Movies Made on Mars

In the comments on the previous piece, WOPR asked which movie I was watching that seemed to have been made on Mars.  It was Fast Times at Ridgemont High, which is a great example of the phenomenon.  I wasn’t an undergrad in 1982, but even in 1992 I could see myself in the Fast Times kids.  By 2002, though, it already seemed like a distant world, and I doubt kids in 2012 would understand more than a fraction of it.  It’s not the period-specific jokes, the kind that make, say, Gilbert and Sullivan difficult to even follow, let alone laugh at.  There are a few of these, of course — the kids sniffing fresh mimeograph pages to get high — but mostly it’s the zeitgeist.

Start with Judge Reinhold’s character (they have names, of course, but nobody remembers any character’s name but Spicoli).  He’s supposed to be a typical everyman high school senior, but to modern audiences he comes off like a grandfather, if not a great-grandfather.  He’s got a job, for pete’s sake, which he seems to take, you know, seriously — to the point of passing up social opportunities because he has to work.  He has a car, one that he obviously pays for himself… I was going to say it’s the typical student beater, except that doesn’t make sense either — today’s kids, if the ones who go off to college are at all representative, either drive very nice rides that their folks obviously went miles into debt to buy for them, or simply don’t drive at all.  Most importantly, he keeps buggering on with all that, despite some serious “is this all there is to life?”-type misgivings, because that’s simply what one does.  Or did, anyway.

About the only teenager-ish thing he does that modern kids would recognize is jerk off (a life-altering scene for any boy who saw it in his sexually formative years; I myself will always love Phoebe Cates a little).

Speaking of that, here’s Spicoli’s room (NSWF, needless to say):

The wine-bottle candle and the bongos are indigenous to Southern California, but everything else is Typical American Teenager.  He’s a bit more brazen about it — we didn’t leave bongs, cigarettes, and beer bottles right out there in the open — but when I was a young lad your typical American kid could be expected to know what all of those objects are, at the very least, and probably have sampled one or all of them.  It was not unknown, in fact, for parents to simply give their offspring their first taste of alcohol, on the theory that since you’re going to be surrounded by it at parties anyway, it’s better to learn about it now, under controlled conditions (I would say that my Dad drank my first beer with me when I was about fourteen, since nothing beats a cold one after a long afternoon’s yard work, but since that’s probably felony child abuse now I’ll say that I heard that happened once, to some other kid).  Along the same lines — stuff I heard happened to some other kid — who can forget Mom’s evil grin when she caught you lighting one up from the pack of Marlboros Grandpa forgot the last time he was over, and made you smoke all of them?

The point, if anyone from the younger generations has endured my crusty old man ramblings this far, is that one was expected to deal with the consequences of one’s actions.  Our parents did not assume — as parents seem to now — that having been kept religiously away from intoxicants their entire childhoods, children will somehow acquire the wisdom to enjoy them responsibly the very minute the clock chimes on their 21st birthday.  On the contrary, our parents seemed to expect a certain amount of youthful rebelliousness as necessary and healthy.  Moreover, they expected their kids to somewhat police themselves, to understand the distinction between “a little harmless youthful rebellion” and “a serious problem” — e.g. sneaking a beer at a tailgate vs. swiping a bottle of vodka, or taking a bong hit vs. raiding the medicine cabinet.

Which brings us to the most Mars-like feature of Spicoli’s room — the posters on the walls.  Holy rape culture, Batman!!  Again, since Fast Times is a comedy he’s a bit more brazen about it, but absolutely no one would’ve complained about bikini model posters on a boy’s wall in 1982.  Or 1992, for that matter, since swapping the pictures you cut out of the Swimsuit Edition for something more “serious” was one of the ways you reconciled yourself to growing up and getting ready to graduate.  The first thing every boy did when he went off to college was slap a cheesecake shot on the wall by his bed; you and your roommate bonded over your bikini model choice.  Unless you were a dedicated practitioner of the frat bro lifestyle, though — a serious choice in itself — by the time you hit junior year Cindy Crawford was replaced by Bob Marley, or Elvis Costello, or US out of Trashcanistan, or Save the Whales, or whatever.  [Girls did the same thing, of course, and despite the impossible, socially-imposed beauty standards of Stephanie Seymour and Johnny Depp we managed to get along with each other, even hook up from time to time… though not as often as some of us would’ve liked].

