This Essay On Masculinity Goes To 11

The classic comedy ‘This Is Spinal Tap’ made fun of toxic men during their prime

Chuck Thompson
Published in
7 min readNov 18, 2019

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About halfway into the 1984 film This is Spinal Tap — the trailblazing “rockumentary” that chronicles the career of fictional metal band Spinal Tap — bassist Derek Smalls (played by Harry Shearer) attempts to inject reason into a violent band argument about a new design for their stage show.

“There are solutions to our problems,” says Smalls while chuffing on a fancy pipe. “We can take a rational approach.”

Smalls’ plea for civility is shouted down. The band’s self-destructive momentum carries it forward. The disagreement spins out of control, eventually leading to one of Spinal Tap’s more infamous catastrophes, a concert in which the group finds itself playing arena rock onstage alongside a tiny replica of the Stonehenge monument that is, to quote its red-assed lead singer, “in danger of being crushed by a dwarf.”

Spinal Tap’s episodic celebration of witless, rock and roll absurdity has become a cultural touchstone, even for those who weren’t alive when it was released. “Turn it up to 11” comes from the film, though like “Play it again, Sam” from Casablanca, the classic line doesn’t actually appear in the movie. “These ones go to 11” is how lead guitarist Nigel Tufnel…

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Chuck Thompson
Humungus

Author of five books including Better Off Without ’Em: A Northern Manifesto for Southern Secession, and the comic travel memoir Smile When You’re Lying.