The Kingsman princess joke

July 26, 2015

I finally saw Kingsman: The Secret Service last night. And I’m glad I did, because it was a lot of fun! I was especially impressed with the gratuitous violence, which was so over-the-top insane as to sprint past enjoyable, take a pit stop in uncomfortable, and end up so deep in ridiculous as to make it clear this was all an affectionate spoof of the typical James Bond-style spy movie. I also really appreciated Eggsy’s arc, and the excellent job his actor did—you don’t go into this movie giving a shit about the punk kid, but he really develops into a great character by the end.

I’d do a full story review, but my Mad Max: Fury Road post confirmed something I suspected: No one cares about a review way after the fact, and since I never get to movies until long past opening weekend, that includes any I’m liable to see. So let’s just talk about one part of the movie.

Let’s talk about the princess anal sex joke.

Let’s be clear: The tone of this movie was as an affectionate spoof, a send up of James Bond-style movie. And when you think of James Bond, you think of a seemingly incongruous amount of explosions for a freakin’ spy (what happened to being sneaky, James?), and the gratuitous porking a beautiful woman. And I use such a derogatory word deliberately, because, let’s face it, there’s nothing admirable about the sex in a James Bond movie. That the phrase “Bond girls” is part of our cultural lexicon is a regrettable thing, and one not the least absolved because it first came about umpteenth years ago—though it certainly explains it.

So the director and script writer(s) felt they had to poke fun at that. Cool. I’m on board.

And in a way, it worked. The princess (spoiler alert) promising anal sex if Eggsy saved the world was so unexpected as to provoke a disbelieving laugh. But the more I thought about it, the more troubling it became, until I had to dash off to the internet to put into words exactly why I was bothered by it so much.

I quickly found the answer. In seeking to lampoon James Bond’s sexual antics, they accidentally furthered a corrosive conceit—that of sex-as-a-reward. Sex should never be something that’s owed. It should be something that the two parties (or more—I don’t know, I don’t know what you get up to, and how many you get up to it with) mutually desire. Preferably enthusiastically. It’s more fun for everyone that way, when you don’t have to worry about having accidentally (or deliberately) coerced anyone into it.

Insert Bill Cosby joke here, that scumbag.

And to be fair, the princess seems enthusiastic about it by the final scene, and Eggsy is a dapper sonofabitch. And if she’s game for anal sex, more power to her; whatever floats your boat ma’am, says I.

The problem is in the presentation. It furthered the sex-as-a-reward misconception that so many actual, non-fictional guys have, when what it should have been doing is what the rest of the movie did—go so far over the top with James Bond-style antics as to make it clear that they’re taking the piss out of the entire genre.

With that in mind, here are a few ways I might have fixed the princess joke:

  • With slightly different delivery, the exact same joke could have worked. If the princess was less frantic when she was talking to Eggsy, for example, and far more, ahem, interested. If she had seen Eggsy and, once she learned that he wasn’t a bad guy, gave him the once over, and liked what she saw. She licks her lips, says something alluring, mentions how—and once again, this should be done after she knows he’s going to let her out no matter what, so it’s not like she’s saying it so he’ll let her out—how she’s been locked up for a long time (nudge nudge, hint hint), and that he’s exactly her type. Actually, I’m not sure how well that would work. It still feels off. But it’s closer.
  • Probably my favorite would be for him to ask for the kiss, and for the princess to agree (preferably while showing some signs of actual interest—he is flirting, so no reason she couldn’t enjoy flirting back). Then that part of the bit ends. He goes off to save the world, comes back, and she kisses him as promised. He then alludes to something more … and she shoots him down. She doesn’t even need to shut him down completely! She could mention that she’s open to a date, maybe mentioning how she likes a man in a nice suit (because once again, the dude is dapper as fuck by then). It’s just that, simply having the obligatory Bond girl moment and then not having it end in sex would have been subversion (and spoof) enough, without the unfortunate implications.
  • Keeping with the flavor of the rest of the movie, they could have gone so over the top as to shatter believability. While the original bar fight scene was brutal enough to be uncomfortable, by the time we were at the church or heads were exploding like fireworks, it was all just too ridiculous to take seriously. If the princess had said all the same things, then he comes back—and it’s revealed that there are three beautiful blonde women in her cell. Or better yet, Merlin has to remotely open all of the cells at once, and while Eggsy is kissing the princess, more girls come into his room and inexplicably jump his bones. Make it too much to believe, and the joke might have worked as the spoof it was intended to be.
  • Another one, which I stole from the top comment on this post: He comes back for his reward, but is stopped when he can’t get into the cell. Of course, that opens up some uncomfortable speculation (is the sex-as-a-reward going to continue as planned, once he figures out how to spring everyone from those cells? It’s not like he’s going to leave them all there), but the anti-climax would have been hilarious. Though perhaps my long infatuation with 8-Bit Theater has just broken me, and I’ve become too fond of the anti-climax. But they’re just so fun!

