Thursday, September 27, 2012

An Ode to Ogre

A pretty good movie

Why Revenge of the Nerds Should Be Shown to All of Your Children and Why Revenge of the Nerds II Is a Piece of Shit

A few years ago, I remember hearing talk about a remake of Revenge of the Nerds. This would've been in 2007 or so, definitely during Bush's second term in office. I remember feeling somewhat relieved that it was aborted. After all, I thought, we needed a remake of Revenge of the Nerds like we needed a remake of Ski School, Police Academy, and Up the Creek.
Looking back, I feel a little differently. Revenge of the Nerds was not the standard “snobs vs. slobs” fare. In many ways, the movie mixed around the archetypes considerably. In this case the slobs, who we are intended to root for, are more diverse. For instance, while the character of Booger (portrayed by the grossly underrated Curtis Armstrong) fit easily with a classic archetype of the slobs as seen in Animal House, the classic original “snobs vs. slobs” movie (though I believe the term was actually coined for the movie Caddyshack), with his combination of gross out habits and hedonistic lifestyle, the rest of the group is far more varied. While the nerds are the core of the group, they are joined by several other types of misfits, outcasts due to lack of social skills, awkwardness, or alternative lifestyles. Also, the Alpha-Betas, the “snobs” in Revenge of the Nerds, are not as square as the politically and socially conservative Omegas in Animal House. The Alpha-Betas are popular, but hardly preppy. In fact, in terms of outrageousness in terms of pranks, drunkenness, and hedonism, they would be considered worthy successors of Animal House's Delta’s. Consequently, whereas most of the “snobs vs. slobs” comedies of the early 80s were hollow imitations of Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds offered something else: an uplifting tale of social misfits, ennobled by their persecution, ultimately winning the day with creativity, ingenuity, and by simply having better ideas, including a more open and noble approach to dealing with interpersonal and group differences... and there are a lot of titties in the movie, too.
That's why I think it was upsetting to think that the remake was scrapped, particularly when it was to come out during Bush's second term. I believe it would've turned all of the talk of the “intellectual elite” on its head. Not to get political, but I believe that there has been a dumbing down of our culture, and even a vilification of intellectualism (For further reading, check out Susan Jacoby’s The Age of American Unreason) which came to a head during the Bush years. The nerds were not elitists. They were simply not afraid to be themselves, or to pursue their interests, even if it included (gasp) book learning. The Tri-Lams (Nerds’ protagonists) did not try to force their views on anyone, they merely wanted the freedom to be who they were, and for others to have that same freedom. It is for this reason that I believe that I stands apart from most of the other comedies of that genre during the early 80s.

A piece of shit
It is also for this reason that I believe that Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise, was a gross insult. In the original film, the nerds’ acceptance was predicated on empathy. The climax of the film featured Gilbert, (portrayed by Anthony Edwards) delivering an impassion speech in which he declared his pride in his individuality, winning his peers over by appealing to their inner misfits. Whereas the climax of Revenge of the Nerds II was predicated on Lewis (Robert Carradine) lowering himself to the level of brutality of the Alpha-Betas, something that he was loathe to do in the first film. When that film’s villain (Roger, played by Bradley Whitford) asserted that it was an undeniable fact that Lewis and the nerds would always be unpopular and weak, and that there was nothing he could say about it, Lewis responded with his fists. Sure, the audience was brought to its feet with the line: “You’re right Roger. There’s nothing I can say about it… But there’s something I gotta do about it!” and Lewis punching the villain and him falling into a swimming pool, but there was something wrong. Whereas Gilbert had won the crowd over with his dignity and truth to himself, Lewis allowed himself to be common, achieving a hollow victory on someone else’s terms.
Worse still is the fate of Ogre (Donald Gibb). Yes, he is an imperfect creature, but I am offended by his conversion to nerd-dom that ends the second movie. What made the nerds beautiful was their refusal to conform, but when Ogre decided that he no longer wished to be associated with the bullying, homogenizing Alpha-Betas, the Tri-Lams decided to mold him in their image. They force him into ill-fitting clothes, tame his wooly hairdo, and put a pair of thick-rimmed glasses, complete with tape in the middle, on his face as if they were branding him. As they lead him off to drink the Kool-Aid (literally, in this case called the “ceremonial punch”) they call him by his given name, Frederick. When he corrects them, expressing his preference for his adopted moniker, Ogre, he is himself corrected by the nerds, who in unison chant “Frederick.” Clearly, according to the nerds, his change of heart means that he must erase all the vestiges of his old personality.
Whereas the nerds in the first movie wanted nothing more than to be able to be true to themselves and pursue their interests without risk of attack or alienation, by the end of the sequel, they had become their own enemies, narrow-minded bullies who force others to conform. For this reason, Revenge of the Nerds II: Nerds in Paradise is a travesty, a mockery of the values of the original film. Also, being rated PG-13, there were far fewer titties.

1 comment:

Michael Fetherston said...

It seems to me that Animal House Revenge of the Nerds have more in common than just slobs vs. beautiful people themes. Both are celebrations of sub-cultures that we know in retrospect will eventually come into their own and triumph. In the case of ROTN this is more impressive in that it was set in the time it was made and is in this sense a prophetical film, as opposed to Animal House which was made years after it's stories era.

It's easy to snicker at the preps in Animal House because we all know what's in store for them. The late sixties, the sexual revolution, drug glamour and so much more. How seriously can you really take a goody like Greg Marmelard as a credible villain when he won't go past hand jobs with his girlfriend? We love and identify with the Deltas because they're actually pretty cool guys who were just born a little too early on for their own good. A generation later Bluto would be the blue print for every meathead in college.

The Nerds, on the other hand, are guys you really feel sorry for. Their problem isn't the subculture they've chosen to adopt- it's the spazzes they were born as. They're smart, but they're not really intellectuals in any classical, liberal sense (with the possible exception of Booger). They're techies and computer programmers who, like the Deltas, were born just a little too early. Or were they? We now know what they became- the beautiful and wealthy people of today. Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg and Sean Parker were never jocks, were they? ROTN hints of a future where a minority elite who learned C+ and HTML would rule the world and everyone else would be wearing their pants around their asses while bopping their heads to Lil' Wayne. Kind of like the world we now live in.