Saturday Night Fever (1977): Neoliberalism and Rape Culture

In the iconic opening scene of  “Saturday Night Fever” Tony Manero, a 19-year-old Italian American from Bay Ridge played by a young John Travolta, is walking under the elevated railroad in Bensonhurst. He checks out a pair of shoes in a store window, puts a white silk shirt on layaway, and buys two slices of pizza. He also engages in some low level sexual harassment. Seeing an attractive woman in a tight dress, he doubles back, blocks her path, and propositions her. She rolls her eyes, walks around him, and continues on her way. We forget about it almost as soon as its over, dismissing it as just another example of boys being boys.

While it was marketed as part of the “Disco” culture of the mid-1970s,Saturday Night Fever is actually much closer to Bruce Springsteen’s songs about the fall of white, working class America than it is to the dance craze that started in black and Hispanic gay nightclubs and later moved to the mainstream. We are, in 1977, at a very key moment in American history, three years before the election of Ronald Reagan. Vietnam and the draft are over. The easy sex and drugs that were the “privilege” of the upper-middle-class in the 1960s have been thoroughly democratized, available to anybody with 20 or 30 dollars to spend at a local nightclub. Yet what appears on the surface to be “liberation” is actually the crackup of the last vestiges of the New Deal, the final burst of decadent hedonism before the neoliberal hammer came down in the 1980s.

Tony Manero, as it turns out, isn’t particularly interested in sex. The least favored son, the black sheep of a Catholic family in Bay Ridge Brooklyn, he lives with his younger sister, his unemployed and verbally abusive father, his elderly grandmother, and his harsh, angry but pious mother. Tony’s father, a nasty little soul killer of a man, is an unemployed construction worker. “You got a 4 dollar raise,” he says, dismissing Tony’s good news that his boss at his dead end job at a local paint store actually values him as an employee. “Four dollars buys nothing these days. It doesn’t even buy three dollars.” Tony’s mother, in turn, has little respect for her handsome charismatic younger son, openly favoring his dull, plain older brother, “Father Frank Jr.”

Father Frank Jr., however, clearly lacks a vocation. When he returns home, and announces that he plans to leave the priesthood, his parents are devastated. They blame Tony, who’s naturally curious about the genuine reason his brother is leaving the clergy. It’s too bad the Father Frank Jr. character isn’t given more development. “She’s afraid I’m going to say celibacy,” he says, giving us a hint as to why Tony is the family scapegoat, his manhood. Frank Jr., as a celibate Catholic priest, has been unsexed. No longer a real man, he’s no threat to his mother, who’s shown suffocating in her unhappy, oppressive marriage. “Maybe I’ll get a job,” she says, provoking an angry tirade from her husband, who accuses her of taking advantage of his the temporary loss of patriarchal authority that comes with being unemployed. Tony’s sexual charisma is a constant reminder of the hell that she was dragged into by getting married and having three children. She hates him because he makes her remember the squandered promise of her own youth.

A scapegoat and a black sheep at home, Tony is a valued employee at his dead end job. His boss genuinely likes him. He’s a natural at customer service, but where he really shines is on the dance floor of a local disco, 2001. A talented dancer, he’s also a sex object. If Tony later becomes a rapist, it’s not because he lacks the opportunity to get laid. Annette, a chubby, emotionally needy friend, follows him around so relentlessly that, if the gender roles were reversed, it would border on sexual harassment. “Kiss me,” a drunken, horny woman demands, coming up out of nowhere and grabbing his shoulder. “Are you as good in bed as you are on that dance floor?” a young Fran Drescher asks him practically begging him to take her home. She gets nothing for her trouble but snide verbal abuse passing itself off as witty banter.

But it’s not sex Tony wants.

Dancing for Tony Manero isn’t way to get laid. It’s a way to get respect. However superficial and downright ridiculous disco dancing is, it’s something he’s good at. The women hitting on him are only a distraction. As such, the one woman he falls in love with is the one woman he can’t have. Stephanie McDonald, played by a far from beautiful or charismatic Karen Lynn Gorney, is a 20-year-old version of his mother, a verbally abusive shrew who responds to his advances by telling him that “he’s a loser on the way to nowhere.”

