Film #122: Revenge of the Nerds (1984)

Revenge-of-the-Nerds-1984-80s-films-25842688-1280-7202director: Jeff Kanew
language: English and a bit of Japanese
length: 90 minutes
watched on: 27 June 2014

Until my friend decided we should watch it a couple of months ago, I hadn’t heard of this film, which is quite surprising, given that it’s generally viewed as “seminal” and “classic”, and was in its way riding a cultural revolution of sorts. In the past thirty years, nerd culture has been becoming mainstream, and it seems like that shift was already in place at the time, given how popular the movie became, and how many characters in the movie itself identified with the label by the end.

Furthermore, the movie seems to single-handedly set up a lot of tropes about college movies and high school movies, particularly the idea of an interfraternity competition, which was recently taken almost verbatim as the main plot of such recent movies as Monsters University. As another example, it also came up with the name Poindexter, used as a shorthand for all things nerdy in the intervening years. Such things allow me to suddenly have that brainwave moment when thinking about many other intervening movies.

It’s a shame, then, that the movie is absolutely terrible: garbage of the highest order. For one, while it seems to stand with the nerds, and they’re the heroes of the story, its attitude towards them is one of derision… yeah, I know it’s a comedy, but this trend continues today with comedies such as The Big Bang Theory. This is not a comedy for nerds, it’s a comedy where we get to laugh at nerds and learn a pithy moral at the end of the story.

But that’s not even scratching the surface. Its attitude towards women is absolutely despicable. If it’s not bad enough to have these leery young men invading a women’s dormitory to set up hidden cameras and have some kind of circle jerk session over it at home later that evening (wow, what hijinks!), it should hopefully be bad enough when one of the main characters literally rapes a female character by duping her into thinking he’s her boyfriend in costume – and then instead of beating the dude up or calling the police like any sane person would, she has an epiphany and falls in love with him.

Perhaps it is just that mores have evolved since the 80s, but I have a hard time believing that that was ever acceptable. It’s even more sickening that this was so influential at the time, and I hate to think what people might have done as a result of that scene.

There are some funny comedy moments in the movie, and I will certainly acknowledge that this movie is historically important in several ways, but basically, these kinds of attitudes completely ruined the movie and I urge anyone considering watching this not to bother.


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