Unfortunately, I’m unable to attend my beloved Popular Culture Association in the South conference this year; being laid off has had the paradoxical effect of giving me plenty of time to think up paper/presentation topics but no income to share that work, but such is life. Since there have been a few ideas bouncing around in my head--midnight breakthroughs, all--I’m going to share them with you. I’ve written with the assumption that my audience is familiar with the films I’ll be discussing, so consider this a pre-emptive spoiler alert. Read on!
For Part 1, click here. And come back next week for the conclusion!
As I move closer to self-actualization, I realize that it’s worth reexamining things from my adolescence that may have taught me something. For example, the musical Grease. When I was in 6th grade, Grease was the pinnacle of awesome, even though we were 20 years out from its initial run in theaters. I remember seeing it in the theater with my grandmother when it was rereleased, and that was some exciting shit for me.
Now, however, 15+ years later, I realize that Grease is a terrible movie to watch when you’re 12. Yes, it delves--shallowly--into the consequences of unprotected sex (thanks for the lesson on condom usage, Rizzo!). And yes, it--superficially--explores inter- and intra-high-school rivalry. But it also teaches you several undesirable things:
1) Breaking into song and dance on the bleachers will never lead to bodily harm.
2) It’s okay to make fun of the new girl when she’s in the next room just because she lives a different (read: more prudish) life than you.
3) Defying authority figures is a worthy pastime.
4) Frankie Avalon can--and will--call you a loser and tell you to get a job as a secretary if he thinks you’re not up to snuff.
5) Drag racing is a fantastic way to resolve disputes.
6) In order to snag your man, it is necessary to change your entire being, such as when Sandy goes from her long skirts and white blouses to second skin-type leather pants and cigarettes to prove herself worthy of Danny.
I’m not saying that movies have to provide us with lessons about morality or that everything has to be perfect in cinematic or real life. My favorite film, after all, is Pulp Fiction. But when we make things (books, cinema, music) aimed at young people, I think we do have a responsibility to supply them with better role models and more meaningful discourse--especially in this age of media saturation. Should it all be Mr. Rogers-level cheerful? Of course not. But nor should it be vapid or devoid of any guidance.
I wouldn’t trade my memories of loving--and singing along to--Grease for the world. And, being who I am, I think I was able to separate the story from my reality. Unfortunately, that may not be true of everyone in the audience.
However, I will give credit where it’s due: for all its faults, Grease captures what it is (still) like to be a teenager: the urgency you feel when the person you like is nearby, the fun times had with friends on a Friday night, the uncertainty of senior year. And that’s some pretty powerful stuff.