To jump out of the gates with it, Revenge of the Nerds is a #MeToo nightmare. The film encouraged the kind of creepiness often associated with losers in their basement who would spy on women showering and dressing, only if they had the means to do so. Despite the motives of the nerds to “get back” at the jocks, their own moral ambiguity was made quite apparent with such an act and dare I say their methods of revenge were far more severe than what was dished out upon them. Instead of a full attack on the jocks, the female sorority suffered the worst of the attacks, being exploited and having their privacy violated.
My over analysis and critique is not coming from some form of puritanical revisionism, rather in a positive step for society we’ve established laws and social norms made to protect those from exploitation. For example, distributing the nude image of someone without their consent, be it a man or woman, is quite a serious crime. Then there’s the most tasteless scene in the film where Louis, pretending to be Betty Childs’s boyfriend Stan, seduces her under disguise, all while nude images of herself are being purchased (for charity at least) by the entire campus. In one of the most glaring examples of movie fiction, the Betty Childs character seemed pleased to discover it was Louis after he finished having unconsented sex with her. Childs also seems to have ignored the entire scene of her nude images being sold at the carnival, perhaps a foreshadowing of modern day times where such an act is no longer frowned upon but can become a way to stardom, yet I digress.
Much of this critique of the film comes from my own 2020 lense and thankfully we’ve progressed in 35 years where we can question what was once considered comedy. Now to give Revenge of the Nerds a break, there were different issues back then than they are now, namely a still rather dominant conservative culture that shunned anything sexual.
As with many comedies during the 80s, a hyper focus on sexuality was the best counter cultural attack. If it was sexual and slightly controversial for the time, then you had a movie that would sell. Bear in mind that this word of mouth in the pre-Internet days helped drive younger viewers to theatre, which is mostly how movies made their money back then.
The Real Reason Revenge of the Nerds Couldn’t Be Produced in 2020
I’m going to pull a playbook from Louis Skolnik and catfish my readers who may think I’m on a #MeToo crusade. I started out with this aspect of the film because I find such scrutiny to be a positive development for society as none of the gags the nerds pulled against the Pi sorority would be very funny or comedic in real life, not to mention legal.
This is not actually the main reason I think this movie couldn’t be filmed in 2020. There is something far larger at play here. I think our culture has gone too far as we relate to each other on a group level, which is why a film like Revenge of the Nerds would not be tolerated at all for the positive message of racial solidarity under duress that it seeks to promote.
Simply put, the plotline of Revenge of the Nerds would not be acceptable to the relatively new cultural gatekeepers. Similar to Joe Biden’s accuser, I actually think the exploitation of women in the film would be brushed under the rug, with the focus instead being the movie’s underlying plotline: a group of black men helping out a bunch of mostly privileged, white men.
If you recall, the nerds are rejected by every fraternity on campus, being forced to live in the gymnasium due to their untouchable social status. Using their wits, they find a loophole in the bylaws of an all black fraternity Lambda, Lambda Lambda, who agree to sponsor the nerds despite their relatively vanilla make up.
It would be a crime far worse than distributing nude images of Betty Childs for a bunch of mostly white college students to seek membership in a fraternity reserved for African Americans. How dare those men of privilege even ask for the help of a group their own ancestors helped to subjugate! Of course, the Tri Lambs are forced to acquiesce to the demands of the white man, since they, as in the past, have no agency of their own.
Now the above is a bit of hyperbole but in my view not too far off the mark. If you sit and think about it, such a film would be paraded to high heaven in 2020 as espousing white supremacy and I’d reiterate that I’m very confident the #MeToo portion would take a second position to the focus on race.
An Analysis of Revenge of the Nerds from a Progressive Viewpoint on Race
The irony of Revenge of the Nerds is that aside from the misogynist aspects of the movie, the main plot was about as progressive as our society was going to get, notice the emphasis on the word “was” which wasn’t a mistake in grammar. It’s obvious that since 2015 or so, our society is backsliding on race relations.
