Is it possible for a provocateur to have a second act in their career? It’s worth addressing that question to author Mike McPadden, who has enjoyed a wild, often controversial career in print form since the dawn of the ’90s. He appeared on the underground pop culture radar during the ‘zine revolution with his infamous Happyland. From there, he straddled the worlds of print and online media via gigs for Hustler magazine and MrSkin.com amongst others. Both his life and his writing were wild during these times.
Somewhere along the line, McPadden found a way to reconcile the wild interests of his youth and his brash voice as a writer with the changing directions of media and modern life. He got married, added crime journalism to his resume and entered the world of book publishing with books like his popular Heavy Metal Movies. His most recent work is Teen Movie Hell, a look back at the history of the teen sex comedies of the ’70s and ’80s filtered through a modern perspective. In a way, it brings the reconciliation of his past and present full-circle.
Mr. McPadden graciously agreed to an interview with Schlockmania and the results are informative, witty and at times soul-baring.
Once upon a time, you were best known for the controversial zine Happyland and writing for Hustler. Teen Movie Hell finds you collaborating with several feminist pop culture writers and dealing with timely topics like #metoo in the context of discussing teen sex comedies. Could you describe the career/life trajectory that led you from the first extreme to the current one?
Basically, I started publishing when I was a kid—a bombastically immature, booze-soaked, drug-inflamed 23-year-old “kid,” to be exact—and now I’m a 50-year-old married man who’s been clean and sober for nearly 20 years.
Back when, though, in 1991, Happyland was my contribution to punk rock—specifically the form of punk that that stressed nihilism, decadence, and sick humor, as embodied the Butthole Surfers, the Melvins, Big Black, Fear, and the Dwarves as well as National Lampoon and the films of John Waters.
With that in mind, it was important for me to take aim at the anti-fun political crusaders that I felt co-opted punk and reformed into obnoxiously self-righteous do-gooder nonsense full of rules. I quit going to church without even having to get molested, so I had no time for anybody who swapped out that brand of moralism for the shit being peddled by Joe Strummer and Maximum Rock-n-Roll.
In terms of Hustler—first and foremost, I was a pervert. Beyond that, growing up in the 1970s, I perceived pornography as being equally opposed by the political right and the political left. Therefore, I reasoned that if both Jerry Falwell and Andrea Dworkin fought so vehemently against pornography that it had to resemble something close to The Truth.
Hustler combined everything I loved and lusted for most: dirty cartoons, gross-out gags, profiles of sickos, conspiracy reporting, horrifying imagery, underground artists, and an absolute commitment to always being the most extreme in sparking outrage and offending absolutely all points of view. Thus, Larry Flynt and his berserk publication very much seemed in the spirit of my take on punk.
Plus it was the most sexually explicit option on the newsstand. And again, first and foremost, I was a pervert.
All that stated, I am an outsider and I am on the side of other outsiders. I wrote repulsive, sexually unhinged material not because I was a misogynist, but because I wanted to defy “proper decorum” and lash out at constrictions I felt kept us all locked down. More than that, though, I thought that stuff was funny—because it was wrong and I KNEW it was wrong and, at the time, an audience could understand what was funny about that, too.
That’s what’s lost in today’s discourse: offensive humor works because we KNOW it’s offensive! THAT’s the joke!
So in terms of my evolution, per se, after a brief panic and some of my own moral outrage—ugh—over the apparent embrace of censorship and public shaming that has come to dominate society, particularly in creative areas, I accepted the new reality.
“Political correctness”—for lack of a less heinous term—was an idea whose time had come and to attempt to fight against that is a fool’s errand. Plus, I started to see good resulting from these changing mores. Not entirely, of course, but also not entirely NOT, either.
Just as the extreme elements of the ’90s underground had, by the decade’s end, come to define the mainstream via South Park, Family Guy, and There’s Something About Mary, the young generation would dictate today’s terms of engagement, and, to be sure, those rules seemed to be the actual opposite of what I had been used to—and I liked some of what was happening.
Politeness benefits everyone and that includes, as is most important to me, ME!
Also, I was already 40 when all this took flight. I practiced a lot of acceptance when it came to kicking alcohol and drugs, and I enabled myself to feel empathy and not just view the rest of humanity exclusively as targets.
Plus, it’s pathetic and even disgusting to witness middle-aged men—and, yes, it’s always men—kicking against those they deem “the pricks” of the present day. Twitter is full of such buffoons, as well as the at-least-as-awful pricks who kick in reverse. That’s why I only use Twitter to promote stuff and then I zip the hell out of that cess-pond.
Toward the end of 2017, in light of the #metoo movement, it struck me hard that for Teen Movie Hell to work, it would require points-of-view other than that of a middle-aged married man for whom these films were made, and which almost universally revel in the objectification, humiliation, and exploitation of females.
Fortunately, I am blessed to know some brilliant film and culture writers who just happen to be women. I offered to hire them to contribute essays and this cabal of geniuses honored me and improved Teen Movie Hell immeasurably by agreeing to do so.
Like many people my age, I grew up with John Hughes movies and was part of their obsessive teen following during that era. As I got older, I came to realize that these films were a weird, middle-aged vision of who teenagers are and have a lot of odd, socially conservative elements (Ducky’s fate in Pretty In Pink, the misfit cleaning herself up to be dateable for the jock in The Breakfast Club). Would you please describe your take on the Hughes teen-flick oeuvre?
John Hughes gentrified the neighborhood. That’s it. The teen sex comedy had been a rickety, dangerous, anything-goes boardwalk midway and he converted it into Disneyland.
That stated, there’s a place for the pleasures of Disneyland but, in keeping with the gentrification angle, with Hughes it came at the expense of putting all the menacing sideshows and the carnies that worked them out of business.
