Posts Tagged ‘Revenge of the Nerds’

nerd2Well, it’s happened again. Week after week, two blog entries I’ve written get the most views.

This one deals with a bizarre conspiracy theory about coded messages from FEMA on the backs of road signs. I used it to explore a hypothesis of mine regarding the nature of conspiracy theories, which is that they’re essentially the result of a pattern recognition impulse gone haywire.

But this one gets by far the most views. In it, I examine the way that one’s values can change gradually over a span of decades, to a point where popular entertainment once regarded as innocuous can later seem offensive. As an example, I cite the movie “Revenge of the Nerds,” which features ostensibly sympathetic characters engaging in exploitative behavior toward women such as surreptitiously taking topless photos of cheerleaders with hidden cameras.

And week after week, according to the metrics helpfully provided by Word Press, variations of two search terms garner the most views on this blog: “FEMA road signs conspiracy” and “topless cheerleaders.” (more…)

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Sometimes it disturbs me when I check out the search terms that lead readers to this blog, because they seem to reflect an intent that’s the polar opposite of what I’m trying to get across.

For example, I wrote a piece about the underlying misogyny in the movie “Revenge of the Nerds.” And some people apparently found that while doing a search involving the terms “cheerleaders” and “topless.”

Actually, that doesn’t bother me too much. I’m not one of these people who believes there’s something inherently misogynistic about porn. If there was, pretty much every guy on the planet could be termed a misogynist. And cynical as I can be about human nature, I’m not yet ready to jump off that precipice. (I imagine the people who stumbled across this blog in a search for topless cheerleaders were pretty annoyed, though. Sorry guys. I could be wrong, but I have an inkling that sort of thing is available elsewhere on the Web.)

I’m more concerned by the fact that one of my most enduringly popular blog posts, in terms of people reading it after finding it via Google searches on related terms, is this one dealing with secret FEMA codes on the back of traffic signs. As you can see, my purpose was to make fun of how batshit loopy that particular conspiracy theory is. I figured the guy who posted that video was the one guy who subscribes to it. Even by conspiracy theory standards, that one’s just too bugf**k insane to have a significant following, right?

But it’s had many hits in the months since I posted it from people apparently seeking more information on this plot to convey information about sinister hidden government bases via secret codes on the backs of road signs.

As I’ve mentioned here before, I’m not a big believer in conspiracy theories. I’m more of an Occam’s razor guy — absent compelling evidence to the contrary, go with the most basic and obvious explanation.

Yes, conspiracies happen. Yes, they can be widespread and insidious. The reason I generally don’t subscribe to them is because they tend to be based on a presumption of widespread organizational efficiency that’s rare under any circumstances, but especially for government operations. (I used to cover government as a newspaper reporter. Trust me on this one.)

And subscribers to these theories seem to prize them for their comic book theatricality to a point where they’ll pointedly overlook far more likely explanations because, hey, they’re kinda boring.

Prime example. I have a friend who’s very active in his Catholic church. He was convinced that he’d found evidence of a Satanic cult.

Apparently his church hosted a funeral Mass for a young woman who died of a heroin overdose. Her acquaintances — a heavily tattooed and multiply pierced crowd — had been in attendance. Afterward, a number of items such as candle holders had gone missing.

My friend was convinced that the young woman’s friends had stolen them for use in a Black Mass, where they would worship Satan.

My reaction? Yeah. That’s why junkies typically steal shit. To use them as props in Black Masses. Come on. If a bunch of junkies could summon up Satan, they’d probably steal his wallet and go score some smack.

Ever watch clips from one of those old-timey film comedies featuring a Stepin Fetchit-style black stereotype — a bumbling, slow-witted black man drawling lines like “Yaaaas boss!” — and wonder how the people of the time could watch it and NOT be offended?

Sometimes I’ve found myself wondering what it would be like for somebody whose sensibilities changed with the times. Maybe he saw one of those movies in the 1930s and laughed at it, then saw it again in the 1960s and thought: “Damn. How did I not notice how wrong this is?” What would that feel like?

