If you see as many movies as I have — and I’d strongly caution against doing so — you’ll start to notice the patterns. Through sheer repetition of stock characters and plot threads, Hollywood perpetuates a lot of myths about modern living that are not exactly true. Many of them are downright ridiculous. We Were Promised Hoverboards is a weekly series in which I investigate these myths for sociological and comedic purposes.
The Myth: If a friend is rambling on or acting hysterical, it is perfectly reasonable to smack them in the face to calm them down. Instead of getting mad at being slapped, the friend will say “Thanks, I needed that.”
The Perpetrators: 27 Dresses, Moonstruck, The Producers, 40 Year Old Virgin, Maverick, Groundhog Day, First Wives Club, Scooby Doo 2
Sometimes being a friend means wearing multiple hats — which is great because hats are not only fun, but they increase the chances of saying the word ‘haberdashery.’ A good friend alternately dons the figurative hats of counselor, wingperson, bartender, and manservant. Rarely is one called upon to act as a prison warden, though. Casually doling out corporal punishment in response to a friend’s momentary panic is kind of an uncool thing to do. It’s pretty much beyond the province of parents and nuns these days, and they’re historically fond of eliminating sass-mouth with extreme prejudice. If your friend begins freaking out for whatever reason and needs to pull it together, there are many other ways to calm them down besides slapping them in the face. And there are many ways that person might react to such a blow, but saying “Thanks — I needed that,” is just not one of them. “Ow!”, “Why?”, and *face-punch* are all much likelier.
Characters in movies never seem pissed about getting slapped, as though it were a perfectly welcome addition to the day. On the contrary, they are delighted or at least nonplussed about it. Unless they felt they deserved to be hit, though, they should probably be getting a little plussed. And even if they thought they deserved to be slapped, actually thanking the person who slapped them would be doing the slapper a huge disservice. This moment of gratitude would only validate his or her slapping instincts. “I was right to bring physical violence into the equation,” they would think. “I am what was known in ancient times as a philosopher-king.” Someone armed with a concrete faith in their judgment of when a good smacking is in order has the potential to become the most annoying person in the world.
Slapping someone in the face is how duels are established. If that’s how a person is supposed to treat a friend when they get hysterical, you have to wonder how we’re supposed to handle other difficult situations. A robust ball-kicking if your boyfriend isn’t enthused enough about meeting your friends? Spearing a server’s arm with a steak knife if the day’s specials aren’t that special? Giving a “swirlie” to the co-worker who is always in the bathroom when you are, as if he timed his visits to yours? It’s a slippery slope. Using the backside of your hand in a social situation is pretty much sociopathic, though. Portraying this behavior as cutesy and fun in the movies slaps us all in the brain-face; and no thanks, movies, we did not need that.