SCREENING ROOM; the Royal Family and the Full Monty: Kicking the Celebrity Habit

Article excerpt

There has rarely been a sweeter commentary about the pathetic search for celebrity than The Full Monty , a low-budget, no-frills, British comedy directed by Peter Cattaneo. In a rusted-out, postindustrial, waste dump of a city in the north of England, six unemployed, directionless, depressed men bump into one another at the unemployment office and hatch a plot to earn a little money by putting on a strip show in which they are the strippers. Though their bodies range from beanpoles to beanbags and their dancing styles range from waddles through limps, jerks and swishes to falling on their faces, these guys have little dignity left to lose and few other options.

The leader of the sextet (Robert Carlyle) has lost his wife to a man with a job and is rapidly losing the respect of his ever-tolerant but knowing son who would do anything to protect his father from his endless ineptitude and crackpot schemes. Carlyle's buddy, Mark Addy, is fat and fearful of impotence. He can't believe that his lonely, horny wife could possibly love him. Their former boss, also one of the group and a stuffy and irritable older man, has yet to tell his frivolous wife that he has lost his job, so he dresses for work each morning and spends the day hiding as their life savings are frittered away. The trio recruits more misshapen misfits: a suicidal mama's boy, an aging black man with penis envy and a clumsy kid who is spectacularly well equipped for the job, but can't walk across the stage without falling down,

Through humiliations and misadventures, but with solidarity of effort, the guys build up enough strength to not only put on the show, but maybe even to strip off their little red G-strings and "go the full monty" to one another, to a room full of cheering women and especially to their loved ones. These men, who have felt they had nothing to offer but themselves, discover that, cut off by their sense of shame, they had not been offering themselves at all. When they come out of their various closets and strip off their clothes, they strip off their masks and armor as well. They learn that heroism and physical perfection are not required for self-pride or the love of others, but honesty is.

In heartening scenes between the goofily inept Carlyle and his far-wiser son, and between the blubbery, hangdog Addy and the wife who can't reach through his shame, we see that the families love these men and want honor for them, and they think the men can get honor by exposing themselves to the world. Stripping hasn't been put in such a positive light since Gypsy . It is seen here as an expression of pride and self-respect rather than  as an aggressive, exploitative or degrading act. Making a public spectacle of oneself is seen as a way of declaring yourself to be worthy of notice and attention. When it happens in The Full Monty , it is exhilarating. We love and cheer these guys.

Our world gives an inordinate amount of attention to those who try to repair their bruised dignity by stripping off their protective covering, making themselves known to us and distracting us from what we're doing so we can watch them do their stuff for our adoration. They make themselves celebrities. The more the family and the community crumbles, the more disconnected our own lives become, the more likely we are to live vicariously through celebrities and to use them as models for life. Of course, we should be wary of the stability of people who sell their bodies and souls so they can be ogled by strangers, but what choice do we have? If we are to watch lives happen--and we must if we are to understand anything outside ourselves--celebrities offer readily available alternatives to our own families.

Celebrities are like pets to whom we give attention and love. …