But the unpleasant, unhappy, verbally abusive Stephanie, who, as we later find out, is in an exploitative relationship with an older man in Manhattan is, like Tony, a talented, if untrained dancer. Stephanie may be a bitch who makes an outward show of despising him, but as long as he’s with her, Tony can fool himself into thinking disco dancing is more than just a ritual you go through to get laid. By convincing her to become his partner in 2001’s yearly dance contest, he can imagine that disco dancing is a craft, something that will eventually bring him into the meritocracy.

Stephanie is more than just an unhappy young woman. She’s a willing little sheep in corporate America. A typist at a public relations firm in New York, and a ridiculous parody of a striver and a class climber, she spends most of her time name dropping, and mispronouncing, the famous clients who come into her office. She’s contemptuous of working-class Brooklyn, utterly loyal to and identified with the corporate neoliberal, new world order about to be imposed on New York City in the 1980s. Solidarity is a foreign concept. Tony Manero is a threat, someone who might pull her back down into Bay Ridge, into an unhappy, poverty ridden working class marriage. Stephanie realizes, deep down inside, that by dating Tony she will become Tony’s mother. That she’s already well on the way there eludes Tony completely. He’s as much of a willing sheep, ready for the neoliberal sheering as she is.

For all its marketing as the movie that embodied the disco craze of the 1970s, Saturday Night Fever is a clear eyed indictment of the sexual revolution. Dancing, for Tony, is freedom, the pantomime of sexuality the liberation from his repressed Catholic mother. But sex in the world of Saturday Night Fever becomes petty and mean spirited when it stops being a pantomime of sex and starts becoming actual sex. It’s a ten minute hump in the back of an old Chevy Impala, utterly lacking in Eros or a sense of romance. But it’s even worse. The sexual liberation of the 1960s has become the pump and dump rape culture of the 1970s.

Indeed, Tony despises the women who desire him sexually. Disco, as you may remember, started out in the gay black nightclubs of Manhattan. It was supposed to remain a pantomime, not to become a mating ritual. It wasn’t supposed to lead to marriage. In the gay world, Tony Manero wouldn’t have been working in a paint shop. He would have found a Robert Mapplethorpe to turn him into an icon, a rich sugar daddy to pay the bills and set him up in the Village. But Tony is heterosexual, and, as such, he realizes the absurdity of his predicament. His entire life is dedicated to marketing himself to women he doesn’t want, to putting himself in a position where he could fall in love, get married, have children, and, inevitably, become his father, the one thing, above all, that he fears.

I’ve always been fairly dismissive of the term “rape culture,” which, according to Wikipedia “is a concept that links rape and sexual violence to the culture of a society, and in which prevalent attitudes and practices normalize, excuse, tolerate, and even condone rape.” Yet, after watching Saturday Night Fever all the way through after many years, I can’t help but think that the “Second Wave Feminists” who invented the term back in the 1970s might have been on to something. It’s difficult to watch this film without thinking that it both critiques and in a way embodies the “rape culture.”

If rape is part of an actual “rape culture,” and not just a depraved act of a depraved individual, the rape culture has to be mainstream. It has to include normal men, and men who are downright sympathetic, not just the convenient feminist villain, the ugly man who complains about how “women don’t like nice guys.” Tony is not only sympathetic, he becomes a rapist at his finest moment. After he and Stephanie take first place in the dance contest, beating out a far better Puerto Rican couple, he realizes the contest was rigged. So he declines the award.

“You deserve this more than I do,” he says handing them the trophy and the prize money.

It’s a rather stunning moment for a 19-year-old working class boy from Bay Ridge. Yet, it’s exactly at that moment that he turns nihilistic. He’s lost the one thing he values. There’s no meritocracy in the nightlife of 1970s Bay Ridge, only cronyism and racism. When Stephanie protests that they were as good as the Puerto Rican couple, he grabs her and leads her out to the car. There’s nothing sexual about it. The attempted rape doesn’t flow out of lust but out of contempt. Tony looks more like parent dragging a toddler off to be spanked than a rejected suitor. She fights him off and runs away, but the worse is yet to come. Annette, the girl he rejected earlier, has spent most of the night drinking and taking drugs. She’s a ready victim for Tony’s destructively macho friends, who gang rape her in the back of their car while Tony, after making a half-hearted attempt to interfere, watches passively.

