Caddyshack has reappeared in my life a couple of times recently. It was released the year I graduated high school and left for college, and it played on the midnight movies a lot, so I saw it (a lot). I’ll not swear that I saw it in any clear-minded state, but oh my word I laughed a bunch, every time, so the fact that it has reappeared makes me happy, and makes me wonder…
I haven’t watched it in its entirety for several years, but when I saw it was on an option on a recent flight I didn’t hesitate. I giggled quietly and hysterically to myself for the next two hours, and since then I have sat down and watched it again. I’m a little embarrassed to admit this but I laughed at all the same places, most of which are here.
However, what makes me want to write about the film is what it satires. There are recent films (and series) that poke fun at the rich (the first two seasons of Arrested Development are genius, I think), but they seemingly can’t end without the rich people being either proven to be evil in some fundamental way or finding a way to redeem themselves. The idea that they have taken advantage of structural, systemic advantages in a skewed, unequal system seems impossible for contemporary Hollywood to comprehend, and the resulting cultural work that is done seems predictable – it justifies the rich and their place in our culture.
I’m not arguing somehow that the 80s films were better in a more socially conscious way – saying that Caddyshack is some sort of hyper-intentional shredding of the way that the rich function in our culture is a hard argument to make, and there are definitely indie films that satirize the uber-wealthy in funny and useful ways. Coming hard on the heels of the hyper-earnestness of the Sixties, films like Caddyshack got shredded by the left for reducing the debate about wealth accumulation to ridiculous levels and thus invalidating the entire discussion. There’s something to be said for that argument, of course.
My nostalgia for Caddyshack, I think, is its relentless attack on just how ridiculous the conventions and rituals that grew up around the country club environment of 1980s middle America were. I am not going to write an analysis of the film in its entirety here, but a couple of thoughts are useful I think…
- Ty Webb (Chevy Chase) as bumbling, stumbling rich guy is a beautiful takedown of the foundational myths of the US that the rich get their rewards because they are smarter and harder working than the rest of us. Ty doesn’t even know what he owns, and he certainly doesn’t know how to manage anything, but through the luck of inherited wealth and I’m assuming a smart financial manager (soon to be indicted while working for Lehman Brothers, but I’m spoiling the plot I’m guessing) he can spend his days playing golf and living a life of debauchery. The fact that he has to be rescued in his high-stakes match with far lesser players by a scrappy working class kid is perfect.
- Judge Smails (Ted Knight) is brilliant as the judge who has absolutely zero self-awareness (well, maybe just a smidge). His character has become a .gif fer crissakes…and who knew the creators of Caddyshack would so adroitly capture the culture of the Internet while the whole thing was in its infancy?
- Carl Spackler (Bill Murray) might be the hardest to figure. He seems to be barely functioning, but the film takes the time to show that he has brains and ambition and a misguided revolutionary impulse. His masculinity is a satire too – he dryhumps ballwashers (look those up kids) while watching women play golf, yet another shredding of the alpha male culture of country club golf.
I’m looking back at the film through a nostalgic lens. In these days of insane and rapidly increasing income inequality the sort of wealth that comes from being a Brahmin family whose most recent head has become a federal judge seems quaint. Still, the film’s gleeful satire of the rich and their complete bumbling ineptitude makes me smile and dream that maybe, just maybe, we can get our shit together and create a fair, just, and humane world.