Off-Topic invites artists, curators, writers, and cultural workers to discuss a subject not directly related to the practice of making art. We would like to welcome Stacia Yeapanis as our latest guest with her post, “My Feminism is 80s Teen Movie Favored”. Stacia is a Chicago based interdisciplinary artist who’s first monograph was recently published as part of The Museum of Contemporary Photography’s Midwest Photographers Publication Project this past spring.
My Feminism is 80s Teen Movie Flavored
Not many people remember the teen movie The Legend of Billie Jean. Expected to be a box office hit in the summer of 1985, it disappointed producers, earning a measly $3.5 million, and has yet to be released on DVD. This movie is why I still own a VCR.
The plot is simple: Billie Jean Davy is a teenage girl from a trailer park, who becomes an outlaw after being involved in an accidental shooting. She goes on the run with her friends and cuts her hair and becomes a celebrity hero seeking justice. The tagline, according to IMDB, is “When you’re seventeen, people think they can do anything to you. Billie Jean is about to prove them wrong.”
I was 7, not 17, when it was first released. I can’t remember exactly when or where I watched it for the first time. I remember that I believed the main conflict was between kids and adults. There’s no doubt the movie was marketed to the MTV generation. The theme song, Invincible by Pat Benatar, had already made it to #10 before the movie was released. I probably related to the movie because I was a kid and because life constantly feels unfair when you’re a kid.
But when I re-watched The Legend of Billie Jean at age 31, it was obvious to me that this overlooked teen movie is about more than a rebellious teen’s sense that her parents aren’t fair because they make her clean her room or get off the phone and do her homework. For me, it’s one of my earliest feminist texts (and a scathing critique of capitalism, but that’s another post). Watching it was like having myself and my experience of the world mirrored back to me. I don’t mean that I’ve ever cut my hair short or been an outlaw or slept at an abandoned mini golf course. I just mean that I must have learned something watching this movie over and over again. And it’s something I value. Read more