Monumental ones. Raging ones. Flaming ones. Hollywood’s got ’em all. But now there’s an alarming new development: These prickly personality types (often nicknamed after a body part way too gross to spell out anywhere in this article) are being embraced and celebrated as pop-culture heroes, with audiences bending over backward to applaud them.
Asinine, isn’t it? Wholly.
Signs of the New Odiousness are everywhere. There’s Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as It Gets, a sexist, racist, homophobic novelist whose only redeeming quality — other than helping Nicholson snag another Oscar — is that he falls for Helen Hunt. There’s Woody Allen in Deconstructing Harry, playing another sexist, racist novelist — minus the redeeming qualities (and the Oscar). Warren Beatty is apparently getting in touch with his inner jerk as well: The trailers for this spring’s Bulworth, in which he plays a senator-turned-rapper, show him spewing so many ethnic insults he’d have Jesse Helms joining the Black Panthers.
On TV, the abhorrent and annoying are even more out of control — especially on NBC, the men-behaving-badly network. Along with cover boy David Spade, there’s Phil Hartman’s blustering broadcaster on NewsRadio and Robert Foxworth’s arrogant anchorman on Lateline. On HBO, Garry Shandling is wrapping up his final, brilliant season as slimy talk-show host Larry Sanders, while on Comedy Central even cartoon kids are turning nasty: South Park‘s Cartman may look as cute and cuddly as Charlie Brown — but, good grief, what’s with that Adolf Hitler Halloween costume?
Of course, TV and movies have always had their charming chowderheads — like lovable ’70s bigot Archie Bunker — but this new crop of antiheroes is different. This time their boorishness isn’t always intended as ironic; in fact, the joke nowadays seems to be that these jerks supposedly make sense. ”Jack Nicholson’s character in As Good as It Gets always says exactly what he’s thinking,” notes Bill Maher, the button-pushing host of Politically Incorrect, ABC’s post-Nightline crock-and-bull session, where guests are always free to be the A-word. ”And that’s the definition of politically incorrect. Being rude but true. After all, there’s a fine line between telling people the truth and insulting them.”
Others draw the line less finely. ”There’s something refreshing about an a—— who’s up front about his a——ness, as opposed to a duplicitous a—— who’s pretending to be something else,” says Greg Germann, who isn’t an a—— but plays one on TV, as the wattle-fondling Fish on Fox’s hit comedy Ally McBeal. ”People sometimes find that type of a—— appealing.”
People sometimes want to smack them, as well — especially when their make-believe offensiveness spills over into real life. Not everyone, for instance, was doubled over in hysterics after Craig Kilborn, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, publicly cracked that a female writer he’d been feuding with would perform oral sex on him. Comedy Central kicked him off the air for a week. Also in need of a time-out is indie filmmaker Vincent Gallo, who earned lots of attention — but few friends — at the Sundance Film Festival this year with his ”I am a rock star” self-promotional blusterings. ”This festival is a step down for me,” the brooding director of Buffalo 66 reportedly announced at a press conference. ”I’d rather be in Cannes.” Where even the French will undoubtedly hate him.