally with "Poo-poo, tee hee hee."

I don't object to body humor on principle. One of my favorite C. S. Lewis lines is, "The fact that we have bodies is the oldest joke there is." God didn't make us airy spirits but embodied beings subject to various indignities. Laughing at the ways our bodies surprise or humble us is a healthful thing. What's suitable for joking varies according to community consensus, but a culture more comfortable with frank talk is not necessarily more immoral. A community that works with livestock, for example, will be less coy about digestive and reproductive processes.

Our culture is in a transitional phase where a segment of the community will pay to see boundaries violated. It's not a natural evolution based on increasing comfort with the body, but one based on the superficial thrill some feel at being naughty. The dilemma is that there has to be someone to tell them they're being naughty. If transgression is going to retain its thrill value, some authority ...

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