I’d been coming down from the high that was Stranger Things 2, a gentle re-exploration of 80’s nostalgia and wanted to keep the buzz going. The movie in my head was Pretty in Pink, but I’d momentarily blanked and picked Sixteen Candles instead. It didn’t really matter; it unwittingly tied into my recent tiny spate of self-exploration vis-a-vis my upcoming birthday.
Of course I knew of Sixteen Candles. Who could miss that delightful visual of an awkward young girl in a dress as pink and fluffy as a cloud of cotton candy sitting across a handsome young man, their faces lit by the candles on a birthday cake? I knew it was a coming of age story, an honest exploration of what it means to grow up, a seminal movie that changed the face of American cinema.
It’s an awful movie. It’s racist, it’s demeaning, and, considering the climate of today’s sexual sensitivity, downright predatory.
“There’s your Chinaman.”
“I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to.”
Everything the lone Asian guy in the movie says is punctuated by a gong. The family calls their eldest daughter’s fiancee an epithet for an Eastern European immigrant. The Jock practically gives away his drunken girlfriend.
The Geek is the worst. I’m not quite sure if he’s intended to be the endearing breakout star in this film, but all I feel when I see him is disgust. He comes on to our heroine on the bus, all bluster and fake swagger, sidling next to her on the seat, trapping her next to the window, obviously trying to smell her like some dog in heat. He follows her around incessantly, accosting her at the dance, getting close to her again when she clearly wants to be alone, attempts to kiss her not once, but twice, the second attempt right on the heels of her telling him to stop. It ends with him asking her for her panties so he doesn’t look like a loser to his friends. I was three when Sixteen Candles came out. Apparently it wasn’t just the hairstyles and the fashion that were heinous, social mores were, too. If this was acceptable behaviour in the 80’s, then I’m glad most of that decade was a blur to me.
I grew up with teen movies. The nineties were positively lousy with them. Clueless. The American Pie Trilogy. Cruel Intentions. She’s All That. Bring it On. Ten Things I Hate About You (still my personal favourite after all these years). There was such a glut, they made the criminally underrated Not Another Teen Movie. Female leads were just as spunky as redheaded Samantha Baker, but none of them were willing to take as much shit as she did. Male leads were just as handsome as Jake Ryan, but at least knew enough not to be Bill Cosby. They were by no means perfect, still a smidge creepy and maybe not as inclusive, but certainly a hop, skip and a leap ahead of Sixteen Candles.
It could be the current barrage of rapists and sexists being outed these days and the heated back-and-forth about racism and cultural sensitivity which I often think borders on the edge of hysteria, but who uses “Chinaman” anymore? Sweet Jesus. Even with the understanding that things were really quite different back in the day, it was still an exercise in clutching my non-existent pearls, and I don’t clutch my non-existent pearls very often. So thanks, Sixteen Candles. I’ve always felt more of a kinship with Gen X than I have the millennial generation, but I’ve never felt a closer link with millennials than I did while watching you.