Earlier this week – it’s Sunday morning as I write this – I was watching John Hughes’ 1984 masterpiece Sixteen Candles. If you haven’t seen it, it stars heroine not just of the movies, but then entirety of the 80s themselves, Molly Ringwald. She plays Samantha, a young lady who, like all Americans in the halycon days before the Nazis came back, and Trump, and anti-vax Covid nonsense, had dreamed of her 16th birthday. The only issue? Her parents forget.
And so we follow Sam as she tries to get over this major disaster, all the while trying to hide from her crush Jake Ryan, whom knows how she feels. It’s an 80 classic; the hair is big, the outfits wild, and the way the characters talk is often problematic, bordering on the awful. And this is where I have to justify myself; there’s a lot of Sixteen Candles that hasn’t aged well; frankly, it shouldn’t have been made the way it was, keeping all the dialogue choices in, but it’s easy to say that with the benefit of hindsight. A lot of the time, how awful we are as people, as a species, is only obvious in the rearview mirror. But we’re doing our best, right? We’re trying to be better?
I definitely am, and that’s how I get away – in my head – with watching potentially problematic films like Sixteen Candles.
Now wait a minute, I hear you say. How is it problematic? It’s about the youth of America, on the cusp of something great, finding each other. What could be better than that?
Well, well, well – cracks knuckles – let me tell you.
Alongside Molly Ringwald’s Samantha, and Michael Schoeffling’s Jake Ryan, we have Anthony Michael Hall’s ‘The Geek’. That’s right – the character doesn’t even get a proper noun, just an adjective. And not a flattering one at that.
(Quick aside – Molly Ringwald and Anthony Michael Hall in the same film. How 80s can you get? I love it.)
The Geek is what was seen in the 80s as a lovable loser – in the film, after he harasses her all day, unable to take no for an answer, Sam gives The Geek her underwear so he can win a bet with his friends. As I write this, in 2021, The Geek’s actions could more accurately be described as continuous and invasive sexual harassment. He’s a piece of shit, really, a truly awful kid. And whilst we must remember this, that The Geek is just a kid, in the film he’s 15/16. So we can’t expect him to be perfect, but he’s certainly old enough to know better.
Sam’s first interaction with him is on the bus, when everyone else has alighted and only the two of them remain – actually scratch that, there are three people on the bus, driver not included. Alongside Ringwald and Hall is yet another staple of the 80s, Joan Cusack (and before you ask, yes John does appear in the film also.) However, Cusack’s character is a comical figure, replete with movement-restricting neck brace. The Geek is going to let something as simple as a witness sop him in his endless, inappropriate pursuit of Molly Ringwald.
And yet, in the bus scene, whilst The Geek is the one with the problematic behaviour, it’s Ringwald’s response to this I want to focus on. I can’t remember the exact words she uses, but Sam calls The Geek a ‘fag’.
This is something we see in a lot of 80s movies, the words ‘fag’ and ‘faggot’ being tossed around with no regards to their impact or meaning. We’re watching films where to be gay was still an insult – the AIDS epidemic (or Gay Plague, if you’re a piece of shit) was raging, gay people were being vilified as monsters in the public presses, and laws were either being enacted, or strictly enforced, to marginalise and discriminate against homosexuals. It’s easy for us to sit here in the 2020s and criticise this use of language, and so I’m going to. I’m more than happy to argue for something being the product of its time; however, some things are never ok, no matter where, when, the circumstances, nothing. Homophobia, no matter how casually dropped into conversation, is not ok.
The other majorly problematic part of the film is Jake Ryan’s girlfriend, and how he treats her. Admittedly she’s a dickhead, throwing a party in his house without his permission, seeing it absolutely trashed. She also gets so drunk she passes out – not a great piece of hosting, but as a former hardcore passer-outer myself, I can sympathise.
However, nothing she does, nothing any woman has ever done in history, justifies the way Ryan talks about her.