One of the best scenes which demonstrates a rather progressive view of society happens towards the end of the film where the nerds see their home completely demolished after winning the homecoming competition. The dean, feeling himself more empowered by recent victory of the nerds, accuses the football coach, a young John Goodman, of encouraging the jocks to destroy their fraternity house. Goodman is about to throw the dean in a fountain for such an offense when the entire Tri Lambda entourage shows up with some funky ’70s style funk bass as background music. The jocks ultimately back down, allowing Gilbert to make a speech that mostly sums up the underlying narrative of the film.
The proper interpretation of this scene is not one of superiority or inferiority based on skin color, which ironically is how racists view the world, rather mutual oppression. The reason the Tri Lambs agree in the first place to accept the nerd chapter is based on their understanding of this oppression, knowing full well mistreatment indeed can and often is based on skin color, it comes in other forms as well such as social hierarchy. It’s why the whole notion of historical white oppression must be taken with so many caveats and asides since most of European history involved 99.9% of the people being subjugated from above.
Taking this a step further, one’s oppression is often individual, not group based as one of the nerds happens to be black (and gay), another Asian. The point being that they were viewed as social pariahs due to their hierarchy on campus, not their skin color.
In a sad twist of fate, the fictitious college campus in Revenge of the Nerds was far more progressive and equitable by the film’s ending than most modern college campuses. The producers of the film understood this way back in the 1980’s but the lesson seems to have been forgotten.
In 2020 we are swept up by blanket groupings: whites, people of color, LatinX (I puke in my mouth when someone says this), and the ever changing LGBTQ. Within each of these groups, just like the hodge podge that made up the nerds you have individual struggles, strengths and weaknesses. That’s how society is formed, not into the neat boxes and acronyms that will never accurately summarize a group of people.
Unlike the cultural gatekeepers of the 80s, who were mostly afraid of promiscuity, swearing, long hair and homosexuality, today’s druids are far more sinister and punishing. I’m sure your average southern baptist wasn’t lining up outside the theater to see the opening of Revenge of the Nerds in 1984. Even if these groups disagreed with what was portrayed in the movie at least it was still allowed to be filmed. Back then, the biggest attack such groups made was to introduce a ratings system for parents. They wouldn’t prevent the movie from being made though. Such freedom of expression is becoming more and more limited as each year passes, especially in the realm of comedy, a reminder of who the real totalitarians are.
Consider Dave Chappele, a true anti establishment hero during the last breath of cultural conservatism in the 2000s. Extreme leftists owe much to Chappele, yet once he served his purposes, or more correctly, stopped singing their tune, he got put on the naughty list. Now Dave Chappele isn’t funny. Why? Because I said so!
As the new gatekeepers continue to assert further control over what is acceptable speech, the only comedians left will be the ones with the “FU” money to support themselves and those few brave souls whose feet will be put to the proverbial fire of the online mob. Any new comedian taking a firm stance against these cultural overlords will risk having their privacy destroyed, being doxxed, and suffocated across all the current mediums of viewership. If you ask yourself why we don’t have funny movies anymore, you can thank our modern day prohibitionists.
Final Thoughts About the So Called “Progressive” Wave
Power and control are often likened to a pendulum because as history shows, they never remain static. Personally, I am disappointed with the choices my generation has made in terms of leadership and culture. A major reason I write these articles is to show not all of us are happy with the outcome. In the worse case, a cultural warrior from the 80s was about as harmful as your local librarian, threatening to shoosh you with their index finger. The modern day culture gatekeepers are like rabid pitbulls who will attempt to destroy your life should you end up on the wrong side of history, read the story of Amy Cooper lest you think I’m exaggerating.
Be warned that as the screws get tighter and tighter, Murphy’s 3rd law applies. At some point a backlash will occur, let’s just hope the revenge used by those nerds won’t be so harsh as the tactics used in the fictitious movie.