This week’s classic 1970s Fat premiered on Nine during prime time as a tribute to the much-loved Olivia Newton-John, who tragically passed away earlier this week. But celebrating Fat again is a dangerous game.
Unfortunately, seeing Fat through the lens of 2022 leaves much to be desired. The film enforces stereotypes, makes rape jokes and disparages consent. Watching it with fresh eyes feels less nostalgic and more concerning.
I understand our desire to revisit the film, given Newton-John’s death. It was the film that made him a star. She played Sandy, and she gave the character dimension and charm to Mary-Sue.
It was the biggest film of the year when it was released, and it is still a cultural touchstone. Who does not know the words for, You are someone I want? (I bet you sing, ooh ooh ooh in your head).
But sadly, apart from the chemistry between high school sweethearts Newton-John and John Travolta as Sandy and Danny, the film sends some chilling messages. Let’s destroy it, shall we?
For example, at the start of the iconic film, Danny brags to his friends about meeting a hot Australian girl during summer vacation. His friends nag him for details of the relationship, including the lines: “Tell me more, tell me more, does he put up a fight?”
Basically, the guys are belittling the idea that Danny should force Sandy to have sex. As if it would be perfectly acceptable for a man to push a woman into sex.
Then there’s a scene at the drive-in, Danny trying desperately to make out with Sandy and fix it. He pushed her a few times and finally shouted “no” while Danny pinned her down and said: “No one’s watching!” Ik, right?
It seems more rape than romantic. If a woman says no, a man should not touch or force her. He has to respect her wishes and not try to persuade her and films that romanticize the opposite are grim.
If that wasn’t stressful enough, when Rizzo, a character in the film who is pregnant and planning to have an abortion sings the song, There Are Worse Things I Can Do.
“There are worse things I could do, than going out with a boy or two…. I can flirt with all the guys, smile at them and wink. Press them while we dance, make them think they have a chance, then refuse to see it. That’s something I would never do,” he sings.
He suggests that a worse thing than a woman is flirting, which is not true. Women can say no and set boundaries whenever they want. Women have the right to flirt and make eyes, and we don’t need to sleep with men.
Then there is the overarching message; In the end, the good girl Sandy transforms herself into a more vampire version of herself in order to gain Danny’s affection. So the overall message is, change who you are to get the guy? Not too encouraging.
I understand this is a film, set in the 1970s, and we weren’t having a loud, important conversation about consent, but rewatching it felt less like a trip down memory lane and more of a reminder that so many of us reference aging pop culture simply. reinforce rape culture.
I miss Olivia Newton-John, but I think there’s a better way to remember her than watching Grease. Her entire work and seemingly endless contribution to creating a better world for everyone speaks volumes, especially being an advocate for Breast Cancer Awareness.
I’d rather stare at the Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Center to remember her than see her character Sandy wading through her hatred of women through song and dance.
Mary Madigan is a freelance writer.