1976: An American Underdog Story
This is the scene in Rocky where Rocky walks Adrian to his place after their sweet first date at the ice rink, where he paid the Zamboni driver ten bucks to let them skate for ten minutes. It’s late at night, and the streets are empty. Standing outside his apartment, Rocky brags that in all his years of boxing, no one has ever broken his nose. Lots of guys threw punches and slapped at him, he says, and mimes a punches towards Adrian. She flinches.
Rocky tries to get Adrian to come inside. She says no. He wants to show her these exotic animals he has (turtles that she sold him at the pet shop where she works). Adrian says no. Rocky says he has to go to the bathroom (it’s a base need she’s depriving him of, see?) and she still says no. Adrian tells him she has to go. He asks her if his is a face she can trust, but it’s not really a question, it’s a statement: Okay, so I beat guys up for the mob for a living, when I’m not beating guys up in the ring, but you can trust me.
Rocky walks into his apartment, leaving Adrian on the sidewalk in a really shitty part of North Philly. So she follows him. Once inside his messy one room apartment, Rocky takes off his sweater, revealing his beefy musculature. Adrian stands awkwardly by the mattress Rocky uses for a punching bag, stuffing bursting from its battered seams. He tells Adrian to come sit on the couch next to him, but she doesn’t. He tells her two more times. He tells her to relax.
This would all be easier if you’d just relax.
Adrian says she wants to call her brother and tell him where she is. Rocky yells out the window “Yo, Paulie, Your sister’s with me!” Ha, ha, you want to call your brother, see what I just did? He walks towards Adrian and grabs a pipe overheard, so he’s literarily looming over her. He asks her what the problem is. Doesn’t she like him?
Don’t you like me?
Adrian tells him twice that she doesn’t feel comfortable. Adrian also twice says that she doesn’t know him well enough to be alone with him in his apartment. Adrian tells Rocky she doesn’t feel comfortable and has to go. She walks to the door, and Rocky puts one hand on the door, one hand on the wall, trapping Adrian in the corner. Rocky asks Adrian to do him a favor and take off her glasses. He doesn’t let her decide for herself if that’s what she wants, and removes them from her face. He tells her she has nice eyes. He wants her to do him another favor, to take of her wool cap. Her strips it from her. “I always knew you was pretty,” he says.
You know, if you’d just let him remake you.
Rocky tells Adrian wants to kiss her. He tells her she doesn’t have to kiss him back, but he’s going to kiss her. Adrian really has no choice in the matter, since the only way out of that corner is through Rocky’s muscles.
Listen, I don’t care if you enjoy this or even want it—you can just be still—but it’s what I want.
Rocky kisses Adrian and she doesn’t kiss back at first. Then she gives in, the passion takes over, and they slump to the floor of Rocky’s shitty apartment, where they presumably have sex. The next time we see them together Adrian is giddy that Rocky called her his girlfriend on TV. Adrian marries Rocky, almost dies having his baby, stands by him through every dangerous boxing match he endures, and ultimately she dies of cancer, an angel. A martyr.
1979: A Fair Tale Romance
This is the scene on General Hospital when Luke and Laura are alone in the Campus Disco after it has closed. Luke works for a local mobster who has ordered him to kill a dangerous rival. Luke knows if he does it, he’ll be a marked man. But if he doesn’t, his own boss will rub him out. He tells Laura he loves her, that she’s all he ever thinks about. Laura is married to Scotty Baldwin, and tells Luke she doesn’t want anyone but Scotty. Luke tells her it tears him up inside, imagining her sleeping in the same bed as her husband.
Laura tells Luke she only sees him as a friend. He drops the needle on a Herb Alpert record. Horns moan, red and blue colored lights flash from the periphery, the music and lights merging into one. Luke tells Laura he doesn’t want to be her friend. “Look what you’ve done to me!” he yells.
It’s Laura’s fault, this state he’s in: drunk, scared, impassioned and angry.
Luke says he can’t die without holding her, and tells her to dance with him. Laura says no. He repeats his command, grabbing Laura’s hand and pulling her towards him. Laura tells him she has to go. He pushes his lips into her neck. Laura asks him to let her call a taxi, please. Laura tells Luke he’s frightening her. She again says no.
