An ode to the forgotten Pink Lady

My mom has gifted me at least three copies of “Grease” in my lifetime. I own zero now. I probably sold the DVDs at some point while taking care of my long line of Kenickies.

That’s OK. I can recite the movie by heart because I was incredibly obsessed with it as a child, teenager, young adult and quarter-life crisis adult.

Not obsessed in that weird theater kid way, though. The songs were fine but I didn’t, like, have the “Grease” soundtrack in every room of the house and I don’t know the sock hop dance number.

In hindsight (because who can pick this up about themselves as a kid?) what I really liked about “Grease” was the Pink Ladies and the different ways they were girls.

Grease_Pink-Ladies_Cheerleaders

Rebellious friends running the halls of Rydell, the Pink Ladies gave me a unique place to consider the different ways to be feminine, to be a girl.

I was never interested in Sandy except that her story was what introduced me to all these other interesting people. That was probably because her life was too unattainable for a redhead with bad teeth. Girls like me didn’t get boys like Danny Zuko.

Also, as I got older, I realized Sandy was the type of girl who would bitch to the sluttiest friend she had about her all-encompassing fear of being labeled a slut for making out with a strange guy the night before when said slutty friend has just told her about fucking a strange guy the night before. Ugh.

Sandy Two-Shoes

When I was very young, I enjoyed Frenchy (who was totally the prettiest, right?). The Frenchy actress was on the Thomas the Tank Engine show in the ‘90s and I also watched it all the time. Kids’ interests are so associative.

But Frenchy was dumb. And I was not. So I always just felt for her like I would a best friend (she would have been a good one… flipping off those other cheerleaders… thanks, French).

Frenchy

Marty Maraschino, like the cherry, was eh. She was desperate with a leechy personality built on soggy expectations but redeemed herself in the final scene when she shows Sandy how to smoke a cigarette supa dupa sexay.

cherry

My girl for the longest time was Rizzo.

I always liked the leading lady’s best friend because that’s who I was in real life. One quarter good looking, three quarters personality/ possible mental health issue.

rizzo

Rizzo was all vulnerability haphazardly masked in sexual rage. Tough stuff on the outside but a total kid when the going got tough, when the sex and problems got real. She was such a wannabe hardass.

Now that I could relate to.

But for all her flaws Rizzo would never give up who she was for a Danny Zuko type. Plus, who wanted a dude like Zuko? A guy who would change his personality at the drop of the hat like that? (Oh, yes, the Lackluster from Down Under, that’s who.)

I always crushed on Kenickie.

Yeah. I’ll take that Hallmark card, thank you very much.

kenicke hickey

Kenickie was wild and raw and scared of all the right things and handled them in all the wrong ways.

I loved it. And I loved Rizzo for loving it. That kind of attraction I could understand. Not the we-met-at-the-beach and-hung-out-for-two-days-and-shall-now-be-in-love-for-ev-er shtick.

White doves still poop orange slime.

I have a feeling the writers really liked Rizzo, too, or at least understood how dynamic of a character she was. Who did the movie pan to when the Principal McGee said on the final morning announcements that someone in the school might one day be the next Eleanor Roosevelt?

Rizzo, bitch!

Now… who are we missing… what was her name…

Jan.

jan

Oh, Jan. If you say Jan was your favorite Pink Lady you’re lying. Or you played her in your high school’s version of the musical.

Google search “Jan +Pink Ladies” and only the first three links are actually related to the character. The Google image search results for the same prompt don’t have ANY images of her or the movie.

That’s too bad. Here’s why.

If you did, indeed, play Jan in your high school’s version of “Grease,” you were probably the fifth best person who tried out for Sandy. However, if “Grease” were made today, Jan would be the main character, portrayed by Zooey Deschanel or Lizzy Caplan.

Her name would probably still be Jan.

Jan is super “awkward” in “Grease.” But because “awkwardness” had decades yet to become an attractive attribute of which to aspire–“Awkward” is like a nice, ironic wine–Jan is just a secondary character. Her quirkiness is evident but not gratuitous; her trashiness endearing.

Eating Twinkies with a dessert wine after nailing the impression of a hygienic cartoon beaver? That is manic pixie dream girl gold to film writers today! That scene could just be the trailer for the next Zach Braff movie.

Jan totally would be an example of 1970s’ manic pixie dream girls if not for the fact that, since no one back then appreciated the kind of character on screen, they couldn’t, didn’t sensationalize her. So we viewers are treated to sweet baby Grease-us’ funniest little diamond in the rough without her baking cupcakes and dancing in the rain and referencing great pieces of literature or partaking in hokey singalongs.

Well, I guess there were hokey singalongs.

The manic pixie dream girl thing seems over. It and the anchor-tatted mermaid it rode in on have been identified and thus become predictable, outdated. But Jan in this modern day context is a fun thing to consider on one’s 500th viewing of the movie.

I thought about Jan, briefly, after I watched “Gravity” this weekend. Sandra Bullock plays mission specialist (read: not a full-time astronaut) Dr. Ryan Stone. Stone is stranded in space after her crew’s mission gets bombarded by space debris and alien poop.

OK, not alien poop.

The last hour of the movie, basically, is just Bullock/ Stone trying to survive. Without giving away too many character developments, it struck me afterward–once I came back to earth (buh dum chi) from the pure visual and sonic joyride “Gravity” whips you around on–that it was interesting that the movie followed a female astronaut.

Having a man save himself seems like a more obvious writing choice, especially in 1) a major blockbuster and 2) a movie about space. Everyone knows girls don’t like science!

Sexual tension between Bullock and co-star George Clooney is nill. Refreshing.

Dr. Stone’s sadness, of which we learn about in the most unclumsy of ways, stems from a very human, universal experience of loss, one both a man and a woman could feel. Her trauma is not related to a sexual relationship with a man. Refreshing.

“Gravity” is also not a Girl Power promo piece. No one and nothing preaches “I’M… YEAH ME OVER HERE!… YEAH, I’M AN ASTRONAUT… AN ASTRONAUT WITH A VAGINA!!!!!!!” It’s just an awe-some human story told with a woman. Gender held no gravitas. Say it with me: Refreshing.

I love the dual role fictional characters’ lives, stories, worlds play. When done well they are at once the greatest of escapes but agents for social, cultural change. They help you forget about yourself for a few hours but, if you’re willing to listen, reveal parts of your person previously unearthed.

Even Sandy.

One thought to “An ode to the forgotten Pink Lady”

  1. I really loved this! Good work! “The different ways to be girls.” Now I’m studying “The different ways to be a woman”–and I’m 60 years old! I’ve been a loner for the last 8 years; for my 60th b’day present to myself, I signed up for a 3 day art retreat in Md. Just got back and am still high from it (“hold on.. to the feelin’!”) Some of us can just BE. Some of us are forever looking for clues HOW TO BE. Crazy, huh? Love! Peace out.

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