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

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.

From: [identity profile]

You know, I LOVE you for posts like this. I know I've teased you about over-analyzing various books and plots, but if you don't do it, WHO WILL, I ask!
ext_6866: (I'm listening.)

From: [identity profile]

Ha! This is the best comment I've ever gotten. My work here is done!

From: [identity profile]

I always felt like Grease, despite its setting in the 1950s, was more about conforming to the norms of the trashily promiscuous 1970s, when the model of a "modern" woman was the Cosmo Girl who was supposed to broadcast ready availability to men via a highly sexualized appearance and attitude. Sandy's big reveal at the end of the movie is thoroughly anachronistic -- she looks like she ought to be behind the velvet rope at Studio 54 (I recall my mother saying that any woman walking around looking like that in the REAL 1950s would have gotten arrested.)

The message that I took away from that movie as an eleven-year-old girl was that you have to dress and act slutty if you want to land a hot guy. Pre-makeover Sandy was prissy and hopeless and undeserving of someone as cool as Danny, but she's triumphant at the end because she allowed herself to be transformed into the opposite of what she really was in order to be in Danny's league. I can still remember girls in my class saying that Sandy was "beautiful" at the end of the movie (not before), and performing Sandy-style makeovers on each other. So it's possible that Tumblr poster was talking more about "norms" of the era in which the film was released, not in which it ostensibly took place.
ext_6866: (Dances with magpies)

From: [identity profile]

I remember even when it came out a lot of people talking about that. But I think the play was very much about the 50s and the story is still mostly about that. Only they keep layering on other messages to make it relevent to the times. So yeah, in the 70s movie the pre-spandex pants and the Candies kind of say it all. She's supposed to be a cool girl from the 70s who's hot. And I remember talking to someone once who said they thought that the revivals started making it that the greasers are the people who express themselves. Like I heard that when Brooke Sheilds was Rizzo, she sang Greased Lightning. Which completely confused me--why would a girl sing Greased Lightning when it's about boys thinking their hot cat will get many girls to fuck them?

So yeah, definitely there's many different things to get from it. But the script in one way or the other is really obsessed with sex. People who openly have it and want it are happier and cooler than those that don't.

From: [identity profile]

You're making me want to rewatch Grease now.

From my vague recollections, I do agree the movie was All About Sex.
ext_6866: (I brought chips!)

From: [identity profile]

It's hilarious that this movie is/was so popular with kids and now I see how little I even understood the dialogue.

I used to say that if I ever met John Travolta the one question I'd want to ask him is what he's doing with that saran wrap in Greased Lightning. And then a few years ago he answered it--turns out it was one of those stupid things kids without sex ed believed in the 50s, that you could use saran wrap as a condom.

All. About. Sex.

From: [identity profile]

where's the danny zuko i met at the beach?

The part that always went over my head was Kenickie and Rizzo's argument - I got the whole condom exchange when I was young, but the 'I take care of my mistakes' bit went over my head completely, weirdly. I was like 'Why are they now fighting?!'

Grease is quite classic with it's approach to sex with Danny/Sandy, really.
Danny grows to respect Sandy's choices (since at the end he's committed to the idea of being with her, even knowing that she won't have sex, and more importantly, is willing to admit this to his friends) in part because she won't have sex with him.
(Shades of 'Glee' and a whole bunch of other more modern texts, where the author/s are trying to be progressive, but the basic message is that if you withhold sex, whether or not you want it yourself, men will like you more, although you will have to 'give in' eventually.

I also like the way they tried desperately to modernise the message of Grease with Finn rejecting Rachel for her 'ho' makeover, not realising that they'd just gone for the Madonna version of the cliche instead of the Whore.
Rachel and Finn were originally pushed with Rachel the Whore saying things like 'Girls want sex as much as boys!' in contrast to Quinn's hypocritical Madonna, then once Quinn is removed Rachel has to become the Madonna and suddenly planning to have sex at 25 to have babies.)

Especially when Sandy's directly contrasted with Rizzo and ChaCha, whom he has history with, but is very specifically not interested in any longer since they've had sex with him. (and sloppy seconds aren't his style!)

And for a girl, you need to make a man jealous (shades of Rowling.) Although the guys do it too - Craterface and Kenickie.

I think the reason modern audiences are offended is pretty much what you said - it's hard to wrap your mind around the idea that Sandy is completely uninterested in sex (to the point where you wonder what she sees in Danny at all. If you discount this part of him and only like the polite side, why not stick with the jock guy?) and so of course the end doesn't seem like 'Now she's liberated' so much as she's miserably doing this thing to keep her man.

