“To call you stupid would be an insult to stupid people! I’ve known sheep that could outwit you. I’ve worn dresses with higher IQs. But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?” – A Fish Called Wanda
It happened again. It haunts me. Family members do it. Friends do it. Random audience members do it. And whenever they do it I seethe. It’s the thing that makes me the most angry and I hate it. It’s the Long “S” Stupid. That sibilant that expresses just how contemptuous the speaker is of the subject. “This is SSsssssstupid,” they’ll say, and I’ll know that they’ve checked out. Something has turned them off and they’ll never recover again. I first noticed it when I was watching an episode of Community with my family, and at some point, likely one of the more slapstick-y points, my dad just said “SSSssssstupid.” But there’s a problem. The subject, the SSSsssssstupid thing, is almost never actually stupid. It’s weird, sure. It’s different, it catches you off guard and it challenges you, but it is rarely actually stupid.
I most recently heard the Long “S” Stupid in the theater, watching The Cabin in the Woods. That is a film that is different from a lot of the horror that is popular today, and it’s even different from the movie that the marketing told you it’d be. If you went to the movie expecting a slash-fest you’re in for a shock. Firstly, it’s a comedy as much (or more than) it is a horror film, an element that was absent from most of the advertising of the film. Horror is a genre that generally takes itself seriously – too seriously, often (Saw) – and an audience that goes to a movie called The Cabin in the Woods won’t be expecting to laugh a lot. My audience didn’t crack up until a good 15 minutes into the movie, long after the first joke flew (that happened in the first few seconds of the film). After the dam burst they were looser and quicker to laugh, which was great, but those first 15 minutes also contained some great jokes that were missed because the audience wasn’t even looking for the film to be funny. This is, however, just setting the table for the Long “S” Stupid.
The Cabin in the Woods is a movie that has a few surprises in store for it’s audience. I won’t go into much detail here but if you want to go in completely unsoiled by spoilers you might want to skip on to the next paragraph and assume that I made excellent and salient points about everything. Ok, here we go. The first surprise happens with the first shot of the film, showing us that there’s more going on in this movie than in your typical horror flick. It’s hinted at in the trailers, so it’s not a total surprise, but the full story is a little more in-depth than what you might expect. A lot of good horror works on a psychological level as well as a visceral level, so it’s not unheard of that there’d be more than just slashing, but the past few years have shown that the smart horror film is not the most popular genre. I’ll point again to the Saw franchise. The first film is pretty smart, but each successive sequel got dumber and dumber, raking in more and more money as they did so. When The Cabin in the Woods twists even further and the characters begin to realize what’s going on there’s a point where you’ll either go with it or jump off the train. It happens in an elevator and we get a peek at what’s to come. It was at this point where a member of my audience announced that, “This movie is SSSsssssstupid.”
Of course, that moment was the point where the film solidified into my favorite of the year so far, and a potential top 100 film. So what is it about those Long “S” Stupid moments that turns some off and energizes others into love? It seems, in my experience, like some people just don’t want to go exploring with their entertainment. We’ve become so entrenched in specific forms and expectations that we can practically predict an entire movie from a two-minute trailer or know what’s going to happen in a TV episode within the first five minutes. When those movies and TV shows then confound our expectations and do something different we can have one of those two reactions, embrace or reject. Neither is inherently better than the other, both are completely valid reactions. But if you have uttered the Long “S” Stupid at something, ask yourself why. Why are you reacting that way to that piece of media? What, exactly, is stupid about it? Is there a different way to see it? Could it maybe be silly instead of stupid (I’d call both of my examples, Community and The Cabin in the Woods, stupendously silly and I love that about them)? Could it just be different from what you were expecting? Don’t fear difference! Embrace it! Love it!