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'American Pie': Fresh-Baked Raunch

It's hard to shock people these days where sex is concerned. Still, I would imagine that a few readers of the Washington Post gagged on their breakfast coffee when they saw the recent front-page headline "Parents Are Alarmed by an Unsettling New Fad in Middle Schools: Oral Sex."

In the article, which noted spottings of this trend in several Virginia and Maryland schools, one suburban Washington educator stated that in junior high, oral sex is now "the expected minimum [sexual] behavior," and the author of a book on adolescents remarked that "it's done commonly, with a shrug. It's part of the grab bag of sexual activities."

So Bill Clinton does have a legacy after all.

And so the sexification of America proceeds. Round up the usual suspects: Monica and Bill; Howard Stern; Marv Albert; Madonna; "Friends"; "Ally McBeal"; "There's Something About Mary"; and so on. Yet none of these would have significantly influenced our society and culture had they not found a large audience. When one level of smut succeeds in the marketplace, the genre must necessarily trigger more extreme smut. The public and the media are partners in a decadent dance that debases both - and then causes each to blame the other for this sordid state of affairs, even as both enjoy and profit from it.

We witnessed the latest steps in this dance during the second weekend in July. On Friday the 9th, Universal released "American Pie," a megaraunchy comedy about four male high-school seniors trying to lose their virginity before the fast-approaching prom. Over the next three days, the public endorsed the product by making "American Pie" number one at the box office, to the tune of $18 million.

Give "American Pie" credit for focus: Virtually every scene features the pursuit of sex, sex being only an urge that demands satisfaction, much like the need to eat or sleep. The belief that premarital intercourse is wrong is simply unacceptable; in the context of this film, the girl who refuses to make love with her boyfriend until he tells her he loves her is a staunch traditionalist.

(Perhaps reviewer Kenneth Turan of the Los Angeles Times had her in mind when he wrote that "American Pie" "promote[s] decent values." Turan also called it a "hybrid of 'South Park' and Andy Hardy," which sound like they might be fighting words to Mickey Rooney.)

"American Pie" is being touted as the first teen sex comedy in which the female characters aren't objectified. This means that we're in the '90s and girls now can be as crude as boys. Take Michelle, who at first comes off as an annoying bore whose entire life seems to be the school band. Then she mentions to Jim, her prom date and one of the four senior virgins, that she once used her flute to pleasure herself. Ah! She is somebody! Jim had been suffering through the evening with no expectation that he and Michelle would wind up in bed together, but sure enough, now they do. For "American Pie," fornication equals a happy ending.

"American Pie" is rated R (and, in fact, required multiple edits to avoid an NC-17) which means no one sixteen or under should be seeing it unaccompanied by a parent or guardian. But that rating's a joke: the movie is being marketed directly at youngsters. The movie's appeal to younger teens and adolescents so worries Los Angeles County supervisor Mike Antonovich that he wrote a letter to Edgar Bronfman, Jr., head of Universal's parent company, Seagram, to object.

In his letter, Antonovich expressed dismay that the film was being advertised in magazines which target readers as young as twelve. He also was upset that Universal was co-sponsoring, in his words, "a contest where the prizes include a month's supply of condoms and a washable sleeve, reportedly designed to assist masturbation." In response, Seagram said that "American Pie" is meant for 15 [sic]-to-24-year-olds, and that parents should decide if it's suitable for their children.

How is that for corporate responsibility?

What's Hollywood's next move in terms of pushing the teen-sex envelope? Possibly "Coming Soon," which deals with the sex lives of three female Manhattan high-schoolers. The film's writer/director says she was trying to "put a radical message into the mainstream consciousness, which is that teenage girls have a right to go after good sex."

The online magazine Salon reports that at this point "Coming Soon" doesn't have a distributor because the industry thinks it's "too lurid." But that was before the grosses for "American Pie" provided support for those who feel there's no such thing.