Whereas I think Rizzo and Kenickie are quite interesting as a couple because they don't really seem hung up on these issues - they're both presumably not virgins, neither one seems to judge the other for it, they both seem to want to make their relationship more serious but neither of them seems capable of saying so.
ext_6866: (Dances with magpies)

From: [identity profile]

Re: where's the danny zuko i met at the beach?

Ha! I so love the title of your post.

I remember being confused by the Kenicke/Rizzo thing at first too--what's a 25 cent insurance policy? And how can it break?

That is interesting to compare the two couples, Kenicke/Rizzo and Danny/Sandy. Because Danny/Sandy is obviously the main couple, yet K/R seem much more like a real couple. I mean, they seem to know each other a lot better, certainly. Rizzo and Danny presumably had sex in the past, and now Kenicke's into her but he knows that. They're never really romantic, and the whole pregnancy thing is just kind of dropped when it turns out she's not pregnant and they get back together (what would have happened if she was?) but they still seem to talk to each other like they understand each other.

Meanwhile, like you said, it's kind of hard to know what Sandy sees in Danny since she doesn't seem to know him. And he seems mostly confused about her. R/K is more intelligible when they're yelling things like "From you to me, Pinky Lee!" and throwing milkshakes.

Also, it still cracks me up to think about Danny's history when I remember he was supposed to be probably 16 or so when he had sex with Cha Cha and Rizzo. Because Stockard Channing looks about 35 and Cha Cha is at least 40. Granted, Sandy is also pretty old.

From: [identity profile]

After that tumblr post I'm really glad you posted this!

When I saw this as a kid I didn't care that much about Sandy, honestly, but that's me.
ext_6866: (Dreamy)

From: [identity profile]

There are so many things that get posted on Tumblr where people are very indignant about this sort of thing where I read them and think...okay, you're just not familiar with anything before 1994 or so, are you.

I don't remember caring too much about Sandy either, tbh. Except I did really like her hair in some scenes, where she wears those little barrettes in her pretty blonde hair. I remember that. But I didn't really get her. I think one of the confusing things about her is making her Australian. Not that Australians are confusing but I think in the original she has her own context with the Catholic school thing. In the movie she almost seems to come from space--like what kind of school did she got to in Australia?

From: [identity profile]

Man, you know, I have always had a lot of pals in fandom that were ten or fifteen years younger than me, and I never really thought about it too much. I know that tumblr is young, but it's also sort of indignanty ignorant. Nothing has ever made me feel quite so "okay, you have no idea what you are talking about because you are 16 and also not particularly curious so you need to shut the fuck up and sit the fuck down" as tumblr does. It's why no matter how great I think a lot of their posts are, I follow very very few personal tumblrs and half the time I end up unfollowing them. It's like an entire website of 19 year old women blogging constantly about rape culture in the snarkiest most dismissive way possible, because anyone who is not them is an asshole. And honestly, at this point in my life, that is not shit I need to be reading.
ext_6866: (Magpies in the library)

From: [identity profile]

That's the thing--because I don't think it's always people being young. It's more being indignant without ever being interested in things from the past, really. Then it's compounded if you're young because if you're older you've lived through at least some changes whether you like it or not. So even if you never had any interest in the way things were before you were born, you can remember stuff that's out of date now from when it was current.

And it's not always that what they're saying is wrong. Like I was saying on Dreamwidth, it's not that it's *wrong* to see that this movie's happy ending has a girl changing herself to get the guy (and while the guy shows that he would change for her it's a relief that he doesn't have to, ultimately). But it was the way it implied that this was the last word on the movie. So often it's like people watch things looking to see if they're Doing It Right and if they don't then the movie becomes about Doing It Wrong. As if the movie is disagreeing with the idea that individuality is a good thing when really the movie's talking about something else and the individuality/clique question is a by product.

But it almost seems like there's a lot of encouragement *not* to do that, like if you accept the context that something was written, or accept what the author is trying to talk about as a guide to understanding the story, you're probably part of the problem. I mean, obviously I have no problem with pointing out things an author maybe said by accident, or arguing against what the author seems to want to say. But that's different than just dismissing things as worthy or not based on some not acceptable thing in it. I guess it also partly goes back to the whole thing of whether you can enjoy or get something out of a thing even if it's bad. Because sometimes they seem to go the other way too, where if they like something it's got to be Doing It Right in some way.


sistermagpie: Classic magpie (Default)

Most Popular Tags

Powered by Dreamwidth Studios

Style Credit

Expand Cut Tags

No cut tags