This past weekend I rented Better Off Dead, one of my Top 10 favorite movies and a classic teen film from the 1980s.
"I want my two dollars!"
"Two brothers. One speaks no English, the other learned English from watching The Wide World of Sports. So you tell me, which is better: speaking no English at all, or speaking Howard Cosell?"
"I know it's bacon. What have you done to it?"
"You said you didn't like all the grease from fried bacon, so I boiled it."
And on and on and on. The movie didn't find much success at the box office when it came out in 1985, but it developed a cult following shortly after. I can remember watching it on cable in the late '80s and then spending an entire summer quoting the lines with my friend Brandon. The movie is beloved by pretty much everyone, except, it seems, the star, John Cusack. According to director Steve Holland, Cusack hated the movie when it came out and accused Holland of ruining his career. Far from it.
But there is one scene that bothers me. It's set in the school cafeteria, as Lane deals with a heartbreaking breakup from his girlfriend, Beth, who dumped him for the evil ski captain, the perfectly named Roy Stalin. To get over Beth, Lane attempts to pick up another hot girl from school. He fails miserably and in the process, gets beaten up by the basketball team. What bothers me? The basketball players are wearing their uniforms in the cafeteria, during school hours!
Here's the clip with the basketball team. The cagers make their cafeteria appearance about halfway through the clip. They actually carry basketballs with them to lunch, which I don't think even Pistol Pete did when he was a kid. The ogres don't speak, instead choosing to communicate through a series of grunts and groans that are apparently understood by all. If the guys can't talk to each other at the lunch table, how are they going to call out screens on the court? I bet they were weak on the defensive end.
The object of Lane's affections, Chris, dates "the whole basketball team." Not just one guy, but the whole team. And who knows if dates should also be in air quotes when referring to her relationship with the starting five.
I played high school basketball. Not once did I run around school in our blue or gray uniform and I certainly didn't sit down for a lunch while wearing high tops and shorts.
There are also several people skating around the cafeteria, including Chris the cheerleader. Anyone ever roller-skate through a school cafeteria while carrying a tray filled with pizza burgers and butter sandwiches. Has anyone ever seen this? I certainly didn't. Then again, I did go home for lunch each day starting in the sixth grade, so there's a chance I missed the skating-and-basketball-jersey-wearing underworld at Janesville-Waldorf-Pemberton.
Like the no-name team in Better Off Dead, we wore the short shorts, although most of us had the smarts to sport bicycle pants underneath the uniform. The school didn't keep the short shorts much longer. The standard longer bottoms came to JWP in 1996 and the team made the first state tournament appearance in school history that season. Coincidence?
Better off Dead wasn't the only teen classic from the '80s that portrayed high school athletes as evil warriors hell-bent on destroying any nerd in sight. In Can't Buy Me Love, it's the baseball team. And, once again, we see the team at its most evil during lunch. Not only are they dressed and ready for a game of pepper, but someone on the team actually brought a bat with them, which Ronald uses in a fit of range when he defends his buddy against the star pitcher. So the school district was not only okay with the baseball team ruining the jerseys by wearing them for eight hours, but also had no issue with students carrying wooden weapons around class all day.
Again, I played baseball. Not once did I run around the school in spikes and stirrups. What possible reason would the baseball team - or basketball team in Better off Dead - have for wearing their unis during school hours? Did the school not have adequate locker rooms? Were the players shy and dressed at home? What did the student-athletes do during phy ed class, change into phy ed clothes and then back into the baseball or basketball uniform? Did the baseball coach also wear his uni during the day? Did he teach math while adjusting himself and giving signs? Did the baseball guys wear cups? And why the baseball and basketball teams? Sure, there are some jerks who play those sports and some bullies, but are there that many tough guys who intimidate other students? To fulfill the stereotype, shouldn't it have been the football team or wrestling team running roughshod through the cafeterias? They could have sacked a geek or slammed a dweeb, all while wearing shoulder pads or singlets.
Which uniform is more impractical? Which ones look more ridiculous? I think it's the basketball outfit for both. Walking around with the basketball shorts, there's a chance that someone could come along and depants a player, although if the team rules the school with an iron fist - like it does in Better off Dead - certainly no one would dare take that chance. Even today, when players would actually be wearing shorts that completely cover their genitals, they'd have to be self-conscious while wandering around the halls in their basketball uniform.
At most schools, players or their girlfriends will often wear their football jerseys around school, usually on gameday. But they don't have football pants on and, unless it's for some type of dangerous medical condition, no one's sitting in science class while wearing a helmet and facemask.
No one is scared of basketball players. And they're even less intimidated by baseball players. Then again, the main bad guy in Better off Dead is a skiing star so, compared to him, maybe the basketball players are tough guys.
In fact, guys dressed up in baseball uniforms are always weaklings, even when they're gang members. In The Warriors, the main gang gets chased by a group of thugs called the Baseball Furies. Awesome name (wonder if they have a T-shirt?). Better uniforms.
But what happens? The Furies get their asses kicked, disgracing the family name. The lesson? Baseball teams - whether wearing face paint and running through New York City or when when crammed into ill-fitting uniforms while seated at lunch tables - don't exactly instill fear when cast as the villain. But at least they're not wearing short-shorts.