Tag Archives: 80s movies

A Fun Thought Experiment Inspired By “Back To The Future”

24 Facts About 'Back To The Future' That Might Surprise You

There are some moments in movies that stick with you for all the right reasons. As much as I love and consume superhero movies, not all those moments have to do with comic book characters or action stars in the mold of John McClane. Sometimes, a scene is just so beautifully done that you can watch it a million times and still smile.

That’s how I feel about one particular scene in “Back To The Future.” Specifically, it’s that legendary moment where Marty McFly plays Johnny B. Good at the school dance after helping his parents fall in love. It doesn’t matter how you feel about the song, the movie, or the actors. This scene is just pure, unrivaled fun.

I first saw this movie over 25 years ago. This scene is still one of my favorite movie scenes of all time. When I think “Back To The Future,” I think this scene.

I could talk about this scene for hours on end. However, I’d like to set aside the cinematics for a moment and use it as the basis of fun little thought experiment. Lately, I feel like some of my previous thought experiments were a bit too serious. These experiments should be fun and I think this one has plenty to offer.

The premise is simple. You’re basically in Marty McFly’s shoes and you have a chance to share music from the future with people from the past. For the sake of broadening the experiment, I’ll even tweak a few details. In terms of specifics, here’s the situation.

You’re in 1955 America.

You’re on a stage facing a large audience of kids and their parents.

You have a chance to play one song before you go back to the future.

It could be any song from any era.

You have the ability to play, sing, and perform that song perfectly.

What would that song be?

After first seen that scene in “Back To The Future,” I often entertained thoughts about the song I would play if I were in Marty’s position. Over time, I find myself entertaining those thoughts even more. I’ve been on this planet long enough to see many changes and trends with popular music.

Some of it has been positive.

Some of it has been downright awful.

What we consider good or bad comes down to taste, but there’s no getting around it. What would be considered mainstream today would be considered obscene in 1955. Remember, this was an era where people thought Elvis moving his hips was too risqué. Can you imagine how they would feel if they heard Cardi B’s “WAP” or pretty much any song by Kid Rock?

It would be hard to imagine the full spectrum of peoples’ shock. That’s part of why I asked this same question on the popular subreddit, AskReddit. I did not get nearly as many responses as I’d hoped. That’s why I want to ask it again here.

You’re in that same position as Marty. You have a chance to leave an impression that will transcend time, space, and vastly different musical eras. What song do you play? Here’s my general list in no particular order.

“Thunderstruck” by AC/DC

“Enter Sandman” by Metallica

“Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

“Break Stuff” by Limp Bizkit

“Gin And Juice” by Snoop Dogg

“American Badass” by Kid Rock

“Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars

“Superfreak” by Rick James

“X Gonna Give It To Ya” by DMX

“Kickstart My Heart” by Motley Crue

“American Idiot” by Green Day

“Welcome To The Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses

“Applause” by Lady Gaga

“The Fight Song” by Marilyn Manson

“Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana

If I had to pick one, I honestly would have a hard time deciding. As much as I love these songs, I have a feeling the words might completely fly over the heads of a 1955 audience. If they heard a song like “Smells Like Teen Spirit” or “Gin And Juice,” they might not understand it. They might be more confused than shocked.

Other songs might get a much stronger reaction. Pretty much any song by Marilyn Manson and Eminem would surely offend, if only because of the profanity. Other songs, like many by Green Day or Lady Gaga, would contain messages that would definitely conflict with 1955 America. However, I still suspect the teenagers would love it.

For that same reason, I think the parents of 1955 would hate every song by Guns N’ Roses and Motley Crue, but the teenagers would love it. It’s loud, it’s energetic, and it has plenty of sexual overtones. That’s going to appeal to the youth of any era.

Other songs might have truly universal appeal. I feel like most songs by Bruce Springsteen could play in any era and still get audiences cheering, young and old alike. I feel the same about many Taylor Swift songs. I honestly think “Shake It Off” would play well to a 1955 audience. It might even play too well to some crowds.

That’s just my opinion. I still don’t know which song I would play out of that list. What about the rest of you? What song would you play in Marty’s position if you had the opportunity to time travel to 1955? I’d love to see your list, as well. Please share it in the comments.

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Filed under movies, music, Thought Experiment

Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Robocop

robocop

Even in an era where masculinity has gained way too many negative connotations, there’s plenty of room for men who distinguish themselves in respectable, honorable ways. There are countless male characters in popular culture who attempt to set themselves apart. Sometimes, it brings out the worst in men. Sometimes, it brings out the best.

I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on the best aspects of masculinity. To date, I’ve profiled two characters, Joel from “The Last of Us” and Hank Hill from “King of the Hill.” I’ve cited both characters as examples of noble masculinity. It manifests in different forms, but it helps bring a unique strength to their characters.

They have a wide range of traits, some of which aren’t distinctly masculine. When those manly characteristics do emerge, though, they don’t just reveal the greater subtleties in who they are. They demonstrate just how powerful masculinity can be when it’s channeled. In that spirit, I’d like to highlight another character who channels that kind of masculinity in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and full of memorable one-liners.

That character’s name is Alex J. Murphy of the Detroit Police Department, but most know him as Robocop. He’s not just a cop who got caught up in a greedy corporation’s agenda. He’s not just a man in a machine carrying out the duties of a cop. When you take in the entirety of Robocop’s story, including the Jesus connotations, you find a character whose masculinity shines even in the R-rated violence that is Detroit.

