To put into perspective for our generation, Grease (Randal Kleiser, 1978) is the original High School Musical. The movie, a romantic comedy musical, follows the relationship of Danny Zuko (John Travolta), a stereotypical bad boy and member of the T-Birds (a high school group), and Sandy Olsson (Olivia Newton John), a straight-laced transfer student, who find themselves at the same school after having a summer fling.
Initially, the couple meets up without much conflict, until Danny has to back up his reputation and enact his bad boy persona, upsetting Sandy and leading to their multiple conflicts throughout the movie. Additionally, more drama unfolds in the background, Frenchy (Didi Conn), a member of the Pink Ladies (another high school group) and the first to befriend Sandy, contemplates dropping out of high school to go to beauty school. Rizzo (Stockard Channing), another Pink Lady, has a pregnancy scare and Danny’s best friend and fellow T-Bird, Kenickie (Jeff Conaway), is thought to be the father. Essentially, the movie exaggerates the drama in every high school, condensing the drama to a group of ten friends and playing on student stereotypes.
Grease both implicitly and explicitly presents the sexualization of teenagers and highlights the differences between how teenage boys and teenage girls think of relationships, granted there being a few exceptions to this (Rizzo). At the beginning of the movie, as both Danny and Sandy describe their summer relationship, Danny lies to his friends implying the two frequently had sex (“we got friendly / down in the sand”), while Sandy describes Danny to her friends as a gentleman who “got friendly / holding [her] hand.” However, by the end of the movie, Sandy suddenly changes into a cigarette-smoking, leather-wearing bad girl to win Danny’s heart even though she already has it. From the beginning of the movie to the end, the sweet, innocent transfer becomes rapidly sexualized, insinuating patriarchal control over women. However, in many ways, Sandy can be seen as a strong feminist role, defying the patriarchy.
THESIS: Grease presents hyper-masculinity and over-sexualization as the norm in high school culture both explicitly and implicitly, while also having some surprising underlying feminist qualities.
TS1: Hyper-masculinity permeates the film, evident by Danny’s personality and treatment of Sandy when his friends are around as opposed to when the two are alone.
- At the beginning of the film, Danny is very candid with Sandy, but his attitude suddenly changes when they meet again and he is surrounded by his peers. Additionally, at the drive-in scene, Danny acts respectfully towards Sandy until he thinks of what his friends might think of him giving her a ring. He makes a scene, but immediately regrets it.
- The car, Greased Lightning, is a major part of the movie, and Freud theorizes cars to be symbolic of a man’s lust.
TS2: Throughout the course of the film, over-sexualization, primarily of women, appears commonly in dialogue in both men and women, as well as through underlying symbols, promoting a patriarchal structure.
- Danny lies to his friends about his summer relationship with Sandy. Additional sexual references are made throughout the movie.
- Initially, Sandy is sick when she first tries a cigarette, but at the end of the movie, she has no trouble smoking one when impressing Danny. This is a Freudian symbol.
TS3: Despite the hyper-masculinity and patriarchal structure supported by the film, Sandy resists the pressure to conform to these roles for the majority of the film, instead making Danny become less of the stereotypical bad boy.