Laughed at and not with: Why I’m mad at Seth Gordon

Following two men’s battle for the world record for Donkey Kong, Seth Gordon’s documentary “King of Kong: A Fistful of Quarters” tells a universal David and Goliath story of a meek and likeable middle school science teacher toppling a video game empire run by a self involved hot sauce tycoon. Applauded by both viewers and critics, the documentary quickly rose to cult status. It received an astonishingly high score of 96%, especially considering its obscure and potentially inaccessible subject.

However, when I kept reading about how “remarkably hilarious” all the critics thought it was, a sour and sad feeling kept sneaking up on my chest. Obviously, it was the humour that had won all of the critics over, but the problem is that this movie was not a fictional comedy whose winningly clever writing and acting got us all snickering. What we were all laughing at were real lives of real people. None of these characters were trying to make us laugh. What made me sad and a little angry for the characters was the fact that we weren’t laughing with them. We were laughing at them.

It was almost cruel how Seth Gordon ruthlessly edited this movie into a parody of the subculture using the genuine words and actions of those who living in it. I kept cringing over and over again at the character’s earnestness and total lack of awareness of how much we were laughing at them 

To these men, keeping or winning the world record for Donkey Kong was a serious matter; they had devoted an almost pathetic amount of their lives to it. Placing these people and their obscure obsessions and quirky inner lives on display for us to laugh and point makes me resent the filmmakers for sneakily make me snicker and ridicule these innocent people. I was uncomfortable with how shrewdly the editing and storyline made it so I couldn’t help but bleakly pity these men and their sad obsessions. 

Seth Gordon is obviously playing on the stereotype of white middle aged men playing games in their mother’s basement. It was almost unbearable watching Steve pathetically hunched in his garage for hours, ignoring the desperate cries of his son. Gordon including unnecessary details story-wise like the hand weight exercises and comparisons to Olympic titles is exactly how he crafted a film I couldn’t help liking. I just wished that it hadn’t made me feel like a bully in the process.

–Diana Zhu


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