As the party is winding down, Ryan is talking to The Geek, about Sam. In the course of their conversation, The Geek naturally (and correctly) points out to Ryan the fact he has his girlfriend. His response? He’s bored of her. Ok, not ideal, but still not terrible. Until what Ryan says next.
“I could violate her 10 times if a wanted to, I’m just not interested anymore.”
There you go Caroline (that’s the girlfriend’s name) – be lucky that Jake Ryan is bored of you, otherwise he would have no qualms about raping you ‘in 10 different ways’. Just in case you’ve forgotten, Caroline is passed out drunk at this point. And her boyfriend is saying that the only reason he isn’t raping her is because he isn’t interested in her anymore, because he fancies Sam now.
Do I even need to say any more? Or does the above speak for itself?
There’s a lot more of this in the film, but these are the two main examples that jumped out at me when I was watching it this week. And yet, I professed earlier – and still do now – to loving the film. How do I reconcile this with my beliefs?
Did you know that in the winter of 21/22, the German airline Lufthansa flew 18,000 empty flights? I recycle, I try to talk places where possible, my car is a hybrid, the most eco-friendly one I could afford. My house is filled with eco-friendly lightbulbs, I use eco-friendly dog poo bags. Basically what I’m saying is, I do everything I can to help protect the environment. And then I find out there are 18,000 empty flights being flown. Fun fact – depending on the length of a flight, it might cause as much CO2 emission as one person does in a whole year. And Lufthansa did 18,000 of these. Empty.
Fuck me, right?
You might have seen in the news recently that the former (or maybe still current?) Prince Andrew has just paid a large settlement to avoid going to court of claims of rape and sexual assault. Rumours abound (and I must stress these are only rumours) that he paid Virginia Guiffre £12m. Twelve. Million. Pounds. That’ll be coming from you and I – the Royals of course subsist on public money. So the next time you see the government on the news talking about how there’s no money to feed children, or to expand the NHS, remember what there is money for: paying off rape victims so you don’t have to be held accountable for your actions.
You also may have seen in the news recently that the government partied their was through the lockdowns of 2020. Well, I say they partied; has Sue Gray confirmed whether they did or not yet?
Boris Johnson has been doing his usual spiel of lying through his teeth, and getting away with it. Remember those two women who met up for a coffee in a park and were each fined? Or the £34k handed out in fines to Sheffield students? Well, all you have to do is have a party with your government mates, on government property. As long as it’s in the past, the police won’t investigate. (I’m not even going to get into how apparently you are allowed to have a large public memorial for a dead Prince, but doing the same to protest the rape and murder of a young woman by the police? Fuck you, more violence.)
I understand that basically what I’ve provided above are some world class examples of whataboutism, but so fucking what? I do my best, as a normal person, to live the best life I can. I try to treat others how I want to be treated, I always try and leave a place better than I’ve found it. I play by the rules, basically, and for what reason? So my government can lie to me, my royal family can rape people, the police can do whatever the fuck they want, enforcing laws on whims as it suits them. England is the last vestiges of a dying empire; it’s a tiny, racist island ripping itself apart from within, and then sneering at those wondering why we keep the gun solely aimed at our own feet.
I do my best – that cannot be said for everyone in this country. But I can’t do everything. I’m only human. And so if I want to watch a film that’s not aged too well, aren’t I allowed? (No one’s tried to stop me, I’m not saying that – this justification is for myself and myself only.) In an ideal world, I wouldn’t watched Sixteen Candles, or The Breakfast Club, or Say Anything. But the simple truth is, I want to and I’m going to. I like the films, they entertain me. I’m aware that they contain a lot of problematic material, but I watch them regardless.
And I’m sorry for this, but I’m not going to stop.
Not that anyone has asked me to stop, because cancel culture is obviously not real. I’ll stress again, this justification is for me, and me alone. To quote Patrick Bateman: “This confession has meant nothing.”
I’d like to point out Molly Ringwald herself addressed these issues and more in a 2018 article for The New Yorker: