The 80s nostalgia tour rolls on and this week's entry is Risky Business, something of a breakthrough film for Tom Cruise.
It's very much of its time, oozing 80s moral sensibilities and also poking fun at career-obsessed Boomer parents.
Some of that sentiment has aged well, but some of it hasn't. The central point of the film is really an indictment of affluent entitlement as well as the notion that all guys really want is consequence-free sex.
There was a concerted effort during the 80s to promote this belief and to extend it to women as well. Thus the "hook-up culture" was born, which some wag described as a situation where men get sex without commitment and women just get screwed.
I think the greatest gaslighting in history was convincing women that this was somehow good for them. Indeed, the current hysteria over abortion access is pretty much the triumph of this effort to brainwash women into thinking that things like marriage and kids are oppressive and the highest good is to serve as a sex toy while giving the best years of your life to some faceless corporation.
Am I reading too much into this? Perhaps, but the film also highlights the fact that young men also want to love and be loved. If this can be combined with sex, a powerful bond is formed, one that used to be the foundation of a successful marriage.
Tom Cruise in this film is transitioning from teenager to confident fighter pilot, so he can still project innocence and vulnerability, which leaves him completely helpless against sexual manipulation.
I think that's the female side of the film's appeal, which is not unlike Pretty Woman - the notion that a desirable man can overlook your checkered past and still love you.
The other element of the film is of course the ugliness of prostitution, which it both highlights and obscures. To the writers of Risky Business, the pimps are the problem, not the reduction of sex to a commodity. Again, this was part of the 80s culture, which saw conventional morality as hypocritical and limiting. Women selling themselves for money is okay so long as they do well in the deal, and the circumstances that drive them to doing this are best glossed over. To its credit, the film explores this aspect of Rebecca De Mornay's character, but like her character, turns away from its unpleasantness.
Like so many films of the time, Risky Business also features a good deal of nudity and sex scenes. At this time this was a sign of its sophistication and modernity. Certainly I was one of those who thought this was a good thing. I was part of the target audience to whom an 'R" rating for nudity was a feature rather than a bug.
Since then, I've come seeing only two reasons for women to do nude scenes: either they are coerced, or see nothing wrong with it. The younger me would have absolutely had a problem with coercion, but if consent was freely given, what was the problem?
The older me knows that the question of "consent" is a lot more complicated. How many starlets have accepted a Faustian bargain, trading virtue for wealth and fame? How many have regretted it later on?
Of course, true consent is possible, and if you think about it that's even more depressing. I don't think any human wants to be used that way, ever. Something has to twist them, to warp them to make them think that taking off their clothes and simulating sex for money is morally acceptable.
It's interesting that the "Me Too" movement arose just as the late 80s/early 90s generation of women approached middle age. They didn't feel 'empowered,' they felt used.
And yes, I get that taking ones clothes off for the camera is different than the casting couch but I'm also not naive enough to think the two are wholly separate. Some men need to touch while others are content merely to see.
To put it another way, I don't think any man who had the power to make a beautiful women take her clothes off was robbed of pleasure merely because a camera was present.
Returning to Risky Business, I also found it interesting to consider the film's premise that young men losing their virginity to prostitutes is no big thing. Indeed, it's a good thing, and funny to boot.
Yet in my not quite half-century of life on this earth, every man I've met who patronized a prostitute (and my sample size is more than 1) has been plagued by relationship problems. Not a single one was able to get married and stay married. Far from "getting it out of their system," I think it creates a deformity in their minds, warping the normal, healthy bond is created when love and sex operate in unison.
There is considerable evidence that men are better able to separate love and sex than women and that men with multiple sex partners seem less adversely impacted by this than women.
I think that's true, but taking "less damage" is still worse than avoiding damage altogether.
Risky Business is still a well-made and funny film, but it has a far darker edge now than when it was made.