blink 182’s Mark Hoppus loves a bestiality gag

Fart for art’s sake

A not-so-fond farewell to the “sophomoric male”, the man-child purveyor of infantile humour


This article is taken from the December/January 2022 issue of The Critic. To get the full magazine why not subscribe? Right now we’re offering five issue for just £10.

“Are we regressing, and is it progress?”
— Lionel Tiger’s review of Man child: A Study of the Infantilization of Man by David Jonas and Doris Klein, The New York Times, 27 December 1970

He’s vulgar; he’s fun; he plays pranks, loves porn, and might piss in his buddy’s cereal. He farts; he burps; he shits his pants; he strips down buck naked and jogs through his neighborhood, and all for a laugh. He always takes the schtick a step too far. But that’s okay, he was only joking. The excess, in and of itself, is funny. He wasn’t quite a punk, he lacked that hardness, that grit, but maybe he was a “pop punk”, whose subversion was more about an immature sense of humour than anything truly political.

Maybe you recognise him as a character from a late ’90s teen movie, like American Pie. Perhaps you think of Jackass’s Johnny Knoxville. Or maybe the first thing that comes to mind is blink 182 singing “What’s My Age Again?”. A song, which, according to bassist Mark Hoppus, was titled “Peter Pan Complex”, until their label forced them to change it to something catchier.

This archetype was not the man child young women are warned about in publications like Jezebel, at least, not yet. He was something in between. A pain in the backside, but we loved him for it. And now he’s gone.

The sophomoric male

What do we call him? Is he a man child, just with a more loving gaze? Laughed with, and therefore excused? Do we just call him the “sophomoric male”? 

The easy answer to “where is the sophomoric male?” is that he, and his style of humour, became passé. And to be clear, the sophomoric male wasn’t just about farts and burps and self injury (“stunts”) played for laughs. He also joked about bestiality, incest, and date rape. It’s not just that people aren’t laughing at these jokes any more, it’s that this style of humour is punishable by firing, or worse yet, public cancellation. 

Let me tell you why you’re going to get fatter and fatter, dog semen is full of calories.
— Mark Hoppus speaking to bandmate Tom DeLonge during a live set, on The Mark, Tom, and Travis Show

These things were also offensive in the world pre 2013, which is around the same time digital publications started printing missives about what we should do about our “man child problem” like they were the only kind of content that would generate clicks — but then the offensiveness was part of the charm. 

Christian mothers’ associations could be up in arms about Jackass or South Park, a sophomoric male favourite, all they wanted, but that didn’t mean that either show would be cancelled. Radios could censor blink 182, but that didn’t mean albums wouldn’t sell. Chain store Spencer Gifts might have been an “obscene” retailer, under fire for stocking variously racist and sexually provocative items; but it nonetheless remained a popular destination for Vans wearing, Warped Tour attending, graphic tee bedecked, skateboarding, mall rat teenagers. 

The freewheeling system of the late 90s had a vested interest in these media properties, in this vibe, and the borderline kayfabe between the puritanical Christian Right and the Vulgar Rebels acting out against them, gave them cachet. Just like staged wrestling, just about everyone was in on the racket.

Who now cares if you say “boobies”?

We’re still adjusting to our new fault lines, though. Angry Christian mothers who would be scandalised by blink 182’s frequent allusions to bestiality still exist, but more prevalent are angry, left leaning moms who see “toxic masculinity” where Tipper Gore wannabes saw something even more sinister, even satanic. An off handed joke about “people I hate / down from anywhere state / trying to intoxicate girls / to give them head after the party,” from blink 182’s “Party Song”, would be immediately flagged as rape culture, whereas 22 years ago it might have tripped obscenity alarms for its mention of oral sex. 

Answering, “where is the sophomoric male?” by saying, “he was erased as we began to vilify masculinity in the mainstream,” is simple and obvious. Indeed, an accurate charting of changing mores surely notes that the tone shift around “man children” began a decade ago. But something else changed too.

