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March 14, 1990 - Image 8

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The Michigan Daily, 1990-03-14

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Page 8-The Michigan Daily -Wednesday, March 14, 1990
Two teen movies were the word

Author returns
with literary army
by Carolyn Palor

by Jen Bilik

I remember going to JC Penney's
with my mom to buy pants. She'd
go right to the straight-legged rack
and hold up a pair for me to see:
"Nope," I'd say, "the bigger the bell
the better." On Saturday night, my
idea of a good time was to sleep over
at my friend Leah's house (we'd take
turns - her house one week, my
house the next) and watch Love
Boat. Slumber parties were even bet-
ter because we could hold lip-synch-
ing contests to "I Will Survive"
(Gloria Gaynor for those of you

who've chosen to forget). Our days
of milk and cookies were blasted in
the fourth grade when Grease came
out. Finally, childhood was irretriev-
able with Saturday Night Fever,
which catapulted us into the disco of
impending adulthood.
I never even saw Saturday Night
Fever because it was rated R, and I
couldn't quite convince my parents
to take me. Grease I went to with
my grandparents, at a drive-in no
less, and they hated it so much they
made me leave with them halfway
through. I have only impressionistic
memories of the two movies that
shaped my entrance into the world of
coed parties, fashion, dancing and, of
Read
Lincoln's Minutes
n the Michigan Daily

course, the John Travolta phe-
nomenon that replaced Shaun Cas-
sidy in a big way. Grease and Sat-
urday Night Fever have more in
common than John Travolta's daz-
zling gyrations: "Grease," the song,
was written by Barry (or was it Mau-
rice?) Gibb, of the infamous Gibb
brothers who created the Saturday
Night Fever album. Stranger collab-
orations have occurred.
Of course, I had both albums, as
did all my friends, so slumber parties
began to groove to the lip-synchs of
"Summer Lovin"' and to dance re-
hearsals with the hip to the left and
the right index finger up in the air. I
finally convinced Mom to buy me a
multicolored satin jacket and a poo-
dle skirt in the same shopping trip. I
even had a Grease T-shirt, the one
with Olivia Newton-John and John
Travolta at the carnival after she'd
converted to eternal greaser-dom, the
T-shirt with the rubbery decal that
peeled off after just a few washes.
Nothing since these two movies
has shaped our generation quite so
much, in a social sort of way, even
if you try to include Flashdance,
which only contributed to a warped
fashion sense. E.T., maybe, but
most of us were too old to appreciate
how cute it was.
Looking back, watching Grease
and Saturday Night Fever through
the eyes of a young adult, I wonder
what exactly we took away from
these movies. With the enlightened
perspective of our college lives, sen-
sitive to gender issues and racial ten-
sions, I find myself watching the
two films with the same criteria as I
do contemporary cinema. Were we
aware of the sexuality in Grease?
Did we understand the solemnity of

the social issues in Saturday Night
Fever? And did we ever really dress
that badly?
We're actually older now than the
characters in both movies. One of
the odd things about the art of film
is its timelessness. James Dean will
always be young, and you can actu-
ally catch up with the characters'
ages - particularly satisfying since
the day you realized your older
brother would always be older. The
Grease crowd will always be se-
niors in high school, and Tony, at
19, looks up forever to his older
woman, 20-year-old Stephanie.
Granted, Grease stands worlds
apart from SNF with its comic book
style. Real grownups actually recall
SNF as a good film. If we were so
infatuated with both movies,
though, they must have had some
sort of effect on our world views. In
SNF, John Travolta plays Tony, a
young stud stuck in a nowhere job at
a paint store. His room combines
the crucifix look with posters of
Rocky Balboa and Farrah Fawcett.
Dancing is the only source of his
virile male pride. He and his
nowhere friends cruise to the 2001
Bar on the weekends, and take turns
banging women in the back seat, 10
minutes to a turn. Their sex lives are
conspicuously pre-AIDS. His home
life sucks, and he can't quite rid
himself of the taint of Italian
Catholicism.
Looking at the film now, I have
sympathy for Tony. I understand
how his insecurities manifest them-
selves in his ill treatment of women,
and how the women, notably An-
nette, throw themselves at him in an
effort to boost their self-worth. Tony
can't respect a woman who doesn't
play hard-to-get, which is why he fi-
nally falls for Stephanie. Still, the
fact remains that the relationships
between the sexes rest on the superi-
ority of men and their ability to
score. They mercilessly humiliate
women in front of one another to
feed their macho reputations. The

