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Ay, Columbia!

Columbia House categorizes its films as "for him" or "for her," but shouldn't musicals be for everybody? logo
Just got my monthly mailing from Columbia House. Yeah, yeah, I'll admit it: One night, some years ago, I succumbed to one of those five-DVDs-for-49-cents come-ons and I'm now literally and figuratively paying the price. The brochure, cheerfully emblazoned "Holiday 2004," has on the left side a picture of a gift tag reading "To Him," under which are pictured DVDs of The Godfather and Blue Collar Comedy Tour. On the right is a tag reading "To Her," with images of Gone with the Wind and Love Actually. As I flipped through the brochure, I discovered a green-tinted "Gifts for Him" section followed by a pink-colored "Gifts for Her" section. I felt in my bones that this brochure was going to get me angry, and it did.

On the very first page of the "Gifts for Him" list is Sweet Sweetback's Baadasssss Song. This is not to be confused with Baadasssss, which is there, too, along with Anger Management and Bad Boys II -- not to be confused with Biker Boyz, which is relegated to the second page. That one also features Dumb and Dumber and Jackass: The Movie. Already, I was coming to the conclusion that that the folks at Columbia House who dreamed up this brochure were the real jackasses.

Among the other "Gifts for Him" are Die Another Day, The Abyss, The Punisher, The Terminator, Rob Zombie's House of 1000 Corpses, Full Metal Jacket, Twister, Very Bad Things, A Clockwork Orange, and Scarface: The Anniversary Edition. (I'm sorry I missed the anniversary; I would at least have sent a card.) And how many musicals do you think are on the list of "Gifts for Him"? That's right -- not one. How many of the movies are even adaptations from stage plays? Well, there's one of those: Glengarry Glen Ross, probably because it's got plenty of crude language and cutthroat behavior. How many "for him" films are about the world of entertainment? Just one: Showgirls, in which Real Men would just have to be interested because it deals with sleaze. It's also a terrible picture, but Real Men don't mind that, do they?

There's also a TV-on-DVD section that features S.W.A.T.: The First Season, both seasons of Combat, and The Honeymooners' Classic 39 Episodes. "Honeymooners" is a romantic word, so how did this collection wind up on the "Gifts for Him" list? Probably because Ralph Kramden is an abusive husband. Yes, he's a great role model "for him."

And what films are included in the "Gifts for Her"? On the very first pink page, there are not one, not two, but three musicals: Oklahoma!, Singin' in the Rain, and West Side Story. Now what makes Oklahoma! a female-oriented property? Aren't there more male principals in the show and the film (Curly, Will Parker, Jud Fry, Ali Hakim) than female ones (Laurey, Ado Annie, Aunt Eller)? Sure, there's a romance, but there's also a murder -- which, if Columbia House is to be believed, is surely "for him."

For the last 50 years, Singin' in the Rain has routinely been listed as one of the best films of all time by various committees of critics, most of which were or still are made up of men. So, why is it only "for her"? Given that part of it deals with the business of making movies -- also a male-oriented profession, at least in the silent-to-talkie era depicted -- why would women be the primary audience? And if you recall the opening shot with the three principals singin', two of them are men. Guess it's the word "singin' " that relegates this to the latter half of the book.

As for West Side Story, even my son -- who loathes musicals more than Sweeney Todd hated Judge Turpin and is currently mourning the loss of the professional hockey season -- once told me in an I-hate-to-admit-this voice, "You know, I saw that West Side Story thing the other night on TV. It was pretty good." Maybe it's "for her" because there's no real profanity in it ("buggin'" is about as bad as it gets) or because it only shows us three murders, which can't begin to compare with the carnage in all those "Gifts for Him." (Apparently, even four deaths isn't enough to be of interest to men: The 1996 film billed as William Shakespeare's Romeo + Juliet is also relegated to the women's category.)

Yup, Columbia House believes that musicals are solely "for her." That's how they categorize My Fair Lady, Fiddler on the Roof, Hello, Dolly!, Meet Me in St. Louis, Funny Girl, Grease, and Grease 2 -- which I thought was "for nobody." And why should Seven Brides for Seven Brothers be labeled "for her"? You know as well as I that it's not because the brides are billed before the brothers; it's because all 14 of them sing and dance. Also "for her" is The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. Now, there was a time when a film that dared to have "whorehouse" in its title would have been a stag film, for sure, but this movie is tarred by the musical theater brush. City of Angels is in "Gifts for Her," too. Wonder if they put it there because they thought it was the Tony-winning musical -- would that it were! -- and not a totally unrelated story.

Of all the musicals that are supposedly "for her," the least likely one in my opinion is Little Shop of Horrors. Here we have a monster, murder, sadism, mass destruction, electrocution -- all the things that Real Men supposedly hold dear. (Or should I say, all the things that supposed Real Men hold dear?) Yet Little Shop also bears the Mark of the Musical on its forehead, which keeps it in the pink.

Another "Gift for Her" is Around the World in 80 Days. I looked up the film on the Internet Movie Database and found that, extras not included, the cast consists of 47 men and seven women. The movie includes plenty of adventures and near-death experiences, but I guess it's a "Gift for Her" because it was a Cole Porter musical first. Maybe the folks at Columbia feared that a Porter song had found its way into the film and thus ruined it for Real Men. (None did, by the way.)

Perhaps Big, also listed in the "Gifts for Her" category, was found lacking for men because it served as the basis for a Broadway musical. This is, after all, both a boy's and a man's story. Sure, Susan's loss of Big Josh adds some poignance and sentimentality, which Real Men suppoedly abhor; but Big Josh is the protagonist, and the covers of the videocassette and DVD feature nothing but Tom Hanks' face. Oh, but wait a minute: Hanks once played a cross-dresser in the TV series Bosom Buddies. Could that be why Big is disqualified as a film "for him"? I'm surprised that Dog Day Afternoon made the "Gifts for Him" cut, given that it includes a transsexual; Real Men aren't interested in them, are they? Well, are they?

To Columbia House, the components that apparently make a movie a "Gift for Her" are romance and marriage. Considering how hard so much of the country has battled to keep marriage an institution solely for men and women, shouldn't any heterosexually charged story be for both sexes? But even that master warrior and expert swordsman Cyrano de Bergerac gets relegated to the ladies' list, probably because he pined for Roxane throughout his adult life.

With values such as these, no wonder we live in such a belligerent society. Why must Columbia House perpetrate the falsehood that our boys and men should be watching Hellboy, The Fast and the Furious, and Young Guns, and that anything involving tenderness is just "for her"? No wonder the "Gifts for Him" section ends with Planet of the Apes, given that many of the selections listed in this subdivision here are for human animals with commensurate IQs.


[To contact Peter Filichia directly, e-mail him at [email protected]]

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