“You don’t give a fuck about her,” one of the rapists says.

Horrifyingly, Tony agrees with him. She’s not worth it. He like Stephanie, has become a striver and a class climber. Annette, the plain, overweight working-class girl from Brooklyn, isn’t valuable. She doesn’t have a high enough price on the market in the coming neoliberal world order to defend.

“Are you satisfied now?” he says as she sobs in pain and humiliation. “Now you’re a cunt.”

Stephanie McDonald, on the other hand, represents Manhattan (this was before Brooklyn was cool). She represents upward mobility. So he gets on the R-train and rides up to the Upper West Side to apologize. “You’re a known rapist,” she tells him, but then lets him into her apartment anyway. Stephanie, like Annette, has accepted her place in the rape culture, although, to be fair, she only knows about Tony’s halfhearted sexual assault, not the brutal gang rape that followed.

Once inside Stephanie’s apartment —- Oh for the days when a job as an administrative assistant would get you a duplex on the Upper West Side — Tony promises to “work on himself.” He vows to put the backward sexual morality of working-class Brooklyn behind him, and become an enlightened citizen of the meritocracy. He and Stephanie sit on the ledge by the window.

“Do you think you can be friends with a girl?” she asks.

Tony expresses some doubt. He also agrees to try. It’s clear they won’t just stay friends, that they will get married and become a carbon copy of Tony’s parents. The 1960s are over at last. The sexual revolution has failed. As the sun comes up, the young couple lean against each other, preparing themselves for Ronald Reagan, AIDs, and the long, miserable 30 year neoliberal hangover.

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27 comments

  1. vikingbitch · · Reply

    Reblogged this on vikingbitch's Blog and commented:
    I often talk about the beat down that Working White Women get here in FUSA now Amurkistan. Middle class and working class White Women get it from all directions: Jews hates, DieVersity hates us,Upper Echelon Jew Think Whites hates, and our own male peers hate us. We have been dealt a raw deal due to the Neoliberal Era’s commodification of people.

    This blogger gives insight via his analysis of Saturday Night Fever into how Neoliberalism tore away at the basic decency and mores of Working White relationships.

  2. Stanley,
    Please accept the apologies of a small group of people who coined the term Blonde Gynocide. The blogger Vikingbitch is presently cybersquatting in our concept and worse, impersonating at least one of us. We come from NYC and NJ, and created the concept to highlight *the truth* about issues of race, gender, class, etc. facing white women, and men too, especially as they pertain to our hometowns and state.

    Hopefully legal measures will force this person to desist from her appropriations of others’ property and identities. Interesting article, sorry there isn’t more we could say about your insightful analysis at the present time.

    1. I actually find it a bit odd that this review drew your attention because (except for the scene where Tony recognizes that the dance contest is rigged) Saturday Fever has very little to do with race.

      1. Are you addressing that to VikingBitch?
        She has the habit of barging into people’s blogs, and lives, with zero regard for their concerns or interests.

        1. Anybody really.

          I’m just curious. Besides, I only filter for spam. Any argument about a film I write about, whoever it’s from, interests me. So you really can’t “barge into” my blog. It’s an open forum.

      2. Well, what would you do, Stanley, if someone went around NYC/NJ pretending on the internet to be you? Wouldn’t you want to set the record straight? This is why Vikingbitch’s bizarre appropriation (it gets worse than that) of someone else’s meme for her URL needed clarifying.

        On the other hand, it’s odd that you think race, class and gender are somehow indivisible. They aren’t.

        Personally, I don’t remember the scene where Annette was actually raped. Was she inebriated? Or did they actually use brute force/the threat? How horrible that it didn’t register as ‘rape’ back then.

