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Revising Hollywood: Matching Changing Social Standards

Updated on July 26, 2014
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Jamal is a graduate from Northeastern Seminary and writes on a broad range of topics. His writings are based on other points of view.

The 1984 movie regarded as a classic, depicts a group of nerds' struggle for acceptance at their school
The 1984 movie regarded as a classic, depicts a group of nerds' struggle for acceptance at their school

Nostalgia

Revenge of the Nerds.

You hear that title and normally what would come to mind would be 80’s nostalgia. Ah, the 80’s, a time when everything was so much more straight forward and uncomplicated. Those of us who lived in that decade will remember Revenge of the Nerds as one of many of simplistic films displaying in comedic fashion the life of high school and college as one of angst and the eternal battle of the underdog vs. the popular kids.

Within in the last few years though, Revenge of the Nerds has begun to be seen through a more sinister lens. Nowhere is this more blunt than on AdultSwim’s Robot Chicken, where they use claymation and animation to do comedic parodies of pop culture references. The skit in question depicts the nerd frat house on trial for assault, rape, identity theft, and invasion of privacy. All of these are references to famous scenes from the movie; scenes we all cheered and applauded.

The recent events have created a push back against views and actions that are felt to be misogynistic. Anything that was seen as supporting the view of men being allowed to force women into relationships with them, or that women were obligated to enter into romantic or sexual relations with a guys simply because he treated her well, were interpreted as the underpinnings of long-term social acceptance of sexism.

Scenes like this were once considered acceptable for kids during a time many now would consider morally conservative
Scenes like this were once considered acceptable for kids during a time many now would consider morally conservative

Rewriting History

Similar revisionisms have occurred elsewhere. Old Tom & Jerry and Bugs Bunny cartoons dating back to the 1960’s are now banned from mainstream television as being too violent. Or that to use the word, ‘faggot’ that once wouldn’t even raise an eyelash are now bleeped out on reruns. Why would we ever find shows like these funny or consider them classics?

Though its moral compass may change, the one thing that has not changed about American society is our need to have a clear, moral boundary. Whether it’s us vs. them or right vs. wrong, we like taking sides that are unencumbered by details such as human complexity and that perhaps the people we judge to be on the wrong side see us the exact same way. Movies like Sweet Sixteen and Revenge of the Nerds were symptoms of how we defined those boundaries during that time. All movies are. We didn’t see stereotypical depictions of gay men and Asians, or misogynistic acts from guys who didn’t understand the meaning of, ‘I’m not interested’.

What we saw were underdogs struggling against the odds to gain acceptance or success. You can’t get more American than that! Our culture idolizes the underdog and though it maybe more politically correct now, that still continues today. You could even argue that it was the 80’s that first spawned the idea of anti-bullying campaigns, with their constant one-dimensional characterizations of muscle bound jocks and frat boys oppressing other people they thought lesser than them, yet always losing out.

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Ever-changing PC

Compare that to the recent college comedy, The Neighbors, with Zac Efron playing the role of the frat house president/enemy of his neighbors. Rather than playing the douche that we have come to expect in these movies, he instead shows a frat boy who can be mean spirited and loves to party, but is also a genuine nice guy when push comes to shove. This wouldn’t have worked thirty years ago. You can’t root for the underdogs when the antagonists are just as nice…or the underdogs are just as perverse.

Hollywood has a history of revising it movies to the changing moral standards of our society. People from the 80’s and even the 70’s would look back at movies from the 20’s and 30’s and their depictions of minorities and call them out as racist. Society had by that time accepted that making people who were not white as being less equal than they were as wrong. I do wonder at times if each generation thinks of themselves as the first enlightened people of the nation waking from a slumber of ignorance. In thirty years, that generation may look on today’s movies and ask themselves the same thing we ask those who enjoyed 80’s films;

How could they watch this garbage?

Party scene from the movie, The Neighbors. Might our grandchildren look at this and wonder what were we thinking?
Party scene from the movie, The Neighbors. Might our grandchildren look at this and wonder what were we thinking?

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