Culture  /  Annotation

Brett Kavanaugh Goes to the Movies

A film scholar reflects on the image of masculinity depicted in "Grease 2," released the same summer of Kavanaugh's alleged assault.

I’m not the only one asking these questions about the role 1980s movies played in Kavanaugh’s high school years.

Writing for The New York Times, Ginia Bellafante recently explored Tom Cruise’s 1983 hit, “Risky Business,” as a film that celebrates male mediocrity at the expense of female weakness. Vox’s Constance Grady has written about the way that date rape is innocuously and humorously depicted in John Hughes’ hugely popular “Sixteen Candles.”

In the 1980s, the teen coming-of-age flick was almost a genre of its own. “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Back to the Future,” “Risky Business,” “Sixteen Candles,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” are probably the most well known today.

But there were many others, including “Valley Girl,” “Some Kind of Wonderful,” “Weird Science,” “Better Off Dead,” “Class,” “The Last American Virgin,” “Three O’Clock High,” “Zapped!” and “Say Anything.”

There was also “Grease 2,” which makes an appearance on Kavanaugh’s calendar.

Capitalizing on the success of its tremendously popular predecessor, 1978’s “Grease,” “Grease 2” takes place at Rydell High School in 1961.

Although “Grease 2” was nowhere near the box office success of the films Kavanaugh mentioned during his testimony, it’s worth exploring precisely because it is so typical, especially in the way it depicts the sort of male high school behavior that’s being scrutinized today.

The movie focuses on the two most popular social cliques at Rydell: the T-Birds, who are leather jacket-clad, preening greasers, and their satin-jacket-wearing female counterparts, the Pink Ladies, who, per their rules, are only allowed to date T-Birds.

Like so many teen boys of other 1980s movies, the T-Birds seem to be able to get away with anything. They make brazen innuendos in front of their hypersexualized teacher, Miss Mason; bully their way into winning the talent show; and pay for the new kid at school to write their papers.

The musical numbers that weave through “Grease 2” are laden with sexual innuendo. With its bowling alley setting, the T-Bird’s number “Score Tonight” lays out the most obvious of the film’s relentless double entendres.

Other songs imagine girls failing to give guys what they want, with the poor guys having to endure these sexual refusals. When Mr. Stuart’s biology class sings and dances their way through “Reproduction,” some guys wonder, “When a warm-blooded mammal in a tight little sweater starts pullin’ that stuff, is she sayin’ that she wants to do it?”

Some of the others reply, “Can’t prove it by me, cause they change their tune when you got ‘em in the back seat.”

Like “Reproduction,” “Prowlin” is all about girls who refuse sex: The best strategy, according to the tune, is to find “a chick who’ll give you more” at “a spot that I’ve discovered where a guy’s guaranteed to score.”

Boys will be boys – or something more sinister?

The most telling musical set piece is “Do It for Our Country.” In the scene, a T-Bird named Louis brings Sharon, one of the Pink Ladies, into a fallout shelter, where he tries to have sex with her.

After closing and bolting the door, Louis starts narrating a nuclear attack as his friends outside the shelter crank an air raid siren.

“The Russians are attacking – get down!” Louis proclaims, as he pushes Sharon onto a bed, gets on top of her and starts to sing, “Let’s do it for our country.