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40 years of Grease: has it aged well?


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On this day in 1978, Grease released in cinemas for the first time. Now, 40 years on, we look at how well the film has aged, and whilst the costumes are still amazing, the acting is still good and the songs are still very easy to sing along to, there are certain aspects of the smash hit musical that haven't aged so well.

The most obvious thing on first look back, is the ages of the cast members. Whilst Hollywood has always seemed to trend towards adults playing teenagers, you only need to compare the more recent Grease Live adaptation of the hit musical to the 1978 movie, and it becomes apparent which plays more convincingly as teenagers (hint, it's not the original cast members). Most notable is Stockard Channing who, at 35 in the movie, would never be able to play a teenager had the film been shot now.  Pretty well all of the cast were well into their twenties, and it definitely shows.

The lyrics of some of the songs are also a little iffy now, especially that one line in 'Summer Nights' where one of the boys asked Danny "Did she put up a fight?" essentially implying that Danny raped her, which yeah, was probably not a great lyric then and is an even worse lyric now. Greased Lightning is chock full of dodgy sexual references, which are made even worse when you realise that this is a song a lot of us used to belt out at school discos!

The sexual politics of the film might have been appropriate for its fifties setting but for 2018, in the age of #TimesUp and #MeToo, not so much. Danny attempts to grope Sandy in the scene in the car, and then tries to force himself on her before she runs away. Vince Fontaine, host of the televised high school dance, attempts to roofie Marty (it's a throwaway line, but she says he tried to put aspirin in her coke).

Rizzo is horribly slut shamed for having sex after her pregnancy scare is revealed, and Rizzo herself shames Sandy for being a virgin (this film really can't decide which is worse, having sex or not having sex). All the girls shame Cha Cha for having had sex, describing her as the girl with the "worst reputation" even though most of the Pink Ladies (if not all) have had sex themselves.

Jan is supposedly "the fat one" and is never seen without food, because of course to be pretty, all women must be skinny. The T-birds are the epitome of toxic masculinity and pretty much everything they say about the women in this film makes you want to cringe. 

The entire film is also incredibly heteronormative, not surprising for both the time it was filmed and the era the film was set in. However 40 years later, it doesn't really sit very well. At the school dance, the kids are told that all partners must be boy/girl and the entire premise of the movie is that every woman needs a man and every man needs a woman, which is of course completely heteronormative, not to mention just plain wrong. It is also very starkly white, which again 40 years later, when we are pushing for more racial diversity in films, doesn't sit well either.

The end of the movie is the cherry on top of the sexist cake, as Sandy changes her entire appearance and personality to get Danny, even though he proves time and time again that he doesn't deserve her, because in the words of 'You're The One That I Want', "she needs a man".

And whilst Danny remains the same jerk that he has always been, just with a letter jacket now (which he immediately abandons once he sees that she has changed for him), he will likely, once he has finally got her to have sex with him, abandon her because he hasn't really changed at all. That message might have flown 40 years ago, but it definitely wouldn't now!

So Grease, whilst it might have some killer outfits (I maintain that my love of 50s dresses was very heavily influenced by this movie) and some catchy, if slightly disturbing songs, really doesn't stand up 40 years later, especially when you consider that the film was portraying an era two decades prior to the one it was filmed in.

It's still a decent enough film, but it's very much of its time, especially as we are now trying to move away from the white, sexist, heteronormative portrayal of life in Grease and embrace a more diverse society in culture. The fact that Grease doesn't stand up as well today as it did in 1978 is a good thing, however! It shows how far we have come in four decades.

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