sympathy we feel for the characters
comes from subtle nuance. Were we
able to understand this in the fifth
gmd-?
More surprising is the overt sex-
uality in Grease, definitely mar-
keted at the teen-age crowd with a
PG rating. Rizzo thinks she's preg-
nant, Danny pushes Sandy to put
out. The underlying theme, of
course, is that men respect women
who don't have sex while chipping
away at every last defense the
women put up. It's the woman's job
to say no. And at the end, Sandy
changes for Danny because that's the
way it works best.
Both films stand impressively
against the test of years, though you
really have to laugh at the fashion
and the dancing in SNF. Maybe they
didn't shape everybody's pre-teen ex-
perience. When I talk to people here
who grew up thousands of miles
away from me, the one common
experience we have is the media. I
grew up in California, they grew up
in Holland, MI, but we all watched
the same episodes of The Brady
Bunch. You can go too far in inter-
preting the moral implications of
any movie, but I can't help but
wonder what we took from the the-
ater, 10 years of age, after watching
such concrete gender roles.
I passed through the disco/'50s
stage before the sixth grade, when
Eric Bellfort (my heartthrob at the
time) declared "disco sucks, so does
soul, I get high off rock and roll!"
Everybody heralded the death of the
bell bottom, and in the seventh grade
we started pegging our jeans. We put
slumber parties on the endangered
species list, and started doing some
of the sex and drugs, just like in the
movies. Where exactly did we learn
this? Watching our parents, our older
brothers and sisters with their
friends, but also from the only lim-
ited and one-sided interpretation of
Grease and Saturday Night Fever
that our thirsty young minds could
muster.

TIM O'Brien has returned. He
was last seen at the University in
September, when he read from his
potent, poignant work in progress,
the now finished The Things They
Carried, that left the audience in a
troubled state of empathy and admi-
ration. In its final form, The
Things They Carried is touted in
the jacket notes as a book "not
simply about war... it is about the
human heart, about the terrible
weight of those things all of us
carry through our lives."
And what are these heavy en-
cumbrances? One soldier carries in

ity ends on a hilltop in the flat, hot
countryside near a rice paddy. Ra-
tionality bows to the power of
imagination and the unbelievable
happens. A troop picks up and
leaves the war to find an AWOL
soldier in.Paris, until we learn that
the unbelievable is just that: pure
fantasy, a'flight constructed in the
mind of the sensitive main charac-
ter, Paul Berlin.
The Things They Carried is
strong in many places. "Sweetheart
of the Song Tra Bong" tells of a
soldier who flew his girlfriend out
to the mosquitoed marshes of Chu
Lai, near Tra Bong. Mary Anne
emerges, 17 and blonde, and soon
becomes hooked on the adrenaline
of the war, "that quick hot rush in
your veins when the choppers set-
tled down and you had to do things
fast and right." She eventually runs
off and joins the Green Berets, and
her boyfriend finds her in a room
with "fumes that paralyzed your
lungs...,thick and num bing, like an
animal's den." There stood Mary
Anne looking peaceful and com-
posed, yet indifferent. Around her,
neck is a necklace of human
tongues, "elongated and narrow,
like pieces of blackened leather...
overlapping the next, the tips
curled upward as if caught in a final
horrified syllable."
This is O'Brien at this best. He
is a writer who must tell stories,
be it grotesque or fanciful, and his
prose is always moving, some-
times plodding along with the sol-'A
diers themselves, sometimes vio-
lently rushing like the blood in
them. Half his lifetime after the
war, why does O'Brien still write,
of Vietnam? He answers the ques-
tion best himself as he writes,,
"Stories are for those hours late in
the night when you can't remember
how you got from where you were
to where you are. Stories are fort
eternity, when memory is erased,
"when there is nothing to remember
except the story."
TIM O'BIVEN will be reading to-
day at 4 p.m. in Rackham Am-
phitheater.

. 1

Tim O'Brien
his mouth a pebble, "smooth to
the touch... milky white color with
flecks of orange and violet... like a
miniture egg" that his elusive girl-
friend sends him .One carries "six
or seven ounces o premium dope,"
others a toothbrush, a comic book,
a Bible. All the soldiers, however,
walk with the knowledge that they
might soon die, and their steps are
heavy with the oppressive intangi-
bles of love, longing and the
volatile mixture of poise and plod-
ding existence.
The author of five novels,
O'Brien won the National Book
Award in 1979 for Going After
Cacciato. Here O'Brien weaves
memory and imagination, taking
the reader on a flight through
Western Asia to Paris that in real-

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ARE YOU THINKING ABOUT
APPLYING TO
GRADUATE SCHOOL AT THE
UNIVERSITY OF MICHIGAN
SCHOOL OF EDUCATION?
If yes, come to a meeting:
WHEN: Wed., March 14,.6 p.m.
WHERE: Room 1322 (Tribute Room)
School of Education Bldg.
Faculty and staff will be available to answer questions
about programs, financial aid opportunities, and
admission requirements.
If you have questions, call:
OFFICE OF ACADEMIC SERVICES
(313) 764-7563
1033 School of Education Bldg.

N "iii - "

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DEMYSTI FYI NG
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Exploring The Myths About
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How Capitalism Underdeveloped
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HUTCHINS HALL
ROOM 100
MARCH 14th',
7.I C V hR

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