These days, I’m sure, the very suggestion of heterosexuality in your dorm room will get you shipped off to reeducation.

The point isn’t that things were better in my day — though they were, if by “things” you mean “boys and girls didn’t hate and fear each other” — but that Spicoli’s world, which was for all intents and purposes my world, not only doesn’t exist anymore, but seems impossible.  They live in bizarro world, those teens who, despite not once attending SAT prep classes or getting a single participation trophy, seem healthy and happy and… outgoing, I guess the word is, and when was the last time you heard someone described that way?  They seem to relate to each other as people, and when they don’t — e.g. Mike Damone — they’re rightly shunned as loathsome.

Tl;dr version — just think about what it would take to “reboot” Fast Times, and you’ll see what I mean.

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21 thoughts on “Movies Made on Mars

  1. Maus

    Ah, FTARH. At your first mention I summoned the image of Phoebe Cates rising from the water like Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus.” She was indeed a veritable goddess. I was the Judge Reinhold of my high school class. Thanks for the walk down memory lane.

  2. Maus

    OT, but I am curious whether your moniker is rooted in another creative work from those glorious days. Could you perhaps be channeling Gene Wolfe’s Lictor of Thrax, clothed in fulgin and wielding Terminus Est? I begin to understand why I like the cut of your jib (to mix metaphors).

    1. Severian Post author

      I should probably put up a FAQ at some point. That would be question #1, and the answer is: It’s a throwaway name that I used once on a message board, never intending to use it again. I needed a handle, I didn’t want to use my real name (lest my very open-minded and tolerant employers, who enjoy nothing more than the free exchange of differing viewpoints, fire me for badthink), and Wolfe’s magnum opus was the first book I saw on the shelf when I looked around the room for something to use. I like the book, but I don’t read much science fiction (or fiction in general anymore — too depressing).

      I wish it were something clever and meaningful, but alas.

  3. MBlanc46

    Minor quibble. If the film (which I’ve never seen) is set in 1982, I’m pretty sure they weren’t mimeographing things. I and my classmates were mimeographing things when we were in high school, but that was in the early sixties. In the autumn of 1967, when I was a senior in college, the A.B. Dick company of Chicago put a couple of photocopiers in the library for testing purposes. We could use them for free. I’d wager that fifteen years later mimeo machines wete extinct.

      1. Severian Post author

        I’m sure the richer school systems in the bigger cities went to photocopiers earlier, but we had that weird-smelling purple ink stuff well into the 80s. I don’t think they were old-school, hand-cranked mimeos with the carbon sheet underneath, but I don’t think they were much more advanced than that.

    1. Frip

      I’ve never heard of the word “mimeograph”. All I know is our teachers would pass out what they called “dittos”. This was in the mid to late 70’s. They were blue or purple and smelled interesting. Sometimes they’d be hot and smear a bit.

  4. Pickle Rick

    I never really got the vibe from “Fast Times” and similar classics as recognizable to me, really, because I was (and am) a country boy. “Dazed and Confused”, even though set in 1976, replicated my high school days much better than suburban California.

    John Hughes flicks like “The Breakfast Club” strike closer to home too.

    1. Severian Post author

      Dazed and Confused is an interesting case. It came out in 1993, but it’s still much more of an “80s movie” than a “90s movie.” You can see some 90s touches in there (if I recall correctly; it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen it), but the kids are still basically wholesome and outgoing, even as they’re taking drugs and drinking.

      The sad thing, though, is that the “no drugs pledge” subplot wouldn’t make any sense to modern kids. Pink would rather quit the football team than sign, not because he’s a huge pothead (though of course he smokes up), but because he thinks it’s none of the administration’s business what they do in their free time. Modern kids wouldn’t grok the concept of “free time” — that is, unsupervised by state-licensed caregivers — and the idea of dropping ANY extracurricular, even one so dripping with toxic masculinity as football, is anathema to them. Doesn’t Pink know that he’s just torpedoed his chances for early admission at his first-choice college?

