For the first time in probably more than ten years, I watched Back to the Future with my boyfriend, who had never seen it. I remember it being not that great, but it's one of those classic 80s movies that everyone should see once. I guess. Watching it as an adult was very different than that first viewing as a kid. Much of that had to do with my change in how I perceived the sexual assault in the movie.
I think we all know how the story goes: Marty's inventor friend, Doc, invents a time machine, Marty is sent back in time in his escape from scary brown terrorists, whom Doc cheated out of a proper bomb in exchange for time-traveling necessary plutonium. Before he locates Doc in 1955, Marty inadvertently prevents his parents from their fateful meeting.
Let's stop here for a sec because this is where the sexual assault first enters: Marty's mom, Lorraine, falls in love with George after her dad hits George with the car. Lorraine in 1985 still never knew what George was doing in the middle of the street in the first place. Well, Marty follows George in 1955 and we find out that George was in a tree with binoculars watching Lorraine undress. Lorraine's dad hits him, or is supposed to hit him, when he falls out of the tree. However, Marty pushes him out of the way and is hit by the car, thus becoming the love-interest to his mom.
At any rate, during the course of events where Marty tries to figure out how to return to 1985, and also how to ensure his existence by getting his parents to fall in love or at the very least "park the car," we observe more sexual assault. In the cafeteria, Lorraine is sitting with friends, and Biff (who in 1985 is George's boss, or at least more successful coworker) has his hands on Lorraine. She is clearly uncomfortable. She tells him to go away; she is cowering away from him. Marty encourages George to stop them, but George is afraid, and slinks away. So Marty steps in (which further cements Lorraine's attraction to him).
Later in the movie, Marty comes up with a plan to get George with Lorraine, a plan which involves Marty being not so nice to a nice girl (his mom), and he tells George to rescue her. George points out that that is not a very nice thing for Marty to do, but he assures George that's it's totally cool cuz it's pretend and stuff. Hear that everyone? Sexual assault is okay if you're only pretending to assault the woman to act as wingman to your buddy (or father!), but it's gotta be believable, so scare the shit out of her. Ugh. I can't believe I just wrote that.
Anyway, the plan goes wrong. Turns out Lorraine is totally hot for Marty, but quickly changes her mind when she finds kissing him feels like kissing her brother. Biff interrupts, and in an act of revenge against Marty for a sweet skateboard escape attempt that earlier trashed Biff's car, Biff hands Marty over to his thugs, and jumps in the car with Lorraine, presumably to "have his way" with her. Yeah, it's called rape, but it's not really treated as such in the movie. It does, however, mean that George can really prove himself a man because Lorraine is really being sexually assaulted by Biff (and not just pretend sexually assaulted by Marty). Long-ish uncomfortable scene short: George rescues Lorraine. Seriously, this scene was really uncomfortable to watch. I mean, after all the other assaults that Lorraine endures, it's made even more disgusting by the fact that I'm made to think "omg will no one save her?" That's what these assaults are all building up to, right? George has a chance to protect her, and eventually does before it can escalate anymore. But it's just a prop to motivate George, which falls into that cliche of women dying / being assaulted / or being in any other form of danger to cause a man to act (I think one of the best examples of this is Wolverine in the X-Men movies, since the women are basically required to die twice to get Wolverine to do stuff).
Oh, but after George proves his manliness by saving Lorraine's virtue, George gets another chance to really hang on to that manliness because (guess what!) Lorraine is assaulted AGAIN. Some random dude on the dance floor shoves George out of the way and has his hands on Lorraine even though she, again, says no, and even tries to get away. At this point I believe I was throwing things. Apparently the character of Lorraine exists solely for the purpose of being sexually assaulted. I mean, she like goes around doing Lorraine things, and gets assaulted. And it's okay, because eventually some upstanding man will defend her. Maybe. And even when she's sitting with friends, her friends just carry on like nothing is happening. Can I get some damn female solidarity please??
Oh yeah, George eventually reclaims Lorraine for a second time. Marty still exists. Hooray.
But there's one more thing I want to talk about before I wrap this up. Marty returns to 1985 to find that his and his family's lives have significantly improved because George is now a Man. We have several signifiers that tell us about the family's success: Marty's brother is wearing a suit and not a fast-food uniform! His sister has several boyfriends. SEVERAL! His mom is not fat! That's like, the best kind of mom, right? And his dad is the boss of other people! Including (omg you're so not ready for this) Biff. BIFF EVERYONE!! You know, the man who consistently sexually assaulted his mom in high school, including a near-rape! Yep. They keep him around to wax the car because it's an indicator of MANLY SUCCESS and is not at all triggering to Lorraine having her attacker so close every day of her adult life. Because Biff is subdued now, and is not at all likely to you know, attack her again despite having shown a propensity for just that behavior.
As a kid, I think I sort of glossed over these attacks. They're treated so callously in the movie that I didn't process it as something out of the norm. I simply accepted that Biff was a jerk, and Lorraine needed someone to save her, and then everything was okay. I didn't think of George as a predator, even though he is, because the movie still frames him as a hero. When I saw Biff at the end waxing the family car, I thought it was a funny sort of justice--ha, serves him right! Only as an adult do I see how utterly fucked up it is that Lorraine has to have him in close proximity, and how fucking unrealistic it is that she would be okay with that.
But no one cares about a woman's discomfort if it means her predator-turned-hero-turned-husband is all confidant and shit. Yay for manliness!
Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Sexual Assault in Back to the Future or "I'm totally about to ruin your nostalgic love for this movie, so get ready"