Luke grabs Laura’s wrists and kisses her hard. Laura says, “No! let me go!” He pulls Laura to the floor. She says NO
The camera twirls around the disco, landing on the colored lights mounted in the corner, the only witnesses to what is happening on the floor. Then the camera pans away from the lights, and back to Luke. He’s standing above Laura, his shirt unbuttoned. Laura is curled up in a ball on the floor crying. Her clothes ripped. Laura runs out the door. Luke picks up her abandoned sweater from the floor. “Oh my god,” he says. “What have I done?” Luke falls to his knees and cries.
Within six months, Laura realizes she’s in love with Luke. She writes him a letter telling him so, and, to make a really long story short, they run away together and have all sorts of crazy, romantic adventures. Luke and Laura become daytime soap’s first super couple, sending General Hospital’s ratings soaring. In November of 1981, they married in an elaborate outdoor wedding watched by thirty million viewers. “The Ultimate TV Wedding,” it was called. “A Fairy Tale.” When Anthony Geary, who played Luke, arrived at fan events, women carried signs and wore t-shirts saying, “Rape me, Luke!” They shouted it after him. They walked up to him on the street. One woman after another.
Rape me, Luke, rape me.
1979: An Irreverent Misfit Comedy
This is the scene in Meatballs where Tripper (played by Bill Murry) and Roxanne (Kate Lynch) are working on the camp activity schedule alone in a cabin. Tripper comes up behind Roxanne and looks down her blouse, telling her he can see everything. She moves away quickly and asks what’s wrong with him. He makes a deadpan joke that falls, well, dead. Then Tripper says, “Let’s wrestle!”
Roxanne says, “Let’s not, okay Tripper?” He lunges towards her. Roxanne tries to run away. He grabs her from behind, pinning her arms against her body. In self-defense class, women learn to counteract this move by punching their elbows into the man’s torso, or kicking backwards into his shin. This is what we’re taught to do when a stranger attacks us when we’re alone at night. Roxanne says, “Let’s no do this,” and “Let’s stop right now,” each time adding on “Okay?” or “All right?”—as if she’s asking, not telling.
Tripper continues to leap and lurch, Roxanne continues to duck and run. Tripper suddenly falls to the floor, and Roxanne looks momentarily confused. He’s thrown her off her guard by playing opossum. He jumps up and grabs Roxanne around the waist. Tripper plops down on the couch, throwing Roxanne face down on his lap like he’s going to spank her. She yells NO. She says, Don’t do that! Roxanne struggles to escape, trying to crawl onto the floor. This particular position wasn’t covered in self defense class. Prone and pinned, your movements are limited. She yells NO
Tripper throws her on her back, and climbs on top of her. She holds her hands against his chest, and again says, “Let’s stop, okay?” Roxanne has now said some version of “no” or “stop” nine times in thirty-five seconds.
Roxanne tells Tripper to get off her immediately, or she’ll start screaming. Tripper doesn’t get off, so Roxanne screams for help. He screams to cover up Roxanne’s screams. Tripper rolls onto the floor and pulls Roxanne on top of him and starts yelling for help. Morty, the camp director, walks in, wanting to know what the hell is going on. Tripper pushes Roxanne off him, and runs to Morty, pretending to cry. He sobs and wails that Roxanne attacked him. Morty realizes this is ridiculous, yet also seems unaware or unconcerned for Roxanne’s safety.
The next time we see Tripper and Roxanne is at the camp dance. Tripper interrupts a conversation Roxanne and Morty are having, telling Morty he needs to talk to her alone. He pulls her onto the dance floor without asking. Roxanne doesn’t push him away or say no, and participates in the dancing. They are doing the same dance moves as Luke and Laura. He pulls her close to his chest. He twirls her out, he pulls her back in again. They exchange some Hepburn and Tracey-like banter, but with the clever factor of seventh graders. Tripper says, “Three years of this . . . I don’t think I have many lines left.”
He’s been doing this for three years. Three summers in a row.
Tripper suggest they go outside and get some air, and Roxanne says no. He stops dancing, and stands a respectable distance away from her. In a voice that’s the closest thing Bill Murray can come to sincerity, Tripper says, “Well, I’m tryin’.” Roxanne pauses, evaluates his lone moment of vulnerability. “So keep trying,” she says.
Keep it up, some day I will finally give in.
The next time we see Tripper and Roxanne together they have sex under the stars during a campout, and skinny dip in the lake by moonlight. By the end of the movie they’ve decided to move in together. All Tripper had to do to get the girl was try harder. He just had to keep pushing, long after she’d said no, no, no.
