Patriot Funny Games: God Bless America’s Bobcat Goldthwait Interviewed

Our esteemed Boston, MA correspondent Craig Terlino celebrates the Fourth of July by chatting to US comedian turned filmmaker Bobcat Goldthwait, whose murderous new satire is unleashed in the UK today

"No moral, no message, no prophetic tract: just a simple statement of fact. For civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized." Rod Serling, The Twilight Zone

If you were going to try and remedy the downward spiral of a civilization, what measures would you take? Our evolution has become stunted and distorted; reliant and co-dependent on technological ingenuity where at the push of a button we are instantaneously amused to death, for good or ill. As a global society our traditional sense of humanity is becoming an archaic unit of existence, as we hand over basic skills to our idealistic notions of the future. In American culture, there seems to be a minimal populace of people who have secured themselves with common sense and self-sufficiency, while the mindless masses ride a wave of demoralization until it comes crashing down on the polluted shores of American conscience, if that still even exists.

The anxious American culture is dominated by sex, drugs, violence, poverty, religious tension, voyeurism, political and social corruption, bad parenting and self-obsession. Media and technological perversions, all moving faster than most of us can comprehend or process. Being part of the American culture and its alleged downward spiral, it seems like a dangerous concoction where we live haphazardly in excess, all the while seeking a sense of escapism, living vicariously through movies, television, music and the cult of personality.

While the sensibilities of satire are becoming torn and frayed from the stifling grip of political correctness in America, the national identity is not only suffering from a deficit of humour and intellect, but an unwillingness to have an open dialogue about what divides people from each other. Instead, people get fed up and take violent measures to express themselves, leaving behind tragedy, rather than resolve.

Former stand-up comic and valiant indie filmmaker, Bobcat Goldthwait, is no stranger to addressing the taboos and excessive absurdities of Americans: his previous features, World’s Greatest Dad (2009) and Sleeping Dogs Lie (2006), took on themes of suicide and sexual dysfunction, respectively. Although known as the screaming, wild man, stand-up comedian from the ’80s, Bobcat has made his way into a more admirable medium as a writer and director, and never attempts to do the thinking for you. It’s this dynamic that separates him from the dumb beasts of Hollywood.

His latest tale of dysfunction, God Bless America, is nothing short of the gruesome truth which reflects our society. Although satirical, he has saturated this movie with all the essence of an estranged culture – one that evasively moves onward, ignorantly embracing technology and perceiving a personal fabricated world via social media as a ‘reality’. Goldthwait illustrates similar themes of decline seen in such classic pictures as Bonnie And Clyde and Natural Born Killers, and even some classic episodes of The Twilight Zone. However, God Bless America stands alone and heavily armed as an unsung American anthem.

What was the reception like from American audiences?

Bobcat Goldthwait: I think it has more detractors than World’s Greatest Dad. It kind of attacks people who don’t have a sense of humour [laughs].

Do you think the message about American culture’s downward spiral will translate well to British and other European audiences?

BG: Well, it is funny how reactive American culture is. People don’t form thoughts about stuff, they just react. I saw the movie with a crowd in Edinburgh and it seemed to play very well. I think in the UK it will be received as more cautionary.

Do you see our culture as absurd and depraved, as portrayed in God Bless America?

BG: Oh yeah, definitely. For me, the movie is about questioning, ‘Why all this distraction?’ You know, people don’t really connect anymore. I think that has a a lot to do with the dumbing down and the crassness of entertainment, politics, sports, and everything. It’s really weird how the news is now presented in a way where it needs to be entertaining.

Yes, as we saw recently with the American news establishment’s breaking news of a ‘zombie apocalypse’. As a fan of zombies, what do you think that’s about?

BG: I don’t know. I’m wondering if this weird behaviour does happen and then because of a zombie zeitgeist that’s out there, it’s labeled as that and perpetuates it.

Is it possible to look back on our civilization and see where it all went wrong?

BG: I don’t know if things are worse than they were in the past, but right now it seems like things have gotten worse. Sometimes I feel like the generation before me, everything was aimed at marketing for them. The Burger King generation, you know. Have it your way. When everything is marketed towards people’s personal taste, then I think that’s a weird thing. Madison Avenue and now the digital age, we are losing light that [shows us] we are sharing space with other people.

Self-obsessed and blinded by an over-reliance of technological dependency such as social media.

BG: Yeah, and technology over contact and connecting with other people. One of the things that is going away is having a conversation. Commenting back and forth on people’s conference is not really communicating. It’s a little bit more hostile where people can screen out anything they don’t want to hear or read. If you were having a conversation with someone, they wouldn’t address you or challenge you in the same way. The rules of normal society no longer apply.

Then people are stifling themselves at that point, apprehensive to naturally communicate. Joel Murray’s character Frank, in God Bless America, refers to the current American generation as the "oh no you didn’t say that generation".

BG: Right. Where a shocking comment has more weight than the truth. What’s funny is that it’s acceptable in studio comedy to have real base humour, and that’s shocking like bodily fluids, nudity, and things like that. You can jizz, piss, and shit on people in those movies; that’s acceptable. You can sever a penis and stick it in someone’s mouth on 21 Jump Street, and it’s considered funny.

It’s like the scene in Sleeping Dogs Lie, where the guy confesses to eating a cracker covered with semen, but when the girl tells him her dark secret about blowing a canine, he is grossed out by it. I’d rather blow the dog.

BG: [Laughs] Yeah, I think so too.

Moving away from beastiality, is bad parenting a theme you were trying to get across in God Bless America? Could that be the root of it all?

BG: I think it certainly contributes. When my daughter was growing up. being her ‘best friend’ was never a concern of mine. Trying my best to be a good dad was more important to me, especially out in LA, where parents try to be a member of their kid’s peer group. I do believe that it is probably responsible for about 90%, but I think that other 10% is as I do believe, a bad seed. I do believe that there are kids who are just bad.

It doesn’t help when their idea of reality is brought to them by way of exploitative reality TV. You shine a light on this in the film with the show American Superstarz, a satire of American Idol. You refer to it as "the new Coliseum".

BG: There was a time when I did watch the stuff, but didn’t take very long. I think by the second season watching that part of …Idol where they have that freak show element, I actually did say, ‘I’m out. I don’t want to be part of this.’ It’s really strange now, where everyone wants to be famous, there will be no audience left. When I was younger I was on stage and now I am desperately trying to get off stage. [Laughs] But, I am still pursuing things that seek an audience. There was a change. Now it seems you no longer need a skill or talent, you just need to be tenacious and shameless.

Just so Europeans don’t think our culture is made up completely of savages, what is your definition of a good American?

BG: You know, someone who doesn’t park too close to the other car. It is someone who is aware that they are sharing the space with other people.

God Bless America opens theatrically today and is released on DVD on July 9 by StudioCanal. Bobcat Goldthwait will appear in conversation after tonight’s screening at the Prince Charles Cinema in London.

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