The taboos that the sophomoric male played with years ago simply aren’t taboos today

A brief look at cinema reveals the closing of the Fart Epoch: we left a golden age of sophomoric male dominated comedies, starting with 2003’s Old School and ending with 2012’s This Is 40, which Joe Reid of the Tribeca Film Festival described as a “eulogy to the Man Child”. This tracks closely with the loss of masculine comedies: we see the female led “train wreck” style of humour start to take off, a trend that had been slowly percolating since 2008: Baby Mama, Young Adult, Bridesmaids, Trainwreck, and even Lena Dunham’s Girls might all be considered instalments of this genre. 

Mainstream culture commentators have also mourned the loss of the lovable man child, the sophomoric male, though seem to struggle with giving the phenomenon a name. 

They talk about anything but the loss of this male archetype untainted by #MeToo accusations or the constraints of “toxic masculinity”. That when these characters do exist, they must either be de sexualised, or held accountable for their humour. Over at The Ringer, Alan Seigel waxes lyrical about Judd Apatow’s oeuvre, and mourns that Big Blockbuster comedies just don’t exist anymore. They don’t make the same kind of money. 

His article mentions one piece of this puzzle, but whether it’s Apatow or MTV or Comedy Central or goofy pop punk acts, there was an energy shift. An energy shift that isn’t just about the cash these movies no longer bring in. They just don’t make movies about male friendships or even male interiority in the same way that they did when Judd Apatow reigned supreme. 

If “we just started vilifying men” isn’t the whole answer though, what is? Superficially, it may seem like we simply don’t need the sophomoric male anymore. Saying “poop”, or talking about “boobies” on stage isn’t funny partially because we aren’t 13 anymore, but more saliently, because the taboos they played with just aren’t taboos in 2021. The people to whom that humour originally appealed have grown up. The Overton window has moved with them: it’s mundane — borderline compulsory — to discuss any manner of bodily function or sex act. 

But on the other hand, The sophomoric male’s appeal wasn’t simply that he said naughty words. It was a whole ethos, a 1990s to early 2010s version of a jester, this time in cargo shorts. He didn’t take anything too seriously, least of all himself. 

Where is obscenity hiding? 

Has the Sophomoric Male merely shapeshifted as our media landscape has shifted, and as American culture has all but mandated that everything become politicised? With typical male cunning, does the sophomoric male exist, but wearing new, indifferently chosen clothes? 

We know he’s not on TV or in cinemas, but those media aren’t as relevant now as in 1999. We speak a lot about how film is trapped in a feedback loop of reboots but that’s partially because expecting good film in 2021 is like expecting a stand out, original opera in 1983. It’s not that nobody is working in the form, it’s just that it’s not where the energy is, due to new technology and different economic interests. Nor is it where the best men are.

Rather than film or music, it’s internet subcultures, as captured in cohesive, mimetic aesthetics (memes, slang), and the “Internet Personality”, across platforms, which are the art forms of today. The new sophomoric male therefore could be a Twitter power user, a podcaster, a TikTok star.

The sophomoric male is gone from cinema, TV and the stage, but he can still tweet

or Maybe the sophomoric male’s new form is as party lifestyle pranksters like the Nelk boys? Whom you won’t have heard of, but your tastes are in the minority now. Yet these online turns still seem to miss something about the sophomoric male. It’s not just about japes and gags. Indeed, many of these influencers err more towards the fratty side (or “blokish”, as I’m told it translates in British). Fratty is what we might have called “preppy” twenty or thirty years ago and is fundamentally in opposition to whatever the elusive vibe of the present moment is. 

Take the hosts of the podcast Cum Town, which might have been considered countercultural five years ago. If the name of podcast doesn’t give it away, the hosts’ sense of humour certainly does. Discussing how co host Adam Friedland defecated on a chair would be a greatest hit here. Plainly there are still spaces in which men are being performatively male. But they’re not contributing to what that great seer Tina Brown called Buzz.

Maybe the energy of the “lovable man child” has been coded as “right wing” or even “far right”. Does the “lovable man child” still exist, but as unfiltered meme accounts on Twitter that don’t care if they come off as sexist, racist, or even just plain gross? In other words, as shitposters who have been politicised more often because they don’t follow the new rules of humour, as opposed to any genuinely held policy positions? They’re not making political jokes: it’s that they’re making jokes, which is a political act. The sophomoric male is gone from cinema, TV and the stage, but he can still tweet.

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