        It is admirable that you as a skeptical man attempt to deconstruct what is a very real ‘rape culture.’ It’s also interesting that you locate its etiology in the 70’s. Another angle on it is that America hates women in a way our European predecessors never did. Ever lived in Europe? Study Brazilian history? Frontier countries (Australia included) tend to produce American caricatures of our former European selves.

        The fact is, the 70’s ‘grew’ the rape culture exponentially, but it’s roots and underpinnings have always been here.

  3. And Stanley, it’s odd that you don’t find Vikingbitch offensive. You state in your ‘About’ page that you ‘loathe anti-Semites,’ and have no time for racists and misogynists.

    1. I get that vibe from her, but I don’t know her well enough to make a decision. I’ve glanced at her blog. Seems offensive and racist. But as long as her comments and reblogs are on topic I’m not going to police her ideology.

  4. Hey, do you remember LABIA at RU – Lesbians and Bisexuals in Action?!

    1. I remember the acronym, but never had any contact with them.

  5. As for appropriation of online identities, bizarrely enough, I’ve had it happen to me. Some Ukrainian (probably phishers) bought an old domain I used to run, and they are indeed “pretending to be me,” right up to putting my old content up on their site.

    But I let the domain lapse, so what can you do? Wait for Putin to dismember Ukraine and put them in prison, I guess. If someone is appropriating your identity online, I’d have to know more about her before I out and out block her. Keeping track of various anonymous identities online is a full time job.

    Race and class are related but not identical. Saturday Night Fever deals with class and ethnicity, but peripherally. It’s not clear just what the message is. Tony Manero’s not really very Italian, but identifies as one. His family seems to define themselves more by religion than nationality. What I find genuinely interesting is how he becomes a rapist after he realizes the dance contest is a racist little bubble designed to protect him and his fellow white ethnics against the Hispanics.

    Dubbed in Spanish but you can see Tony’s emotions in his face. He’s like “we got beat.” But the judges give him the trophy anyway. He has too much integrity for his white privilege. But 5 minutes later he tries to rape Stephanie in the car. At the exact moment where he recognizes his white privilege, he becomes a nihilist. Self awareness or even political awareness doesn’t mean solidarity.

    The scene where Annette gets raped is brutally clear. It’s your basic gang rape, set up to parallel Tony’s attempted rape of Stephanie. Tony, sympathetic though he is, attempts one rape, and stands by and watches a second. And yet in the 1970s he was an icon. That’s really what you need to define “rape culture,” normal, even sympathetic men as rapists, not trolls who pull women into alleys, or nerd gamers who can’t get laid. Saturday Night Fever does indeed show a genuine “rape culture.” How much it reflected the reality of 1970s Brooklyn, I wouldn’t be able to say. It was before my time. But if “rape culture” exists (and if you read the news what happened to Annette in the back seat of a car in Bay Ridge also happens to women at Princeton eating clubs) it looks like it does in this film.

    As for Americans being more misogynistic than Europeans, that’s a pretty broad statement. I guess you’d have to begin by specifying which Europeans and which Americans.

    1. Have you ever lived in Europe? Certainly countries like France, England, and the other german and celtic countries exhibit far less misogyny systemically than the US, *in certain ways,* anyway. But there’s an avenue in America for the lucky woman with the will to power; it’s not a common one that opens. And, the consequences can be more severe when it doesn’t. Our rugged individualism and coincident capitalism account for this, but I think the frontier itself also created a Wild West with extreme attitudes towards women.

      I’d just have to watch this movie again to comment on the gang rape. You haven’t elucidated on whether brute force was used. I do remember Annette as both a victim of them and of her own willingness to be a victim (I was a kid but watched it later). Tony I remember as being pretty Italian in that the whole context was; how many WASP’s or ‘whitey’ types do you see amongst Tony’s set? John Travolta is half Italian and half Irish, BTW, and comes from Englewood, NJ (or some town right around there).

