With the reality of rape culture up for public scrutiny after atrocities like the Steubenville rape case, we are finally starting to take a closer look at how consent and sexuality are handled in popular media. So far, we are not impressed. While we may spend a great deal of time dissecting songs like Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” or Buck Cherry’s “Crazy Bitch”, we are missing some more crucial moments of rape-culture conditioning.
Disregard for consent is regularly excused with a “boys will be boys” mentality, and its acceptance is reinforced in a format targeted directly at male youth: the coming-of-age comedy. Here are some blatant examples of rape culture in classic coming-of-age comedies.
1. The Sandlot
The Sandlot is often lauded as one of the best coming-of-age-films of all time. And really, who doesn’t love the feared, yet friendly James Earl Jones and his giant dog of doom? Or the iconic images of best friends playing baseball in the summer sun? But then, enter Wendy Peffercorn: the lovely lifeguard who supposedly captures the fancy of “Squints” Palledorous, and whom he later tricks into giving him mouth-to-mouth by pretending to drown. All of this takes place to the tune of “This Magic Moment” and to the great celebration of the narrator.
“Michael ‘Squints’ Palledorous walked a little taller that day and we had to tip our hats to him. He was lucky she hadn’t beat the crap out of him. We wouldn’t have blamed her. What he did was sneaky, rotten, low and cool.”
Let’s go back over this “magic moment” one more time, from a realistic perspective. A young woman is put on post to ensure the safety of young children at a community pool. She is then led to believe that one of her wards is in peril of death, and she springs into action. During this time, any other children in actual peril are left to their own devices because Wendy Peppercorn is occupied with saving Squints. She pulls his limp to the pool’s edge and attempts to save his life by giving him mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, only to discover that she has been publicly shamed, taken advantage of physically, and has left the rest of the children unattended as a result. Rightfully, Wendy ejects Squints from the pool with an emphatic “And stay out!” and returns to her post, looking flustered. On the way out, the Sandlot gang expresses great awe at Squints and his bravery.
So basically Squints earns the respect of his friends by getting a girl to do something against her will. Nice.
2. American Pie
For the three people reading this who have never heard of this movie, American Pie centers around high-school seniors Jim, Oz, Paul and Kevin, who make a pact to lose their virginity before graduation day. On the way to dropping their respective v-cards they engage in many inappropriate shenanigans, encounter a few awkward parenting moments, and partake in some zany masturbation antics. Unfortunately, some of those shenanigans also leave the realm of consent behind.
In a fairly pivotal moment in the film, foreign-exchange student Nadia asks the socially-awkward Jim if he will help her study for an upcoming English test. When it is discovered that she will be coming straight from ballet class and will need to change in Jim’s room, Oz convinces him to set up a streaming webcam so the 4 friends can watch her change together. While she is changing, she accidentally locates some of Jim’s porn and surprisingly begins masturbating to it, much to the delight of the four voyeurs. Shortly thereafter, they discover that they had not only sent the link to themselves, but had accidentally sent the link for the video stream to the entirety of their school as well.
Now, this moment is typically more remembered for Jim’s role in the scene which—ahem—comes sooner rather than later. The whole school knows what happened and no one lets Jim live it down. Although, I don’t think anyone bothered to mention that streaming video of Nadia would almost certainly qualify as child pornography…
Since Jim’s stamina is put to wide public shame and Nadia later reveals that she was not upset when she learned about the webcam broadcast, this isn’t rape culture, right?
3. Revenge of the Nerds
Revenge of the Nerds, which rates 91 on Bravo’s “100 Funniest Movies of All time”, is essentially a zero-to-hero story of two nerdy college freshmen, Lewis and Gilbert, who climb their way to the top of the social heap by consistently defeating and shaming members of their rival fraternity.
The heroes of this story also end up using a system of hidden cameras to watch girls change, but they don’t stop there. They rock fundraisers by selling pies with photos of rival sorority girls’ breasts taken from their hidden cameras. They orchestrate panty-raids. And, in what can only be considered a textbook case of rape, Lewis seduces sorority girl Betty (whose illegally obtained pictures helped sell their fundraiser pies) by pretending to be her boyfriend Stan at a costumed fundraiser event. When Betty finds out that Lewis has deceived her, she decides to go out with him instead of Stan due to his supposed sexual prowess.
Betty: [blissfully] Oh, Stan. You were wonderful. You did things to me you’ve never done before.
[Lewis takes off his mask]
Betty: [gasps] Ahhh! You’re that NERD!
Betty: [blissfully] Oh, you were wonderful.
[gasps in ecstacy]
Betty: Are all nerds as good as you?
Betty: How come?
Lewis: ‘Cause all Jocks ever think about is sports, all we ever think about is sex. [ Quote credit: IMdB]
Apparently great sex really takes the edge off of deception and degradation.
And finally, some absolutely unapologetic objectification. If you couldn’t already get where I’m going from the movie poster, Porky’s is a heartwarming tale of soliciting prostitution, indecent exposure, extortion, and watching naked women without their knowledge. The premise is as follows: Six boys go to Porky’s strip club, with hopes of getting a prostitute for Pee Wee, the virgin of the group. When the club owner ejects the boys after stealing their money, the boys plot revenge on Porky and eventually sink his strip club into a swamp.
While prostitution and property damage stemming from sexual entitlement are already the antithesis of feminism, Porky’s definitely does not stop there. In the most famous scene of the film, the boys drill a hole into the girls’ locker room to spy on them in the shower. After they’re discovered because one of the boys shouts at a large girl to stop blocking their view of the hot girls (maybe we’ll get into what’s wrong with that in a different post), the boy sticks his tongue through the peep-hole, which is promptly greeted with a soaping. Of course, he then takes the next logical move, which is to put his penis through the hole.
This is where the film really shows itself. When the gym teacher, Ms. Ballbricker, finds out about the peep-hole, she attempts to catch the boys and bring them to justice, which is widely ridiculed and/or ignored by the rest of the faculty. Also, the majority of the girls in the locker room stay because they think the boys’ spying is amusing. There is a lot more to the antics in this movie than this, but I think that’s enough to paint a decent picture.
I’m starting to see a trend here. In these films, rape, disrespect, and invasions of privacy are mild annoyances at worst and great segues into new relationships at best. What strikes me as even more sinister is the way they present themselves as charmingly nostalgic anecdotes about growing up—about young boys being boys. Suddenly the horrifying sympathy for the Steubenville rapists in the media starts to make a whole lot more sense. Your consent is unimportant. Your protest is funny. Your body is always up for scrutiny. Please, tell me again how there is no such thing as rape culture?