Which nerds?

First, a confession of pop culture dereliction (if I ever did a full confession on that it would go on longer than one of Michael Nugent’s blog posts): I’ve never seen Revenge of the Nerds. Until a few minutes ago I didn’t even know anything about it other than the title. A comment I saw on Facebook caused me to inquire a little.

Wikipedia naturally has a detailed plot summary. So there’s this, at a point after the fraternity jocks have persecuted the nerds at a party thrown by the latter (the nerds are all male as of course are the frat jocks):

The nerds then seek revenge. First they stage a panty raid on the Pi Delta Pi house and use the distraction to install video cameras to spy on the women while they undress.

These are the good guys, the ones bullied by the jocks. Then there’s this:

Although the Tri-Lambs put their superior knowledge to use in the athetic event, they still come a close second to the Alpha Betas. They then use topless photos taken from their Pi Delta cameras to easily win the charity sales, where contestants wear costumes. Lewis changes his costume to Stan’s and tricks Betty into having sex with him. Betty is surprised, but then admits that Lewis was a better lover than Stan.

Lewis is one of the nerds, Stan is one of the jocks. So that’s a rape as one of the cool things a nerd does to triumph over a jock.

Now a post by Noah Brand a couple of years ago, How Revenge Of The Nerds Ruined My Life.

As a bullied kid, Noah Brand loved the movie. It spoke to him.

Let me be clear. Revenge Of The Nerds has so much rape culture, you could use it to make rape yogurt. The women in the film are entirely represented as objects, and their sexual consent or lack thereof is explicitly portrayed as irrelevant. The heroes and the villains are theoretically competing for Adams College’s version of Hogwarts’ House Cup, but in point of fact the prize they’re competing for is the blonde cheerleader, Betty. At the start of the movie, she is the property of Stan Gable, the villain, but in the end, the hero, Lewis Skolnick, triumphs by claiming her as his own via rape.

I’m not kidding, that’s actually what happens. The hero’s big triumphant payoff moment is when he rapes the villain’s girlfriend. And she falls in love with him as a result.

Incidentally, while he’s raping her, his fraternity is having another heroic triumph at the fundraising event, selling nude photographs of Betty that they obtained without her knowledge or consent by planting cameras in her house. (Huge 80s cameras, too. Very difficult to conceal.) Again, this is explicitly presented as a heroic, cool action. When the villain finds out what they’re doing, his reaction isn’t “Holy shit that’s like ten kinds of illegal” it’s “Hey! That’s my pie!”

So, that’s that pop culture classic.

You know what it reminds me of? Strongly? Robert Altman’s movie MASH, with a screenplay by Ring Lardner Jr. Specifically, it reminds me of the turning point scene where the oh so cool hipster guys finally get the better of bossy military by-the-book Hot Lips Houlihan. Remember it? (If that’s one of your pop culture lacunae, of course you don’t.) They gather everyone into a big audience to stare at the bathing hut where Houlihan is taking a shower, and then one of the cool guys yanks on a rope and the fabric curtain in front of the hut falls away to leave Houlihan exposed in the shower. Hilarity ensues. Ha ha ha fucking ha. That scene ruined the movie for me, and the fact that as far as I ever knew no one even objected to it ruined my mood. Mind you that was decades before Google, so I couldn’t confirm that no one objected – but I did see plenty of adulation of that movie and the screenplay, with no clauses about the shower scene.

So, yeah. It’s always been hip and cool to humiliate women.


  1. opposablethumbs says

    Revenge of the Nerds sounds like such a worthy successor to that scene (which, yes, trashed the film).

  2. says

    I hated the whole “hip” attitude to women as well as in MASH and Five Easy Pieces. Bossy bitches or compliant bed mates. The attitudes to women in earlier Hollywood popular films was a lot more humane.

  3. says

    I wrote a thing about this last year in relation to an episode of The Big Bang Theory.

    In addition to being the name of a movie, Revenge of the Nerds is apparently a thing. A form of just world bias for any straight dude who views himself as having been owed sex by attractive women and didn’t get it.

  4. says

    Oh hell yes – I felt practically allergic to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.

    Five Easy Pieces I was (and probably am) more ambivalent about. It’s mixed. Except for “I want you to hold it between your knees” – I’m not ambivalent about that line & bit. Sexist and classist as fuck.

  5. Chris Walker says

    Ugh, that plot is just terrible for so many reasons. It reminds me of “Porky’s,” which Wikipedia describes as a “sex comedy film” and whose success (it grossed over $100 million in 1982,) paved the way for movies like Revenge of the Nerds and Screwballs (Jesus, just look at the cover of that one, it’s terrifying.) At least Siskel and Ebert called it out at the time for being a degrading piece of shit.

  6. elephantasy says

    I admit to being dreadfully unaware of and insensitive to these kinds of issues 30+ years ago. It’s been a learning experience.

    There is a scene in an episode of the TV show Doogie Howser, MD, that comes to mind in relation to the scene from M*A*S*H. Doogie is doing volunteer work at a rural clinic outside the US. The staff play the same trick on him, dropping the shower wall while he is showering. He gets furious. The story line is that the staff is dealing with intensely stressful situations constantly, and a sense of humor is of vital importance. Doogie later demonstrates he has a sense of self-deprecating humor, and everybody is all fine and happy now.