There we go: Four ways to fix the princess joke. Granted, hindsight is 20/20, and it’s easy to quarterback from the cheap seats (though the Seahawks still should have run the ball). So let me finish with another note.

The treatment of Roxy’s character reveals that Kingsman: The Secret Service was never intended to be misogynistic. When she was first introduced, I was already rolling my eyes—of course the beautiful girl is going to side with the punk protagonist against all the other prickish frat boys. It had romantic subplot written all over it. How cliché!

Then, that never happened. She was treated as a friend, a fellow agent, and a comrade. Sure, it felt like the film (through Eggsy) was talking down to her sometimes, what with her fear of heights—but then she conquered that shit herself when she went into the upper godsdamned atmosphere and shot down a satellite to help save the day. She had her own arc—and granted, it wasn’t as good as Eggsy’s, though she also wasn’t the main character. But it was still good, it was there, and she was treated (as a character) with nothing but respect. She was treated, in effect, as any man in the movie was.

It’s kind of weird how that’s the goal, but there it is.

So any misogyny from the princess joke wasn’t intentional. It was unintentional. Which makes it all the more important to talk about, because, shit, I don’t always get this stuff. I’m still a dude, and I occasionally need to have this shit drilled into my skull by someone explaining it to me like I’m a child. Because my parents (bless their hearts) didn’t talk about this kind of thing much, and my culture sure as hell wasn’t a big help.

Most men are, in effect, at a child’s level of understanding about how corrosive and ubiquitous misogyny is in our society, to the point where I’m saying all this, and I’m sure I still don’t understand the extent! Every time I feel like I get closer to understanding, all I realize is how little I know, and how lucky I am to be able to breeze ignorantly through life, should I so choose.

It’s known-unknowns and unknown-unknowns, people. I may keep flipping the latter into the former, but all that means is I’m beginning to understand how little I understand.

I’ve strayed from the point. The princess joke in Kingsmen is problematic, and unintentionally so. It’s a mistake made by someone who was trying to do better than the films he was lampooning, and fucked it up. I feel for him. I’ve fucked up plenty of times, and I’m sure I’ll do so again—sharing your work in public has that downside.

But Kingsman was still, overall, a lot of damn fun. Three thumbs up, out of some unknown amount. Highly recommended.

As always, thank you for using my Amazon Affiliate link (info).

By Stephen W. Gee

Author of Wage Slave Rebellion, Freelance Heroics, and about two good blog posts out of a hundred.

17 Comments

  1. Reply

    Persey

    I missed The Kingsman at the cinema and having only just seen it on DVD, I was curious to see the reaction of a wider audience…which brought me here.

    Obviously not to everyone’s taste…though I might say there was lots to love in this movie…Ridiculous exploding heads and nigh bloodless action scenes lend this movie a super surreal feel anyway, so why complain when the anal sex joke notches it up a bit…

    My reaction the joke? Initially it made me laugh, then disbelief and left a bad taste that the actual ending couldn’t quite redeem, sadly.

    I think my disgust stems from the already saturated access to/expectations of pornography in contemporary media. I have three teenage daughters and the future expectations of them, sexually, is suddenly alarming…and to see it reinforced in this way left me a bit off. Of course there have been worse sexual ‘bogeymen/taboos’ out there, something for every era…Now I sound like a prude! Not that they’ll be seeing it anytime soon (or that I would purposely censor it) but it just raises the stakes a bit for what is acceptable in mainstream entertainment.

    A courageous alternative would have been for the princess to make the offer,(confirming her European overt sexuality) but Eggsy to turn her down initially/after the rescue but leave the door open for a ‘raincheck’. This could have also fulfilled the movies ‘tongue in cheek’ take on the genre while saving some grace. An all ’round hero. Everyone could have the ending they wanted in their own minds.

    Others have done it with humour and kept everyone on side eg Doctor Who/Torchwood’s Captain Jack Harkness, super hot sexual omnivore who’d flirt with anything with a pulse, and everyone was happy…with their own fantasy.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      The crazy thing is that, while that would have been preferable for all sorts of reason, I’m not sure it would have fit Eggsy’s character. (He ain’t exactly a gentleman, bruv.)

      It’s a tricky situation the writers wrote themselves into. Not inescapable, but certainly fraught, for societal reasons as much as anything.

  2. Reply

    Hector

    Here’s my proposal for an alternate ending: The joke plays out the same way until Eggsy opens the cell, at which point we see that’s it’s actually an S&M torture dungeon. The princess says, “I have some…unusual tastes.” Eggsy is visibly perturbed, but he decides to walk in. Cut to Merlin in the airplane. Through the monitor, he sees Eggsy’s eyesight pan down to the princess’ dress, which she pulls open to reveal…a strap-on dildo. Merlin gulps and says, “You’re on your own, Eggsy.” He closes the monitor. Roll credits.