Sixteen Candles is funny. Weird Science is funny. The Breakfast Club is important to people I like but who aren’t me. Ferris Bueller is the ultimate war crime in the battle of the slobs and against the snobs, and serves as both a manifesto and a recruitment video for the bad guys—who, yes, would be the snobs.
Pretty in Pink is the one Hughes movie I really do enjoy and that I find both funny and meaningful. A lot of that has to do with, as you put it, Ducky’s fate—which I think is appropriate, realistic, and a declaration that Andie, the Molly Ringwald character, is in charge of her own life and her own decisions.
The original ending, as written by Hughes, had Andie go off with Ducky. At early test screenings, teenage audiences smelled bullshit and protested, saying that Andie should leave with the rich preppy played by Andrew McCarthy. I agree. Director Howard Deutch then re-shot the ending, despite reported hissy-fits from writer and producer Hughes.
In large part, the sympathy deck is stacked in Ducky’s favor—he’s the nerd, he’s the weirdo, and, to invoke a horrendous idea, he’s “put in the effort” to win Andie’s heart. To hell with all that—Andie likes the rich kid, Andie chooses the rich kid. That’s right. That’s as it should be.
Hughes hated the end of Pretty in Pink so much that he wrote Some Kind of Wonderful as a gender-flipped remake that came out less than a year later. That was the end of his teen run, and rightly so.
If you had to introduce a post-millennial film fan who didn’t know anything about the genre to the wonders of the teen sex comedy, what are the top three films you’d pick for them and why?
The two best-made movies in the book are American Graffiti (1973) and Risky Business (1983). Those are cinematic masterworks. Animal House is also perfect. But I wouldn’t start with those.
For basic introduction purposes, I’d say Porky’s (1982), just because that title is shorthand for the genre. No post-millennial would enjoy it, but there are no safe spaces in this particular education.
After that, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), because it’s the apex of the form and contains powerful female points of view.
Finally—after about a billion trigger warnings—I’d pick Revenge of the Nerds (1984), because it embodies so much of these films AND how our perceptions of them have changed through the years regarding voyeurism, sex by deception, and revenge porn, all of which are played for big laughs there.
As a healing balm, then, I’d wedge in Just One of the Guys (1985). I know that’s four movies, but it’s necessary. Think of the 35-year-old children!
For those who know the genre well enough to know all the name-brand classics, please name three obscure titles you’d recommend for a deeper dive and what makes them worth tracking down.
My heart belongs to the most insane, over-the-top, and cartoonishly offensive examples of the genre. That crucial list consists of:
• King Frat (1979)—An Animal House rip-off centered on not one but two Big Fart Contests held at a local theater. It is the grossest!
• Zapped! (1982) — Scott Baio stars as a science geek who obtains the ability to pop open girls’ tops with his mind. Scatman Crothers gets high and hallucinates salami missiles.
• Joysticks (1983) — A marvelously crackpot cash-in on the video arcade craze, highlighted by Jon Gries as “his majesty, King Vidiot”!
• Screwballs (1983) — Absolute lunacy about five archetypal dorks, including one called Melvin Jerkovski, on a mission to see the boobs of the class snitch, who’s named Purity Busch.
• Oddballs (1984) — Summer camp run amuck, Airplane!-style, starring perma-drunk comedian Foster Brooks as the facility’s ferociously frustrated owner.
• Surf II (1984) — A brilliant imagining of the raunchiest possible end of vintage Frankie-and-Annette beach party movies, starring über-nerd Eddie Deezen as a mad scientist out to conquer the world by turning surf dudes and bikini babes into zombies.
• The Party Animal (1985) — Absolute anarchy in mockumentary form, chronicling the carnal college misadventures of small-town disaster Pondo Sinatra (Matthew Causey) who arrives on campus by falling off the back of a turnip truck—literally.
• Hamburger: The Motion Picture (1986) — Nonstop hilarity inspired by the nonstop hilarious reality of McDonald’s actually running Hamburger University. Amazingly inventive sight gags.
Your writing shows a lot of interest in music, as evidenced by your Heavy Metal Movies book. What do you consider the best soundtrack songs in the teen sex comedy world and what makes them stand out?
The best title track is “Up the Creek” by Cheap Trick. It’s also all power chords with a sing-along chorus and it’s one of the best Cheap Trick songs, which makes it one of the best songs in rock, period.
My favorite song is “Trying to Kill a Saturday Night” by the brother duo Keane, which plays under the opening titles of Zapped! It’s piano-driven power pop that deserved to be a mammoth hit. Maybe it still could be.
The entire soundtrack from Up the Academy (1980) is incredible, topped by the high-octane rabble-rouser “Kickin’ Up a Fuss” by real-life L.A. teen punks Blow-Up.
Hopefully, that’s whetted your appetite for more teenage cine-carnal-carnage. If so, you can check out his book at his publisher’s website by clicking here. For a bevy of bonus information, including other interviews and podcast appearances, check out the Teen Movie Hell Facebook page. And if that’s not enough, McPadden is also hosting a series of screenings for films in the book all over the U.S. Check below for the latest information on dates, theaters and films.
Chicago, Music Box Theatre—HOT DOG: THE MOVIE
Chicago, Music Box Theatre—VALLEY GIRL and THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN
Philadelphia, PhilaMOCA—VALLEY GIRL
Austin, Alamo Drafthouse—THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN
Boston—Coolidge Corner Theater—MEATBALLS
Brooklyn, Alamo Drafthouse—THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN
Yonkers, Alamo Drafthouse—THE BURNING (Heavy Metal Movies event)
Chicago, Bucket O’ Blood Books — All night MEATBALLS VHS marathon (all four movies)
Los Angeles, Alamo Drafthouse—TBA