This is kind of a silly post? But I read something on tumblr about the movie Grease and it was something it seems like I've heard in different forms for a while, and it made me want to spit some things out about that movie. And why shouldn't I write random meta about a movie from 1978 really? So...

The thing on Tumblr was someone saying they hated that movie because it's about "giving up your individuality to conform to the norm because who you are isn’t *good enough* to attract the attention of someone who wants to sleep with you."

Yeah, no. No, it's not about that at all. Grease is primarily about teenaged life (of a certain sort) in 1950s America. If you take out the 1950s attitudes you've changed the story and made it a bit incoherent.

Mostly, it's about sex. Seriously. Look at the songs in Grease. If you think about the most memorable songs in the show, none have to do with individuality and conformity, and almost all of them have to do with conflicting sexual desires and rules in the 1950s:

Summer Lovin' - A boy and girl recount their summer affair to their same-sex friends, highlighting the ways the two conversations differ. (Girls: Like does he have a car? How much dough did he spend? Was it love at first sight? Boys: Did you get very far (sexually)? Can she give me her friend (for sex)? Did she put up a fight (when you tried to have sex with her)?)

Look at Me I'm Sandra Dee -- Girls sing about how Good Girls are supposed to have no vices and be a virgin.

Greased Lightnin' -- Boys sing about how to get girls to have sex with them because they have an attractive...car.

There Are Worse Things I Could Do -- Rizzo shows her defiance by suggesting that being alone or a tease could be worse than getting pregnant as an unwed teen. (Society says no, there really aren't worse things you could do Rizzo, you're a fallen woman.)

The idea of Sandy as an individual is a little complicated, too, because Sandy is a good girl. In the movie she's from Australia because she's Olivia Newton-John, but I believe in the play she's a transfer from the Catholic school. She would never think of Danny as "someone who wants to sleep with her" because if they're in love, Danny's not supposed to want to sleep with her. Sandy herself would never try to get the attention of someone who wants to sleep with her, because girls don't want that. Sandy isn't a girl who just isn't ready to have sex or doesn't want to have it with Danny for whatever reason. She's a girl who thinks sex is dirty. I'm assuming that quote must be referring to Sandy and not Danny, btw, since a large part of Danny's campaign to get and keep Sandy involves showing that he does not want to have sex with him, period. (At least until they are married.)

In making herself over Sandy is not conforming to the norm, she's doing the opposite. Today we might see a guy in a leather jacket as simply "cool" but in the 50s that was more code for juvenile delinquent and rebel. It's the Pink Ladies and T-birds who thumb their nose (somewhat) at the rules of society. When Sandy dresses and acts more like them, she's stepping outside what she's been taught a girl should be and presenting herself as a girl interested in sex like the Pink Ladies--iow, a bad girl. Danny is conforming to the norm by lettering in track, but that's supposed to code as less sex, not more.

For instance, at the drive-in in the movie, Danny gives Sandy a ring that means they're going steady. He hopes that now that they have a socially-approved relationship, there will be more sexual activity. Sandy, otoh, believes this means Danny "really respects her"--iow, now she knows that he will *not* try to have sex with her, because you don't have sex with girls you respect. Danny's face falls (comically) as he sees that Good Boys just never get any. He tries to feel her up, Sandy is horrified and climbs out of the car, slamming him in the balls with the car door and labelling the vehicle a "sin wagon."

It's not that Sandy just doesn't want to have sex with Danny. As a good girl she does not want sex at all, at least outside of marriage. I think it's hard to really get into that mindset if you're born post-sexual revolution. For instance, I saw Grease earlier this year and realized that I'd been completely misunderstanding a really obvious scene early on in this same way.

It's in the beginning when Danny and Sandy are on the beach and saying good-bye. Danny kisses her passionately. Sandy pushes him away, telling him "Don't spoil it." He says "It's not spoiling it, Sandy, it's only making it better." Since the first time I saw this movie--which was when I was 9 years old or so--that moment always confused me a little. I assumed that her line about "spoiling it" had to mean that by kissing her passionately Danny was going to make her miss him more and keep them from parting calmly. His line to her made little sense in response, but I figured he was telling her it would give them a happy memory to take away, thus making the parting better.

Seeing it again I thought--good lord, how did I miss what was going on there? She's saying "don't spoil it" because sex spoils the romance. He's making the loving moment dirty by sticking his tongue in her mouth. His line, which finally made sense, was telling her that sex doesn't spoil a romantic relationship between two people sexually attracted to each other, it makes it better. Even at 9, and even understanding the theme of Good Girls Don't, Sandy's attitude was still so foreign I couldn't make sense of it, because I was not raised being taught that good girls did not enjoy sex. But really the movie couldn't be more blatant about the dynamics of this relationship. Sandy expects Danny to treat her with "respect" by not trying anything funny. The "delinquent" T-birds, meanwhile, reject any notions of romance and talk about women as only sex objects--which is why Danny acts like an ass to Sandy when she gushes over him when they reunite in front of his friends. The Pink Ladies are also rebellious and as women they are far more vulnerable. Because when the T-birds are openly sexual they're seen as boys not curbing their baser impulses. Good girls should not have impulses like that to curb.

When the two both try to be a little more like the other, they're not exactly doing the same thing. Danny, by lettering in track, is conforming to society at large by joining in a supervised school activity and earning an approved reward. Sandy doesn't change until the end of the show when she shows up in clothes that code as sexually provocative and sings a song ("All Choked Up" in the play and "You're the One That I Want" in the movie) that promises sexual satisfaction. Sandy's real makeover isn't that she's dressing in the clothes of a different clique but that she's now not only accepting Danny's sexual desires but returning them.

It's not that I can't see where people get the messages about Sandy changing herself, but they're more like a collection of moments that ignore the sexually repressive 1950s context and replace it with 21st century attitudes that don't yet exist. (It's like the meta equivalent of Olivia Newton-John's Candies in that last scene.) The 1950s in the US has become practically synonymous with "conformity"--so much so that it led to the 1960s and then the society we have now where being an individual is assumed to be a good thing. There's not a lot of eps of Leave it to Beaver on the dangers of conformity. And there's none about sex.
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