One of the oldest jokes ever recorded is a dick joke: It’s an ancient Roman mosaic which pictures a man with a leg-sized penis; the inscription reads, “The same to you.” The first written dick joke is from about 500 AD and goes, “An egghead asked his father how much a five-liter flask holds.” I have no idea what this means, but I’d imagine crude Roman bros found that shit hilarious. The oldest joke in British history is also—you guessed it—a dick joke from the 10th century “What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before? The answer: A key.” Before humans had invented the printing press, they were telling dick jokes.
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Over thousands of years, the dick joke has been refined, analyzed, and told in many different forms through various mediums. The dick joke has survived, evolving slightly but ultimately remaining the same. Dicks, after all, are a cheap laugh.
And that path of existence has led us to Baywatch, which will probably become the highest-grossing dick joke in human history.
Baywatch knows exactly what it is and what it’s selling. This is a big, dumb movie about beautiful people on beautiful beaches who race jet skis and fight crime. This is 119 minutes during which you can watch Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron do Crossfit or Kelly Rohrbach run across the warm, white sand (“Why does she always look like she’s running in slow-mo?” Alexandra Daddario’s character asks) instead of worrying about how many state secrets Trump bragged about to the Russians this week. This is the movie the summer of 2017 so desperately deserves. At a time when dicks have infiltrated the highest reaches of our government, dick jokes are basically the backbone for what will eventually make hundreds of millions of dollars.
Baywatch will probably become the highest-grossing dick joke in human history.
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Exactly how many pivotal scenes in Baywatch revolve around dicks? Take the scene early in the film in which Ronnie (Jon Bass) gets his penis stuck in a folding beach chair. The film’s writers, Damien Shannon and Mark Swift, have a baffling dedication to setting up this unbelievably long joke. First, Ronnie gets an erection when he receives CPR from C.J. (Rohrbach), and then he dives to the ground in order to hide it only to wind up trapped in the chair. After C.J.’s failed attempts at removing it, she calls over Mitch (Johnson) to help—which then attracts a crowd of onlookers, gleefully filming the whole ordeal with their phones. (The scene sets up a running joke that continues throughout the movie: Ronnie, the only normal-shaped human in this film, actually has an abnormally large dick.)
Another key dick scene takes place in a morgue—when the flaccid penis of a slain local councilman becomes the focal point of a shot, framed directly between Johnson and Efron. (At one point, Mitch takes a few photos of Efron’s character Matt while he examines the penis for needle marks) Then there’s Johnson’s big, climactic speech at the end of the film, which inexplicably includes the phrase “scratch my back with a whale’s dick.”
But the most important dick joke in Baywatch is Zac Efron himself.
Efron’s Matt Brody is a Ryan Lochte-type Olympic swimmer: a basic bro who parties and drinks away whatever talent and respect he’s earned from winning gold medals. After getting busted one too many times, he’s ends up the ward of the Baywatch lifeguard squad—a combination of community service and publicity stunt. They’re lifeguards—how hard could the work be? Very hard, as it turns out, when the hyper-macho Mitch Buchannon is more interested in busting secret drug rings than getting a tan on the beach. (In one of his only mildly intelligent moments, Efron asks why the hell these lifeguards are investigating high-stakes drug dealers in the first place. It’s a good question!)
The paper-thin plot matters less than the fact that the movie knows exactly how dumb it is—and how blatant its attempts to flip the Baywatch script actually are. While the men of Baywatch took the backseat to the very serious show’s female stars and their bodies (Pamela Anderson, Brooke Burns, Yasmine Bleeth, Donna D’Errico, and Carmen Electra were all more recognizable than the dudes on the show, save for Hasselhoff), it’s Zac Efron who serves as the eye candy in the tongue-in-cheek movie version. He’s the pretty boy parading around on screen, often shirtless and accomplishing ridiculous tasks. (There’s a ten-minute sequence in which he completes an American Ninja Warrior-style obstacle course, his veiny, vaguely phallic biceps nearly bursting with muscle.) The women are in bathing suits, too, but they actually display some intelligence; Matt, on the other hand, doesn’t get how computers work and is possibly, most likely, illiterate.
In 2017’s version of Baywatch, it’s the dumb hunk who’s the butt of the joke, who shows the most skin, who plays the dick and gets shit for it. Is it progress? Probably not—but it’s a start, particularly as expectations for any sort of enlightened portrayal of women in a Baywatch movie were nearly non-existent. But considering the movie is a 69 (nice) million-dollar dick joke, it’s one that could have been a lot less responsible, right?