Trigger Warning: Discussion of rape/sexual harassment/bullying
Revenge of the Nerds is a classic (1984) which boasts an impressive 71% on Rotten Tomatoes. I am a self-proclaimed film buff and a firm believer in the scores on Rotten Tomatoes, so I decided to finally sit down and watch this film.
Boy was I disappointed.
Let’s start with the positives: Revenge of the Nerds, for its time period, was a nice message – don’t bully the guys who will most likely be running the world after college. Let’s suspend disbelief that the stereotypes actually work that way and that it’s as clear cut as “nerd” vs. “jock”, and you have a pretty great anti-bullying message. The jocks were definitely bad guys. They portray frat mentality in the ways we all know too well; obsession with alcohol and sports, poor treatment of women, etc. At one point, Betty – the overtly sexualized female lead – tells her boyfriend that she wants to have sex with him, and he responds by calling her a goat.
So obviously, we are never supposed to root for Alpha Beta. They are 2D: disgusting and deplorable. And similarly, the sister sorority is just as awful towards the Nerds that we follow throughout the film.
Naturally, because these women pulled a few very hurtful pranks, the writers assume that we will all be cheering for the Nerds when they raid the sorority house, hiding in bathrooms and chasing obviously distraught naked women around. We are supposed to feel a sense of relief when they take revenge by installing cameras in their rooms and then watching women undress in the comfort of the Tri-Lambda house. No, filmmakers. I am insulted as a woman that you thought that was okay.
That was the exact moment that I stopped rooting for the Nerds. They can be as inclusive and diversified as they like (if tokenization of the black community, the gay community, and the Asian community even counts for diversity), but the second they exploit women’s bodies – later using the images to raise money for a charity (without the girls’ consent, of course) – I stop paying attention to whatever message they were trying to get across. And if you think the Nerds ever felt retribution for this, then you are way, way wrong. Everyone seems to have forgotten the “prank” by the end of the movie.
And unfortunately, that was not even the worst part.
In one scene, one of our main protagonists – Lewis – hides his identity with a mask and follows Betty into a room where she intends to have sex with him, thinking it is her boyfriend. That is rape. Our protagonist should be going to prison. But instead, after she discovers his identity, she decides to date him. They thinly disguised this rape by making it seem as if it’s okay, so long as you can pleasure her…she won’t mind so long as it’s good. This message is dangerous, no matter what time period we’re dealing with. This movie is not about the underdogs rising up. It’s not a tale about self-acceptance. It’s a story that uses sexploitation to sell morality. It is a film that degrades women so extremely, that I could barely finish it. The ironic speech at the end, meant to be inspiring, only sickened me further.
This movie should not be considered a classic. This movie should not have a high score on Rotten Tomatoes. This movie’s messages are destructive, and they certainly shouldn’t be immortalized into our culture. Generations to come will look to this movie as a marker of who we are, and we should refuse to perpetuate this message that bullying is okay so long as you’re the underdog.
This movie is a classic case of “boys will be boys”, and the only good thing I can say about it is that it highlights why that phrase is so problematic.