Reflections on the '80s: Sixteen Candles

Creatively, nothing is ever truly new. We recycle the old and piece it together in new ways, yet the origins of our art remain visible. This recycling follows a sort of generational pattern in decades. For my mom’s high school years in the ‘70s, the ‘50s reigned supreme. For the ‘10s, it seems to be the ‘80s. Our art, music, and fashion all trace their strongest roots to this decade, and therefore I believe that we should further explore where our creativity comes from.

When I think of ‘80s film, I think of my holy trinity, the John Hughes films. Released from 1984-86 respectively, Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty In Pink are three films that heartbreakingly portray the mundanity of high school life in the suburbs while making the character’s suffering realistic and riveting.

The first of the trinity, Sixteen Candles centers on Sam Baker, a teen whose sixteenth birthday is forgotten by her entire family as her older sister’s wedding is the next day. Her predicament is further complicated by the fact that she is desperately crushing on a senior, Jake Ryan, who has no idea she exists.

            What follows is a somewhat hilarious, altogether adorable but incredibly cringeworthy saga about the ups and downs of being sixteen and living with your heart on your sleeve. There are new relationships formed, old ones broken up, girl’s underwear exchanged, and awkward family dinners. However, to me, the stand out moment is the end. Without giving it away, I’ll just say that I’ve added to my relationship goals list.

Now we arrive at my favorite part of the movie: the moral. What is this film teaching us? What can we learn from it? Is this lesson still true?

In the case of Sixteen Candles, I am sadly disappointed. I remembered this movie fondly from my childhood but while rewatching, I was shocked by the level of racism, sexism, and homophobia in this film.

The racism is the most glaringly apparent. I direct your attention to the character of the Chinese exchange student, Long Duk Dong who seems to have no purpose in the film other than offensive comedic relief. There is a gong sound every time he enters.

Moving right along to address the sexism, there is one particularly horrifying scene in which the sympathetic male leads discuss raping a girl who is drunk and unconscious. One of them later has sex with her, yet the issue or even the idea of consent appears nowhere in the movie. In fact, the further manipulation of this girl is used as a subplot throughout the film.

Finally, we arrive at the homophobia. While unfortunately common at this time, I found the use of f****t to be excessive and uncalled for.

While I recognize that the 1980’s was thirty years ago and it was very different back then, Sixteen Candles is overly reliant on offensive content for laughs and plot.

Artistically, the movie is beautiful, but that does not excuse the heinous jokes and exchanges I was forced to endure in order to enjoy the aesthetics of this movie. Therefore, I think the most important lesson we can take from Sixteen Candles is that although we have made progress combatting racism, sexism, and homophobia, if we can still see these stereotypes being perpetrated by the media, we have not come far enough.

The ‘80s were a decade of great social change; let’s keep it moving forward.

[Editor’s Note: This article is the first of a series; the next will address The Breakfast Club.]

text: iona grace

visuals: the new daily, tumblr
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