Movies || Sixteen Disturbing Candles

Sixteen Candles, starring Molly Ringwald, is held up as a classic coming-of-age comedy. Not only was its soundtrack spot-on for the time it was produced, but it managed to capture the teen angst of the day, what with outcasts, bullies, the desire to grow up, and the overwhelming questions of love and attraction. I had never seen it before and decided to watch the John Hughes classic. I thought I was in for something like Can't Hardly Wait, but older. I had expected a sickly sweet version of adolescent troubles with parents, love, and schoolmates. But I always forget that perspectives and prejudices are also a lot older in these films...

Its honoured place in the canon of teen films has been questioned over the years because of some controversial subjects that are not parodied as seen in Not Another Teen Movie but presented - and accepted - as a valid (and acceptable) reality.

There are at least 16 disturbing things about Sixteen Candles, and not one is the fact that Sam's parents forgot her birthday...

1. The insulting and obnoxious son Mike literally gets away with anything. He threatens Ginny with violence within the first five minutes, and then goes on to say, "You know my method. I don't hit her when you're just down the hall". The dad simply says he must pick on someone his own size, but wait, the sister is his size, so that's not going to change his violent behaviour. His parents don't say anything when he calls Samantha a "birth defect" and asks, "Who'd marry her?" He makes a rude crack about Samantha's breasts but his mother only complains that he is dallying and will miss the bus. They do absolutely nothing to reprimand him. That whole 'boys will be boys' pass.

2. Poor Long Duk Dong. His representation is one of the most harmful Asian stereotypes. Seriously, there's even a gong sound every time he enters the scene. Darth Vader has a theme song for being Luke's archnemesis, but Long Duk Dong's theme sound is supposed to be comedic. Mike even asks that the sheets be changed when he leaves. Later, Sam's friend is shocked when she misunderstands Sam as saying she wants a black transam, thinking she means she wants a black guy.

3. The difference in sex education. Mike thinks his sister's honeymoon will be 'interesting' since she has her period, clearly indicating he knows what goes on in the bedroom, but Sam answers "I don't think so" to the question, "Have you ever done it?" Surely she would know if she had the same education as her younger brother...

4. Jake Ryan is dating Caroline but still starts making enquiries about Samantha Baker after he got the letter where she admits she would sleep with him. A little strange that he'd hardly noticed her before then, isn't it? Later, he tells Farmer Ted that all he wants is a girl to love him. Caroline tells him she loves him at least twice in the film. What he really means is that he doesn't love Caroline anymore but doesn't want to break up with her because he still gets what he 'needs' from her.

5. When Jake is talking with his friend about her, they only talk about her looks and age, with the friend saying, "She's obviously too young to party serious". He clearly means having sex and drinking, because that's what Caroline does already. Later, he and Ted also bond by objectifying Samantha together.

6. Sam's grandfather tickles her even though she obviously dislikes it, and then the grandmother comments that she's gotten her breasts - Sam even says later she was felt up by her grandmother. The grandfather then comments that he needs a magnifying glass!? Do grandparents really act like that? And is Sam's reaction of giggling and making nothing of it why consent is today such a major issue?

7. Farmer Ted. Oh man. Where to start with this guy? His representation as a geek is not generic, at least not at first. The director even selected him during casting because he wasn't a stereotypical geek type. Usually the misogyny and creepiness of geeks is shown as being endearingly innocent because of their social ineptitude (see Pop Culture Detective's video on The Big Bang Theory), and Farmer Ted is gradually built up into this trope as the narrative focuses more on him.

At first, he is shown to be creepy: he invades Samantha's space on the bus, sniffs her, stares at her chest. He basically asks her if her hostility towards him is a sign that she is turned on. Later, when sitting in the car with Sam, she laughs because he says he hasn't 'bagged a babe' (because it's a race and a babe is the prize) and he asks her not to laugh. She says sorry and he says that's not what he meant. He then proceeds to jump on her: implication is that he wanted her to offer herself to him by way of apology. When he gets off her and says sorry, she says, 'It's okay.' Is this something we should say to those who assault us? He bets he'll sleep with her for floppy discs, and then tells her it was before 'he knew her as a person'. Because before that she was nothing but a sexual object or conquest, literally 'fully-aged sophomore meat'.

