Yesterday morning I was up early and flipping through the channel guide looking for something mindless to watch. My brain was still half asleep, and I just wanted the tv equivalent of comfort food. I was surprised to see that Pop TV was showing Pretty in Pink. Admittedly, this was not one of my favorite 80’s movies, but I could resist the pull of the Duckman, so I flipped to it.
If you haven’t seen the movie before, I’ll give you a brief synopsis: Andie, played by Molly Ringwald, is a poor kid living on the wrong side of the tracks. She likes Blaine, played by Andrew McCarthy, a rich kid living on the right side of the tracks. He asks her to prom. His friend Steff, played by James Spader, tells him to drop Andie. He does. She shows up the prom looking fabulous with her best friend Duckie, played by Jon Crier. Blaine can’t resist Andie. They end up together. The end.
I turned on the movie during Andie and Blaine’s one and only official date. And I couldn’t believe how incredibly problematic this movie is. Personally, I feel that despite there being nostalgia for this film, there’s absolutely no reason it should still be shown in 2021.
Andie lets Blaine treat her like crap. Bottom line. He picks her up at her job for her date, and then says, “Hey, do you want to go home and change?” And she responds, “I already did.” She looks nice. There’s nothing wrong what she’s wearing. His response to her is “Oh.” And she lets it slide. Then she says where are we going, and he responds they’re going to party at his friend’s house. Despite Andie standing up for herself and repeatedly saying she didn’t want to go. They end up there. She’s verbally abused–one could actually make an argument that she’s bullied at least according to NJ’s HIB laws–and Blaine just stands there letting his friends treat her like crap. She finally convinces him to go. They have an equally terrible time with her friends, but at least she stands up for Blaine. And then she finally says, she wants to go and asks to be dropped back at her job. Blaine doesn’t let it go. He keeps pushing and pushing and pushing. Until poor Andie has to admit that she doesn’t want him to see where she lives. And then he drives her home.
And the movie continues like this. The ending is supposed to be this big romantic ending. Blaine’s at the prom by himself. He sees Andie. He goes to her. They dance. Blah, blah, blah. Meanwhile, poor Duckie who met her at the prom so she wouldn’t be by herself, who has stood by her–okay, he was a jerk to Blaine,but Blaine deserved it–says to her, “Blaine’s not like them. He’s here by himself.” And he pushes Andie towards Blaine.
Seriously, Blaine’s not like them? He asked her to the prom, then ghosted her, and when she confronted him, he lied and said he asked someone else and forgot.
And yes, all of this does speak to peer pressure. But it still doesn’t excuse the fact that the audience watches Andie tie herself up in knots to get his attention, get her heart broken, and then immediately excuse his behavior. What is this teaching about relationships?
At the same time I watched Pretty in Pink, I just finished reading Anatomy of a Misfit by Andrea Potts. While I liked the voice of the protagonist, that was about all I liked about the book. The time period was never specified, but it’s definitely sometime in the 80s based on the pop culture references and the number of times the author mentions Trapper Keepers.
Like Pretty in Pink, the novel deals with peer pressure. Anika, the protagonist is the third most popular girl in school. As a result, whenever Becky Vilhauer, the most popular girl in school, says jump, Anika does. This means that Anika’s relationship with Logan is a problem. He was the biggest loser until the summer between 9th and 10th grade when he lost weight, got cool clothes, and started driving a moped. But in Becky’s eyes, he’s still a loser. Logan’s got some issues–primarily because of his abusive dad. And despite Anika actually being afraid of him after he attacks a guy under the guise of protecting Anika, she still says she loves him. And it seems like she would like to “fix him.”
Then there’s Jared Kline. He’s the rich kid in the novel. Every girl loves him and would kill to date him. He picked Anika. Why? Probably because she’s the one girl who’s not falling down at his feet and worshipping him. There are problematic aspects to this relationship as well. And yet, everyone, including her mother, is pushing Anika to date him because he’s Jared Kline.
There are so many harmful and outdated tropes in this novel, despite a 2014 copyright date. It literally was like watching Andie’s terrible relationships in Pretty in Pink being played out on the page.
It makes me wonder what we’re teaching our girls. Why can’t Anika simply decide she doesn’t have to be with either of them? Why can’t Anika be taught to find her voice and stand up to overbearing guys who want her to be some version of her she isn’t? There was a lot happening in this book that could have turned Anika into a strong female protagonist, but ultimately, those threads were clipped. And she was left being a trope from a bad 80s teen movie.
In the end, this is making me take a deeper look into the way relationships are portrayed in YA books. And hopefully, the next generation of girls can grow up and be more empowered than Gen X was.