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Boyhood before Boyhood: Making fun, making friends and Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me

‘Suck my fat one you cheap dime-store hood.’

What a line. What a fucking line. 

There is something so unbelievably scathing in the command to ‘suck my fat one,’ something so painfully degrading, something so bloody funny.

No one can insult like the pre-teen; no one is as shameless, as cheeky, no one else has the ability to make such a ridiculous phrase sting so potently.

It is their avoidance of the graphic and overtly profane, and the replacement of it with the euphemistic and childish, that gives them this ability. Conversely, I feel myself completely unable to avoid the profane; an inability I have found myself reflecting on this week, after I received my first ever piece of criticism which, though deeply bruising to my ego, also made my head grow exponentially larger as I now feel I am truly a writer. So, I would just like to give a special message to my good friend, loyal reader and valued critic: fuck shit piss bollocks bitch bugger twat.

Insults in boyhood toe the line between making fun and making friends; never becoming so rude they are no longer funny, their belittling makes the recipient a little boy too. So, when addressed to their adolescent peers, insults are a means of facilitating male bonds, making them laugh with the silly comments they make; and, when addressed to his adult enemies, the insult further solidifies the boyhood camaraderie. In an act like picking his team in PE, the boy must piss off some in order to please others. 

The line I began by quoting is given by Gordo, the protagonist of Rob Reiner’s Stand by Me. Stand by Me (1986) is about a band of outsiders – Gordo, Chris, Teddy, and Vern – who go on the hunt for the body of a missing boy. Despite this morbid-sounding synopsis, Stand by Me is actually really bloody *pause for comedic effect – because, you know, dead bodies* heart-warming: it is about friendship, the group dynamic, and the importance of fraternal bonds as a source of comfort and comedy. 

It is also an unbelievably predictable choice on my part. But you know what, it’s a film on boyhood and this is my column on boyhood; so, shoot me, but I’m going to write on it. 

‘I’ll only be young once.’ ‘Yeah but you’re going to be stupid for the rest of your life.’ 

Rob Reiner presents the longevity of boyhood bonds through the parallel packs that inhabit Stand by Me. The stock characters that create the group dynamic (the leader, the brain, the joker, and the butt of the jokes) remain whether searched for in the group of 12- or 18-year-olds. The older gang, also on the hunt for the body, demonstrate how the group dynamic of boyhood lives on past adolescence – swapping singing for the radio, stories for letterbox-baseball, and camping for racing. Friendship has a real staying-power; and one thing that is not swapped out is the importance of the insult in facilitating this, the making fun that makes life fun. 

Insults can act as a social glue; it is only those who you are truly comfortable with that you can be fucking horrible to – or at least this is what I say to the friend referenced above to salvage the bridges I may have burned in the name of a (hopefully) entertaining article. Fuck, I’m a sell out – next thing you know I’ll be hacking for the Union. 

‘I never had any friends later on like I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?’ 

Even when boyhood ends, the grasp that boyhood friends have on the man’s heart remains. There is always a desire to return, a nostalgia that lets the mere sight of two kids on bikes spark a bloody feature-length film. God, no wonder old men are so fucking bitter.

Stand by Me is available for rental on Amazon, and I promise it’s worth the watch. But of course, if you don’t want to watch it then you can just suck my fat one instead. 

With illustration by Alex Abrahams