January 11, 2013

"Where No Valley Girl Has Gone Before: Embracing the Xenosexual in Earth Girls Are Easy" by Nicole Steinberg

Sometimes I consider the cultural artifacts of the 1980s and I marvel at how utterly bizarre they were. (ALF, anyone?) I also look at the stars of these movies and TV shows and find myself amazed that some have gone on to become Hollywood's most revered figureheads. Take Jeff Goldblum, for instance; this gangly Jewish guy shouldn't be appealing, yet his oddball characteristics have propelled him to stardom: his massive ears; the slow cadence of his voice; the way his expressive hands yank truthbombs from the ether as he foreshadows all the bad shit about to go down. If you take a trip down memory lane to the '80s, most people remember his role in renowned date movie The Fly (Google image search it if you want nightmares for a week). But as far as I'm concerned, you haven't lived until you've seen Goldblum and his Fly co-star Geena Davis reunite in one of their later ventures: the wacky, candy-colored, sometimes vapid, and surprisingly feminist '80s flick Earth Girls Are Easy.

Starring Davis as Valerie, an airhead stylist from the Valley, and Goldblum as Mac, the furry alien who crashes his spaceship in her pool, Earth Girls Are Easy can't decide what kind of movie it wants to be and so, it tries its absolute damnedest to be three movies at once. It's rom-com meets musical meets sci-fi. Otherworldly creatures get makeovers and the cast erupts into occasional song-and-dance numbers about dumb blondes and the men who love them. Also featuring a pre-In Living Color Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans, bringing their best elasticized faces and herky-jerky movements to spacemen roles, and Julie Brown, whose career never peaked beyond the maybe-lesbian gym teacher in Clueless, every nanosecond screams 1989. The Valley is unironically described as "the baddest place on Earth" and Valerie's fiancé moans upon spotting his computer, destroyed with a bowling ball in a fit of Val's vengeance: "They said the Commodore would stand up to anything!" In terms of cultural references, Earth Girls Are Easy is totally dated—a relic of a time when Southern California was the center of the universe and life revolved around pop music, Ronald Reagan, nail art…and okay, maybe things haven't changed all that much. But in a strange and rather depressing twist, the film is also dated due to how openly sex-positive it is.

Like a lot of media made in the '80s, Earth Girls Are Easy is a movie that would never get greenlighted today. Sure, the plot is fairly standard by chick flick measures: We follow the story of a beautiful, well-meaning protagonist and her douche canoe of a significant other, who can't seem to keep it in his pants except when it comes to the woman he's meant to love and marry. The cheater is therefore the villain and we're meant to boo him when he strays from his intended. Also, Val's best friend Candy Pink (Brown) thinks that the trick to keeping the guy in check is to buff, wax, and style her to such an extent that she looks like a completely different person—not exactly an empowering message for the ladies, but one that we see quite often. However, the movie is an outlier in the pantheon of Hollywood chick flicks because it depicts women as people who actually like to have sex. The coital act is not an afterthought that happens once the screen goes black. Not only does Valerie engage in hot, steamy sex with her alien lover, but there's also a good amount of footage dedicated to how magical and—excuse the pun—out of this world the experience is. Val and Mac share tender Technicolor nirvana set to ethereal music as their bodies writhe and entwine. The morning after, Val reaches to her bed stand for birth control—a thing we're still objecting to, 24 years later!—and pops six or seven pills for good measure. (You can never be too careful with extraterrestrial sperm.)

Beyond the moment of penetration, the film is packed with sex-positive moments, in which women are out for pleasure and take it where they can get it. Instead of being envious of Val's engagement and her fancy doctor fiancé, her friends pity her because they find out she hasn't had sex in two whole weeks, heaven forbid. A group of girls fights over the alien Wiploc (Carrey) when they see him extend his tongue to superhuman lengths to reach the cherry at the bottom of his cocktail glass. Damon Wayans' Zeebo engages in a dance-off with a Gene Kelly-meets-Prince type to win a woman's affections and she replies with, "I don't care; I'll dance with both of you!" Get it, girl! Even Brown's musical number, "'Cause I'm a Blonde," is a moment of female empowerment. Candy Pink prances all over the beach, unapologetically squealing over how her looks get her ahead in life, without an ounce of shame, and no one questions it. We get our share of raunchy jokes as well—Val's fiancé standing with his stethoscope dangling between his legs and Mac's spaceship disappearing through the hole in a donut-shaped asteroid before the end credits—but what's most striking, in the Bride Wars-loving, slut-shaming world we seem to have found ourselves in these days, is Earth Girls Are Easy's overall message that sex is fun and fun is something worth pursuing.

Of course, depending on where you're coming from, it's not all good times and sexual liberation. My first draft of this essay included the question, "If Geena Davis can't keep a man interested with that sick body and has to look off-planet to find Mr. Right, what hope do the rest of us have?" But I'm going to be optimistic instead and declare her character a trailblazer. In the face of lousy prospects here on Earth, she opts for Jeff Goldblum and his array of xenosexual talents, and ends up going where no woman has gone before. Ms. Davis, I salute you. Please let me know if there's an extra seat on that spaceship.

Nicole Steinberg is the editor of Forgotten Borough: Writers Come to Terms with Queens (SUNY Press, 2011) and the author of the chapbook Birds of Tokyo (dancing girl press, 2011). Her poetry has appeared in journals such as BOMB, No Tell Motel, H_NGM_N, Barrow Street, Barrelhouse, Gulf Coast, RealPoetik, Moonshot, and elsewhere. She's the founder of Earshot, a New York reading series for emerging writers, and she currently lives in Philadelphia.

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