On September 27, 2018 (wow – it has been over a year already) I watched the testimony of Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, followed by the angry rebuttal of Brett Kavanaugh. Dr. Ford was clear and concise and MORE than believable, while Kavanaugh demonstrated the entitlement and confusion that straight, white, men of privilege have always been afforded in our patriarchal society. His authority was being questioned by a credible witness and he saw this as an affront to his very nature. And guess what? It was! His morality was being questioned and he, along with the other straight, white, affluent, males on the confirmation committee, was stunned into further levels of anger. When straight, white, affluent dudes are held accountable for past bad behavior, their response is always “how dare you question me!”. The outcome to this was, of course, in favour of the straight, white, affluent dude and he is now a Supreme Court Justice, sexual assault claims be damned!
During the hearings, Dr. Ford referenced a party where her attack happened. Kavanaugh adamantly denied having attended any parties like the one that Dr. Ford spoke of and, in fact, made it clear that he wasn’t the type of person that would attend these types of parties. He showed his calendars as proof that he wouldn’t have been at a party of this kind, but listed on the calendar was a party that was EXACTLY like the one that Dr. Ford referenced. That party was listed on 1 July 1982 – “Go to Timmy’s for Ski’s with Judge, Tom, PJ, Bernie, Squi”. This is the type of party she referenced. A small gathering of guys, having beers, that she attended. She did not reference a big party, but a small gathering at a house she had never been to before. 1 July 1982 was a Thursday, which Kavanaugh would deny as a ‘party’ night, but if he wants to use this calendar for proof of anything, then everything on it must be considered.
But let’s think about this from a popular media perspective. This type of party has been enshrined in teen movies since the 70s. In fact, during the time that is referenced for the Kavanaugh assault of Dr. Ford, there were many instances, in popular media, of privileged ‘kids’ and their behavior. 1982 was the year of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High”, a movie that became increasingly popular due to the earlier success of “Porky’s” (1981) and “Meatballs” (1979). Movies such as “Risky Business” (1983) and “Screwballs” (1983) eventually spawned the John Hughes canon of teen movies; “Sixteen Candles” (1984), “The Breakfast Club” (1985), and “Weird Science” (1985). The 80s were a golden era of teen movies, as you can see by this extensive list on IMDB. But what did every movie of the time show us? These movies were a mirror for the behaviour of real-life teens. Or at least a mirror for the behaviours of real-life white, affluent, teens. There would be a person of color in the mix, sometimes, but usually, they were used as a trope for jokes while the white, affluent, characters got to do whatever, say whatever, and be whatever they wanted without consequence.
The biggest issue in these movies, which reflected the real lived experiences of affluent teens, was the shocking lack of consent in the scenes that dealt with sex. For example, in “Sixteen Candles” there is a whole storyline centered around the fact that the main character is so privileged that he feels like he can ‘give away’ his girlfriend to the geek because he has fallen for the 15-year-old lead female character and wishes to pursue her. Check out this VOX article, for a more detailed conversation about rape culture in the 80s and how this particular movie reinforced the mores of the time.
“Sixteen Candles” wasn’t the only movie to depict these experiences and the 80s weren’t the only decade that movies were made in this manner. Movies have reflected life (and sometimes inflated life for effect) since the silver screen was invented. Giving people an escape is part of the process, but it is certainly not the only thing that Hollywood should be focused on.
Now that we are finally becoming more mindful of the tropes in movies and the scenarios that are normalized through this medium, things are changing. One of the changes is that there is much more diversity in writing and directing than there was in the 1980s, but even without the diverse voices, we are seeing more nuanced portrayals of human beings. The teen movies of the 80s often generalized the experiences of a few humans out to the world and made people believe that these behaviours were the norm.
At this point, you might be wondering, “what does this have to do with the Kavanaugh hearings?” Well, gee, I thought that was clear, but if not – we are going to go on a little journey together to find “the Brad”. What is “the Brad”? “The Brad” is the guy who participates in bad behaviours, continues on with his life rising to greater levels due to his privilege, and when he is questioned as an adult for his past he denies any involvement with the people and events that occurred. He ends up continuing on his privileged path because that’s what “the Brad” does, but people see him. It may not affect “the Brad” in the short term, but hopefully, over time, he will be held to account for his disgusting treatment of others. And if you are wondering why I call this guy “the Brad”, it harkens back to the hearings as well. Kavanaugh denied that he was a character in a book written by his high school pal Mark Judge. The character’s name was Brad O’Kavanaugh and the book detailed the bad behaviours of Judge and his friends in high school. The book is about Judge’s struggles with drinking and drugs, but even an addict could come up with a better cover name than that. He obviously didn’t care about making the character seem like someone else other than Kavanaugh. So – here we go – let’s find “the Brad” in these 80s teen movies.