    I don’t know that the “uplifting” story line makes this shower prank any more acceptable than the one with Major Houlihan. These are both violations of privacy and deliberate humiliation.

    I really dislike pranks. I’m surprised there are not more instances of pranksters being attacked or killed by people who think they really are the burglars or assailants they pretend to be, or simply by people who are infuriated at the humiliation, pain, or injury.

  7. screechymonkey says

    I loved Revenge of the Nerds as a teen, and there are still elements of it that work, but yeah, it’s pretty hard to watch it now without cringing constantly.

    I don’t recall the MASH scene mentioned in the post, but I do recall reading that, at least in the novels on which it was based, “Trapper” John got his nickname because he was once accused of “trapping” a woman in the bathroom of a train to have sex with her. (I haven’t yet the novel so I can’t weigh in, but there seem to be conflicting reports whether the scene in the book is actually rape or not.)

    And I recently read this article that pointed out how problematic Animal House is. Aside from the whole plotline about an underage girl, there’s also the bit during the fraternity council hearing where the Delta leader argues: “The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules or took a few liberties with our female party guests. We did. (Wink.)” I guess I can pretend that, given the uptight 50s morality the Deltas were opposing, “a few liberties” could still mean everything was consensual. But it sure doesn’t sound that way.

  8. says

    Oh, no. I haven’t seen it in decades, but yeah, now that I thought of it again, it’s vile. I’m going through your posts backwards. First Bill Cosby, now this. Allow me once again to flog my past self for liking this.

  9. Katydid says

    When I watch old movies on rainy weekends, I’m appalled at the movies I thought were good in the 1970s and the 1980s. The misogyny is breath-taking, and back then it didn’t even ping on my radar because that’s just how society was. Likewise, a cable channel was re-running episodes of the tv show Happy Days, a show both my parents adored in the 1970s, so the tv was tuned to it every week. It was considered sweet and nostalgic Boomer fare in the 1970s, but it’s completely unwatchable now because of the horrible way women are treated.

  10. says

    I’ll give you Five Easy Pieces, because there’s a range of women in it who show a bit of complexity. Also the Jack Nicholson character isn’t set up to be rooted for. He’s a difficult guy who is a bit of a shit.

  11. RJW says

    @9 elephantasy

    “I really dislike pranks”
    So do I. One particularly repugnant example is the exploits of Baron-Cohen’s ‘Borat’ character who preys on unsuspecting victims’ good will in order to humiliate them. Regrettably, Borat is very popular.

  12. Irene says

    Real Genius was quite a lot better, IIRC. Not coincidentally, there were way more women involved in making the film.

  13. Brian E says

    My brothers and I watched revenge of the nerds heaps of times when we were young teenagers. I’d forgotten about it until reading this, but I remember thinking it was cool back in the day, being a nerd and all. Just reading your summation of it, yeck, that was what I was taking in as appropriate treatment of women and funny hijinks.

    I have not always treated women well (probably still don’t but working on it), in a casually sexist sense, but it’s only these last few years I’ve even noticed. Talking over women, ignoring them, objectifying them, not treating them as equal humans/persons, etc. You don’t realize how the culture is so rapey until it’s pointed out to you, then you see it everywhere and realize you are part of it and have either encouraged or implicitly supported it by just going along with it….

  14. Al Dente says

    I watched Revenge of the Nerds. I was put off by one of the first scenes, where the nerd dad is taking the nerd son and nerd friends to college and while on the freeway announces “I’ve got the cruise control set at 35.” I was a nerd (still am) and I thought: “That isn’t being a nerd, that’s being an asshole.” So I watched the rest of the movie rather critically. I noticed that Betty was raped by the nerd “hero” because sex by false pretenses is sex without consent.

    I saw M*A*S*H and Patton as a double feature at a drive-in (which shows how long ago I saw those movies). I thought Patton was a much better movie because M*A*S*H was too over-the-top for me. I admit I hadn’t thought of how Houlihan’s humiliation was misogynist but, having been exposed to Feminism 101, I now realize it was.

  15. says

    I rewatched The Swinger with Ann Margaret the other night. I can’t believe I saw that crap as a kid…I still love Ann Margaret but – THAT was a completely nauseating experience….

  16. Marius says

    Then there’s Goldfinger in which Bond literally “converts” a lesbian by raping her (but it’s OK, because she enjoys it in the end). I seem to recall him smacking women around a lot in those old movies, which I’m sure Connery approved of.

    I haven’t seen these 80s sex comedies but I am familiar with the Carry On films, still considered staples of British comedy and which typically feature dirty old men (the heroes) perving on young (often presumably underage) girls. Then of course there’s Benny Hill. What a fucked up culture we live in.

  17. says

    In an older Hollywood you could have had a plot where the bookish guy shows up/gets one over the bullying jock and gets the bullying jock’s pretty girlfriend to like him. However that could be done without actual rape – and with some acknowledgement of the woman’s feelings.

    Carry On Films are a total embarrassment.

  18. NitricAcid says

    It says a lot about a movie that Robot Chicken commented on the illegality of the protagonists’ (I’m not calling them “good guys”) actions.

  19. Joseph Solomon says

    @Brian E #17: Note how Real Genius was directed by a woman – the incredibly talented Martha Coolidge, who also did “Valley Girl”, another great example of an underrated old movie that escaped a lot (but not all) of the sexism at the time. See what happens when you encourage diversity?

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