Lee has a bachelor's in English Lit. She loves analyzing fiction and obsessing over books, film, and television.
Grease is a 1978 musical romance based on the 1971 musical of the same name. It stars John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in the lead roles as Danny and Sandy, and it's been one of my favorite films since I was a little kid.
I rewatched this old film recently and noticed a crapload of "problematic" stuff that bothered me. And like most millennials who are hell-bent on ruining everything, I felt the burning need to write an article about it.
Jan Wasn't Even Fat
Jan, played by Jamie Donnelly, wasn't even fat.
The character was supposed to be played by an overweight actress. Instead, Donnelly was chosen, and while she did well as Jan, it was still really odd to have the other characters referring to this really thin woman as "fat."
If anything, I was jealous of her ability to eat all those damn Oreos and not gain an ounce.
Kenickie Was Rapey
It's been pointed out a thousand times, but during the "Summer Nights" sequence, Kenickie (Jeff Conaway) has a line where he asks if Sandy "put up a fight" when Danny was getting busy with her.
This line is enough to make any sane adult pause and think, "What the actual ****?"
How and why did this line get in the musical?
That aside, I think the entire "Summer Nights" sequence is a pretty well-executed example of rape culture and toxic masculinity. Boys are taught to use girls like objects and discard us. And not only that—they bond with their friends about what inhumane monsters they are, making up stories and spreading lies about all the sex they never had. This phenomenon is referred to as "lad culture" or "locker room talk"—the verbal degradation of women.
Danny's character is seen to struggle with performing a toxic masculine role for his friends while trying to hide his sweet and sensitive side.
At the end of the song, he tosses out the line, "And I told her we'd still be friends. . ." with a smirk to benefit his buddies. The second his back is turned to them, however, his true emotions for Sandy show as he sings the line with sincere longing, "Wonder what she's doin' now. . ."
Danny is truly in love with Sandy, but it's something he has to hide behind a misogynistic mask in order to fit in with his friends and not feel ostracized. This isn't just some shit they did for the musical—it's pervasive in our culture.
Marty Hates Sonny
This one always bugged me.
Marty (Dinah Manoff) treated Sonny (Michael Tucci) pretty badly throughout the film. She always seemed so disgusted by him, it made you wonder why the hell she was dating him.
During the sleepover sequence, it's revealed that Marty has several pen pal lovers.
During the school dance, Sonny tries to dance with her and be nice and she completely blows him off, leaving him to get bitterly drunk while she flirts with Vince Fontaine (Eddie Byrnes), a man who's old enough to be her father.
There are some disgusting virginity jokes about Marty's last name being "like a cherry" and the whole thing makes my skin crawl. Especially since Manoff was actually 19 years old at the time—the only actual teenager on the cast.
Marty pretty much acted as if Sonny didn't exist and was only nice to him for two seconds at the very end of the film.
John Travolta Ruined Jeff Conaway's Life
You read that right.
Conaway's character, Kenickie, was supposed to be the one singing the lead for the song "Grease Lightning," but Travolta insisted on doing it, effectively stealing the spotlight.
This meant that Conaway had to switch places with him and wound up doing gymnastics on top of the car in his stead. He fell off the car, was seriously injured, and got hooked on pain meds. By the end of his life, he wound up haggard in a wheelchair and addicted to pain pills—and all because of Travolta's ego.
It's hard to look at the "Grease Lightning" sequence knowing that. I've probably ruined it for you, too, now.
Danny Was Just as Rapey as Kenickie
When sitting at the drive-in with Sandy, Danny gives Sandy his class ring. She takes it as evidence that he really loves and respects her. Danny then decides that now would be a good time to show just how little he respects her.
Without slowly leaning in for a kiss or using nonverbal cues or—geez—any sort of respectful warning, he just grabs Sandy, fills her up, and pins her to the seat of his car, forcing himself on her with wild abandon.
Sandy screams for Danny to get off, and his response,
"Come on, Sandy! No one's lookin'!"
I mean . . . damn. The fact that she went back to him after that is insane. It goes to show how normalized assault is in our culture. A man can just pin a woman down without pausing to consider whether she wants that to happen or not, and it's entirely seen as normal.
It was so normalized that I compared it to the boys who had sexually assaulted me at school multiple times—grabbing me against my will in much the same way—and I wasn't shocked by the film at all.
What's extra ridiculous is that Danny then has his sad little song where he laments Sandy being angry at him for assaulting her and leaving him all alone with his aching b*ner.
Make no mistake: I am grinning while writing this. It's just . . .too hilarious. It was meant to be. But my point about normalized misogyny still stands (no pun intended).
Sandy Had to Change for Danny
It always bothered me that Sandy had to change her appearance and personality, forsaking her true self in order to please Danny and fit in with his friends.
To be fair, Danny spends the entire movie trying to be a jock in order to please Sandy. The sequence where he tries to find a sport to play and keeps beating everyone up is pretty gold in its comedy.
But it still bothered me that Sandy was the one who made the ultimate sacrifice. It was her choice and she decided to change, but because this is so typical in films— especially fairy tales like The Little Mermaid—it always rubbed me the wrong way.
Still, Olivia Newton-John looked pretty hot in those tight pants and red lipstick and big, curly hair. So maybe it was worth it in the end.
Those are all the things that bug me about Grease. Regardless of my complaints, it's a wonderfully entertaining musical, one of my favorites, and it will always have a special place in my heart.
© 2019 Lee