      1. Pickle Rick

        Nobody’s gay, nobody’s transgender, the one black kid is dancing to ZZ Top in a pickup with the rednecks, the obviously Jewish kid isn’t screeching about how problematic it is to be a Jew in Texas, mom greets the Ben Affleck asshole with a shotgun…

        And they attended ROBERT E. LEE high school.

        And the cars. My God, those burly muscle cars.

        1. Severian Post author

          As a proud graduate of Braxton Bragg High, I always thought Lee was overrated.. 😉

          [Seriously, though, I went to high school with some world-class apple polishers. The AP course teachers were warned not to stop too fast while walking down the halls, lest the National Honor Society all end up with broken noses. I shudder to think at the kind of depraved acts they’d no doubt stoop to if it meant raising their GPA from a 3.998 to a 3.999. The kind of kids who really did cry and have to be put on suicide watch when they missed early admission at Cal-Berkeley. But even they were much closer in spirit to Pink than anyone today. They might do every extracurricular Harvard’s admission officer could dream up, but when they finally got home from school, they were done with school. I even saw one or two of them sneaking a beer once!! These days, the only way they’d be in a room with beer is to entrap their rivals. Fuckin’ narcs…. but I digress. Point is, we’re screwed. But you knew that already].

          1. Pickle Rick

            That’s the key. Kids in our generations didn’t have the ubiquitous social media to keep the ass world of school and the cliques on the boil 24/7/365.

            Imagine being under the constant, unrelenting surveillance of your idiot classmates in elementary school, high school, and then college. I might have become one of the Little Red Guards too.

  5. Martinian

    “one was expected to deal with the consequences of one’s actions”

    This hits the nail on the head about what’s wrong with millennials, namely, it’s not that they don’t know how to deal with consequences, but rather that they think consequences are all somehow cosmically unfair and just plain should not exist at all.

    On the other hand, I can’t completely blame them for having this mentality. After all, it was likely ingrained in them from early on by the Marxist school system that anything that happens to you, good or bad, can never, ever be attributed to individual responsibility (cf. “you didn’t build that”…and don’t get me started on the sophistries woven around the phrase “self-made man”). When you’ve been stewing in that brew for your entire upbringing, the phrase “but it’s not my fault” is just a fact of life.

    What worries me, though, is the intense amount of rage released from someone trained always to believe “it’s not my fault” who then gets an unambiguous reality check. Compare this also to the common Liberal/Progressive bien-pensant variant of believing about their chosen class of victims “it’s not THEIR fault”, but then being presented with evidence that it is. People with that level of anger go looking for someone to punish.

    1. Severian Post author

      It’s weird, all right. That’s one of the strangest things about them, actually, one I should’ve mentioned in the “Why I Quit” piece. I mentioned that they have no problem lying to your face about anything, everything, just in case you’ll bite, and when you call them on it, they shrug it off — no harm no foul, right? Which is weird and infuriating enough, but watch what happens when you catch them cheating, or call them on a lie that has real consequences: They get furious. At YOU.

      I’m serious. You lied and cheated, I caught you, and somehow I’m the asshole. I’ve had students blow off my entire course, try some bullshit “my grandma died back in September” lie, then go to the department chair to try to get their grade changed, because I wasn’t clear on some minor thing in the syllabus. Again, dead serious — because I didn’t specify the dates for Thanksgiving break or something, they should…. get credit for the whole course, I guess. To his credit the dept. chair showed some backbone (I know, I know, I’m shocked too) and backed me, but the fact that these little douchebags thought to try it tells you everything you need to know about Generation Snowflake. They were actually mad that they had to go to all the trouble of trying to barracks-lawyer their way into the grade they wanted, instead of just getting it with the first complaint.

      Any wonder why I retired? And why my blood pressure is so much better now?

      1. WOPR

        Like Martinian said, it’s the result of there never being any consequences. Everyone gets a trophy. We don’t keep score. Everyone is exactly the same as everyone else. Then getting into the right college is a zero sum Thunderdome. No wonder they are schizoid.