  3. Reply

    rj

    The joke made me wonder if the Swede’s would be upset because it seemed that the British are also clearly making fun of the Swede’s female royalty and Swede’s females in general… making them the butt of the joke in more ways than one.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      That’s a good question. I haven’t heard about any backlash from Sweden in particular, though it would have almost certainly been drowned out by the general kerfuffle.

      Though if you think about it, no nation came out looking particularly good. I’m pretty sure a US president that looked quite a bit like Obama got blown up in that movie. The fact that the Swedish princess didn’t play ball makes her look a good deal better than the politicians, regardless of how this joke came off in practice.

  4. Reply

    J.

    Hello Stephen,

    I perceived the scene quite different (in the english Version at least), and my perception made my very happy with it.

    True, he asks for a kiss if he lets her out referring to the fairytale ‘kiss the princess trope’. She answers that he can have “far more than a kiss” if he lets her out. Of course that has some sexual implication, but could also mean title, land, cars, money or whatever. She’s just desperate to finally get out there.

    Then they get interrupted because he has to “save the world”. And then she ASKs:
    “If you save the world, we can do it in the ***?!?”
    To me it seems that she does so with anticipation, expectation and hope. She is keen on seizing that opportunity. She does not offer herself as a reward. She asks to get something from that young gentleman, ontop of being rescued (together with the world).

    I saw this scene with utter enjoyment because:
    a) There is a strong Woman who perpetually tells the supervillain to fuck off, despite being his captive. (Yep, she is in distress. But not a damsel. 😉 )
    b) That women seizes an opportunity to get anal sex because she wants it. Sex, especially of the non-vanilla-kind, probably is very hard to come by during the regular life of royalty. Constantly guarded, constantly pursued by press and media you can’t just post on tindr to find someone with similar interests.

    This is how I perceived the original scene with the original voicing, and it made me very happy that they did not only avoid the sex-as-a-reward-trope, but ontop of that presented us with a woman who does not only have sexual cravings but also voices them openly and straighforwardly.
    Something that -unlike men voicing the same- is still a taboo.
    One that -along with the slut/stud asymmetry- illustrates our societies gender-inequality regarding sexuality.

    Maybe my interpretation of it is just off. I don’t know. What do you think?

    (I was heavily disappointed with German translation in this scene that I also watched. Generally the german dub was good, but here they simply messed up, because they made the “asking” into a plain “offering”. And in that case I completely agree with your concerns.)

    There was one single phrase that was much more difficult for me and that did not match the overall high standard they had. At one point Eggsy says “good girl” to Roxy. Here suddenly their equality as partners shatters in my eyes and he talks down to her as if she was a dog. A ~female~ dog.
    I am not a native english speaker, so maybe I am just missing connotations, or I am adding the wrong connotations. But I am wondering why that line is in there, because everywhere else they seem so aware of these things

    Yours,

    J.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      I don’t remember the “good girl” line, though it certainly sounds a bit off. Though then again, everything about Eggsy and Roxy’s relationship was friendly—not as in “cordial,” but as in “they’re friends.” I’d have to see that line (and probably watch the movie again, for context … oh, what a terrible fate!) to say for sure. I know my friends and I (both male and female) often say things to each other which could seem terrible if heard out of context, but in the context of our friendship aren’t understood as such in the least.

      (Now I definitely want to see the movie again.)

      As for the princess scene, your interpretation is valid. Her demeanor says “desperate,” but the smile she gives as Eggsy is running off, and then again during the final scene, says “flirty, I’m looking forward to this, I’m not being forced by no one.” So there are conflicting signals, at least to many who saw it.

      The German translation further makes me think that offering (as opposed to asking) was the intended meaning. After all, how she inflected the question in English was as much offer as question—albeit the kind of offer that she’s almost not sure she should be making, for one reason or another (hesitance or excitement despite the inappropriate/dangerous situation are both valid reasons).

      Either way, I think you should stick with your first perception. It sounds like a better way to enjoy the scene, and it’s all open to interpretation anyway, so why not? Go with what works, says I.

      1. Reply

        Brianna

        Lots of movies, tv shows and comics the hero usually uses sex as a reward and way to show how strong the character is. It was inevitable for Eggys to get with the Swedish princess. Although the joke was really funny, it would be great to have a sex scene a little more realistic, but when it comes to hero movies and keeping the theme from long ago women were weak when it came to sex and it helped the hero focus. So I don’t think its mysogenistic but I do think that men as hero are still measure by strength between their legs. btw id love to hear your review of the love scene in Ace ventura also very funny movieB

    2. Reply

      M.

