Culture

What Is Your Damage, Heathers?

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“**** me gently with a chainsaw!”

I know I’m not the only one who reacted to the announcement of a musical version of Heathers — the bruise-black 1988 satire of teen angst — by uttering that line from the movie, one of the many memorable catchphrases in a film renowned for, among other things, its daring and original writing.

Heathers‘ many imitators, from the laudable Mean Girls to the forgettable Jawbreakers, can’t possibly recapture the sheer, shocking, radical newness of the original.

Meanwhile, within the sub-genre I’ll call the “Blow Up Your School” movie — which dates back to Vigo’s Zero de Conduit (1933) — Heathers ranks somewhere below that near-masterpiece …if (1968) but above its direct predecessor, Massacre at Central High (1976), which failed to live up to its terrific premise, and promise.

That Heathers musical is now playing off-Broadway, timed to coincide with the movie’s 25th anniversary.

The review I read of it left me doubly confused.

Not only did the critic not seem to (want to) understand the point of Heathers, but neither, apparently, did the team who staged the darn musical.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CTmpKgocyYg

Here’s part of an interview with the musical’s male lead:

McCartan stumbled across the film’s idiosyncratic language while having lunch a few years back in college. He heard his friend say “Oh, how very” and wondered what that meant. McCartan soon found out when he watched the film, which he found refreshing.

“Not only is it not dated, but I think it’s more relevant now. Bullying is not going away,” he said. “As a matter of fact, now that there’s Twitter and Facebook, bullying is global. Anyone can attack anyone and they don’t need a face.”

Everyone involved in the Heathers musical regurgitates this “bullying” stuff, apparently without a smidgen of irony.

Look: Heathers is about bullying, but more so, it’s about the overblown, ultimately counterproductive moral panics that have turned high school (and society at large) into factories of conformity and therapeutic do-good-ery.

Here’s a scene in the teachers’ lounge:

Pauline Fleming: Now… it seems we were in a similar position on Monday when I thoughtfully suggested we get everybody together for an unadulterated emotional outpouring. But no. You took this as an opportunity to play yet another round of “Let’s Laugh at the Hippie.”

Counselor Paul Hyde: Pauline…

Principal: Shut up, Paul. Now I’ve seen a lot of bullsh*t. Angel dust. Switchblades. Sexually perverse photography exhibits involving tennis rackets. But this suicide thing… guess that’s more on Pauline’s wavelength. Well, we’re gonna just write off today. And on Friday she can hold her little “Love-In” or… whatever. Whatever.

Exactly. I’m old enough to remember when glue sniffing was the exaggerated “teen craze sweeping the nation” — one that my friends and I never heard about outside of the classroom.

When Heathers was made, that moral panic was teenage suicide, which was then what “bullying” (and, yes, my “sarcasm” quotation marks are intentional) is today:

A trendy excuse to push faddish, feminized, feel-good faux social science down our throats.

The joke is:

None of the teens in Heathers really commit suicide.

The protagonists kill their enemies and stage the crimes to look like suicides, because (as they’ve learned at school and from the culture at large) killing yourself is this week’s “cool” thing to do, which means the authorities won’t investigate any further.

Then these beautiful alpha dead kids are glowingly eulogized, so sure enough, bullied, beta kids start attempting suicide, too — and are duly mocked for “trying to be popular.”

Get it? If Heathers is still relevant, it’s because victims are the new heroes.

We read almost daily of fake “hate crimes” that exploit socially-approved moral panics like “transphobia” and “racism” and “bullying,” which are just as exaggerated as “the teen suicide epidemic” — and, yes, the “high school shooting” one, too.

Then, adding corn nuts to Drano, the folks behind the Heathers musical are, in fact, perpetuating the very cycle of hysteria the movie was mocking.

Oh, well. This thick-headedness seems par for the (croquet) course:

According to this new oral history of Heathers, Shannen Doherty (who played Heather Duke) didn’t even realize she was making a comedy.

Did she have a brain tumor for breakfast?