Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Rocky Horror Picture Show is, I Think, About Sexual Liberation

Last night, I went on a date to see The Rocky Horror Picture Show at the Brea Plaza theater. I knew about this movie, and how it is a cult classic, and how people dress up and there is crowd participation and stuff, but I didn’t know much else.

Before the movie, I had to go up to the front of the stage with the other Rocky Horror “virgins” and we all had to sing the Oscar Meyer Weiner Song. During the movie, everyone stood up and did the “Time Warp” dance. People were shouting various clever comments throughout the movie. Popcorn was occasionally thrown, and, after the musical numbers, people would clap. It was unlike any movie-going experience I’d ever had.

Is The Rocky Horror Picture Show a good movie? That depends on how you define “good.” It is low-budget, very cheesy, and the acting is intentionally bad. Having said that, it’s pretty enjoyable as a communal experience.

The plot of the movie is pretty absurd. It’s about a newly-engaged couple named Brad and Janet whose tire blows out on a dark and rainy night. They end up at the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a scieintist, and a “transvestite transsexual from Transylvania.” His servants are gothic/sci-fi weirdos who mostly do dance numbers. Brad and Janet have some wild sexual and musical experiences in the castle, and that’s basically it.

But on a deeper level, I think the movie is pretty interesting, culturally. I think it’s about sexual liberation in America. Let me explain. The movie begins at a very traditional church wedding. Behind the bride and groom stand a very austere minister and the farmer couple from the famous painting “American Gothic.” These figures represent the puritanical sexual mores that have long existed in America. Brad and Janet are the All-American conservative 50s couple.

But when they enter the castle of Dr. Frank-N-Furter, they enter a world of total sexual freedom. There is homosexuality, group sex, domination, promiscuity. It is basically a pleasure palace of sexual exploration, free from any contraints of the conservative, puritanical world outside.

I think the movie has achieved such a cult following because it celebrates an aspect of culture that did not get talked about for a long time—sexual “transgression.” I don’t mean necessarily “transgression” in the sense of religious sin, but transgression in the sense of deviating from culturally-accepted modes of sexual experience.

I imagine, when people saw this movie in the 70s, it made people feel less weird for all the strange sexual fantasies and desires they might secretly have harbored. A communal viewing of the film is like a big acknowledgement that yes, we are all strange, and the old puritanical model does not fit our lives, and that is maybe okay.

As I watched Dr. Frank-N-Furter seduce and have sex with men, women, and the monster he created (Rocky Horror), I sort of wanted to shout, “That’s cool man, but you should probably use a condom!”

This number captures the central conflict of the movie pretty well. It's called "Sweet Transvestite."

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