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Q and A

19 December 2005
Busting Your Balls
by Paul A.

We’ve all seen the image. In movies mostly, but also on television. A man (or teenage boy - never younger) is crouched over, knees slightly bent. His face is invariably frozen, eyes wide and slightly protruding as if under pressure. The mouth is pursed as if he’s making an “ooo” sound. But no sound is generally heard save perhaps an involuntary squeak or something akin to a death rattle. The look is less that of pain than surprise, although the cross-eyed, total cranial shutdown look is also popular.

How close this is to the look men really have when they get struck in the balls is debatable. The only times I’ve witnessed it, the unfortunate fellow was already on the ground vomiting. What I can say with certainty is that when I’ve experienced it, there is no standing around looking perplexed and bemused. I’m in pain-freefall from the moment of contact.

But I guess that look of frozen stupefaction, is, well, funnier. Something akin to Wile E. Coyote’s lingering expression of sad resignation before he plummets earthward. Hollywood has been yanking on this particular funny bone for a long time. Since the original edition of The Longest Yard at least, where Burt Reynolds throws a spiral not once, but TWICE, into the gonads of the lead tackle for the Guards. I’ve never seen the remake but I can’t imagine they’d throw out a golden moment like that. What the fake orgasm scene was to When Harry Met Sally, the Burt-nails-poor-slob-TWICE scene is to The Longest Yard. In fact, since that movie came out, it’s hard to find a low-brow comedy where some guy doesn’t get his rocks rocked. I can just imagine how it works in Hollywood. First notes of first script meeting, underlined in red marker: “Where’s the love interest? Where’s the ‘Guy gets whacked in the knackers’ scene?” It’s the closest thing Hollywood has to a guaranteed knee-slapper.

But to anyone who’s ever experienced the sensation, and most men have to varying degrees, it is the least funny thing imaginable. It is the polar opposite. Only in an alternate dimension could it be considered “funny”. People will laugh at funerals. They’ll joke about their own impending death. But no man since the dawn of time has ever given so much as an ironic chuckle on the way down to the ground after having his cojones K-O’ed. The pain is as indefinable as it is unspeakable. Deeply sickening sensations that blossom through the mid-section and obliterate all conscious thought, save for the pain. It’s hard to even characterize as pain because there’s nothing else like it. Headaches, bee stings and third degree burns are different kinds of pain but they’re all in the same ballpark. Getting your tonsils tapped is a sensation with its very own zip code. I’d be very curious to see an MRI brain scan taken at the moment of a testicular impact. I’ll bet the brain looks like 100,000 watts of Christmas lights lit up all at once. But we’ll never know of course because no man is going to sign up for that experiment.

It’s hard to pin down in relative terms too. Nothing else comes close. And don’t say childbirth. For all women brag or bitch about it, childbirth is probably no more painful that than being flogged, and we men can take a flogging. The British Navy used to dish them out like candy but even the most hard-hearted Captain Bligh would never sentence a man to “a good swift kick in the balls.” When it comes to pain, we guys will take a lashing over a bollock mashing anytime.

So why is it so damned funny? It wouldn’t be in real life. Even if it happened to Dr. Phil. But it is funny in the movies, whereas most other pain inducing events are not. No one has ever sat in a producer’s office going. “Okay, now here’s the scene where our guy gets a really, really bad paper-cut!” But show an audience a scene where some poor schlep gets a two by four between the legs and there’ll be a puddle under every seat. I suppose part of the humor is derived from the fact that they’re... you know... testicles - rude dangly bits. In his novel, Galapagos, Kurt Vonnegut describes a human race so changed by evolution that they look like seals. Their only lingering vestige of humanity is that they all laugh when one of them farts. And remember the shit-flying scene in Trainspotting? Now that was funny! So maybe the very idea of men’s dangly bits is funny in itself. Another component may be that we use humor as a social leveling device and nothing levels a man faster than getting nailed in the nuts. Add to that the “Oh my God!” factor. The universal empathy men feel towards those getting whacked in the sac, and the fact that no one is actually getting hurt and I guess you have the makings of a good chortle.

But there’s something disturbing about the frequency of ball bashing in movies and it’s not the brute fact that people find it so damned funny. What’s worrisome is the progressive devaluation of the injury in our culture. This isn’t really a problem with men who, even if they’ve never experienced it first hand, have an intuitive sense of just how bad it would be. But I’ve noticed recently that women, especially young woman, do not give the real non-fictional act the gravity it deserves. I’ve read on web-postings, quotes from girls advocating a sound testicular thumping for such crimes as cheating, or sexual harassment. Women’s self-defense classes teach it as a no-miss strategy to deter attackers. Which is advisable if you’re being attacked. But what if it’s just some drunk guy who’s bugging you at a party? Remember, we’d rather be flogged, than have someone rattle our jewelry.

Despite the Itchy-Scratchy hilarity it may engender on screen, getting kicked in the balls is serious. Seriously painful and potentially life-threatening. Jim Carroll, author of the Basketball Diaries and one time too-cool-for-school rocker sang about a childhood friend he lost to testicular rupture. But even if you don’t die, you’ll wish you had, and that’s saying something. It’s something no man would wish on his worst enemy. Historical literature is replete with dismemberment, disemboweling, drawing and quartering and such, but it’s largely devoid of heroic tales of nut-cracking. Even in the blood-drenched days of yore, there were some places you just didn’t go.

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