Now, before I go any further, I want to establish that the version of “Robocop” I’m citing here is the original 1987 version played by Peter Weller. This profile will not draw from the 2014 “Robocop” played by Joel Kinnaman. I’m not saying that version of the character is without merit. I enjoyed that movie. However, it did not come close to demonstrating the level of noble masculinity that the original conveyed.

On the surface, the original “Robocop” wasn’t that groundbreaking for its time. Stories about urban decay and dystopian cities were already popular thanks to movies like “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner.” In terms of substance, though, “Robocop” achieved something profound in terms of crafting a memorable male character.

The core of Alex Murphy’s character, even before he became Robocop, is that he’s a good, honorable man in a city that doesn’t have many of them. This version of Detroit, which is sadly very similar to the real-world version, is full of deviant criminals and corrupt business types. The very company that creates Robocop, Omni Consumer Products, is full of ruthless individuals who see crime only as a hindrance to profits.

A man like Alex Murphy is a precious rarity in that world. As such, it doesn’t take long for it to get snuffed out. On Murphy’s first day on the job, he’s callously killed by a gang of sociopath criminals led by Clarence Boddicker. All that innate nobility and idealism Murphy had was literally shot to death within the first twenty minutes of the movie.

However, that was not the end of Alex Murphy’s story. It was only the beginning. When he’s turned into Robocop by OCP, who see him only as a means to further their business plan, the extent of the noble masculinity he portrays only grows. The fact it does so while he cleans up Detroit’s rampant crime is a nice bonus as well.

From the moment he awakens as Robocop, we see what looks to be only a shell of a man. In fact, OCP goes out of their way to remove as much of the man as possible, not bothering to salvage his hand or anything below the neck. The only part of Alex Murphy they keep is his brain and part of his face.

It’s a total deconstruction of a man, ripping away the very flesh that makes him masculine and yes, that includes his genitals. To OCP, he’s a machine who just happens to run on human parts. They try to filter out the humanity in hopes of creating an obedient commodity that they can then mass produce, market, and utilize for profit.

It’s dehumanization to an extreme, more so than what characters like Wolverine endured. For a brief while, it looks like OCP succeeds. Initially, Robocop carries himself like a machine, confronting Detroit’s worst criminals with an efficiency that wasn’t possible as Alex Murphy. He could’ve become a perfect example of reducing all men to machines, devoid of emotion and focused only on a task at hand.

Then, the story takes a more human turn and Robocop suddenly becomes more man than machine. Despite everything OCP took from him, including his body and his free will, Alex Murphy still emerged. Even after everything that made him a man was deconstructed, literally in some cases, he fought to regain control.

In the process, we get to see Robocop learn about the man he used to be. We see glimpses of his life as a father and a husband. We find out just how good a man he was to his wife and his son. It contrasts heavily to the ruthless criminals and callous business people that affect much of the story. That’s critical in terms of establishing Robocop as someone who conveys a heroic brand of masculinity.

From the outside perspective of the audience, Alex Murphy’s home life seems mundane and even a little corny. However, when put into the context of a crime-ridden urban dystopia, it becomes instrumental in elevating Robocop’s sense of duty. They make his prime directives more than just base programming. By adding Murphy’s humanity into the mix, they gain greater meaning.

It’s an inherently masculine trait, protecting those who cannot otherwise protect themselves. Murphy already embodied that trait because he was a cop and a family man. However, he could only accomplish so much on his own, as his fatal encounter with Boddicker proved.

By becoming Robocop, that role is elevated because technically speaking, he’s better equipped than any man has ever been. He’s got a human mind, but he has a robot body, complete with bullet-proof skin and the ability to shoot with inhuman accuracy. Instead of stripping him of his masculinity and his humanity, becoming a robot actually enhanced it.

That, more than anything, is what elevates Robocop’s noble masculinity to another level. An act that should’ve utterly dehumanized him ended up making his humanity even stronger. It had to be in order to overcome OCP’s control and uncover the plot to exploit him as just another product. The fact that OCP tries and fails in the sequel to recreate him further reinforces just how unique Robocop is.

Through that journey from utter masculine deconstruction to total reaffirmation of his identity, the line between Robocop and Alex Murphy blurs. The line between carrying out noble acts and following basic programming blurs as well. In the end, Robocop isn’t just a machine following a program. He’s a man inside a machine, doing the same job he did as a man, but with much better weapons and more memorable catch phrases.

Robocop” is hailed as a classic for many reasons. Robocop, as a character, continues to be an icon, despite sub-par sequels and a failed reboot. I think a big part of that appeal comes directly from how the first movie managed to portray the best traits of masculinity within a setting where the worst often thrived.

Even in a contemporary context, beyond the current state of Detroit, Robocop conveys a powerful message that men and women alike can appreciate. You can put a good man in the worst situation, destroying and deconstructing him at every level. That same man will find a way to re-emerge and do what needs to be done.

It’s a testament to the strength of manhood and our willingness to protect innocents in an unjust world. Robocop combines the spirit of a man with the power of a machine. One need not subvert the other. In fact, one can supplement the other and, dead or alive, the criminal element of any gender doesn’t stand a chance.

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Filed under gender issues, media issues, movies, noble masculinity, political correctness, psychology