Tuesday, February 10, 2009

It's Time for Pee-wee Herman to Regain His Rightful Place in American Culture, For Crying out Loud!

Life can be so unfair.

-Pee-wee Herman, from Pee-wee's Big Adventure, 1985.

How apropos, though little could Pee-wee Herman or any of us have known just how unfair life could be, or how far Pee-wee would fall. Don't get me wrong: I don't condone what Pee-wee was doing in that adult theater, and he'll be the first to tell you that he should never have been in the theater in the first place. Really, though, don't we as a culture react a little strongly to sex scandals? I mean, should Bill Clinton have had his entire second term stalled because of sex? Should Pee-wee have had his career reduced to occasional supporting roles and cameos?

Often when I tell people that I count Pee-wee Herman as one of my heroes, they sort of chortle and think that I just have to be joking. They'll scoff and say things like, that sicko? but what they don't remember is that, in his heyday, Pee-wee was a cutting edge superstar who, aside from making high quality entertainment, sought to tear down some of the truly useless boundaries that define our culture. Pee-wee is male, but wears healthy amounts of lipstick and rouge. He is a man; he wears a suit, but the suit doesn't quite fit, and he has more toys than any child you'll ever meet. In his chef d'ouvre, Pee-wee's Big Adventure, he is a homeowner, yes, but there is no car parked in the garage; the film revolves around his search for his stolen bike.

And then there is the matter of his sexuality. Pee-wee is careful most of the time to avoid romantic entanglements (except in the endlessly disappointing Big Top Pee-wee), but that doesn't mean his work is puritanical. His syndicated, award-winning children's show is full of innuendo, which is easy enough to ignore, but it's harder to ignore the chesty Miss Yvonne flitting about and affecting all of the playhouse, man, woman and puppet alike. Or how about Tito the Lifeguard--tanned, topless and ripped--walking around the playhouse in little more than pair of swimming trunks and a whistle? And let's not forget the original comedy show that spawned the tamer Saturday morning series:

Is this kind of stuff good for kids? Of course it is! Why? Because media that makes us think about things in a different way is important. Pee-wee is ambiguous; his playhouse is chaotic and diverse. Sounds kind of like life, doesn't it? Pee-wee is not content teaching us how to add two plus two like that stupid purple dinosaur, because in his world there is no simple arithmetic, no pigeon-holing, no absolutes. Pee-wee tried his damnedest to bring us something weekly that wasn't run of the mill, and he succeeded. For that we owe him a dept of gratitude.

And of course all of this is ignoring the fact that Pee-wee is a brilliant comic. Only a genius could come up with something like this:

Surely such genius deserves a second chance, and there is reason to be excited. IMDB describes Pee-wee's Playhouse, the Movie as 'in production,' and slated for release in 2011. I don't know if the movie will ever be made, but, if we never see Pee-wee again, what a shame that such a talent was wasted on something as petty as masturbation.



Kid Shay said...

Watching it as a grown person, I was shocked to find how truly funny Pee-wee's Big Adventure is. I'm going to have to re-watch the TV show now, to catch all the references I missed the first time.

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...

When you combine Pee-wee, Phil Hartman and Tim Burton, greatness is inevitable.


Anonymous said...

Three quick stories that have always stuck with me:

1) the time my brother was invited to a batmitzvah in our old hometown and who happened to show up for his niece's big day: Paul Reubens with glasses and beard intact.

2) The fact that my fifth grade teacher, Mr. Penta, was obsessed about "Pee Wee's Big Adventure" and would talk like the character during math class.

3) And the final one is from Criterion Collection for "Down By Law" where Tom Waits talks to Jim Jarmusch on the phone about shooting a scene in New Orleans in the middle of the night. Suddenly, a man appears out of the fog in a striped candy suit and calmly walks over to the set. It's none other than Paul Ruebens! Just happening to hang out in good ole' New Orleans. As Waits says, "You have got to be a brave man to wear striped pants."

live on pee wee..

Nate and Jeff Bowler, Co-Captains said...


No WAY on that first one. No. Freaking. Way.