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This Got Grease Canceled 40 Years Later (Fans are Fuming)

We’re almost a quarter way through the 21st century, and the so-called culture wars are raging on. Regardless of what side of the fence you find yourself on, there is no denying that we are living in a time of reckoning. Old ideas are being called into question, and multiple visions of the future are being hotly debated in the realms of social media and public discourse.

Cancel-culture, which is also sometimes called call-out culture, is a distinctly modern form of ostracism, in which people, books, films, and even entire franchises are ousted from social and professional circles – be it online or in real life. These people and things that receive this ostracism are typically said to have been canceled.

But really, even though we have a fancy new term to describe this cultural phenomenon, it’s not necessarily a new invention. Disney’s highly-controversial animated/live-action hybrid film The Song of the South, for example, was ‘canceled’ ages ago both for it’s rather lighthearted depiction of slavery as being a totally benign thing and for other indiscretions that likewise have been deemed as racist. But nowadays, whenever the tides turn against a cultural relic of the past, it suddenly becomes this enormous political issue where lines are drawn in the metaphorical sands of society. Think Dr. Seuss and the uproar that ensued after six of the writer’s books were got the ‘cancel’ treatment in early 2021.

We’re not here, however, to debate the ethics or politics of cancel culture. If you’re looking for that discussion, you won’t have to look very long to find it elsewhere.

That being said, we didn’t see this new example of cancel culture coming at all. So, the 1970s musical Grease is now facing increased scrutiny after it was aired by the BBC during Boxing Day last year – which in case you didn’t know, is the name of the second of the twelve days of Christmas. Now folks are reassessing their views towards the classic rom-com nearly 40 years after it first arrived in theaters.

The consensus at the moment is that the film isn’t exactly aging well. Some have called it misogynistic, while others are referring to it as downright ‘rapey’. Those on social media are saying that the film encourages ‘slut-shaming’ and it’s routinely being categorized by sexists. 

In fact, some people are so offended by the film that there are even calls for Grease to be banned from screens altogether. Yup, it’s pretty much a modern-day book burning, but it really begs the question. Is Grease really as bad as people are saying it is, or is it simply the product of a different time, where society had different values and core beliefs? Join Facts Verse as we take a closer look at this 1978 film while addressing some of the issues that it’s opponents have brought up retrospectively.

Different Times: But Is That An Excuse?

Grease hit theaters in 1978, and it starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John in it’s lead roles. The musical tells the story of two young teens, Sandy and Danny, who get all caught up in a youthful summer romance back in 1958.

Danny Zuko, portrayed by Travolta, clad in leather and donning a greaser haircut, is the quintessential bad boy who lucks out and gets a chance to spend a romantic and wild evening with the more straight-laced Sandy, played by Newton-John.

Their drastically different characters and ideals are what inspire the sweet, yet somewhat naive Sandy to give herself a grittier makeover while adopting a more bold and loud attitude in hopes of winning the affection of the boy of her dreams. And, it’s for this reason that viewers in the early 2020s aren’t exactly thrilled with the film’s premise.

Perhaps the most controversial and problematic moment of the film takes place during the Summer Nights song sequence with the questionable lyric ‘Did she put a fight?’ which is belted out by Danny when he recounts his journey of seduction with Sandy to his buddies.

Some folks are even calling the film’s plot racist, homophobic, and overtly sexist. Another common complaint is made about the character Rizzo, who is shamed for having unprotected sex. It’s such a big part of the film that she even sang a song about it at one point.

Another scene that is facing heavy criticism is when Danny’s friend Putzie is called a pervert after hiding under the floor to get an upskirt glimpse of two students attending Rydell High School. Then, you have the segment when Vince Fontaine, a local radio announcer, makes a fairly frank homophobic remark about the high school dance, announcing that there were no same-sex couples who attended the dance contest.

While there are numerous angry people on the internet that are ready to burn every last copy of the film, others have shrugged off these criticism’s arguing that the film, which is considered a classic, is simply a product of a different time.

Defenders of the film have called it the perfect movie to sit down and enjoy with loved ones, but is it really? To be fair, this isn’t the first time that Grease has come under fire.  

