In Defense of The Rocky Horror Picture Show Remake
Article by: Geek Girl Mistress Zelda|
The Rocky Horror Picture Show is getting a made-for-TV reboot produced by Fox this October, and a lot of people aren’t happy about it. I am here to tell you why I personally think those people are wrong.
First, let me quantify this article by saying that Rocky Horror Picture Show was an extremely important part of my coming of age. From ages 15-20, I religiously attended the San Diego midnight shadowcast Crazed Imaginations almost every Friday and was part of the cast itself for several years. It was incredibly pivotal for my own sexual self-identity and allowed me a safe place to learn about this side of myself. There were people of all ages, sexual orientations and gender identities. It was an environment where it didn’t matter what you looked like, if you were gay or straight, old or young, experienced or naïve, kinky or vanilla. Everyone was accepted, and everyone was allowed the opportunity to express themselves freely. Folks of all backgrounds used Rocky Horror as the stage on which to explore parts of themselves they might otherwise be afraid, embarrassed, or ashamed to – whether due to pressures from their family, friends, religion, or society at large. It was a shared experience that opened us up to so much more of what the world has to offer.
Me, as Rocky in 2004
When Rocky Horror Picture Show was first released in 1976, it was an incredibly groundbreaking film for its time. It was completely unapologetic and had a campy, glitzy realness about it that wasn’t terribly commonplace yet. While America was a country just coming fresh out of the free-love era of the 60s, people who didn’t fit into traditional gender roles or were outright homosexual still were not terribly visible in mainstream media – not to mention legislation. And when they WERE visible, they were almost never celebrated. This was a large part of what helped solidify RHPS as a crucially important piece of film for the LGBT community and why it has stood the test of time as essential cinema in general. The film has since spawned dozens of shadowcasts all around the world (live casts performing the movie while it plays in the background, with a huge focus on audience participation, tropes and “callback” jokes), as well as a stage show that has been running nearly as long as the film.
So yes, I understand why the film is so sacred to so many of us. My experience is not uncommon – many of my friends have similar stories about the impact Rocky Horror Picture Show has had on their sexuality and their lives. I understand that when something has had such a measurable influence on you as a person, it can be hard to accept any other version of it into your life. I know it feels like anything other than the original is a very affront to the core of your being. But let me counter with this: IF YOU FEEL THIS WAY, THIS FILM IS NOT FOR YOU.
Let’s look a bit, if you will, at the early history of gay representation in film and television. Rocky Horror Picture show came out a mere 6 years after the Stonewall Riots in New York, a major turning point for the LGBT community (although the T part of LGBT was still practically unheard of then – more on that later). It wasn’t until 1970 that Hollywood’s first attempt at a film specifically targeted at the gay demographic came out; The Boys in the Band. Even so, this film received mixed response from the gay community. While it was an inarguably important first step for gay representation in film, it was also criticized for reinforcing certain negative gay stereotypes. THIS IS WHERE WE WERE, AS A COUNTRY, IN THE EARLY 1970s.
A photo from the New York Stonewall Riots in 1969
The 1970’s was a period of discovery and acceptance for gay and bisexual people in America. Art often imitates (and influences) life, and Hollywood was only beginning to realize the importance and size of this particular demographic. Film and TV – an industry practically DOMINATED by LGBT workers, was still slow to pick up this trend. Even throughout this decade, homosexuality was still often depicted as a joke or an insult. Even within geeky franchises such as Star Trek, the series Star Trek: Excelsior which meant to follow Captain Sulu in charge of his own ship was canceled after it was revealed actor George Takei was gay. The first televised same-sex kiss wasn’t even until 1991. Same sex activities weren’t technically recognized as being legal until 2003! Twenty-two states plus Washington, D.C outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation, and twenty states plus Washington, D.C. outlaw discrimination based on gender identity or expression. Adopted of children by same sex couples is legal nationwide since 2015, and gay and lesbian identifying people have been protected legally from employment discrimination since 2012’s Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. So while there is still work to be done for gay rights – it’s a battle that we are winning, and have been winning for quite a while.