      You’ve hit on a very interesting pivot and psychological process in the character and story, but I’d have to find it and watch again to engage the dynamics meaningfully. I’ve been meaning to sign up for Netflix…

      I’m not really that surprised you’re being impersonated, or is it your content they’re trying to appropriate more than just your identity? Vikingbitch has a criminal conviction for theft by deception/false impression, but I doubt she’ll be back to trash the truth about the blonde gynocide concept any further.

      Raging Bull comes to mind when talking about Italians, blondes, Brooklyn and complexity, as opposed to what’s often simplistic dynamics surrounding the ‘anglo’ types and meds in NJ/NYC. Both Jake and his blonde girlfriend were caricatures, in a way, but both were sort of equal and real, too, in that dimension. Scorsese had more authenticity when he was younger, I think. His portrayal of LaMotta was painfully honest. His films about the irish have suffered mostly from his unwillingness to cast real irish people in the leads. Shutter Island, however, out in 2009 or 2010, exposed how influenced he’s been by the anti-white posture of Hollywood; every evil and/or crazy sociopathic character is a blonde ‘nordic’ type, while every hero is a Mediterranean. The end crashed horribly due to this Italian self-indulgence, and I’ll come out and say he has absolutely given in to jewish anti-white influence. He may also want to dump the Nazi’s alleged crimes on the germans wholly as a means of vitiating Italian agency in the whole production.

      So, are you all polish, Stanley, or part something else too? Are you jewish in there anywhere?

      1. Polish is a nationality. Jewish is a religion.

        There *were* a lot of Polish Jews, weren’t there? The idea that “Polish” means Catholic and excludes “Jewish” is paradoxicially both anti-Semitic and Zionist. It buys into the Zionist myth that East European Jews were descended from the original Israelites. It buys into the fascist myth that Jews can’t be real Europeans.

        It speaks to the complex side of Polish history that was destroyed by Hitler and Stalin. In the 1920s and 1930s, the de Gaulle-like Józef Piłsudski considered Jews to be genuine Poles. The fascist Roman Dmowski didn’t. Piłsudski later became a dictator, but at one time, he supported a basic “separation of church and state.” Interestingly enough, Roman Dmowski, like a lot of American and British Stalinists today, didn’t consider “Ukrainian” to be a “real nationality.” Timothy Snyder, problematic in his own right, talks about it in his book The Reconstruction of Nations.

        http://books.google.com/books?id=xSpEynLxJ1MC&hl=en

        As for me, I call myself an “ethnic New Jerseyite.” I was raised Protestant, but grew up on the Irish/Italian side of a mostly black town. I’m waiting for Springsteen to write a song about me. There are real “Polish Americans” in Linden. I have no more in common with them than I do with the WASPs in Westfield and Summit.

        Late Scorsese? I haven’t seen Shutter Island. I have written about Wolf of Wall Street. Leonardo DiCaprio is a mostly German American actor with an Italian name. In Wolf of Wall Street he plays an Anglo Saxonized Jew who mocks his friend Donnie Azoff for trying to “pass” for a WASP. Scorsese, like any real artist, is complex. I’m sure somebody, somewhere thinks Wolf of Wall Street is “anti-Semitic.” Some other people think it’s fundamentally Catholic. I think it’s a commentary on 100% American materialism.

        https://stanleyrogouski.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/the-wolf-of-wall-street-stanley-w-rogouskis-review/

        I don’t really see much of an anti-Irish or “anti-Nordic” bias in Scorsese’s films. Henry Hill is probably the sanest person in Goodfellas, and he’s half Irish. Tommy DeVito, who’s pure Sicilian, is a nut. Scorsese casts casts Liam Neeson as an Irish priest in Gangs of New York. Robert De Niro is mostly Irish and he casts him in all sorts of roles. He casts Willem Defoe (a WASP) as Jesus and Harvey Keitel (a Jew) as Judas. Then he flips the script and makes Judas the most sympathetic character in the film.

        I wouldn’t get too hung up on the ethnicity of Scorsese’s actors anyway. Like most “auteurs” he tends to work with the same actors over and over again, Deniro, Daniel Day Lewis, Harvey Keitel, Joe Pesci. You find a group of actors you like to work with and stay with them. There were a lot of great Italian and Jewish actors in the 1970s. He would have been a fool not to have used them.

