Too pure to be pink

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Do you remember your first crush? Our writers take a potentially embarrassing trip down memory lane to relive the joy and pain of their first loves.

Memories of my time at primary school are limited, given their fairly unexceptional, suburban nature. But there’s one particular incident that has stayed with me, since it involved what to this day remains one of the worst put downs I’ve ever been on the receiving end of. 

Assembled with a group of fellow nine year-olds one lunch time, the playground conversation had turned from what I can only imagine was the relative merits of Live and Kicking versus SMTV, to an imaginary school production of Grease. Which character would each of us play, we wondered?

Daisy – a Regina George in-the-making who possessed a level of confidence I can only assume came from the early onset of her period, and the subsequent prepubescent revere of her unsullied peers – wasted no time in dolling out her casting choices. She, of course, would be Sandy – the perfect blonde made famous by a baby-faced Olivia Newton-John. As her attention turned to me, I pondered the inevitably mean-spirited assessment to come. Perhaps it would be Jan, whose bugs bunny teeth would make her a cruel but fair choice, given my pre-brace state? Or Frenchie, the well-meaning but unlucky member of the gang who becomes nothing but a Beauty School Drop Out?

As it turned out, I was sadly mistaken on both counts. I can still see the fake smile now, as she delivered what she knew to be a subtle yet cutting line: “Sian, I think you’d be…Patty Simcox.”

Patty “let’s hear it for the toilet paper” Simcox? Patty the simpering, prissy, puke-inducing cheerleader? A girl so straitlaced she makes even Sandy, lousy with virginity, look positively filthy?

While this certainly wasn’t intended as a compliment, I don’t think Daisy realised quite how devastating an effect her words would have. Because you see, for someone who grew up singing along to the Grease soundtrack on cassette, who had watched the VHS so many times she had even the “shoobop sha wadda wadda yippity boom de boom” lyrics down pat, there was only ever one character worth playing.

Betty Rizzo, the no-nonsense leader of the Pink Ladies, is sassy, unapologetic, and spends most of the film delivering zingy one-liners even Daisy wouldn’t have had a hope of matching. Despite my tender years – when the implications of Danny Zuko singing about his car being a “real pussy wagon” passed me right on by – I knew only a fool would want to play Sandy.

In a film not exactly renowned for its progressive representation of women, Rizzo is a kick-ass, sexually liberated revelation. Don’t get me wrong; it’s not Sandy’s innocence that bothers me, more that she is the very epitome of passivity – getting her man only after she’s discarded her full skirts and self-autonomy in favour of the skin-tight catsuit and power perm an earlier ‘Sandra-dee’ would have been horrified by.

As she mopes around in her nightie singing about just how “Hopelessly Devoted” she is to the slick-haired, slippery character that is Danny Zuko, Rizzo demonstrates quite the reverse. She’s already shimmied down the drainpipe, declaring: “You goody goodies are too much for me. I’m gonna get my kicks, while I’m still young enough to get ’em.”

During my earlier viewings, though, before I recognised these arguably feminist credentials, what drew me to Rizzo is a term that remains just as intangible as ever. You see, the thing is, she’s just so damn cool. The zero-fucks-given attitude, the lack of time she has for the likes of goody goody Patty Simcox, the way she replies to Kenicky’s “Oh bite the weanie Riz” with a mischievous: “With relish…”.

If Riz had been around to wade into the debate over Labour’s female-friendly pink bus earlier this year, I don’t think anyone could have argued with the leader of the Pink Ladies over the colour’s credentials as an emblem of power.

Like any worthy crush, though. there’s more to Rizzo than what first meets the eye. One of her best moments comes as she reveals an unexpectedly softer side; and while it’s no showy, choreographed number, her singing There are Worse Things I Could Do also happens to be by far one of Grease‘s musical highlights. Pacing the grounds of Rydell High, school books clutched to her chest, the customary simmering defiance as she sings,  “There are worse things I could do, than go with a boy or two…” gives way to the admission that “I can feel and I can cry…I fact I’ll bet you never knew”. All of a sudden you realise that Pink Lady or not, Rizzo is truly vulnerable.

Fast forward to the end of the film, and we see the school principal delivering a farewell speech on the gang’s last day of high school. “Among you”, she ponders, “There may be a future Eleanor Roosevelt, or Rosemary Clooney”, At this moment, who could the camera pan to but Rizzo who – for all her cynicism – has eyes lit up with thoughts of the future.

Daisy had clearly decided that I was ‘Too pure to be pink.” And while Rizzo may well have agreed, she’ll still forever be my first crush.


Image credit: shayshayallday via Compfight

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