So, why is Fletch such a failure? It could be that—like it or not—hipster liberalism just doesn't mesh well with screwball comedy. Animal House, the ur-text, pits the lovable ne'er-do-wells of Delta Tau Chi against the duplicitous and icily priggish Dean Wormer, and we know from the start whom we're rooting for. Or take the more recent smash hit Wedding Crashers, in which a pair of charming scoundrels square off against the privileged scion of a great American family. To the extent there's any political subtext here, you might think it's simple, straightforward egalitarianism: You can't let some two-bit tyrant ruin all your fun, and you can't let some J. Press preppie bastard get the girl.
"Icily priggish?" Bite me, Salam. If anything I'm warmly priggish. Just for that he's on double, secret detention.
Start with his reference to the movies mentioned as falling into the genre of "screwball comedy." Really? Most of the screwball comedies (such as the defining classic "It Happened One Night") share only the barest resemblance to "Fletch" and "Animal House." Screwball comedies have never been completely defined but the few things they do tend to have in common are rapid, witty banter, sex without sex, romance and weird situations (having to haul around a leopard for example.) "Animal House" is a great movie but a classic screwball comedy it ain't.
But that nitpicking pales by comparison when put in context of his broader and hugely ignorant take on the politics of these films.
As a movie, Fletch is all but unwatchably bad. But as a cultural artifact, it is invaluable. Reagan had just been re-elected by a landslide when the film hit theaters in 1985, and Fletch reflects, in a strange and roundabout way, an era of wrenching liberal despair. While the enlightened bourgeoisie and their scruffy spawn were no longer running the country, they could at least laugh along with Chevy Chase as he poked fun at Reagan's America—the nouveau riche, the pig-headed cops, the Mormons.
Get that? "Fletch" is a bad film because Chevy Chase is portraying a character that is typical liberal snob. "Fletch" appeals to the left because he spends so much time sneering at little people he runs into in the course of the film. Fletch is a limousine liberal writ large which is why liberals love him.
If "Fletch" represents liberalism then what would be a good example of a film on the other side of spectrum? What could embody the spirit of conservatism? Why "Animal House," of course.
But there's more than a passing resemblance between this narrative and classic right-wing populism. Like "Bluto" Blutarsky rallying his fraternity to ruin the homecoming parade, crafty conservatives have been riling up middle America for decades against champagne-sipping limousine liberals. The boys in Animal House aren't, say, fighting tooth and nail for a living-wage ordinance. These mostly privileged young men are fighting for their right to party—a libertarian cause if there ever was one. And consider that the villain in Wedding Crashers is a Kennedy clone, a cultured environmentalist who hides his woman-hating ways behind earnest platitudes.
The only thing Bluto had in common with modern conservatism is his complete and implacable stupidity. In the scene Salam mentions above Bluto rallies the Deltas by asking rhetorically "did the Americans give up when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?" A line that would be right at home coming out of the mouth of our current President.
"Crafty conservatives?" Puhleeze. The Deltas were a motley assortment of everybody that didn't fit in with the establishment and the school administration that supported them. The Deltas were made up of jews, slobs, drunks and a cross section of Americana that was in no way rich, white and waspy. They weren't "privileged" they were middle class and poor. The Deltas were anything but conservatives. Has he even seen the damn film?
These films did have a libertarian streak but it wasn't "conservative libertarianism," whatever the hell that is. It was that element of libertarianism focused on the idea that if it isn't hurting anyone then it's none of the government's damned business. That idea is anathema to what most self-described conservatives would believe is culturally acceptable.
But in a broader sense all of these films are about the phrase from "Caddyshack" that Salam tries to milk for irony in his title to his article: the slobs vs. the snobs. "Animal House," "Caddyshack" and the lesser "Fletch" are nothing but an index finger to the establishment. The rich and powerful are the villains of all these movies. This is class warfare with the heroes being the not-so-well-to-do. Is there any question which political party Judge Smails would belong to? Or Dean Wormer for that matter?
These films were popular and resonated with the public because they stuck it to the guys with the stick up their butts. Salam may want to pretend differently, but then I would simply answer with my favorite quote from the genre:
Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son.