With that in mind, for a film to Rocky Horror Picture Show to exist in 1975 was improbable at best. It was loud, it was fun, it blurred the lines of sexual orientation and it never painted gay people in a negative light. Even the boring vanilla straight couple of Brad and Janet found themselves enjoying their sexual revolution once they had (like their first) opportunity to truly let go and explore. They probably were never exposed to anyone gay before their trip to “The Frankenstein place.” So this visibility was IMPORTANT. The entire country – the world - was practically Brad and Janet at that point in our collective culture.
We have gone through many growing pains when it comes to gay acceptance in the 40 years since the film’s release. In 2014, the FBI
reported that 20.8% of hate crimes reported to police in 2013 were founded on perceived sexual orientation
. 61% of those attacks were against gay men. And yes, it’s only been 3 years since gay marriage was legally recognized
at the federal level, and even still there has been pushback to get these (and other) basic human rights revoked. Nobody is saying it isn’t still hard to be gay in this country, but it’s a lot less hard than it was in 1975 when Rocky Horror Picture Show was released. Since then, gay and lesbian representation in film has skyrocketed - so much so that Wikipedia literally had to break it down into 10 different subcategories
just to document them all. Modern Family, which heavily features an openly gay couple (who even adopts! Gasp!) is in its 8th season and has won TWENTY ONE EMMY AWARDS, among countless other awards and nominations.
Now back to the Rocky Horror Picture Show remake. Keeping in mind that this is forty years after the original, and that the legal and cultural landscape of our country has changed. Why would we want to take a film that was so important for a generation of people and not modernize it to the problems that are facing our queer brothers and sisters in the world now? Why would we not attempt to do with the new film what we did with the original, which is to give visibility to under and mis-represented LGBT actors? Why is Laverne Cox – one of the most important mouthpieces for transgenders NOT the perfect person to play the role of Doctor Scott? I think she is.
Although of course no one will ever be Tim Curry –how could they be? He leaves undeniably big fishnets to fill, but that doesn’t mean there is no room for anyone else to interpret the role. Literally hundreds of people have been doing this since the film’s original release.
Beyond the fact that I think it’s stupid in general to not attempt to update a 40 year old film visually (yes the original costumes were iconic, but who wants to just recreate the same thing that has already been done?), I think the intended outcome of rebooting a franchise should be to capture what made the original film special. Thematically, visually, and culturally. The original film did so much for gay and lesbian people at large, but the landscape of the world has changed, and transgender people need something that will do the same for them; legitimize them, celebrate them. Tell them we see you and we love you. Sing and dance with them, and make a safe space for their self-expression.
Yes, Laverne Cox playing a transgender character on Orange is the New Black, a show that has received a lot of critical acclaim. But even on that show her character is a criminal with a lot of negative overtones. Transgender people are still often the butt of jokes, their identities are questioned, invalidated. According to surveys, 4.6 percent of the overall U.S. population has self-reported a suicide attempt, with that number climbing to between 10 and 20 percent for lesbian, gay or bisexual respondents. By comparison, 41 percent of trans or gender non-conforming people surveyed have attempted suicide. FORTY. ONE. PERCENT. This very year one of our biggest ongoing battles was for transgender rights to bathroom use. In 2016, one of the biggest bigots our nation has ever seen – against all rhyme and reason – is the Republican nominee for president. White nationalists, racist and sexist Islamaphobes are literally marching openly on the street, spouting their messages of hate and exclusion. Our police are killing our citizens in droves. It is a scary goddamn time to be a religious, sexual or ethnic minority. There is an air of uncertainty as we reach what feels like our final battle between right vs wrong, good vs evil, with everyone believing they are right. And despite what anyone thinks, what is RIGHT is what protects everyone, not just what is best for YOU.
And in the midst of one of the most politically corrupt elections we’ve ever seen, when people are left with the constant fear of death just for being who they are, Laverne Cox has the audacity to be both transgender AND black. And for people to say that she is too feminine to play the part of Doctor Scott? Fuck you. Too feminine, not feminine enough. There are plenty of people that would rather not see her in film at all. There are plenty of people who would rather see her not exist at all. There are plenty of people who would rather see her and the people like her dead.
So power to Laverne Cox and Fox for bringing back Rocky Horror Picture Show when we as a country desperately need a reminder of how awesome and unshakeable we are. We will continue to fight the good fight and protect those who others would see stripped of their rights.
And at the end of the day, we’ll stand together and do the time warp again.
I, for one, welcome our new Queen.
Article by: Geek Girl Mistress Zelda
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October 20 2016