In fact, back in October of 2020, Olivia Newton-John defended the film in the midst of the #MeToo movement, saying that she never really took the film too seriously and described it as just a ‘movie with a fun story’.

She later responded to the backlash that the film has received in recent days by calling it’s criticism ‘silly’. She pointed out that it’s a film and stage play that is set in the 1950s and was made in the 70s. She went on to lament that people these days are taking things too seriously. Furthermore, she expressed that people just need to relax a bit in order to appreciate things for what they are instead of being quick to want to cancel anything and everything for the most minor of offenses.

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The Musical Has Been Nixed By School Systems

For decades, Grease has been a popular stage musical for school theater programs to put productions of it on for the public to enjoy. But the recent backlash against Grease’s film adaptation has called into question whether or not teenagers should be involved in it’s performance.

According to two school administrations and its students in Australia, the musical is totally inappropriate for young people – if not anyone – to take part in. Students from two K-12 schools in Perth, Australia, have reportedly protested against any future productions of the musical at their schools, citing the show’s ‘offensive, sexist, and anti-feminist’ thematic elements.

A production of the musical was already in the works jointly between the two schools when the students put a halt on plans for the upcoming performance. According to one of the school’s Principals, several students had raised concerns over whether the musical was appropriate for the modern-day. The principal reportedly gave an ear to the student’s qualms with the play and agreed that a different product would be more suitable for their 2022 theater season.

While some people have applauded the decision, a number of parents have scrutinized the move, arguing that the show’s critics were a small minority of the student body. Alternatively, they have suggested giving the musical a much-needed makeover to better fit in with today’s social norms and values.

While The BBC Is Considering Banning The Film, A Prequel Is In The Works

It doesn’t look like the debate surrounding Grease’s appropriateness in modern times is going to go away any time soon. If anything, the controversy has just started. But, the timing of this newly emboldened scandal couldn’t be any more interesting, considering the fact that a Grease prequel is said to be currently in the works.

Summer Lovin’, which has been described as a ‘full-on musical’ is said to tell that tale of the days leading up to Danny and Sandy’s adventures in the halls of Rydell High School. While the film will no doubt try to match the tone and imagery of Grease as much as possible, it’ll obviously have to limit itself a bit on how much it can borrow from the original – especially considering these recent debates over the film’s content and themes.

Summer Lovin’, which is currently in pre-production over at Paramount, is currently without a release date, but it’s rumored to focus on the fling Danny and Sandy had before reconnecting at their high school. Not much more is known about the film, but considering the enormous backlash that Grease is currently facing, it could call into question the prequel’s future.

At the very least, producers of the upcoming film will have to seriously consider criticisms of the original film while taking steps to avoid some of it’s pitfalls.

It was also announced back in 2019 that streaming service HBO Max was planning a Grease spin-off series to air on their platform, but it seems as of right now that that project has jumped ship and is now in development over at the competing streaming service, Paramount Plus.

HBO Max series was said to be called Grease: Rydell High, while Paramount’s 10-episode series is being promoted as Grease: Rise of the Pink Ladies. Reportedly the series will focus on the titular Pink Ladies, a clique of mischievous, sexually active Rydell High greaser girls that were fronted in the original film by Betty Rizzo, portrayed by actress Stockard Channing.

Rise of the Pink Ladies is set to take place four years before the events of Grease and will focus on presenting a new image of the franchise that will shatter stereotypes and present the outcast girls in an entirely new, and decidedly modern light. And yes, before you even ask, Rise of the Pink Ladies is slated to be another musical.

It’s not currently known whether or not Summer Lovin’ is still in production, seeing as how the tentative film’s IMDB page hasn’t been updated in quite some time, but it is conceivable that Rise of the Pink Ladies has replaced it in terms of being the Grease prequel that fans of the musical have eagerly been waiting for.

Do you think that Grease is as bad as people say it is and thus should get the ‘cancel treatment’? Or, do you agree with Olivia Newton-John, who feels like it’s just an innocent, fun film from a time when the world was a very different place? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section down below.

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