The other night, we all sat down and watched Grease. As far as my husband, Tenzin, is concerned, it’d be embarrassing to become a full-grown U.S. American without being able to sing along to “Summer Lovin'” and “You’re the One That I Want” (and no, it’s his brother who’s gay…)
Anyway, it became pretty clear as the movie moved along that life has changed quite a bit since I was a 5th grader, sitting in a dark theater and missing half of what was going on. But our kids? Well dammit. They notice everything…
1. Body Size
It’s no wonder that when I gained 10 pounds in college, I thought was fat. The “overweight girl” in the movie is Jan. She makes a reference to dieting all day, and then Putzy (her boyfriend) gives her the backhanded compliment that he thinks there’s more to her than just fat. My daughter, Elfie, gave me the, “What the hell are they talking about” look during that scene, and all a I could do was shrug.
So yes, while super models these days look like they’re about to fall over from malnutrition and “normal” sized women are classified as “plus-sized” models, I don’t think you’d ever catch anyone portraying someone as “the fat girl” who looked anything like Jan. Whether this is because art is just reflecting the demographics of the time it was made in or if heavier people are currently given more opportunities in media is hard to say. That’s a whole other discussion for a whole other day.
When I was in 5th grade, my friend Tanya let me smoke one of her dad’s cigarettes. This was just a few years after my own father had quit smoking a pack a day (he was a doctor so you know, had to be a better role model). Did I ever think I’d become a smoker? Not really. Was smoking still everywhere? Yeah. When I saw Grease, did I know the bad kids smoked and the good kids didn’t? Sure, whatever.
My kids however, thought a bunch of smoking high school students was ca-razy.
“Are those people insane?”
The only people I currently know who smoke are friends from grad school who haven’t been able to kick the habit and seedy people downtown by the river (I don’t actually know those people, but you get the picture). We went into a casino the other night, and the kids had some kind of allergic meltdown to all the smoke. They basically think it’s like drinking Drano.
When I was a kid, Title IX had barely worked up any steam, and women still didn’t play as many sports as men did. Socially, girls did some of the asking out, but the fact that there was a designated Sadie Hawkins dance at my high school — where the girl asked the boy — kind of sums up how serious people felt about that.
So while watching Grease was odd for me at 10-years-old, it wasn’t THAT odd. But for the kids? We had to explain that boys always paid for everything. It was why Sandy asked her date for jukebox money and Rizzo and Kenickie talked about “going Dutch.”
Then there were the poor, pitiful, dateless girls, waiting hopefully on the bleachers for someone to ask them to dance. Elfie scowled that she would’ve just asked someone or danced by herself (that’s my girl).
As for sports, I doubt I ever noticed at 10-years-old that there were zero girls on the field when everyone was practicing. But I sure noticed this time.
This is where we’ve made leaps and strides people. Leaps and strides. While dancing around with rainbow flags on sticks and singing show tunes.
Remember Eugene, the geeky kid with the glasses who the T-birds torment throughout the movie? The one who probably goes on to found a multi-million dollar computer company while they all get jobs in garages?
There’s a scene during the dance when the teachers announce, “Couples must be boy/girl only.” And someone yells out, “Too bad Eugene!” Of course everyone laughs because, hey, how hysterical to imply that Eugene is gay, effeminate, or even a girl. Right?
To my kids, not so much.
They were appalled. Offended. And not even slightly amused. I think Tenzin and I, who’ve developed a sort of knee-jerk reaction of laughing at this kind of thing after years and years of training, felt like complete assholes. Because our kids are better people than we are.
5. Peer Pressure
When I saw Grease as a kid, it seemed puuuurfectly normal that Sandy went through a major transformation to make Danny happy. And that Danny got embarrassed and started acting like a jackass when his friends thought he was being too “sweet.” Why not? Why not blend in, go with the crowd, and get the guy.
Again, with my kids, not so much. Elfie’s eyes were rolling out of her head when normal Sandy turned into hot Sandy. Clearly it wasn’t the real her, and Elfie thought she was positively ridiculous.
“Why would you want to be with anyone who didn’t like you the way you are?”
Yeah, well just wait ’til middle school
I’m not an idiot. My kids are only 9 and 11 and haven’t hit those difficult, painful, peer-presssure packed years that will test the true strength of the poles that hold up their freak flags and let them fly. But I have some faith. I have faith that they’re just weird enough, just irascible enough, and just “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn” enough to keep that flag waving. And possibly knock some people over the head with it along the way.
Anyway, if you get the chance to see Grease with your kids, take advantage of all the opportunities to talk about peer pressure. And bullying. And homophobia. And crazy ideas that people used to have about women that (sort of) no longer exist today. Ask them what they think. What’s funny and what isn’t. What they’d do in the same situations.
But just a warning: don’t go here if you’re not up for explaining how teenagers get pregnant in the backs of cars and the meanings of the more “colorful” language used in songs like “Greased Lightning” and “Beauty School Dropout” (the girls’ll cream, get off my rocks, gettin’ lots a tit, unless she was a hooker). That was the great thing about movies when we were kids. We only got to see them once, and half this stuff just passed straight over us. Our kids just rewind and rewind. And pause and ask questions. And look up lyrics on YouTube.
There’s really no where to hide once you’ve unleashed that beast.
Anyway, let me know how your viewing experience goes and if your little buggers turn out to be as self-righteous and evolved as ours. Meanwhile, Tenzin and I will be in our room, with the door closed, watching reruns of South Park and Beavis and Butthead. And silently laughing at inappropriate jokes.