As a director, I appreciate his aesthetic far more than any other director I could name off the top of my head. As a person, I find his sense of humor resonates with my own, and honestly I haven’t watched a single one of his films that I haven’t enjoyed or seen a cameo of his that I haven’t smiled at. However, I am not a fan of Grease. “Whoa Rin,” you may be saying right now. “Chill out with the non sequiturs, you’re not even a hundred words into this thing.” Hear me out.
Now, I’m not the only person on this blog who harbors a special kind of loathing for this musical—the kind of loathing that only comes after loving something for so long, then realizing how problematic it is and not being able to ignore said problematic things. I’m sure most of us have been there. Grease’s sexism is inexcusable and, though Rizzo is still my girl, the worst thing I could do would be to write off these problems simply because of a catchy tune. Yet in cutting this musical out of my life, where am I going to get my fill of light-hearted 50’s style Americana? Enter John Waters with his musical Cry-Baby.
I mentioned while reviewing The Devil’s Carnival, I thought that nothing could beat Grease for being one of the most sexist musicals ever. Now, despite The Devil’s Carnival taking Grease‘s place at number one, I still hate Grease with such a rage-filled passion that it is almost ridiculous.
This is a musical that almost always gets a pass because of its excellent soundtrack. All the dancing, singing, and pretty costumes distract you from the horrible, terrible, no good, very sexist plot! But it’s not just the main plot—every little side story or comment is sexist, too. And don’t give me the excuse that this musical was written during “a different time”. It was written in the 70s, well after the Women’s Liberation movement began; it should at least be a little better than the musicals written in the late 50s and early 60s. And the argument that Grease is accurately portraying the sexism of the 1950s is also not true. Grease portrays the 50s about as accurately as Disney portrays Chinese culture in Mulan. And even if you could prove to me that this portrayal is accurate, it still doesn’t change anything. Shows like Mad Men portray the sexism and racism of the generation they’re depicting, but they never glorify it or shy away from how terrible it is. Grease doesn’t do that.
Grease is a musical that looks nostalgically back on this time period along with its attitudes and way of life. Grease‘s message is very clearly, “wouldn’t it be great if the world was still like this.” A world where men utterly shame, control, and abuse women? No, thanks! Grease, your catchy songs don’t fool me! I see you for what you are!