Thoughts on Rocky Horror

29Nov10

Rocky Horror was a large part of my life in my high school years.  My parents had forbidden me to see it, and so I always told them I was staying with one of my friends (and sometimes I did actually stay with her, after the show was over) and went anyway.  It symbolized a lot of the things that I was experiencing at the time – breaking away from my parents’ religious and political ideals, figuring out who I was, working through the fact that sexuality was really okay, despite what I’d been taught.  I can honestly say that I would not be who I am today without it.  The act of illicitly dressing up in fishnets and corsets to yell profanities at a movie screen in public shaped the younger me, and I will always be of the opinion that it shaped me for the better.

This past weekend, a few of the friends with whom I used to frequent RHPS in high school got together to see the show.  It had been a long time since I had seen it; the last time I attended, feminism wasn’t yet on my radar (at least not past the feminist stereotypes that pervade our culture).  The experience this time was much different for me.

The thing that I was most startled by was the issue of consent as it was addressed in the movie.  I know that it is purposefully absurd, and that the characters are not intended to be held up as standards of the right way to act.  This especially applies to Frank, whose issues are the driving force of the film.  However, the issue of consent is consistently glossed over in a way that goes past the rest of Frank’s actions.

(Spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie, by the way.)

When Frank commits murder, all the characters have the proper reaction (i.e. horror and shock).  When he later serves Eddie for dinner, most of the characters are appropriately disgusted.  When he goes completely batshit insane, almost everyone is frightened.  But when he, in every single one of his sexual interactions, proceeds to completely disregard whether or not his partner (using the term loosely) is willing, it is shown to result in sexual empowerment and a breaking free from constraints.

There is one scene in particular which disturbed me, and that is the one right before the dog chase.  I have always been bothered by Riff’s part in that scene, but somehow in all my previous viewings the fact that a man who had been expressly made to be used as a sex partner (and made in a way that seemed tailored to create a partner incapable of objective decision-making) was chained to a bed slipped past me as completely unproblematic.  Even ignoring the fact that Rocky was not capable of consent at that point (essentially a child, only alive for hours), it’s obvious that he still had to be physically restrained.  Of course bonds are often consensual, but in this case I think it’s fairly safe to say they weren’t.  And somehow every other time I saw this, before I was made aware of these issues through feminism, I was not once disturbed by this.

I won’t go into what that says about who I was at the time.  It’s no secret that I was working through some very fucked up ideas about consent and sexuality.  But there was something else that also bothered me – not one person I have ever seen that movie with has ever seemed to find anything wrong with that scene, or with any of the utter lack of consent in the film.  This wasn’t just something that I was working through, but is instead something that pervades our culture.  It’s not surprising, of course, but it will still never cease to scare the hell out of me.

I suppose you could say that, in the end, Frank’s actions result in the destruction of them all.  They also touch briefly on the issues Rocky now has because of his short life after his creation (though that may be too kind an interpretation).  But this isn’t enough for me.  The two characters who are supposed to be the everyman constrained by societal expectations of sexuality still, in the end, see themselves as freed.  Brad sings about feeling sexy, Janet about confidence, open-mindedness, and an end to bad times.  I am all for embracing sexuality, but I just cannot reconcile my ideas of what that means with the way that those characters reached that point.  I also cannot ignore the fact that, in the end, Frank’s lifestyle is romanticized as decadent and thrilling.

I know Rocky Horror is really not a movie meant for serious interpretation, but it did have such a huge impact on my life that I can’t help but to see it that way.  Further, I can’t ignore these aspects of it now.  The movie that embodies my path to adulthood seems to embrace ideas that go against everything I believe in, and it will now never be the same.

 

 

Adding a note to clarify (and to call myself out): I used a bit of ableist dialogue when discussing Rocky, and while I meant it as “He doesn’t speak because he is basically a child who has not yet had time to learn anything,” it didn’t read that way, and we all know that intentions only carry so far.  It’s important to avoid that kind of language altogether, and the burden is on me to make sure I do.  I’ve corrected it to express my meaning more clearly, but I am making a note, because I do try to be upfront when I make a mistake.

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