The Beauty of Rocky Horror Picture Show

Mag Blanchard, Reporter

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This is the first article in a series called “The Beauty Of”, where cult classics of any genre and medium will be explained and their history in the eyes of their audiences examined. In short, I will be explaining what people see in pieces of media that don’t have as wide-reaching of an audience as others.

Alert! This contains spoilers for Rocky Horror Picture Show. It also contains LGBTQ topics.

A raunchy musical released in 1975, The Rocky Horror Picture Show is well known and held dear specifically by the Baby Boomer generation, their children, theatre kids, and the LGBTQ community. But why is it that this movie is equally enjoyed by my gay friends and my somewhat conservative Christian grandfather? Well, for starters, it’s an absolute banger, but we can actually go a lot deeper than that.

As with all articles in this series, this will indeed contain some necessary spoilers as I try to explain the admittedly hard-to-follow plot. It opens, as any good film should, with a lone pair of full, red lips over a black background singing about classic sci-fi films. Over the course of the musical, there are a total of four and a half deaths, about six specifically “romantic” scenes, and one strangely alluring Tim Curry as the cross-dressing star of the show: Dr. Frank N. Furter. And on the topic of big names, Meat Loaf plays a motorcycle-riding, saxophone-playing rock star who sweeps a member of the tragic Dr. Furter’s entourage off her feet. Unfortunately for him, he subsequently can’t seem to keep his head away from ice-picks. In the midst of this all are Brad and Janet: a straight-laced and terrified young couple who were engaged only hours earlier. They now find themselves somewhere that Janet herself dubs “unhealthy” and “unnatural” before getting distracted by the magnificent muscles covering Frank’s Creation: the movie’s eponymous character, Rocky.

I realize that I did not actually explain any actual plot points in that entire paragraph, but I really don’t think it would help. One of the movie’s problems is just how convoluted it is. I only figured out the entire storyline after a third watch, and even then there’s things that don’t make much sense. However, it should also be very telling that even with this being the case, I was able to sit through those three watches and enjoy myself. I think that at this point, total, I’ve seen the movie six or seven times. It’s close to my heart personally for a number of reasons: for starters, I was named after one of the characters. About three of the times I’ve watched it have been with the girlfriend, and as I said before, it is an ABSOLUTE BANGER. I cannot stress enough how easy it is to jam out to these songs. One in particular has some language that is a little problematic in this day and age, which is another issue with the musical as a whole.

Rocky Horror is very gay and fantastic, but it was also made in 1975. There’s one song called Sweet Transvestite which honestly isn’t that bad of a term, but it also contains the word “transexual” which isn’t entirely liked in the trans community. Some in more conservative circles actually refer to themselves as that, but especially in the younger crowd people are not very into it. At the time, however, it was completely fine; and actually people recognize that when they talk about Rocky Horror. I’ve never really met anyone who has much of a problem with the lyrics, or at least not enough to avoid singing them.

Another issue related to this is how a lot of the characters seem to be portrayed. Or, I guess, Frank N. Furter more specifically. The name should immediately clue you into what kind of person he is, and if that doesn’t everything else will. Objectively, he is a sex addict with few boundaries. At the time this movie was made, and even now in some ways, that is how gay people were seen. There are really two ways to watch the movie: with Brad and Janet(The Heterosexuals) as the tragic heroes, or as Dr. Frank N. Furter as the tragic hero. It’s fairly objective that the latter is the case, especially taking the ending into mind, but that has not stopped people from seeing the movie from a completely different perspective. This is where my Christian grandfather comes in. So, as I said, my parents named me after a character in this musical. They did it for rebellious going-against-the-conservatives reasons. I’m pretty sure my mom and dad actually met at a showing of Rocky Horror. For those who don’t know, Rocky Horror in its natural state is… a chaotic experience. The typical ways people will view it are either actual live shows of it, or the movie will be played on a screen while people in costume sort of unofficially act in front of it while the audience sings and shouts pre-determined phrases at key points of the movie, sometimes throwing toilet paper or snapping rubber gloves or spraying the people in front of them with water guns. It’s all very organized, but individually and in a completely disorganized way. If it’s your first viewing, a huge red “V” is drawn on your head and you (consensually!) do a bunch of weird embarrassing stuff. So basically, it’s the perfect place to meet someone. Anyways, when I brought the movie up to my grandfather I was entirely expecting him to just sort of grumble about it in the same way he does when he sees talk about trans people on the tv. This is the man who, when I dyed my hair rainbow colors the June before last, said to me, “You’re not… one of those, are you?”. So you can imagine my surprise when he just started singing the chorus to Time Warp. The man who just sort of awkwardly responded with “,,,Ah,,,” when I told him I was more into girls than boys was eagerly singing lyrics from the most homosexual musical I have ever seen with my two eyes. If there was ever a time for me to re-examine the movie, it was right then. 

After a re-watch with my girlfriend (for research reasons) I concluded that the music was still supremely jammin’. I will never get tired of those saxophones, that electric guitar, that full chorus. Unfortunately, I also had to conclude that I could understand why my grandfather liked it. It fed into what he and many others thought of the LGBTQ community. It reinforced stereotypes of malicious sexual deviancy and predatory gay men. However, it was also one of the first times queer people saw themselves on a movie screen. It was really empowering for a lot of young gay people at that time, and even with all of its flaws, it has been completely reclaimed. The only thing we refuse to reclaim is the 2016 Fox remake. There’s something rather unfortunate about casting a trans woman as a male-aligned cross-dresser.