In The Throwdown we compare two movies, whether they’re similar or wildly different. They will always have a connection whether they be films in a franchise, or films starring the same people or films with the same premise.
In our first The Throwdown I argued the merits of Alien vs Aliens. (You may not remember this because I started this column in November and never did it again). This time I’m going to approach the ‘versus’ concept a little differently. This time the question is:
Which is a more offensive glorification of date rape: Revenge of the Nerds or Sixteen Candles?
Date rape is a serious matter… today. But back in the 80s date rape wasn’t just a laughing matter, it was a legitimate tool to use against snobs. And in two of the most beloved teen comedies of that decade date rape was the ultimate victory for put-upon nerd characters. So which is a more offensive portrayal of date rape?
The competition is fierce. Both films treat date rape not only as comedy fodder but also a great way to get a girl to fall for you, which is sexually prehistoric. But surely one must be worse than the other?
The date rape in Revenge of the Nerds comes as Lewis Skolnick, played by Robert Carradine, sneaks up on beautiful cheerleader Betty Childs in the ‘Moon Room’ of a haunted house while wearing a disguise. See, they’re at a costume event and Lewis has stolen the Darth Vader mask of Betty’s dipshit boyfriend Stan (played by TV superstar Ted McGinley) and is wearing it to conceal his true identity. Betty thinks Lewis is Stan and, as one is wont to do, fucks him with the mask on. When Lewis removes the mask Betty decides that he’s such a great lay she’s going to leave her jock boyfriend for this nerd. Victory for nerds everywhere… who can only get laid through misrepresentation and subterfuge, I guess.
The date rape in Sixteen Candles has the benefit of being more circumspect, insofar as it totally happens offscreen and nobody specifically acknowledges that sex was had. But it’s impossible to miss. And it actually has a similar dynamic to the date rape in Revenge of the Nerds, with the nerd getting it on with the handsome dude’s cheerleader girlfriend as a moment of victory. And like Revenge of the Nerds the date rape (implied this time) changes the victim’s outlook on the world, and she goes from being a real bitch to falling for the nerd.
Revenge of the Nerds has a lot of things against it, including the fact that the rape isn’t the only sexual humiliation of a woman for revenge; the nerds also distribute a topless photo of a sorority girl. The entire movie has a desperate air of misogyny hanging over it… but there’s also a crudeness that leavens the nastiness. The whole thing is grossly lowbrow and hugely cartoonish.
Sixteen Candles on the other hand skews closer to something resembling reality. The film has broad cartoonish nonsense, to be sure - we could do a Throwdown on Asian stereotypes in the two films, but I believe that Long Duk Dong is possibly the most offensive Asian character of the last thirty years, making Revenge of the Nerds’ Toshiro seem sort of nuanced - but the film tries to be moored in a recognizable teenage world. It’s the recognizable nature of the world that makes the fantasy ending, where Samantha ends up with Jake, the world’s most perfect boy, all the more thrilling.
Which is what makes Farmer Ted’s triumph all the creepier. At the end of the film, in the wreckage of a massive party, Jake and Ted have an unlikely heart to heart; Jake reveals he’s into Sam and Ted reveals (shockingly) he’s a virgin. Jake, the ultimate boy, tells Ted that his girlfriend, the beautiful and mean cheerleader Caroline, is passed out upstairs. “I could violate her ten different ways if I wanted to,” this dream boy coldly says.
But why would Jake want to keep violating Caroline when he’s already conquered that? Instead he makes a deal with Ted - the geek will hand over Sam’s panties (obtained legitimately, making this the least creepy part of the whole thing somehow) in return for the ability to drive the far too drunk to consent Caroline home.
Now Jake doesn’t know for sure that Ted will take advantage of Caroline. Ted’s a pretty nice guy, all told. But this offer comes on the heels of Ted admitting his virginity, and it comes with Jake saying another horrible line of dialogue: “She’s so blitzed she won’t know the difference.” Yikes!
The next morning Ted and Caroline wake up in the car. Her hair has been cut and she doesn’t remember what happened the night before, but she seems to have liked it. Whatever it was. Wink, wink.
For me it’s the cavalier trading of a human being that makes the Sixteen Candles scene so much creepier than the Revenge of the Nerds trickery. As gross as all of this is, at least Lewis is his own agent - he takes the initiative to trick Betty. Ted doesn’t even make his own move, and the film posits Caroline as property to be bequeathed for services rendered. For a movie that is about a girl and is so popular with women it’s shocking that a female character is treated like chattel.
But it’s the implied nature of the date rape in Sixteen Candles that allows people to get past the creepiness of the scene. Maybe Ted and Caroline just had a crazy, fun night! Maybe he didn’t lose his virginity with a woman who was probably on the verge of alcohol poisoning!
I do have one lasting question about the Revenge of the Nerds rape: did George Lucas have to sign off on it? Nerds was a Fox film, but they only distributed Star Wars; Lucasfilm owns all the rights to the characters and imagery. Would Lucas have to have agreed to a nerd surreptitiously sexing an unwitting cheerleader in the guise of one of his iconic creations?
Back to the Throwdown: what do you think? Which scene is the skeeviest?