But there were surprises, too. Small ones, like the number of people who whine about having paid a couple of dollars to rent this movie. When did it become socially acceptable to complain bitterly about a few dollars? I seem to remember a culture in which it was shameful to be that cheap. One of the effects of online discourse for the all-too-common Americans is that they've made it OK to be as tight as a snare drum.
And one big surprise: I learned that ordinary fuckin' viewers require every movie to have a loud, crude, smarmy moral. The most common (and I do mean common) objection to Election is that you can't "like" any of the characters, and none of them "learn" anything.
A review titled "Immoral Garbage" sums up this argument: "All the major characters are immoral bad people doing immoral bad stuff... nor do any of the characters show remorse or grow in anyway. There is nothing redeming about this movie."
Some of the disappointed moralists all but plead with the film to help them out a little, like poor Karl Erickson of Dallas, who sobs, "I want to see something redemptive in a movie. I want to see characters - even ONE - change for the better. I want to see people learn lessons. If there are a lot of nasty deeds being done - whether they be sexual, drug-induced, hate-filled, whatever - I want to see someone regret something they've done, learn from their mistakes, you know?"
Actually I didn't know this was such an unbreakable rule. In fact I was in the habit of admiring movies that refused the whole "epiphany" business, like Raging Bull and Fargo. No doubt because I haven't spent much time in the US for a long time, I'd forgotten that the mainstream there sees all books and movies as so many After School Specials, whose sole purpose is the promotion of public morality.
It seems that not only must the characters learn from their mistake, but there's a limit on how many mistakes they're allowed to make, as Karl goes on to imply: "Again, it's not that I'm a prude, but it isn't like Broderick's character is any better off at the end of this movie than he was before he made the MANY mistakes he does here."
The key phrase here is "it's not that I'm a prude." Karl says this twice in his review. Anyone who says "I'm not a prude" once is probably a prude; anyone who has to say it twice definitely is.
And Karl's not the only one saying it. Jeff Benson of Illinois sums it up in one sentence: "I'm no prude, but I was appalled by the lack of morality of these unlikable characters." I counted five reviews that contain variations on the phrase, "I'm not a prude." Helpful hint for prude reviewers out there: don't use this line. It's a dead giveaway. There, you can say you learned something from this review, your character grew.
If you know Election, you're probably wondering what could bother even the grimmest prude. If there's one thing Election is not, it's sexy. It's more like aversion therapy for the lustful. The only sane negative comment on the subject came from a dude in Hawaii who asked the film's fans, "Are u people crazy this movie sucked a big fat one ....i mean matthew broderick gets it on with a yeti!"
That pretty much sums up the "adultery" which so scandalized most viewers: Broderick lusting after one of the ugliest actresses ever featured in an American film. (And just for the record, he doesn't even "get it on" with her.)
The other scene which upsets these people is one in which Broderick, less than thrilled with his plain wife's mating cry, "Fill me up! Fill me up!," sneaks down to his miserable basement to watch a porn film featuring ugly actors in their 30s as high-school jock and cheerleader fucking in the locker room.
This comic abomination, which would have Jackie Treehorn in tears, apparently qualifies as what one reviewer called "bad smuttyness." A viewer in Utah calls Election "...loaded to the hilt with sex, sexual innuendos, and language that would turn your mother's hair white." Another simply condemns the "cussing." (Again, Lebowski haunts this other great 90s film: "Just one thing, Broderick...do yuh have ta use so many cuss words?")