After Sam confides in him, we are given a version of him that endears him to us, and he becomes nothing but this clueless dork that we're meant to empathise with, to appreciate his misguided venture with her underwear (where he charges a freaking entrance fee for all the other geeks to see it as he holds it above his head like a prize, a symbol of the objectified female body he has conquered - the gross side of me can't help but imagine it being passed around and sniffed), overlook his manipulation and self-interest, and smile for his encounter with a very drunk and very passed out Caroline. And then we're supposed to feel pleased for him in the end as he gets the girl, even though she can't remember not giving consent. Which leads me to ...

8. Date rape? Of course, in the 1980s there was no phrase for this. After the party, Jake admits to Farmer Ted he could "violate" (exact word) Caroline "ten different ways if he wanted to". Ted asks, 'What are you waiting for?!' Yeah, just go and rape your unconscious girlfriend already!

He then lets Ted take her 'home' in exchange for Sam's underwear. 'She's so lit she wouldn't know the difference (that Ted is a Freshman)', he says, then lets Ted take her saying, 'She's totally gone, have fun.' Really? Have fun with a drunk girl who doesn't even know what she's doing? Here's that consent issue again... And later, Caroline simply accepts the situation, telling Ted she feels like she enjoyed it and kissing him. When Jake sees them, she hurries to him to explain what happened, saying she needs a break. Yeah, a break from a dude who won't even protect her when she's passed out.

9. Samantha opening up to Ted actually really bothered me. This guy has practically been stalking her for the entire film so far. He's in the bus when she goes home, he's at the dance whispering into her disgusted face, he's at the car when she leaves to be alone... Evidence, my friends, of if you push people hard enough, you'll get what you want. Which is a girl's underwear to enhance your status among your peers.

10. Ginny's fiance's mom jokes that Rudy will have to leave the 'girl of the month club', condoning the 'boys will be boys' trope (like much of this film). He agrees he'll have to stop, but he can still look and not touch. And he says this in front of his poor fiancée and her parents, who do nothing but roll their eyes.

11. Homophobia.

12. Sam's in love with Jake? Really? She knows nothing about him, as evidenced by her practicing what she's going to say to him the first time she freaking talks to him, ever.

13. Reinforcing the idea that all women are simply leading men on: Jake tells Farmer Ted Sam saw him in the gym and looked at him like a leper before leaving. Ted answers, "Girls'll do that Jake. You know, you see, they know guys are like in perpetual heat. They know their shit and they enjoy pumping us up. It's pure power politics."

14. When Ted takes Caroline 'home', she gives him a birth control pill as a gag. He asks her if she knows what it'll do to a boy his age (by the way, answer = nothing) and she replies that she knows what it'll do for her: lets her be ''super careless". This reinforces the idea that women are only on the pill so they can have promiscuous sex, not because they want to be responsible and not bring a child into the world or for health reasons. Just so they can have sex.

15. Ginny was so out of it with muscle relaxants that she practically can't consent to marrying Rudi - her dad practically carried her to the alter at one point. This is a bit like date rape, too. He throws her in the car and makes off with her.

16. Periods. Oh, the horror! They are so terrifying that women need four muscle relaxants just to contain the pain, the tantrums, the hysterics!

Everything wrong with this film echoes more deeply for society today than it could have in 1984, when the media circus had a fresh way to lay foundations for sexual objectification. If any logical person watches this film with current events in their mind, they are certain to be disturbed by the prejudices expressed in it, especially in reference to the current politics surrounding women's bodies. For example, the idea that women who take the pill are simply taking it so they can sleep around is one of the main arguments against contraception today (despite being debunked), while date rape has reared its ugly head as a serious problem.

If you think about it, the people making the main decisions in society today would have chortled at the jokes in the film when it was released. Is this possibly the influence that such media can have on our futures? If so, I am happy to live in a time when films are (mostly) considerate in representation, because it may mean a better world for our children.


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