October 23rd, 2012

shoe

Reputation

After much hair tearing and pacing (yes, pacing! I was like a bad cliche of a writer in a movie) and still making no progress, I got the genius idea of going back a few scenes before the part I thought I needed to rework, back when everything was just right, and then I thought I might get some flow. I'd already gone back to the parts I'd already rewritten and was trying to move forward from there, and it wasn't working. So, I went back to the part that was working, one of my favorite scenes, and then realized it was wrong. I'd been so caught up in writing what needed to happen for the plot that I'd neglected to consider a few minor things. Such as, what time was it, and what would be going on in that place at that time? Or, how would this discovery really affect them, physically and emotionally? What would their next step really be? What are the bad guys doing at this time? Not to mention I realized that they have the same conversation about what to do next about three times (which was probably me trying to figure out what they should do next). I spent the rest of the day figuring out the answers to all these questions and replotting that section of the book. It was a real case of "kill your darlings" because on its own, the scene was absolutely swoon-worthy the way it was. It just didn't make sense in context.

I ended up watching a movie on TV last night because I find it helps to have some kind of background noise for doing that kind of thinking. If I'm staring at a piece of paper, the thoughts don't come, but if I'm watching something and the thinking is secondary, it happens. I'd planned to see Easy A at the theaters but never got around to it, and then thought I'd catch it on HBO, but I don't recall it ever showing up there. It was on one of the regular cable channels last night, so I finally watched it. This is a really clever teen flick that I'd rank among the John Hughes films from the 80s (and it contains a lot of fun tributes to those films). The basic plot is that Olive is kind of a nobody in school. She seems to be something of a brain, but she's definitely not the typical nerd. To avoid an awkward weekend family camping trip with her best friend, she invents a date, then when her friend demands details of the date at school on Monday, she inadvertently says the date lasted all weekend, which her friend interprets to mean that they had sex. When her friend actually believes her when she sarcastically acknowledges it, she starts embellishing and adding details. But it turns out that the school's hyper-religious, judgmental girl is also in the bathroom, hears this, and spreads it around the school. Suddenly, everyone knows who Olive is, and for a while she even enjoys the attention. But then a gay friend asks her to use her reputation to make it look like he's sleeping with her as a way to get the bullies off his back, and then he tells a few friends she can help them with their problems. Soon, she's cooperating in saying she's done all kinds of things with a variety of boys to give their reputations a boost, but while a boy having sex is a stud, a girl is a slut, and it spirals out of control to the point that she starts owning it and wearing sexy clothes with a scarlet A sewn on them (they're reading The Scarlet Letter in class). But while rumor has it that she's slept with half the school, no one's actually asking her on dates and even her friends have abandoned her.

The movie is both funny and touching, and it has some valid things to say about the gender double standard and the way reputation works. The dialogue is incredibly witty, the heroine has a wonderful relationship with her parents (unlike the absent or disapproving parents in a lot of teen movies), and Emma Stone is a gem. She's cute and funny and has a way of making the sometimes too-witty-to-be-true dialogue sound totally natural. Those who remember the 80s teen movies will enjoy the homages.

However, there were a couple of things that kept pulling me out of the movie, and the biggie was the premise. I just couldn't imagine it would work that way. I went to high school in the Dark Ages (the early 80s), in a small town in East Texas, in the buckle of the Bible Belt, where just about everyone in town went to church, and these things wouldn't have happened then. Yeah, when it got to the point where half the guys in school were saying they'd slept with her, she might have been looked at askance, but the initial rumor would have gone nowhere and would have been received with a huge yawn. You'd have had a hard time finding anyone who cared enough to pass on the rumor who had room to talk and who was catty enough to do so. We had a number of pregnant girls in the school, and they weren't even the "slutty trash" type. They were popular girls who were majorettes, in the bad, and good students. A lot of the popular girls were pretty open about the fact that they were having sex. They came up with inside joke code words so they could talk about it in front of teachers, and then they took out ads in the football program book and the yearbook using their inside joke code words, so they were literally advertising their sexual exploits. You were more likely to be teased and mocked for being a virgin. Meanwhile, although this was a really religious community (there were a lot of ministries based in the area, so there were a lot of kids in the school whose parents were missionaries, evangelists or gospel singers), I never got the sense of that kind of judging. Most of the really religious kids would have been embarrassed to overhear the conversation and would have pretended they hadn't heard it, and the rest (most of the girls who went to my church) would have been too self-absorbed and focused on their own cliques to even pay attention to what someone outside the clique was saying. Mostly, it came down to social status -- if you were popular, it didn't matter what your sexual status was. If you were in the middle, not popular but not an outcast, you were more likely to be dismissed as a nerd if you were a virgin, but if you were sleeping with someone, it depended on his status. You could move up in popularity if the guy was a hot shot or move down if he was a loser. At the bottom of the pile, you'd probably be sneered at regardless, so you'd be sneered at as a reject if you were a virgin or sneered at for being a slut if you were known for sleeping around. And if it was that way in a hyper-religious small Texas town in the 80s (the kind of place where the Baptist pastor really did try to ban school dances), I can't imagine anyone in 21st century California making a big deal of it. I'd think that these days they'd have been more shocked by her status as a virgin than they would by reports that she'd had sex once, and the religious girl would be the one more likely to be jeered at and ostracized.

Meanwhile, Hollywood, please get your religious stereotypes straight. If you're portraying hyper-religious people who are very judgmental, talk about saving people and who gather on the school grounds for Bible study and prayer meetings before school or at lunch, you're mostly dealing with Protestant evangelicals, probably non-denominational these days (the ones who go to those mega churches). Their pastors don't generally wear clerical collars. That's more often seen in mainline Protestantism, and they're not usually that intense. The kind of pastor you'd see for a group like that would be dressed in business casual and would probably try to "relate" to someone (even if in a tone-deaf way) before going all judgy. Plus, the kids wouldn't be singing old gospel songs like "Go Down Moses" in their lunchtime prayer circles. They'd be more likely to sing contemporary praise songs.

You kind of have to take the movie as a farce, but I think it could have been even more relevant with a few tweaks to make it actually realistic. Still, it's one of the better teen movies I've seen in ages and it made me both laugh and cry.