Well, now I know exactly what it feels like. It’s disorienting and more than a little disturbing.

I recently rewatched the 1984 comedy “Revenge of the Nerds.”

I saw that movie in the theater when it first came out. I was in high school at the time. It was no comedy classic, but I enjoyed it.

It was a riff on the “Animal House”-style college comedy. But I thought it had a bit more depth than most, with its message that it’s OK to be a misfit as long as you have friends and you believe in yourself. It was fun and it had heart. I’d never bother renting it. But if I was flipping around the channels and caught it on cable, I’d always watch.

I don’t know when I saw it last, but I’d estimate that it’s been in the neighborhood of 20 years. I guess times have changed, and so have I.

Because when I watched it recently … Holy shit! How did I fail to notice the TOXIC levels of misogyny in this movie? I felt like I needed a shower afterwards!

I don’t need to reiterate the entire plot here. I’ll just give you the basics.

A couple of ostensibly lovable nerds, Lewis and Gilbert, go away to college. There, they befriend a bunch of other ostensibly lovable nerds and outcasts. They end up forming their own fraternity.

But they get picked on by another fraternity made up of bullying jocks. The jocks are abetted by a sorority of their snooty cheerleader girlfriends.

The nerds strike back through a series of pranks, and all kinds of wackiness ensues. It culminates with the nerds using their superior brains to best the jocks at the Greek Games. Then after a final confrontation, the movie ends with a rallying speech for nerd empowerment. Keep in mind this was 1984, before the concept of “nerd empowerment” became pretty much moot.

Anyway, it all sounds pretty harmless, right? Kind of cute in that winning, unironic way of 1980’s comedies?

Except … some pretty ugly stuff happens, the full ugliness of which never struck me until just recently.

To get revenge on the cheerleader sorority for a prank, the nerds stage a panty raid on their house. But that’s just cover to install hidden cameras, from which the nerds watch over closed-circuit TV as the young women undress and shower. Later, the nerds win the fund-raising portion of the Greek Games by surreptitiously selling topless photos of one of the cheerleaders that they got with the hidden camera.

Keep in mind, we’re supposed to be rooting for the guys who do all this. Because, y’know, it’s OK to sexually harass and exploit women. As long as the women being harassed and exploited are snooty bitches. Because then they deserve it.

But the REALLY ugly part comes later. Lewis, the head nerd, lusts after one of the cheerleaders. At the Greek Games, he puts on a costume and fools her into thinking he’s her boyfriend so she’ll have sex with him. Immediately afterward, he shows her who he really is. But by that time, she’s fallen in love with him because the sex was so good.

OK. Let’s clarify something. He raped her.

No, he didn’t use physical force or threats. Rape doesn’t have to involve force or threats. Rape is sex without consent. That’s why sex with unconscious people or children is considered rape, even if there’s no real or implied violence involved.

But hey, according to the movie, a rape victim will forgive you and even fall in love with you if you just give her a good enough f**kin’ that she enjoys the experience.

See what I was saying about the misogyny?

Now some of you may read this and think: “Geez, Tom, it was only a harmless comedy! Lighten up!”

Let me say for the  record that I don’t consider any subject to be taboo where comedy is concerned. Comedy is meant to be transgressive.

Off the top of my head, I can think of two jokes about rape that I had no problem with. One was in the sketch comedy show “Snuff Box,” and the other in the British version of “The Office” that was a precursor to the American version.

But there’s a crucial distinction. In those shows, the jokes were meant to be disturbing and provocative. In each case, the context of the joke was predicated on people’s uncomfortable reaction to an inherently ugly subject.

In short — the writers were aware that rape is wrong. They weren’t, like the screenplay writers of “Revenge of the Nerds,” apparently under the illusion that rape can fall within the category of zany highjinks.

And keep in mind that the aforementioned Stepin Fetchit stereotypes were once considered harmless comedy as well. They didn’t turn out to be so harmless after all, did they?