Watching ‘Sixteen Candles’ made me reflect how much attitudes have changed since 1984

You’ve almost certainly heard of — and seen — the 1984 coming-of-age comedy Sixteen Candles.

I watched it last night on Netflix and was amazed by how offensive the whole thing was. I’ve read quite a few articles on rape culture which reference/criticise the film, including this one, so I knew it would have some problematic elements. However, I was not prepared for how the film — which was a critical, commercial and cultural success — was a train wreck of problematic stuff.

This isn’t exactly a hot take, but watching the film made me reflect on how acceptable behavior in 1984 is (or should be) totally unacceptable now.

Here’s some of the stuff which jumped out at me:

  • The love interest Jake Ryan has a girlfriend Caroline Mulford. She gets really drunk and passes out. Jake says “I could violate her 10 different ways if I wanted to” but has lost interest, so offloads her on a younger guy (“Geek”) to drive her home. The implication being that she is free game, and won’t be able to tell the difference between the Geek and Jake. Uh, hello? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out he’s basically giving the Geek a green light to rape his girlfriend, and they do seem to end up having sex (although they are both too drunk to remember what happened).
  • The Geek continuously hounds the protagonist Sam Baker, despite her showing absolutely no interest and telling him to piss off. Despite how creepy and overbearing he is, eventually she is inexplicably nice to him — perhaps because he listens to her problems for about two minutes.
  • There is a Chinese exchange student is called “Long Duk Dong”. Every time he appears on screen a gong sound is played, and characters make fun of his poor English.
  • There is a character with a back brace whose only purpose seems to be comedic relief as she struggles to drink out of a water fountain or from a drink.

I’m glad times have changed since the 1980s.

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