        Scorsese’s most underappreciated film, The King of Comedy, casts the mostly Irish Deniro as the probably Jewish Rupert Pumpkin. It’s a work of genius. Its ethnic biases? Your guess is as good as mine. I suppose you might even call it anti-Jewish. Jerry Lewis is a loathsome character. Then again, his assistant, Cathy Long, is equally loathsome, and in a very WASP fashion.

        https://stanleyrogouski.wordpress.com/2014/05/01/the-king-of-comedy-1983/

        There are *no* WASPS in Saturday Night Fever except for *maybe* Stephanie’s boyfriend in Manhattan. On the other hand, it was directed by an English director, John Badham, and is obviously influenced by an English novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saturday_Night_and_Sunday_Morning

        Tony Manero is “Italian” but Italian in the way most Italian Americans are, not very. I never hear him speak Italian. His grandmother does. I think the point the film was trying to make is that the American working class had gotten stuck in small, insular communities that were in the process of cracking up. It’s incredibly pessimistic. Stephanie thinks she can get out of working class Bay Ridge by working as a temp administrative assistant. She’s wannabe yuppie. She doesn’t care if the dance contest is rigged. Tony does. He actually goes out and rejects the whole Italian American bubble, and, just for a moment, makes common cause with the Puerto Ricans. Tony recognizes that his little white ethnic, working-class bubble isn’t worth protecting at the cost of his own integrity.

        But his fatal flaw is his misogyny.

        Annette gets punished for being sexually aggressive. She pursues Tony. He not only rejects her, he “gives” her to his brutish friends. He watches while they rape her in the back of the car and listens to her crying for help. But is he a villain? Not at all. He lives inside a “rape culture.” Rapists, in Saturday Night Fever, aren’t villains are psychopaths. They’re either ordinary working class men, like Tony’s friends, or they’re outright sympathetic, like Tony. The film indicts all of working-class Brooklyn.

        Tony is a misogynist because everybody in his world is a misogynist.

  6. Definitely try watching Katyn, the polish film about the Katyn massacres during WWII, if you haven’t yet. It’s got subtitles but even for anyone uneasy with them it’s an amazing story. Since I’m not polish I don’t have all that much to say on how one would define it, although the notion that ‘irish’ could somehow be reduced to a ‘nationality’ as opposed to an ethnicity seems bizarre and distortionist, even delusional. There were natives to Ireland, England, Sweden etc. It seems sort of fascist to try to claim otherwise.

    Rape culture is really capitalism, IMO. I don’t think that makes everyone in one a misogynist, though.

    1. I’ve seen Katyn. Not one of Wajda’s best films, but I suppose a needed corrective to the historical record in Eastern Europe. He’s had an interesting career.

      In his first film he was still a Stalinist.

      https://stanleyrogouski.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/a-generation-1954/

      His greatest film is loaded with the tension between the need to get by the Polish censors and the need to make an honest movie.

      https://stanleyrogouski.wordpress.com/2014/03/02/ashes-and-diamonds-1958/

      By the 1970s and 1980s, he’s an anti-communist but still making interesting films.

      https://stanleyrogouski.wordpress.com/2014/03/11/danton-1983/

      I may write about Katyn, but I’ll probably write about Man of Marble and Man of Iron first.

      The “Irish” of course are a nationality, one of many “Celtic” peoples. Would you put them in the same category as the lowland Scots (also Celts) or the French in Brittany (also Celts)? The Russians and Poles are both Slavs. Russian and Polish are nationalities. Confuse them at your peril. The Irish and the Scots are both Celts. Don’t confuse them either.

      I want to write about Balzac’s The Chouans, where he deals with that very issue.

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Chouans

      In 1800, the Celts in Western France might have been more Celtic than French. I suppose Bretagne nationalism (unlike Irish nationalism) is pretty much gone. Napoleon drafted their nationalist leaders and sent them to Russia. But it’s not “fascism” that assimilated Brittany into France or the Scots into Great Britain. It’s not even fascism that genocided the Irish in 1847. It’s the good old fashioned capitalist nation state, the same reason I’m an American (or “North American” as you would say in the Spanish speaking world).