        FTAGH was never my thing. Actually, I never really enjoyed any of the teen movies in the 80’s. However, I think part of it was my parents were pretty straight arrows. We attended church regularly and participated in a lot of the activities. I never felt much in the way of teen angst. The funny thing is my own mother called me boring. I think they would have been happy if I had rebelled once enough where they could have had the joy of dropping the hammer.

        But, yeah, it may as well have been filmed on Mars. Currently listening to a series of lectures on the Roman Republic. We seem to have hit the point of “tons of wealth has poured into the country and no one is happy.”

  6. Frip

    Fast Times, yep, awesome. Everybody was cast perfectly. The unsung character was the cocky dude with all the hip advice. He’s shown as phony cool. But I don’t know, I think he was cool. A guy can be fake cool yet cool at the same time. I forget his fate in the movie. I think he knocked a girl up then ditched her, so his dweeby Jewish sidekick could be shown to be the REAL cool guy in the end. Kind of a John Hughs touch as channeled by a Jewish woman director.

    Good scene here with the guy I’m talking about.

    1. tullamore92

      Ah yes, Damone. He was portrayed as the bad guy, with Rat the aw-shucks good guy who gets the girl in the end without having to become like Damone. And I 100% bought it, thus unintentionally limiting my “game” for many years (I was in middle school when FTARH came out, and particularly vulnerable to that whole nice guy meme). It was years later that I came to understand that everything Damone says throughout the movie is spot-on. The attitude really does (or should) dictate that you shouldn’t “care whether she cums, stays, lays, or prays, whatever happens your toes are still tappin’.” (Sure, he was a dick for not paying for half of the abortion, but the rest rings true.) Another related realization: for the most part, social losers write our entertainment, so naturally the good guy (read: shy/fat/bespectacled/nerdy/loner/etc., almost always the author’s insert) gets the girl. And poor kids like me learn that that’s how life works. I’ve thought for years now there should be some sort of “Man School” series of seminars available to teens that instructs them on how things actually work, particularly with girls and women. (If you have a young man in your life, check out “The Pocket Guide to Life: Junior High for Guys” on Amazon!) Given the numbers of young boys out there without a decent male role model at home, it almost seems like an infringement on their human rights NOT to offer this sort of instruction. It’d also be good for the gals, whether they admit it or not.

      1. Severian Post author

        Or see the collected archives at Chateau Heartiste. If I were a young single fellow I’d definitely go there.

        But that’s the thing: In 1982, Damone was the bad guy. The brutally instrumentalist view of life the “Game” guys champion hadn’t yet achieved widespread acceptance, because what they (we, I guess) call “Beta provider game” was really a thing back then… back when men and women were tolerably happy with each other, and even believed in socially-necessary fictions like “’til death do us part.”

        If you want a hoity-toity philosophy-dork way to look at it (and I know that’s mainly why y’all come here; that, and the Slave Leia pics), “Game” is like Machiavelli’s The Prince. Every word of it is true… and no society that takes its truth to heart could ever endure. Machiavelli himself knew it, too, which is why he marveled somewhere that seemingly nobody can be consistently evil, even when it’s in his obvious best interests to do so.

        Humans just aren’t wired that way. It’s probably true that the Earth is just an accident; that we’re all just accretions of cells, of no more inherent worth than an elephant or an earthworm; that life is inherently meaningless; that death is the end and we’ll be forgotten by even those who “loved” us long before our earthly remains are dust. All of those are probably true, but no human being who has ever lived as acted as if they’re true, not for one single second (even the man who kills himself in despair, it’s fairly obvious, is thinking something like “this will show those bastards!”… which makes no sense, if he won’t be around somehow to enjoy his posthumous revenge).

  7. rwc1963

    Speaking of TV, compare the commercials made today to those made a decade ago like this Slim Jim one:
    This could never be made to today because it would trigger many people.

    Or this classic “where’s the beef’

    Frito Bandito

    When it comes to movies and TV shows. the stuff produced from the 60’s through the early 80’s was a much better. It didn’t pander to 15 year olds on Adderall. And Hollywood didn’t employ drug fiends as writers and directors back then like it does now. It treated the viewers as adults not simpletons. The direction, script and actors were just better. Sitcoms excluded.

