Like those crazy cool kids from Stranger Things I grew up in the 80s! Not with the Demogorgen or The Upside Down (to my knowledge), but you can bet your sweet Space Invaders that I was a leg-warmers wearing, jelly-bracelets up to my elbows and lace ribbons in my hair, 80’s kid… And I was in love with the movies The Goonies (1985), E.T. (1982), and Ghostbusters (1984)!
At that same time, there were also the movies Caddyshack (1980), Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982), and Animal House (1978) – still being upheld and enthusiastically referred to all through my school years. Although I was just a young girl, I was old enough to know that these movies weren’t sitting right with me. For some reason, I knew even then my gender was being portrayed very poorly.
I didn’t watch them because I was too young at that time, however I knew about them from word of mouth, advertising, merchandise, pictures and later on they were shown on cable tv. I had seen what the women characters looked like, how the male characters viewed them, and knew enough about how they were treated that even as a young girl, I could tell something was wrong. I just didn’t know how to define it.
When I tried to bring this up in conversation to peers, I was consistently chastised for being a prude, told to lighten up, that these were just harmless comedies and dismissed to not take everything so seriously. Over time, I grew to sensor my opinion on these movies, and overall stayed silent about most movies that were playing at the local cinema. I silently hated how women were portrayed but knew I would be creating a bigger problem for myself with my friends by voicing my concerns.
The reason I bring these particular movies up is because during his charged hearing last week, Supreme Court Justice nominee Brett Kavanaugh specifically mentioned them – as a literal excuse to explain away the “goofy” shenanigans he was partaking in at the time: “I think some editors and some students wanted the yearbook to be a combination of Animal House, Caddyshack and Fast Times At Ridgemont High, which were all recent movies at that time,” he said.
My ears perked up and alarm bells began to ring when I saw Kavanaugh so flippantly mention these films in his hearing. These movies that many revere(d) as a feel-good time, capturing the essence of the mindless fun of being young, unsupervised and unburdened by responsibilities I saw as damaging by perpetuating rape culture, toxic masculinity and male entitlement.
It’s now been 40 years since Animal House premiered. In light of both the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, I wonder aloud what movies like it and Caddyshack and Fast Times represent today?
I’m not suggesting that people who see these movies are so easily swayed to immediately go out and act like the characters in the movies; nor am I saying that people can’t watch them now and see the glaring problems with homophobic references, elitism, racism, sexism and rape culture. I’m just wondering why our society is glorifying the idea that these movies are some kind of precious pieces of art to preserve?
I predict that 50 years from now, movies like Animal House— and I’m going to throw super rapey Revenge Of The Nerds into the mix too (where character Lewis Skolnick masks his identity to trick the popular ‘hot cheerleader’ trope to have sex with him, and he was apparently so good at it she leaves her jock boyfriend to be with him – in what is considered a trophy win) – will be seen in society as equivalent to how the 1915 film Birth Of A Nation is seen to us today.
In Spike Lee’s heavy-hitting race film BlackKkKlansman (*SPOILER ALERT !*), there is a harrowing scene where right after Flip Zimmerman a white man pretending to be Ron Stallworth (played by Adam Driver) has been initiated into the KKK, a celebration kicks off with a viewing of Birth Of A Nation where the viewers demonstrate their comradery with hoots and hollers, giving each other knowing looks and enjoying the movie as if they were watching an innocent Disney film. While all this is going on, the real Ron Stallworth (played by John David Washington) who happens to be a black man is hiding up above them, peeking through some vents watching them – and it all just feels like a horror show. Through this vantage point, director Lee connects the past with the present in jarring fashion by showing us just how little has changed since Birth Of A Nation premiered over 100 years ago (it’s one of the most tragic/sobering moments from the movies this year).
At the top of this article I mentioned *the 80’s movies* I love to watch. To me, they were awe-inspiring, adventurous, heartfelt and amazing – and to this day I hold them near and dear to my heart. But I can also acknowledge in each of these movies that most of the female characters still weren’t the best portrayals of the characters or stories that women have long deserved to have told (and instead they mainly played roles that served the males in order to drive the male’s narratives forward).
Some 30 odd years later nearing the end of 2018 – in our film/tv/media, in our companies, in our businesses, schools, in our sports, and lastly in our White House: We STILL have no real feminine balance.
We have a reality show president who continues to mock and degrade women atop the most powerful platform in the world. For which he is often applauded and cheered for. And while it’s true that we’ve been shown in our public discourse (thanks largely to the internet and social media) how far we’ve come, we’re also shown at an alarming rate that darker oppressive times are still alive and well (and looming).
We will always have certain groups of people who’ll turn a blind eye to what these 80’s movies have really represented, however, for the most part (fingers crossed!) the majority of us will have evolved past rationalizing that there was ever a time where it was considered harmless fun to get girls drunk, drug them, manipulate them, laugh at them while in an altered state, take their clothes off while unconscious, grope them, dump them and leave them out like trash, trick them into having sex, and view them as sexual objects and trophies to obtain and win.
We need to keep the discussion going and we need to make sure we do everything within our powers to change the narrative for the better – so that OUR Narrative never becomes a real-life Handmaid’s Tale.