      “Fascism” I might argue, is Vladimir Putin trying to establish Russian hegemony over all Slavs. The Poles are a western, Catholic Slavic nation. The Russians and Ukrainians are Eastern Slavic nations. The 19th Century concept of all Slavs having this mystical unity became one of the building blocks of fascism. It gave us the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and was probably partly to blame for Stalinism.

  7. Arianwen Everett · · Reply

    Finally someone else who recognizes the neoliberal subtext in Saturday Night Fever. I thought I was the only Although, your analysis went far beyond mine and has really bummed me out.

    It had never occurred to me that Tony and Stephanie would ultimately get sucked into the condescending, class climbng world of the 80’s. I’d always assumed that Tony’s growth in the film would insulate him in the years to come. Stephanie might come close to joining the ranks of the judgmental yuppies, but Tony was a seeker, looking to find a new way of reordering his life now that the old way had fallen apart, and he would shield Stephanie from the excesses as their friendship grew over time. Throwing in your comments on how rape culture and the financialization of human worth intersect with Stephanie and Annette as examples of high value and low value in the sexual marketplace, I’m beginning to think you might be right. The two rape scenes weren’t merely melodrama born of lazy storytelling, but an integral demonstration of Tony’s replacing one distorted version of living in the world with another. There was no redemption to Tony Manero. He didn’t grow as a human being.

    While you made me think, you also ruined this movie for me. At least I still got the music and the excellent choreography.

    1. Tony’s rejection of his “white privilege” was a mark in his favor. His failure to come to Annette’s rescue is as bad as what Clerici did in The Conformist.

      Oddly enough, it was my grandmother who explained all of this to me back when I was 12 years old.The less said about the Saturday Night Fever sequel, probably the better.

  8. […] to frame my review of The Omen (which got linked by the biggest newspaper n New Jersey) and my review of Saturday Night Fever (which was one of the first things I wrote for this blog, way back when it was called “Pair […]

  9. […] only a great “bad” movie. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the world of the late 1970s. Saturday Night Fever, which was released a few months later, showed the dark side of a democratized … Smokey and the Bandit was a lot more optimistic. Where Tony Manero and his thuggish friends in […]

  10. […] by spending, spending and more spending. I was informed by many who were of age during this era that the 1980s was the most reactionary as the Establishment set to undo all of the social progress made in the […]

  11. Eric Kay · · Reply

    Amazing writing, thank you!. I found this critique after searching “Saturday Night Fever is fucked up,” but you describe it much more eloquently and I love the class analysis. I am 31 and I watched this movie because it seemed iconic and I had a sense that I was missing on on something culturally significant, historic–that image you describe of John Travolta pointing in his whige suit seems to be in my brain since birth. But this was no feel-good precursor to Grease that I can sing along to on family car ride without feeling nauseated.

    1. Thanks. It’s one of the most underrated films of the 1970s, although very dark.

      It’s almost hard to believe anybody couples it with Grease. Aside from Travolta they have very little in common.

  12. […] that Tony Manero was the 19-year-old Italian American disco king played by John Travolta in the 1978 classic Saturday Night Fever. Saturday Night Fever, as I have previously argued, was not only an international blockbuster that […]

  13. I enjoyed your analysis, thank you. This movie, particularly the illustration of rape being an accepted act with little or no consequence to the offender, shows me that American society has been fucked up for a long time. However when you package it in great music, awesome dance moves, and beautiful white people, it is seen as a masterpiece. Shit it made John Travolta a star and cultural icon. America the beautiful.

  14. I didn’t consider Anette to be overweight but the gang rape scene was truly the darkest and most disturbing scenes I’ve ever seen in a film, particularly considering the fact that it was passively witnessed by a protag who had a fairly happy ending. And I thought my generation’s rape culture was ground breaking.

    1. Yes. It’s one of the most disturbing rape scenes in film, partly because the rapists aren’t presented as monsters, but just as ordinary men who don’t even realize they’re rapists.

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