When was the last time you watched The Legend of Billie Jean? You may or may not know this about me, but I’m a pretty huge fan of 80s movies, and The Legend is one of the best ones ever made. Producers in the 80s weren’t afraid of far-fetched plots and silly concepts and, accordingly, they normally didn’t take themselves as seriously as the embarrassingly pretentious wankers who write most of the movies we see these days do. Even in their moments of seriousness, 80s movies manage to avoid seeming pretentious and still come off as silly entertainment for the most part. That’s why I watch movies, to be entertained. I don’t have time to sit around watching melodramatic nonsense written by some asshole in Silver Lake who thinks he’s had some emotion that’s so unique and important that he has to try to drag me down into his maudlin little world. If I’m getting on board with a screenwriter’s feelings, they have to be feelings I want to have, like righteous rebelliousness, mirth, or the general silliness produced by being involved in hijinks of some kind or another.
The Legend (I’m so into it I’ve given it a shortened title) does all of that for me. The movie starts out when some swaggering dickfore trashes Binx’s (played by Christian Slater) moped (!), and his sister Billie Jean goes to see the dude’s father, Pyatt, in hopes of getting him to pay for the damages, which would only be fair. Pyatt, played by the villainously mustachioed Richard Bradford, opts to forgo paying Billie Jean and instead decides to try to rape her. Billie Jean and Binx ain’t having none of that, though, and Binx shoots the old man in the arm and the pair tear off, amassing a gang of youthful pals and heading off into the sunset with them to live as outlaws until this iniquitous motherfucker decides to fork over the dough for Binx’s moped (!), which would only be fair. The rest of the movie revolves around the gang’s attempts to live on the lam without breaking the law, Billie Jean’s transformation into an idol for maltreated youngsters across the nation, and the judicious pairing of scenes of rebellious youths not taking any shit from authority figures with snippets of Pat Benatar’s “Invincible.”
Billie Jean starts off the movie a sweet young blond girl with a sense of right and wrong, but by the end she’s become a freedom fighter, as evidenced by her donning what looks like a wetsuit top, an angry haircut, and one ridiculously long earring. She has let go of her innocence and naivety and adopted a harder stance with regard to the injustices perpetrated against the impuissant by the likes of Pyatt and his dastardly son. Accordingly, she makes a video for distribution to media outlets in which she rails against the arrogance of men like Pyatt and pumps her fist in the air, yelling, “Fair is fair!” It’s almost impossible to watch because it’s so ridiculous and embarrassing, but that’s what makes it entertaining.
But it’s not just the awesomely awkward over-the-top depiction of 1985 teen angst that attracts me to The Legend; it’s also the feminist undertones in the story. Billie Jean doesn’t let herself become a victim, but instead takes charge of a situation in which the authorities have left her with no protection. She also doesn’t step back and allow some male character to defend her honor, but instead takes Pyatt on herself, all while also acting as the leader and protector of her entire gang of young brigands. It’s an awesome tale of female strength and resourcefulness. The entire movie revolves around badass women and thus offered young girls in the 1980s role models that differed wildly from Barbie. The movie even touched on the subject of menstruation, when one of Billie Jean’s gang, Putter (Yeardly Smith, who now does Lisa Simpson’s voice), has her first period while the gang is on the run. Binx makes fun of her and Billie Jean shuts him right up, telling him that menstruation is wondrous and beautiful. With a cast of characters who nearly all defy traditional gender roles and with a soundtrack dominated by Pat Benatar and Wendy O. Williams, The Legend of Billie Jean may just be one of the top feminist movies of the 80s. I say you watch it, think about how it compares to the depictions of teen girls in today’s movies, and ask yourself whether we’ve moved forward or backward.