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How Did “Wayne’s World” Achieve the Status of a Classic Comedy?

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Wayne’s World (1992) is the kind of dopey idiotic comedy that, most of the time, can easily be dismissed. For a film this doltish to be successful, it has to hit the world at just the right time, and speak to the present society and culture through relevant commentary, even if that relevance is overshadowed by absurdity. Fortunately for Wayne’s World, that is exactly what happened. It provided couples an option for the least-romantic Valentine’s Day date ever when it hit theaters on February 14, 1992. Since then, the story of two dumb guys in their late 20s who host a basement-produced television show on late-night public access television has become one of the most treasured comedies of the 1990s—not because it’s full of genius material or great performances, but because it stands as a satirical portrait of 1992 consumer culture, a shift in corporate practice, and basic suburban white guy ideologies.

Wayne’s World is hypocrisy on film; a corporate movie product that satirizes corporate movie products. Born from the immortal Saturday Night Live (1975) skits of the same name, Wayne’s World was the SNL feature since that spawned a dozen more SNL skit-based films over the next two decades. Though The Blues Brothers (1980) was made into a picture over a decade prior, Wayne’s World was the one that pushed SNL films into the mainstream and triggered a windfall of follow-ups.

Reverse Shot writes, “Wayne’s World met with its audience at the perfect late-capitalist moment—a product to satisfy evolving marketing strategies, the film ornaments corporate ideology with self-conscious irony, fostering its audience’s dependence on popular culture by selling it as above-it-all satire. Wayne’s World exemplifies postmodern movie product not only because it plays up its own role as a commodity in the pop culture marketplace in order to diffuse the seriousness of the responsibilities that complement such a role but also because its creators don’t even attempt to conceal that commodity status. More than a series of advertisements hip to the antiquated model of the straightforward pitch, Wayne’s World is one huge billboard for both itself and for late capitalist complacency.”

The early ‘90s are considered a turning point in popular culture, where the corporate impact on art was being felt all across the artistic spectrum. Wayne and Garth represented that identity transition. They love rock and roll, badger their special guests, and gratuitously idolize pinups and fashion icons. They are adolescent-minded guys goofing around in the media-managed landscape of youth culture.

The direction of Wayne’s World keeps the film’s pace moving despite the barren and uneventful script. The jokes mostly deconstruct film and television, playing with fourth wall monologues and humorous on-screen signposts like “Gratuitous Sex Scene.” In one of the film’s funniest moments, the pair denounces product placement while blatantly endorsing Pizza Hut, Doritos, Pepsi, Reebok, and Nuprin.

Wayne’s World shows the way corporate organizations get their hands on something original and exploit it for marketing dollars, conform it to a proven formula, and strip away the unique and clever elements that made it successful. Wayne’s World itself is such a product—a television skit being exploited for big money by the larger company that produced it—but in knowing that, it jests its own strategy.

Roger Ebert wrote, “In a way, [public access TV’s] best programs are their worst ones - because in aspiring to professionalism, they aspire also to the canned predictability of routine TV. The access shows I like the best are the ones on which I can never be sure what is going to happen next. Wayne’s World gets that right.”

Speaking to that point, Wayne’s World even lampoons the cinematic challenge of ending a movie this thin by ending it three different times. This is one of many ways the film acknowledges its source material isn’t truly substantial enough to build a film upon, yet doesn’t care. The film pokes fun at conforming to a formula by conforming to three of them.

Just like the reality of Wayne and Cassandra’s (Tia Carrere) instantly-hot relationship doesn’t come across as genuine or believable in any way, the film relishes the clichés that are expected to be present by employing them all, and overdoing them. The film mocks itself with all the right notes, and for that has established itself as an icon of early ‘90s cinema. Beneath its outward stupidity it is rooted in a corporate culture and a media transition that defined the times, providing the film status as a classic.