As seen in: The Karate Kid, Heathers, Revenge of the Nerds, 17 Again, Back to the Future, Just One of the Guys
In 80s teen movies, if a character is sporting a letter jacket, it might as well be the letter swastika, because he is going to be committing crimes against humanity. They don't just start fights, harass fellow students and give wedgies like they do in real high schools. During the 80s, being on a school sports team meant that you were willing to rape women, assault people in public and endanger the lives of your weaker victims to a degree bordering on attempted murder.
For 10 short years, nerds were the most persecuted minority in America.
In The Goonies that character is Troy, whom we meet as he's wearing his letterman's jacket while driving down a winding mountain road. When he happens upon Brand (Josh Brolin), who for reasons not worth recounting here is riding a children's bike, Troy proceeds to grab Brand and drag him from the side of his car at dangerous speeds before throwing him off a cliff while yelling, "So long, sucker!"
Really, he had it coming.
The only thing that could have made Troy a more psychotic asshole is if he was played by Billy Zabka, who played the same bordering-on-psychotic jock in all of his movies. In The Karate Kid, he pushes a scrawny kid off his bike and down a steep ravine from the back of a motorcycle and orchestrates a five-on-one beating that ends when the one non-psychopath of the group points out that Daniel can no longer stand up. Wait, no, Johnny yells him down and goes in for what appears to be the literal kill, before Miyagi rescues his 16-year-old friend.
But it's not just Johnny. At the film's climactic karate tournament, Johnny's friends are worked into a murderous frenzy, with fellow athletes yelling things like "Destroy him!" and "Get him a body bag!" At least by this point Johnny is showing some reluctance, although that might just be because following their advice would involve murdering someone in front of thousands of eyewitnesses.
Is that really karate?
Revenge of the Nerds takes this a step further, when Ogre, one of the film's many semiretarded and thuggish jocks, is shown holding a man from his ankles from the roof of a two-story building and then letting him go. His victim plunges head-first and screaming toward the ground before falling eerily silent. Later, presumably after college security has covered up that murder, Ogre tosses another man head-first through a plate-glass window. He apparently faces no punishment, and the acts are never referenced again, as if murder-by-jock is an event so common that everyone just treats it as something inevitable, like jaywalking.
It was probably just a drama student or something.
As seen in: Pretty in Pink, Some Kind of Wonderful, The Karate Kid, She's All That
Conflict between rich and poor has long been a popular source of high school drama. Usually, in teen movies, it plays out the same way: The poor boy or girl falls in love with a rich girl or boy, there's some conflict, both teens learn an important lesson about prejudice, and everyone ends up happily making out next to their cars. It's a great life lesson! That is, until you start looking more closely at these movies' definition of "poor."
For reference, here's a traditionally filthy poor person.
In Pretty in Pink, Andie (Molly Ringwald) is the token poor girl whose father is chronically underemployed and whose impoverishment forces her to make her own clothes for school, where she is relentlessly bullied. When a boy takes her out on a date, Andie is too embarrassed to let him take her home, because she lives in a falling-apart trailer with plastic sheeting instead of windows. And the rich kids all have their own sports cars, while of course Andie has to take the bus to school because she's so poor, and-
Oh, wait. Actually, this is a shot of Andie's home from the film's opening scenes:
What a nauseating shit-sty.
It's a comfortable, clean, two-story place. The pink car out front is Andie's; her father has his own. It's only when you look more closely at the picture that the horrible truth is revealed: The pink car has a dent in it. Obviously this family is hovering dangerously on the verge of starvation.
The reason the movie can get away with portraying Andie's situation as poverty? All the other kids are rich. Filthy, filthy rich. Andie's boyfriend drives a BMW and takes her to a country club. Their parents are always away in Europe, allowing them to have constant house parties with large amounts of good-looking people dressed in pastels. Andie cannot possibly compete, because after all, her father is shown in one scene sitting outside drinking beer.
What is that, a terrycloth robe? Eyurgh.
The same story pops up in Some Kind of Wonderful. Two "poor" friends fall out when one of them, Keith, falls in love with a fellow poor girl who has sold out by hanging around with the rich crowd. The evidence for Keith's poverty? He actually has to work after school to contribute to his own college fund. His friend Watts is similarly poor because she drives a beat-up car at 16, an age when any respectable American should already have a Rolls-Royce polished to a shine by a team of servants. Similarly, in The Karate Kid, Daniel feels rejected by his peers because he does not fit in at their country club dances. His fellow scrappy underdog, Mr. Miyagi, occupies a similarly low-status position as a handyman and lives in a place like this:
Unfortunately, only those with fewer than five classic cars qualify for food stamps.
It didn't die out in the 80s, either. She's All That features another outcast kid with a working single parent, Laney, whom other kids bully by saying things like: "Isn't your dad my pool man?" Laney's house:
The message is clear: If you live in a home that has fewer than 10 bathrooms, you'd better not even bother attending high school and skip straight to screwing hobos for canned goods, because you are clearly too poor for anyone to love you.
For more terrible movie messages, check out 6 Movies With Uplifting Messages (That Can Kill You). Or get your training on with montages, in The '80s Movie Montage Hall of Fame.
And stop by Linkstorm because spending as much time on the Internet is totally healthy for you.
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