A Feminist Critique of Rocky Horror Picture Show
"Just a jump to the left. . ."
Rhetorical analyses are a crucial part of understanding how the rhetor has impacted an audience. That being said, feminist criticism may look into how marginalized groups have been impacted by a rhetor. When reviewing the following research question: How do rhetors construct ways of being that are independent of accepted and conventional norms; we are able to further analyze the rhetor’s approach to creating a safe and understanding space for marginalized groups in an otherwise intolerant society. Being able to criticize an artifact using this question will allow readers to better grasp the idea of what it is like to be in a marginalized group and how to not only tolerate individuals but accept and embrace their unique qualities and what they bring to our society as a whole. This analysis will explore how Rocky Horror Picture Show dismantles the hegemonic ideology through generating multiple perspectives, reframing, and juxtaposing incongruities as feminist strategies of disruption.
The Artifact and Context
The Rocky Horror Picture Show started as a failed small theatre production, however, in the latter half of 1975, it was turned into a major motion picture (“TRHPS”, 2003). Rocky Horror has become a beloved movie and theatre performance for queer and outward thinking people alike.The picture show is self categorized as a science-fiction, double feature. It is the story of Dr. Frank N. Furter, a “sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania.” The first time we see Frank N. Furter, we find him in his lab trying to create the perfect man to love. Meanwhile, Brad and Janet get lost while driving and end up at Frank N. Furter’s castle, where they meet an array of unique characters. Brad and Janet are coerced into dancing and singing a variety of musical numbers, such as, “Time Warp”, “Hot Patootie”, and “Touch-A, Touch-A. . .” with each song they learn more about the individuals who inhabit the castle, and simultaneously become more frightened, while also relaxing their high strung personalities. This picture show is sure to entertain through horror, seduction, and taboo subjects.
The Method of Analysis
At first glance, countless individuals may have the misconception that feminism is only for women, and their rights. However, this is not the case at all. Feminism has several definitions throughout the ideology. However, the most relatable to this analysis is total equality, no matter your race, gender, religion, sex, etc. Using feminist criticism in a rhetorical analysis includes artifacts that may further define or achieve that goal. That being said, Rocky Horror did not intentionally choose to fight in the battle for equality. It simply showed the “taboo”, at that time it was LGBT individuals and their stereotypical actions. Rocky Horror directly disrupts hegemonic structures and ideologies. This is done through the feminist criticism strategies of disruption, these strategies take hegemonic viewpoints, and flips them to show a new way of thinking, in order to define how rhetors construct ways of being that are independent of accepted and conventional norms (“Feminist Criticism” 141).
The Analysis Through Strategies of Disruption
Generating Multiple Perspectives
Rocky Horror generates multiple perspectives in the morals and ideology of the characters throughout the film. The underlying theme of the picture show is to experience pleasure. One perspective being in the characters of Brad Majors and Janet Weiss who are recently engaged. They are a young and conservative couple who believe in tradition. They believe in marriage, between a man and a woman, as well as saving themselves until marriage. Their attitudes are shown in the song “Damn It, Janet”. In this song, it is to be assumed that they are both excited to be married so they can have sex, but only after they are married.
On the other hand, the people of the castle are the complete opposite, giving a more liberal perspective. Their mantra is ‘give into pleasure’. They believe in doing what they want because life is about being happy. The song “Time Warp” tells the audience about the fantasy that is to be expected while in the castle. Through this song, the castle dwellers are warning Brad and Janet, that after this experience, they will never be the same. The citizens of the castle prove to be independent of accepted and conventional normalities throughout the film.
Rocky Horror Picture Show reframes the view on experiencing pleasure during the song “Touch-A, Touch-A…”. Because they are not yet married, Brad and Janet are separated into different rooms to sleep. Rocky, Frank N. Furter’s build-a-boy, wanders into Janet’s room and seduces her. Janet realizes that it’s not a terrible feeling to give in to pleasure, she enjoys it and even begs Rocky for more. During the same song in Brad’s room, Frank N. Furter disguises his voice to sound like Janet’s and begins to seduce Brad. As soon as Brad experiences pleasure, Frank N. Furter reveals himself. Brad realizes he is having homosexual relations. Brad’s character has a harder time evolving into a pleasure-seeking individual. He fights it because he was raised to believe differently. He is the embodiment of conservative traditions throughout the movie. On the other hand, Frank N. Furter is the embodiment of a pleasure-seeking individual. He wants to feel pleasure all the time. At the end of the motion picture he sings a song including the phrase “don’t dream it, be it”. Embodying these stereotypical characters, allows the audience to understand the politics of the artifact, and clearly see the two ends of the spectrum.
Rocky Horror uses the strategy of juxtaposing incongruities, which is the use of “oxymorons” in an artifact. Frank N. Furter sings a song called “Sweet Transvestite” to introduce himself. One line says, “I’m just a sweet transvestite. From Transexual, Transylvania.” To people that share beliefs with Brad Majors and Janet Weiss, ‘sweet’ and ‘transvestite’ are not used in the same sentence. The artifact continues to show its independence from conventional norms through this song and strategy. To Brad and Janet, transvestite might be proceeded by the words ‘disgusting’ or ‘abomination’, but Frank N. Furter owns who he is through his personality and self-confidence.
Another attempt at juxtaposing incongruities that viewers may notice is the fact that Janet Weiss is this conservative woman who is in many ways pure and innocent but gives in to the pleasurable experience she has with Rocky almost too quickly. It is as though the floodgates were bursting and the only thing keeping them shut was the lack of temptation. Rocky lays a finger on Janet and she has completely given in. This allows the audience to understand that Janet is a walking oxymoron, and she has easily given up on the accepted and conventional normalities of society.
Contribution to Rhetorical Analysis
Rhetorically analyzing The Rocky Horror Picture Show through a feminist criticism using multiple perspectives, reframing, and juxtaposing incongruities as our strategies of disruption will contribute to rhetorical theory allowing audience and rhetors to be inclusive. A feminist criticism does not need to focus on women, it can focus on the marginalized groups and the fight for their freedoms and need for space. Through Rocky Horror, a queer space has been created and developed a sense of community to all audience members. To go to a midnight movie showing of Rocky Horror Picture Show, and feel the energy of the audience chanting and singing along would be a dream come true, possibly creating an even deeper connection between the artifact and the people attached to it. If only one other person sees Rocky Horror it will make a huge contribution to rhetorical theory, allowing that individual to be themself and feel acceptance.
“Feminist Criticism.” Rhetorical Criticism: Exploration and Practice, by Sonja K. Foss, Waveland Press, 2018, pp. 141–178.
Sharman, Jim, director. The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment F1-SGB-3216301040, 1975.
“TRHPS Official Fan Site: History: Production Notes.” The Rocky Horror Picture Show: The Official Fan Site!, 2003, www.rockyhorror.com/history/productionnotes.php.