1983: A Comedy For and About Teens
This is the scene in Sixteen Candles when the perfect guy, the dreamboat, Jake, decides he’s over his blond, blue-eyed party girl girlfriend, Caroline. Jake is the perfect guy: He’s impossibly handsome, his parents are Rolls Royce-rich, he throws bitchin’ parties, and he’s deep. We know Jake is deep because as soon as he learns that freckled, not-popular sophomore Samantha has a crush on him, he wants her. He sees she has substance, and spends an entire bitchin’ party at his parents house trying to find her.
But Jake must get rid of Caroline so he can pursue Sam. By the end of the party Caroline is totally smashed, so he hands her off to a character called The Geek. The Geek could never get a girl like Caroline, not on his own, not if she was sober, so Jake magnanimously tells The Geek to take her home and do what he wants with her. “She’s so blitzed she won’t know the difference,” he says. “Have fun.” Jake even lends The Geek his parents’ Rolls Royce.
The next morning when Caroline regains consciousness in the Rolls Royce, the Geek asks her if they had sex. We’re not sure why he’s not sure, because at no point were we led to believe he was blackout-smashed. He was able to drive, after all. They decide they did have sex, and he asks Caroline if she enjoyed it. “You know,” Caroline says, smiling, “I have this weird feeling I did.”
It turns out the perfect guy did Caroline a favor, giving her black-out sex with a stranger.
1985: Young Adult Dramady
This is the scene in St. Elmo’s Fire where Bad Boy Billy (played by sexy Rob Lowe) and Bad Girl Jules (played by Sexy Demi Moore) are in her Jeep outside of the house he shares with his baby mama. It’s late at night, and Billy’s had too much to drink. The two flirt a little—it’s obvious they slept together sometime during their recent college years—and kiss in the Jeep. But Jules says, “Enough.”
“Says who?” Billy asks. Jules asserts that she says. He mocks her, that she has any authority to decide when to stop. Jules reiterates that she has this right. Billy suggests that she wouldn’t be able to say no if his cock was in her mouth. He thinks he’s being cute, seductive, irresistible, the idea that he could take away her ability to say no.
Jules says NO again, and tells him she’s serious. Billy grabs her keys out of the ignition and puts them down his pants. Jules demands them back, but he informs her she’ll have to come and get them. Jules hits him, grabs him, kicks him out of her Jeep so he’s on the cold, wet ground. And then she tells him with tears, “You break my heart.”
This experience is never mentioned again and, in the end, Billy is the one who saves Jules from her nervous breakdown. She’s lost her job, all furniture has been re-possessed, and the stepmother Jules thought she hated has died, and Jules suddenly realizes she cares. She shivering in her locked apartment with all the windows open, when Billy comes to her rescue. He tells Jules what she’s experiencing, what she’s feeling, isn’t real. This is all an illusion, he convinces her. Bad Boy Billy is the one saves Bad Girl Jules from herself.
This is the scene sometime—anytime—in the 1980’s, when a boy and a girl, a young man and a young woman, who know each other are alone together. He makes a move she doesn’t want him to make, and she says no. She says stop. She’s says I’m not comfortable. She says let me go. What does he hear when she says these words? What does he picture? Does he picture a triumphant underdog, a soap opera hero, an irreverent jokester, the perfect guy, the sexy bad boy who saves the girl in the end? Does he see sex or power or violation or love or a woman crying on the floor?
This is the scene the next day—and for years afterwards—when the girl, the young woman, the grown woman wonders “What happened that night?” He was a friend—wasn’t he? He was a good guy, right? I mean, everyone likes him. Maybe there’s something wrong with me. Maybe I gave him mixed signals. Maybe I didn’t say NO strong enough, often enough, loud enough. Maybe it was my fault. Maybe I take things too seriously. Maybe . . . it was no big deal.
Liz Prato‘s most recent book, “Volcanoes, Palm Trees, and Privilege: Essays on Hawai‘i (Overcup Press) was a 2019 New York Times Top Summer Read, and a finalist for the Oregon Book Award. She is also the author of “Baby’s on Fire: Stories” (Press 53), and editor of “The Night, and the Rain, and the River: 22 Stories” (Forest Avenue Press). Her work was named a Notable selection in Best American Essays and Best American Sports Writing 2018. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including River Teeth, Carolina Quarterly, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Salon, and Subtropics. She is Editor at Large for Forest Avenue Press.