Friday, January 01, 2010

Xanadu and '80s Sexuality

I'm sitting here watching "Xanadu" and trying to define the elements of it which make me slightly queasy. It's not the music -- which I love -- or the clothes or hair -- which will look less and less ugly as time goes by -- or even the bad acting.

It's the ATTITUDE. It's the overdriven '80s sexuality.

This is hard for me to define because I grew up in that era. I also don't want to make any assumptions about the '80s without likewise analyzing OTHER eras. "Xanadu" is interesting because it encompasses some '40s elements as well, prompting the question "Why do I not see similar problems with the attitudes of the '20s? The '40s? The '60s? Today? Is it just because I cry whenever I see Gene Kelly dancing inside a giant pinball machine?"

Thanks to "Xanadu" I think I can finally define what makes me nervous about the late '70s and the '80s: a cocksure, unsubtle, party-all-night attitude combined with often sadistic misogyny. Every shot seems to communicate "We're havin' a three-day PARTY, everybody! And we're gonna have SEX WITH ALL THESE CHICKS! And the worst that'll happen is we'll get herpes and a bloody nose!"

Look at the musical numbers in "Xanadu" and compare them to a '40s musical, or compare "Solid Gold" with what you probably would have seen in a '50s nightclub. Sure the women would be objectified, and the men would pay overt sexual attention to the women, but while in -- for example -- a '50s nightclub they'd communicate "I really would like to have sex with her tonight," in "Xanadu" they're saying "I'm gonna f*ck her tonight, and her sister too, and it'll feel so GOOOOOD, LET'S GO!"

I can't prove this, I'm mostly just looking at facial expressions and body language. The sexuality is self-obsessed and dead-eyed and just a little creepy, if not simply lecherous. Leaving aside the number by The Tubes* for example (in which an moaning, orgiastic woman is strapped to a synthethiser by a simpering idiot) you've just got this feeling that it's ALL about the sex and the cocaine, nothing else, nada. It probably always HAS been about the sex and the Current Drug of Choice, but it was never quite as bare-faced and cocky.

I think things have changed. Men in the media still prowl around women like horny dogs, but there is no longer the same degree of entitlement and certainty and thrill-seeking. Even as outfits have become more sexual and revealing in the mainstream, women seem to have a BIT more power than they did in the '80s.

All that aside, however, Olivia Newton-John and Electric Light Orchestra make the perfect combination. It's amazing the producers could afford such huge musicians after filling out their rotoscoping budget.

* When I think of cocky, aggressive, downright grotesque '80s sexuality I think of The Tubes. Do you?


Unknown said...

Interesting post - love love love that cheesy movie, now I have to go back and watch it again thinking about what you said.

I do think The Tubes's strapping down a woman was somewhat questionable, and it was weird seeing Gene Kelly in there at all, and yes the scary thing is those clothes which seemed so wrong 15 years ago now seem pretty normal again. Yikes!

Adam Thornton said...

That whole "Dancin'" segment with The Tubes is sort of grotesque, with the modular synth-bondage being the lowpoint, but it's hard for me to separate the fashion from the subtext. When you re-watch it, tell me if I'm just talking out of my butt!

Poor Gene. And it was his last movie, too. What a way to go!