question of the day: ‘The Hangover’’s baby versus ‘Drag Me to Hell’’s kitten: who wins the grudge match?

[minor spoilers for The Hangover and Drag Me to Hell]

Kate Ward at EW’s PopWatch wonders whether her reaction to bits in two recent films means she loves kittens more than babies. The gist of it is this: She thinks the baby abuse in The Hangover — the kid getting whacked in the head and getting left in a hot car with only a window cracked — is hilarious, but the feline sacrifice in Drag Me to Hell left her feeling “disgusted and, yes, even angry that the director would choose to include animal abuse in his film.”

I’m not picking on Ward: her post is mostly tongue-in-cheek. But when she wonders if it has something to do with the fact that the first film is a comedy while the second film isn’t… well, she’s wrong about that Drag Me to Hell is a comedy: it’s just a lot drier and a lot more subtle than The Hangover (which explains, I suppose, why Sam Raimi’s film has gone straight to hell — Americans are not known as a people who appreciate dry subtlety).
Ward defends her enjoyment of the baby abuse this way:

I mean, it’s a movie. It’s fiction. This baby is not really being harmed.

And again, she’s being deliberately sorta funny, so I’m not picking on her, but isn’t this what people who do find this kind of stuff funny always say, in all seriousness, in their own defense? As if people who object to this kind of comedy believe it’s all real and the baby is being harmed.

A commenter on Ward’s post homes in on the other strawman argument defenders of this kind of humor invariably toss out:

One of my fave things about the Hangover was how you HAD to leave your Politically Correctness cap at home (esp with the baby and the drunk driving).

As if all those who say that whacking a baby in the head isn’t funny are merely pretending to hold such a view, and secretly find it hilarious, but they stifle their laughter out of fear of what other people will think of them.

Me? I think the bit with the kitten is deeply funny precisely because it plays on our natural tendency to want to protect a defenseless little creature that is relying on humans for its keep. Watching Drag, I cringed when I saw what was in store for Kitty, but I was tickled to see how Raimi understands that this is how the audience will react and goes on to play with that reaction. He’s torturing us, not the kitten, in some ways.

My problem with the bits with the baby in The Hangover isn’t that they’re not funny, it’s that they’re not funny enough. Todd Phillips is no Sam Raimi, and he goes for the cheap, easy laughs rather than working just a little harder to make them genuinely provocative. Then again, Phillips’ movie has made a gazillion dollars, and Raimi’s has made $3.87.

So, my question:

The Hangover’s baby versus Drag Me to Hell’s kitten: who wins the grudge match?

Interpret that any way you like.

(If you have a suggestion for a QOTD, feel free to email me.)

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