    Look at how the “Night Stalker – Karl Kolchak’ was done. A excellent horror series done right with very little gore. Compare to the childish offal at the Sci-fi channel., that it when they are not playing reruns of Futurerama.

  8. Martinian

    Since I’m in education as well, though earlier in the pipeline , I want to make another point about the cultural sea change: Look at the portrayal of teachers in movies from the 70s & early 80s, Mr. Hand in FTARH and the teachers in the Travolta version of Grease — pretty much your standard doctrinaire disciplinarians, but otherwise normal people who had a personality, a role to play, a job to do. Then, look at the late 80’s and you’ve got either the bland/antagonistic (Ben Stein in “Bueller” and the jerky principal in “Breakfast Club”) or the hip rebel (cf. TV “Head of the Class). But they were still in charge, and even the latter cared about the students a la Kotter from an earlier generation — but it’s definitely a step down in terms of adult authority. Fast forward, then, to the late 90s/2000s and you have either pretty much nonexistent teachers (were there even any in American Pie or Mean Girls or Superbad, or was the entire student world portrayed as purely teenage psychodrama?) or they were sexed-out sociopaths like Matthew Broderick in Election (1999) and the dismaying consistent stream of pedophiles in the news these days (esp. women in their 20s and 30s, interestingly enough…).

    In other words, not to defend millennials too much, but if you look at how high school teachers are portrayed and what many of them actually are like in real life now, then it’s not surprising that students come to college thinking they can pull that kind of BS. The can get mad at you because you’re at best their social equals, if not inferiors.

    Also, re: portrayals of academia – A big problem is the general sitcom-ization of the life experience. I think I never got into FTARH as a young adolescent because I expected it to be a flat-out comedy and was disappointed by the lack of pure amusement/entertainment. Kind of in the same vein as why I didn’t understand until much later that The Wonder Years wasn’t really supposed to be ha-ha funny. In other words, by the 90s already you had portrayals of life with sporadic humorous episodes give way to pure entertainment, which in turn got picked up by youth as a model of What Things Are Really Like.

    Case in point: my sense of Animal House is that when it came out, it was an obvious joke. But in high school in the late 90s, I recall watching it with my buddies and thinking how awesome it would be to imitate it. Same thing with any of the 80s movies — they were no longer meditations on contemporary youth, but rather models for a younger generation to imitate, e.g., Which member of the Breakfast Club are you most like? All of this accelerated to hyperspeed with the internet and social media. Is it any wonder millennials have the crazy expectations they do and become enraged when life in your twenties doesn’t neatly slide into the template of a Friends episode (or whatever it is they’re watching today)?

    1. Severian Post author

      There’s so much truth to this. The “authority figure” thing is especially interesting. As I started in “education” fairly late, I was conspicuously older than most of my graduate school cohort. They had discipline problems in their classes; I never did. This was because I at least looked like an adult, and dressed like one, too. Every other TA was all of three months removed from undergrad, and tried to show up to teach wearing backwards hats and ratty school apparel. The one kid who took my advice and switched to teaching in “business casual” didn’t have a single discipline problem afterward (poor bastard, he no doubt got killed by his peers for “ageism” or something).

      Of course, this was so long ago that students used to be unsure how to address me. Most professors had gone “hip” and had students call them by first name, but there were enough crusty old codgers around who insisted on “Dr. So-and-So” that they didn’t assume. After which I started telling them “you can call me whatever you want, but as a general rule life runs smoother if we respect each other’s station. If you know someone has a title, it’s best to use it unless they specifically tell you otherwise, and it’s always good to respect the social distance between yourself and someone who has something you want. So, choose accordingly.” 20 years ago, most of them got it, and addressed me by my title. 15 years ago, I started getting lots of puzzled puppy dog looks (“what’s a ‘social station’?”). 10 years ago, they all just assumed first names were fine, and before I retired I counted myself lucky if I got so much as a “hey dude.”

      Meanwhile, as far as the students were concerned, my job went from “trying to teach them something” to “the annoying meat puppet whose presence we have to tolerate until he puts the A+ in the gradebook for record-keeping purposes.”

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