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06 March, 2010

“I am a Drive-In Mutant”: The Wisdom of Joe Bob Briggs

Joe Bob Briggs’ Drive-In Oath:
“We are Drive-In mutants; we are not like other people. We are sick, we are disgusting. We believe in blood, and breasts, and in beasts. If life had a vomit meter, we'd be off the scale. As long as one Drive-In remains on the planet Earth, we will party like jungle animals. We will boogey till we puke. The Drive-In will never die.”

As I believe I’ve said before, I do not like movie critics. In fact, I once stated, “My tastes are, as I’ve indicated, rather unique… the chance that there’s a critic out there whose taste in film parallels mine is roughly equal to the chance that I will win the Lotto on the same day that Jessica Simpson proposes to me” [“Horror… with a Critical Eye,” 2 January, 2010]. That was written, however, before co-author Bobbie Culbertson and I began research and work on the upcoming book, “Dixie’s Drive-Ins: The Southern Drive-In Culture of the ‘70’s.” No such book could be written, of course, without examining the contributions of one Joe Bob Briggs to that culture.

Briggs (aka John Bloom), a man with whom I had only a passing familiarity prior to that research, epitomizes the Drive-In culture of the South the way that John Wayne epitomizes the Western, or Marilyn Monroe the Hollywood Sex Symbol. Each is a perfect representation of an ideal; not reality as it is or was; merely a construct of popular culture. The old west was seldom, if ever, as depicted in Wayne’s films. I’ve known several women with more real beauty and ‘sex appeal’ than Monroe. Likewise, Briggs himself is just a caricature, an exaggeration, of the typical Southern Drive-In fan. But within that exaggeration is conveyed much wisdom.

What sets Joe Bob apart from his fellow critics is the fact that, first and foremost, he is one of us. He has a love for, and an understanding of, the same films we do. He was the first critic who watched movies the way we do, and knew what we wanted from them. He didn’t look down at us because we loved BASKET CASE and TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE—he was right there with us, hootin’ and hollerin’ from the Toronado in the third row. He didn’t go for the “Indoor Bullstuff,” the movies over which the other critics swooned. His criteria were simple: More blood, more breasts, and more beasts. He measured movies with a vomit meter, and told us right up front what we needed to know.

Joe Bob’s reviews were seldom about the movie itself. He might begin by recounting the time May Ellen Masters stole his ’68 Dodge Dart and ran off with the owner of the Western Auto, or how he was trying to raise bail money for Rhett Beavers, who got caught with $9,000 worth of “Arkansas Polio Weed” (the cops wouldn’t believe it was for Rhett’s “personal use…”). He would lament the closing of yet another Drive-In, and rail against the “High Sheriffs,” his term for the editors who insisted upon censoring his reviews. Eventually however, he would discuss the movie, in terms that were plain, simple, and not condescending. He didn’t waste time prattling on about motifs and subtext. He cut straight to the meat of the matter—how much blood, how many breasts (noting any especially good ones), and what kind of beasts. Put simply, we knew if he liked the movie, then we’d like the movie, and for the same reasons.

Before we began researching “Dixie’s Drive-Ins,” I was convinced that all movie critics were the same—arrogant, pretentious snobs who looked down their noses at the common films beloved by the common moviegoer. From Ebert to Maltin, I was sick of hearing them praise as stupendous cinematic achievements films that quite literally put me to sleep. From TOOTSIE, to FORREST GUMP, to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN, they raved over the movies that were the most boring, unentertaining cinematic crap I had ever tried to sit through, while trashing movies I loved—if they bothered to review them at all.

But Joe Bob is different. From his “rules to live by,” to “We are the Weird,” the parody of the song “We are the World” that caused his firing from the Dallas Times-Herald, from TNT’s Monstervision to his live concert appearances, through countless DVD commentaries and introductions, he has remained one of us. He gets us. And because of that, we still rally to his cause.

Everyone stand, raise your right hands, and repeat after me… “We are Drive-In Mutants …

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