Paramount Studios has released a new — and in my mind, questionable — sing-along version of Grease, the musical that Most Americans of a Certain Age have memorized in self defense, if not out of love for the popular movie.
I was among them, an innocent high schooler, arguably much younger than the adults on the screen portraying the risque life of the 1950s. I had no idea what I was singing much of the time (what will the chicks do in Greased Lightning?), so I skipped over the confusing part and the swear words. (Yes, I was naive. I was told a joke about Dr. Pepper when I was 14 that I didn't get until I was 25.)
However, that's the way of life. Someone wrote a story that suggested that women are turned on by a car and teens may become pregnant out of wedlock and act like antisocial punks. They actually may smoke, even. (Perish the thought!) Someone made a very popular movie out of it.
High schools actually may even stage a production of it, like my friend Corinne's school did. From what I can tell, the script stayed pretty true to the original script — and the program noted that the school did not encourage the behavior these fictional high school students exhibited. Teens are warned: don't try this at home.
Paramount has taken that warning a step further. Cigarettes have been removed from the trailer advertising the sing-along, which is required by the MPAA for viewing by "general audiences." Oh, and the rating might be changed from PG to something higher. (PG-13 wasn't available in 1978 when the movie originally was released.) ("'Grease' is the word --- unless it's dirty," The Washington Post, 06/08/10)
May I quote John Stossel? Give me a break! It's not up to the studio to change elements because the "general public" might find it distasteful. Erasing cigarettes from a trailer for a 30-year-old movie is ridiculous. (I find the Cigarette War amusing; if a 10-year-old girl is felled by the tobacco industry because Sandy takes a puff, she has bigger problems with which she and her family must contend.) Changing words or using symbols for the text to take the place of rude slang is absurd, especially when the lyrics aren't changed.
And no, I don't advocate changing lyrics or dialogue. Frankly, my dear, I don't give a darn what the censors say about language when it's up to the parents to decide what their children will sing along to in the living room.
My brain did not melt by hearing boys sing about how they were going to get lucky because of a cool car. Granted, much of the slang was a little above my head — but that's not new: there's a lot on the screen children should not see. I think The Incredibles should be rated PG-13 because of the very realistic marital strife portrayed by Mr. and Mrs. Incredible. No child should see the gut-wrenching, senseless ending of The Bridge to Teribithia. Also, for the love of all that's holy, don't take youngsters to UP — the opening sequence broke my heart.
However, ratings are simply suggestions. Parents drag their children to movies that are much too mature for them, and will continue to do so. (Please don't ask me to tell you about how I was supposed to be asleep in the back seat of my parents' car during Easy Rider. And no, I didn't understand a thing about it, including the ending. I was five.)
Paramount can re-package and re-market its library — just skip the sanitizing. Adults can decide how to expose their children to popular culture, and maybe some movies aren't for "general audiences." As an adult, I decide what young people will hear in my house and car.
In the end, its a mix of what adults allow and what culture permits. Corinne and I didn't listen to the Grease soundtrack I purchased when she was in middle school. Ironically, a few years later, she was in that very production. And guess what? Despite our exposure to Grease at a young age, we don't drink, or swear — and we don't rat our hair.