Thursday, August 7, 2014

Revenge of the Nerds - The Most Morally Corrosive Movie of the 1980's

(Note: I've been planning this article for a while but haven't gotten around to it till now.  Since then, someone has written a post that expresses a lot of the same thoughts, probably better than I will here.  You can read it here.  Hat tip to LindaMarie84 for the link)

One of the central themes of this blog is the intersecting of Catholic culture and popular culture, especially as they conflict.  There are an overwhelming number of examples of movies and TV shows rejecting traditional morals in favor of a more hedonistic, nihilistic outlook on life.

That this type of art is made is nothing new.  But the effectiveness that they have on our moral character cannot be overlooked.  For that reason I have decided to make an analysis of which movie from the 1980's is the most morally corrosive.

Note, I am not saying that this is the most immoral movie that there is.  I'm sure you can find worse ones,  But the reason why it is so corrosive is that it has influenced the way we think.

Revenge of the Nerds is a silly raunchy college comedy from 1984.  It is a story that is not uncommon in a number movies from that era.  A group of misfits in college are picked on by the jocks for being nerds.  Then the nerds get revenge in a supposedly humorous way.  So what is so bad about this movie?

First, we have to address saturation.  This movie played ad nauseum on channels like HBO.  This was at the beginning of the computer PC boom and pre-Internet.  Many of the people who would grow up and be movers and shakers in the technology business would be represented here.  Even people who had never seen the movie are familiar with the concept of nerds taking revenge on jocks for being mean.

But the real problem is this: righteous evil.

Here is a list of the bad things the jocks did to the Nerds:
-called them names
-displaced their housing
-trick Gilbert and Lewis
-stand up the Nerds for dates
-send pigs into their party
-moon the Nerds
-burn something on their lawn
-refuse to investigate themselves
-trashing their home.

Here is a list of what the Nerds did:
-home invade a girl's dorm
-set up cameras in that dorm to film the girls in the bedrooms and bathrooms
-poison the clothing of the jocks to cause them intense physical pain
-cheat their way winning contests
-peddle pornography to win a contest (without the girl's knowledge)
-impersonate another person for sex (which is technically rape)

Now, look at the lists above.  Which one do you see as more immoral?  Heck, which is more criminal?  I know that the '80's were a little looser in terms of privacy laws and sexual norms, but still!

And yet, the Nerds are clearly the heroes of the movie.  Why?  Because they are the perceived victims.  The jocks were mean to them.  As a result, the Nerds are justified in their hatred of the jocks.  It is not only that the jocks receive some kind of justice.  Instead, the Nerds go above and beyond what would be considered vengeful.  But because they are the perceived victims, they cannot be wrong in their hatred.  What they do to the jocks is not too much because they righteous in in their hatred of the jocks.

This way of thinking is far too common in our modern society, and that is why I cite this as the most morally corrosive movie.  Particularly as those who were in that group of Nerds growing up, now that they have achieved seats of power in society, in areas like business technology and popular culture, they are now taking their revenge with glee.

Think of the campaign against Orson Scott Card because he supports traditional marriage.  His enemies not only went after him viciously, but they were convicted in their own goodness because Card was considered by them as hateful.

I remember watching a video from 2004 where employees at MTV were counter protesting people who supported a pro-life candidate.  One of the MTV employees asked an opponent if he was married.  When he responded yes, she said, "I hope your wife gets raped and can't have an abortion."  And she said it with a smile as if she made a great point.  She could say something that ugly because in her mind the other person was the villain for being against abortion.

Remember the video of the man in the Chick-Fil-A drive through who verbally attacked an innocent employee for the corporation's beliefs.  Why?  Because she worked for an EVIL organization that rivaled COBRA.

Speaking of Chick-Fil-A, do you remember the man who went into the Family Research Council with a gun to shoot up the place and kill as many members as possible?  He had a bunch of Chick-Fil-A sandwiches in his bag that he was planning to place on the bodies of his victims.  In his mind, it was a hateful epitaph on the bodies of those justifiably killed.

Now, those are extreme cases.  But there is clearly an attitudinal orientation towards "justifiable" hatred by those who see themselves as victims.  Check out websites in the Gawker network or even simple humor sites like  Or think about some of your own conversations with others about politics where someone might wish great harm to a politician because they view them as "evil" and themselves as the victim.

And it is perceived social outcasts, the Nerds, who spew much more of this hate and intolerance than I see in the supposedly powerful.  And this hatred is spewed out with righteous intonations.  I am reminded of something CS Lewis wrote:

“Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

I think he overlooked that there would be people who not only act for "our own good" but from their own internal determination of their own moral righteousness.  And because they act for "the good" they can do no wrong.

Of course this is not justice.

This is revenge.

1 comment:

  1. Spot on. Sadly, I saw this movie in my youth. You might also enjoy James Bowman's article, "Nerd Do-Wells"