Study Guide

A Confederacy of Dunces Movies

By John Kennedy Toole


Looking at screens will rot your brains and turn your eyes into vast wastelands of putrefying vacuousness. Everybody knows this, pretty much. Television with its real American idols of New Jersey and movies with aliens killing robots—it's all bad. Pop culture is stupid; it will eat your head.

Down With Doris Day

Just kidding—we love us some television. But this is where Ignatius is coming from. The modern world is horrible, and to show he knows it's horrible, he makes fun of movies, and to a lesser extent, television. In particular, Ignatius expresses hyperbolic disgust at two Doris Day films (probably the circus feature Billy Rose's Jumbo and That Touch of Mink):

"Good grief. Is this smut supposed to be comedy?" Ignatius demanded in the darkness. "I have not laughed once. My eyes can hardly believe this highly discolored garbage. That woman must be lashed until she drops. She is undermining our civilization. […] Please! Someone with some decency get to the fuse box. Hundreds of people in this theater are being demoralized." (11.331)

But for all Ignatius's violent distaste, does he really dislike the Doris Day film? The answer is probably not, and the tell comes at an earlier point in the novel. Check it out:

Ignatius had decided against going to the Prytania. The movie being shown was a widely praised Swedish drama about a man who was losing his soul, and Ignatius was not particularly interested in seeing it. He would have to speak with the manager of the theater about booking such dull fare. (4.188)

Looks like somebody has preferences when it comes to movies. And a preference, folks, is not the same as blanket dislike or disapproval.

Down With Winter Light

The film referred to above is probably Ingmar Berman's Winter Light, a movie explicitly about Christianity, faith, and sin—supposedly topics close to Ignatius's heart. But when given the chance to actually consume something that is not, by his own lights, decadent swill, he refuses. He calls it dull. He wants to see Doris Day undermine our civilization. Which is to say, he enjoys the civilization that is undermined. He wants decadence.

It's easy to laugh at, and even sneer at Ignatius. But how can you do so without becoming Ignatius? That is, when we giggle at or condemn Ignatius's hypocrisy, aren't we just like moviegoers ourselves, enjoying the chance to laugh at someone else's bad taste? The movies, then, are like the book itself—wretched products of a decaying culture, which are fun to peruse with popcorn. In other words, we're busted.