A Reflection on Rocky Horror
By Grace Gay
You’re shivering outside in a line of people. Skimpy outfits all around, men and women in corsets, layers of dark makeup, and fishnets. A few, looking very much like flashers in long overcoats, stand intermixed in the group. It’s a very odd group, with the few perfectly normally dressed people (party poopers) thrown in.
This is about what most Rocky Horror first times look like. The shiver of antici - well, I just have to - pation, an overwhelming sense of confusion, and bewilderment. Probably, as someone draws a V in red lipstick on your face (V for virgin, as in new to Rocky Horror), you wonder, “What did I get myself into?”
While it’s fun to go and shout about sex and watch a man look good in a corset and to sing along to some unbearably catchy songs, it’s important for those outside the queer community to note that this is a dangerous film.
It’s difficult to explain the wacky weird adventure of Rocky Horror. And it’s hard to make someone like it, or understand it - for me, I always feel a cresting of wildness, fulfillment, connection, growing and growing until the end of the film. In venerating materialism, shallowness, Rocky Horror does something few other things do, especially in today’s times: it gives me hope, makes it possible to dream. Hedonism, debauchery and perversion: it’s all equal and level with Dr. Frank-N-Furter, and that kind of acceptance, a celebration of the queer, is beautiful and needed. It was needed for me when I was first discovering my sexuality, and that’s a common experience in the LGBT+ space.
In queer movie theory, there’s debate over whether this movie really helps or hurts the way queerness is perceived by the public. On one hand the movie is a fun romp into a world where anything goes. But at the same time, Frank-N-Furter is a murderer and doesn’t care much for consent: Rocky is made to be his sex slave, and he breaks into Brad and Janet’s rooms and tricks them into having sex with him. He enforces the detrimental stereotypes that exist about gender non-conforming and gay people as evil, unnatural hedonists.
But he’s not unsympathetic. The crux of the movie lies in his freedom to experiment with his sexuality being punished, even as he liberates each of his guests from their societal roles. You can’t help but feel a tug of sympathy for the deranged doctor with big dreams when he sings, “I’ve seen blue skies through the tears/in my eyes/and I realize, I’m going home” in his final song “I’m Going Home”.
And the message Rocky Horror communicates to new viewers isn’t purely hedonism. It’s about freedom to be yourself, express yourself, try new things and have fun. To accept what is odd and unfamiliar and find the joy in it. Brad and Janet are the audience insert, part of the cookie cutter American dream before they meet and spend time with Dr. Frank-N-Furter. They ultimately fall under the powerful spell cast by the sexual environment and find themselves exploring aspects of their identities they never have before. They become sexually liberated, and as Janet says, she’s “tasted love” and she “wants more”. Seen through this lense, the film calls for the casting off of societal roles and values to experience something new, uncommon, and amazing.
Maybe this is why it has been embraced by a more mainstream audience. As queerness becomes more acceptable, the perverse fun of the film becomes just a way to let loose for the audience, no matter what their identity. And because it communicates alternative lifestyles to a larger audience, it has contributed to a more accepting culture. Because how could anything with such catchy songs be evil?
As Rocky Horror continues to expand into mainstream culture in works like The Perks of Being a Wallflower, it’s important to remember that this is a movie about being queer. That the queer community was and is persecuted and endangered. Rocky Horror provides an experience for the queer community to come together and just have fun being themselves.
Ultimately, it becomes all about context. Rocky Horror might perpetuate stereotypes, but that fact that the film is a parody of a horror movie ultimately sheds light on its nature: it’s ridiculous to be afraid of this queer identity, just as ridiculous as the way Brad and Janet try to cling to their societal roles without reason. In context, Rocky Horror is a silly celebration, where you don’t have to worry about who you’re supposed to be in society or what power you hold. Because in Rocky Horror, all the power lies in being queer. And that’s empowering to every little queer kid in town.