You might think that the character Anthony Michael Hall (simply referenced in the credits as ‘the geek’) is “the Brad” in this movie. Throughout the movie he is attempting to achieve a level of ‘manliness’ that comes from showing his buddies that he is the eighties version of a player. Although this aspiration is the focus for the character, and in the end he allows the girl he wakes up next to (Caroline, played by Haviland Morris) believe that they ‘did it’ that doesn’t make him “the Brad”. No – “the Brad” in this movie is most definitely Jake (played by Michael Schoeffling.)
Jake is the love interest of the main character (Samantha, played by an actual 16-year old Molly Ringwald.) He is affluent and although he doesn’t do anything directly wrong, he enables all the other characters to do bad things to one another. He doesn’t try to stop any potential rape that might be occurring with his girlfriend, the aforementioned Caroline, and he plays into the insecurities of the much younger Samantha as she navigates her day. One could also make the case that Jake’s relationship with Samantha is the early signs of grooming. In the future, his character most likely would continue to date women much younger than him or with a lot less agency based on their age or level of power.
Fast Times at Ridgemont High
In this movie, we have an actual Brad who is “the Brad”. Judge Reinhold plays the older brother of one of the main characters (Stacy, played by Jennifer Jason Leigh) and, although you might think him to be a ‘good guy’ that is merely his cover. He is a creeper that again, a lot like Jake in sixteen candles, enables the younger people around him to continue to behave badly. He is older and wiser and should be directing them to be better people, but instead, he sits idly by and allows things to happen in his presence that he could actually be arrested for. You might think that Mike (played by Robert Romanus) is “the Brad”, but although he is smarmy he does not force himself on any of the female characters.
Another possible ‘Brad’ in this movie is the 26-year-old stereo salesman who Stacy has a sexual relationship with at the beginning of the film. Since her character is only 15 she is not legally able to consent. Fast Times is RIFE with bad depictions of sexual relationships between teens and adults and generally a dated depiction of teen life. And with two (or more) Brads, this isn’t a movie that anyone should want to look back fondly upon.
Pretty in Pink
In Pretty in Pink, John Hughes presented us with a reinvigorated set of tropes. The girl from the other side of the tracks (Molly Ringwald as Andie) falls for the rich guy (Andrew McCarthy as Blane) that happens to be ‘nice’. Jon Cryer, as Duckie, plays the childhood friend with a crush on Andie and James Spader, as Steff, plays Blane’s friend and jerk-du-jour. You would think that Steff would be the Brad, in this movie, but he is actually super non-chalant when it comes to the women around him. He does corner Andie at her car one morning, she turns him down, and he steps away. He then proceeds to bad mouth her to Blane and at the end of the movie he is found out when Blane states: “You couldn’t buy her, though, that’s what’s killing you, isn’t it? Steff? That’s it, Steff. She thinks you’re shit. And deep down you know she’s right.” To this, Steff simply walks away from Blane in his laissez faire manner. If Steff had forced himself on Andie at the car, I would put him in the Brad category, but he is entirely too inactive to be ‘that guy’.
The party scene in this movie shows every individual having a semblance of autonomy. There are no forced situations. There are drunk teens, but they all seem to be coherent. There are no group sex scenes or drugged women. In this regard – I have to say thank you to Mr. Hughes (RIP) as he got it right, for once. Not to say that he got it real, but he presented a world of teen partying that shows people with individual control over their sexual choices. Nobody is being coerced.
So, then, in Pretty in Pink, who is the Brad? Well – it isn’t any of the teen characters, but since Andrew Dice Clay makes an appearance, I’ll have to give the award to him. He tries to ‘teach’ Duckie how to treat a woman and this shows that he is most likely a Brad in his downtime when he isn’t bouncing at the club.
There are so many other instances of Brad’s throughout pop culture and we unfortunately will now have a Brad on the Supreme Court for many years to come, but take heart – 2020 is here – and this year we will win back the Senate and White House for the Dems. In the meantime – why not watch a few old flicks and take your guess at ‘Who is the Brad?’ and let me know your picks in the comments!