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Friday, July 25, 2014

Revolutionary Politics in Heathers: An Analysis from Seriously Over-Thinking A Movie

I watched the excellent black comedy film 'Heathers' (1988) yesterday and as I am prone to do, I began over-thinking and hyper analyzing.

'Heathers' can be viewed as a political allegory. Charismatic and sociopathic leaders struggle for power in society while the bodies pile up. The ‘little’ are people merely pawns or victims to be used in the struggle for power.

I posted this thought on Twitter, and Matthew Peterson (@MightyKingCobra), responded with the following question. Followup questions resulted in expansion of the theory and this is largely what resulted with some refinements. I'd consider all this a work in progress, and will require subsequent viewings for additional support and/or refutation of any points made here.

Matthew: Whut?

The Heathers represent competing yet identical political factions, with Heather Chandler the dominant faction. The Heathers are the power elite of Westerberg High School (a microcosm of society at large) Heather Duke and Heather McNamara, as well as a few other ‘popular’ kids represent other factions of the power elite, allied with the dominant faction to control society. JD (portrayed by Christian Slater) arrives and represents a new, revolutionary faction with a disruptive agenda.

The factions all lie and manipulate others for the benefit of their vision of the 'proper' social order: The Heathers to uphold their stranglehold on that social order, JD to destroy that order. Veronica Sawyer represents the upper middle class. She is allied with the elite (Heathers) and is a beneficiary of their power. She is already disillusioned with the existing power structure and unsure of her place in it when she meets the revolutionary (JD). She becomes convinced of the corruption inherent in the system and she naively (and covertly) joins his side.

 Heather McNamara’s attempted suicide represents those elements of society that destroy themselves when the prevailing power structure begins to break down and they have no one to tell them what to do. Martha’s attempt represents the despair created by the machinations of the prevailing order, the way the power elite can crush, without regard, those considered beneath them.

The horror of what revolution represents gradually becomes evident to Veronica, but she also knows the current order cannot stand. After realizing the corruption of the elite can’t be reformed and the horrors of JD’s revolution, she re-aligns with the rest of the middle class in Betty, as well as ultimately the working class in Martha to create a third inclusive order, after the elite proves weakened, and the revolution destroys itself. As has happened historically in revolutions the Middle Class supplants the ruling class, and compromises with the revolution in the new order, to became the new power elite. Whether this becomes an equally corrupt structure among Veronica, Betty and Martha, is left to the viewer at the end of the film.

The relationships among Veronica, Betty and Martha are inherent in their names. The class distinction between Veronica and Betty are paralleled in their first names from Archie comics and their last names (Sawyer and Finn) from the works of Twain. In each instance the class distinction is present. Martha’s nickname is ‘Dumptruck’ and she is portrayed by way of her dress and demeanor as a person of the working class.

Matthew: Where do Kurt and Ram fit in?

Kurt and Ram, as members of the football team, were leading elite figures allied with the Heathers, representing the military/police (the enforcement arm of the established order). Every revolution must subvert and destroy key institutions emblematic of the prevailing social order. The staged circumstances of their deaths served JD’s 'revolution' by revealing these establishment goons as members of an easily maligned 'other,' in this case homosexuals in Reagan's America.

This event represents the power of propaganda in revolutionary politics to subvert institutions. They were also political pawns used by JD to further pull Veronica into the cause (her complicity in their murders), and immerse her into his revolution. They had to be eliminated as the prevailing physical (military) threat to JD, and he was also able to undermine their social institution (the ‘manly’ football team).

Matthew: So, let's discuss Pauline and the teacher's lounge sequences... 

Dunno, probably some baloney about academia’s role in society and how it perpetuates and is part of the corrupt power elite system. Since the school is a microcosm of society the teachers represent the ineffectual and clueless (government) leaders allegedly tasked with running things, while the unelected, shadowy, power elite (Heathers) are really pulling the strings within the culture. The teachers/principal are generally ignorant of what is actually going on, what the real problems and their causes are, and hence have no real solutions, but instead offer lots of platitudes and speeches that have no real world effects.

This commentary was originally a Facebook post, so there were an additional comment along with my response and additional thoughts.

Comment: Perhaps the teachers are NGOs like the United Nations or World Health Organization?

I see them more as the 'legitimate' power structure. The State, whose impotent actions coupled with their ignorance, prop up and allow the true powers (Heathers) to operate unchecked. Hence JDs ultimate desire to destroy the actual physical structure of 'the school' and ALL it housed, the state, the power elite, the entire sick culture. Veronica manages a compromise of power between the old way of the Heathers and JD's radical vision, with a 'Veronica' supplanting the remaining 'Heather' and creating her 'third way' power structure within the culture/society, but still outside the 'legitimate' (teachers/school) establishment structure. 

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