Tuesday, March 26, 2013
Did Derek Smalls plant the cucumber?
I watched This is Spinal Tap for probably the eighth or ninth time this past weekend, having just watched it for the seventh or eighth time a little over a year ago.
You'd think by this point I wouldn't be discovering lots of new things about it, or maybe I should say, that I wouldn't be finding new interpretations of certain scenes. (This is Spinal Tap not being known as a movie where you interpret the meaning of scenes, per se.)
But I did have a new discovery of sorts this weekend, or a realization that maybe I hadn't read something correctly on all previous times I watched the movie.
When Derek Smalls (Harry Shearer) has to go through the metal detector three times at the airport, I always thought having the cucumber in his pants was a prank meant to embarrass airport security and thumb his nose at airport security conventions. A punk rock act of defiance.
Now I've decided that the most obvious interpretation of the scene had escaped me for over a half-dozen viewings: It's a prop designed to enhance the sense of sexual prowess he emanates, and he's gotten so used to it that he simply walks around with it all the time. Meaning that even though the two female security agents are embarrassed, it's Derek who is more embarrassed.
I guess I still don't know which it is, so I'd like to ask you.
It's not that on some level, I didn't think the cucumber was also a prop meant to enhance the impression of his sexual prowess. I knew that joke was also being made. But something about the way Derek reacts to the incident made me think he knew it would set off the metal detector.
For starters, he doesn't show much surprise when the wand reveals the location of the metal source. Then he unwraps the aluminum foil from the cucumber and drops it on the table with the same cool dismissivness as a rock singer who drops his microphone and walks away. Then there's the laughter of his bandmates, which I always thought was with him, targeted at the security guards, rather than at him.
But my erstwhile interpretation would require us to reimagine the character entirely. Every other time we see Derek in this movie, he's polite, humble and kind -- he doesn't seem like he has a bone in his body that would try to make another person feel bad. He doesn't take the piss out of people; he gets the piss taken out of him. If we decide he's going to turn on a dime and (mildly) sexually humiliate the airport security guard, that's not the Derek we know.
But if he does walk around all the time with a cucumber (not an armadillo) in his pants, what are the logistics of that? How does he sit comfortably? How does he keep it from falling out? How often does he have to change the cucumber so it doesn't start to go bad? And why would he chance such a thing, when the movie seems to indicate he's getting tail left and right? If you live a rock star lifestyle that might involve unpremeditated sex at any moment, why would you risk blowing it by having your girl find a cucumber in your pants?
However, in that picture above, he does look a might bit embarrassed, doesn't he? It's hard to say if he's embarrassed or just playing the joke very straight. How the joke plays out could be either. By pretending to remove every metal he has on each pass through, he could be just intentionally wasting everyone's time and drawing more attention to the ridiculousness he perceives in the process. Or, he could have literally forgotten that he had a metal source next to his junk.
What ultimately convinces me that it was, indeed, a prank, is that the cucumber is encased in foil. If you were just augmenting your crotch area to affect the bulge that appears in your pants, why would you wrap that augmentation in foil? It wouldn't change the shape of the bulge.
It would help keep the cucumber fresh, however.