      I’m so glad someone felt the same as me about this scene! I have the feeling the scene is not as misogynistic as the glasses people put on to interpret it… As if a woman couldn’t make such an offer to a man unless she feels forced to. This, to me, is misogynistic. It is denying women the right to have “unconventional” tastes or to go for a one night stand willingly. Because nowhere in the scenes does Eggsy hint that he could want more than a kiss. To me, they’re simply flirting. And the princess’ smile seems to confirm this.
      Not saying that the joke is good taste. It’s definitely not. And I don’t think it is necessary either. But, as a woman, I feel more reduced by people’s remarks about the scene than by the scene itself.

  5. Reply

    Rodcket

    I can’t believe the over analysing of the anal scene. The whole movie was funny. Everything was a send up. Bond never got a woman like Princess Tilde.
    The rubbish written about sex as a reward is inventing something that clearly isn’t in the movie. My ex-wife used to use sex as a reward. Finish the paving and we’ll…. Clean the car so we can … I called it “Puppy love”. When you do something on command, you get a treat. Anyway, back to Kingsman….
    The only time I grimaced was the Eggsy to Lancelot “good girl” line and I saw it as a script flaw, probably nothing intentional.

    For anybody who doesn’t want their kids to watch the brief ‘asshole’ scenes, watch the edited version, or, tell them to watch every Bond movie so they can understand the send ups. (Parental guidance is always recommended). By the time they’ve watched every Bond movie, they’ll be old enough to make their own movie-watching decisions. Or, just let them watch online videos and reality tv. If they can handle that, they can handle this movie.

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      I do agree that, on the level of some other things you can see on TV/the internet, Kingsman isn’t especially scandalous, mostly because it’s so absurd as to clearly not condone any of its insanity.

      I am a huge proponent of analyzing (and occasionally over-analyzing) stories, though. Sometimes. More than the moral argument (though that’s inextricably tied to everything we do), I just want to figure out why something did or did not work. This was an instance where it did work, but left a bad taste in some people’s mouths, so it was ripe for analysis. People like me are just overly-analytical nerds, nothing more, haha

  6. Reply

    Bartjan

    When I watched the movie, I watched it with my feminist GF and we both laughed at the joke. I think I’m sensitive to misogany and feminist themes, and I thought the joke was just so outrageous and so *bad* (like in the sense of bad puns – which to me translates as the good kind of bad) that it was hilarious. If anything, for me this highlighted how ridiculous sex as a reward is. A girl asking a guy she just met while being locked in a dungeon for anal sex.. c’mon. It was so tasteless and over the top that it really made the movie all that better. It’s like when Louis CK talks about something that makes you totally uncomfortable, but he takes you with him, and you feel bad for laughing and that is part of the joke.

    Stuff like “sex as a reward” and the bad-ass-good-guy-gets-all-the-hot-chicks is in almost every Hollywood movie. The fact that he didn’t “get” Roxy as well as the fact that this strong independent princess makes this outrageous offer is a really nice change from all that. A lot better than all the sneaky subconcious “girl as reward” messages that my puberty brain was bombarded with watching the movies I grew up with.

    @J.: I was also slighly thrown by the “good girl” comment but then again: I’m not a native English speaker either. It could be just a friendly comment and he was sort of mentoring her.
    @Hector: The SM-dungeon scenario is fucking amazing and hilarious. “You’re on your own, Eggsy”. Nice 🙂

    1. Reply

      Stephen W. Gee

      I think that was how the joke was meant to be taken. Which, I can see where that’s coming from, absolutely. I recognized that as the intent when I was watching. The joke just didn’t entirely land for a lot of people. That happens.

      The difference between this and Louis CK is that he tests his jokes on audiences again and again before he ever goes on a big tour/films a special. Movies like Kingsman don’t really get that chance.

      I definitely prefer this to the subconscious ones, though. You’ve got that 110% right. That’s the kind of corrosive stuff that gets people into trouble.

      1. Reply

        Bartjan de Bruijn

        Another thing that comes to mind, re-reading my post just now, is that he didn’t cheat. Bond is like… all over the place, screwing one chick after another. Eggsy from Kingsman is a much more decent guy than Bond, for as far as we can tell. I know that’s not really what you wrote about, but still, it’s worth mentioning.

        1. Stephen W. Gee

          Not a bad point. Bond is such a strange character for the modern age at this point. He probably needs to be rebooted as an irrepressible flirt that doesn’t actually sleep with all the women he flirts with. That could keep some of the sex appeal without him being such a slut.

  7. Reply

    Diana Browning

    For me it was simply the utterance of the line, everything else could have been left exactly the same. This movie walked a good line between James Bond and Austin Powers, but this line was too Austin Powers, and seemed very out of place.

  8. Reply

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