It’s no secret I’m kind of looking forward to the upcoming TV series Heathers, which is a remake of the same-named film from 1988.
Gently, With a Chainsaw
In the 1980s cult classic film, Heathers, the small-town Ohio school was ruled by three girls named Heather. They are rich, beautiful, and popular. They’re also feared and loathed, so when popular girl Veronica goes back to her nerdy ways and befriends outcast J.D., it becomes all out war. Simply bullying over slutty behavior escalates into murder, which encourages suicide, and finally J.D. blows himself up.
To call it a ‘dark’ comedy is putting it mildly. It’s outright demented and insane, but it’s also a very apt parallel to the hell that is high school. We see it as a slice of Americana, were we all have equal access to opportunities and our futures. In reality, high school is a ruthless hierarchical mirror of America. Look at politics today and then look at our schools. The powerful take all and leave little for the rest. At the time, people likened Westerberg High School to the Reagan and Bush (I) administrations.
The conflict between democratic values and the social brutalities of 1980s consumer culture resides not just at the heart of the high school experience, but at the heart of 1980s American life.
— Clare Connors
Lick It Up
It’s 2018. It’s been thirty years since Heathers came out, and 80s faux-nostalgia is on the rise with shows like Stranger Things and movies like Ready, Player One. There are many opponents to this rapid, vapid, consumerism that becomes little more than ‘nostalgia porn’ (as Riley Parra creator Geonn Cannon describes it).
Remembering the times gone by as better is classic Americana. So to is the desire to return to when our own lives made sense, by illustrating the best moments. And yes, for a great many people, that’s high school.
Heathers, the original, turned that on its ear. Vis-a-vis black humor and absurdist humor, it presented us with a social allegory that was, I admit, missed by teenaged me the first time around. After all, I didn’t go to a school like that, and I didn’t see that degree of bullying. Except that after the movie, I started to realize that I did. I saw popular girls pushing their ideals on the rest. I saw, and was, ostracized for being weird. To the point that I found boarding school a welcome respite.
Still, I look at the resurgence of the 80s in popular media with amusement and tolerance. At least at first gasp. When I first read Ready, Player One, I found it entertaining. Then I recognized how limited it’s view on the 80s were. After all, where were the things that were popular to women? Oh, I know the point wasn’t that everyone got hooked on the 80s, but on the things that one specific guy loved about the 80s, but …
Can you imagine how shittily men would treat Ready Player One if it was all femme stuff?— jane frie(n)dhoff (@JFriedhoff) December 11, 2017
“I arrived in my flying model of the Thelma & Louise car. I’d installed a Polly Pocket dashboard AI, and, to complete the look, slapped some Lisa Frank dolphins on the outside” pic.twitter.com/oAl6V2jSJD
There’s a lot more to the 80s than the male dominated vision we’ve been seeing.
The Outcast Heathers
Amidst the concerns of faux-nostalgia, we have a major shift to the dynamic. In the original, the Heathers were white, cisgender, stereotypical beauties. In the remake, they are played by an Asian, a gender-queer ‘male’ (their terms), and a girl with a body like Martha Dumptruck from the original (i.e. a fat chick).
While at the outset, that seems like a clever conceit, to have the story change from the ‘normals’ to the ‘outcasts’ and to address how the unjust rule would adapt, it brings up a deeper concern. Few of us saw issues with someone rebelling against the norm. That is, Veronica’s war on the Heathers was understandable. She was angry and wanted to be herself.
But now, it’s the Heathers who are themselves, and Veronica will be fighting the disenfranchised. She’ll be struggling for ‘freedom’ to be herself from a ‘fatty’ – I’m quoting the NSFW trailer:
It’s rude, it’s crude, it’s impolite, and it left me with an odd taste in my mouth. Are we really far enough along to be targeting the targets as the bad guys? Is this, fundamentally, any different from The Big, Bad, Queers trope?
At best, I can argue that the intent is to demonstrate how the privileged ignorant of the 1980s is now the ignorant minorities, obvious to the fights that happened to grant them the privileges they have now. But that just doesn’t hold water when kids are going to the Supreme Court to argue the right to use a bathroom. And it doesn’t ring true when children march against the oppressive administration.
This isn’t even to mention how tone-deaf the concept of JD’s in-school violence will seem in 2018.
So as much as I want to look forward to Heathers, every day that passes and every article I read makes me doubt my enjoyment of this remake more and more. Not everything deserves a re-imagining remake, and Heathers is the concept that would have held up by remaining more true to the original source. Or maybe, maybe, this story should have been left alone.
The remake will air on March 7th on the Paramount Network. Let’s hope we don’t have to calculate the upchuck factor too much.