Thursday, January 19, 2017

Goonies never say die!

The movie, The Goonies was released in 1985. The summer between my 7th and 8th grade years, so I guess you could say that it was my middle school movie. Like several other movies of that era, whether it be Pretty in Pink (1985), The Breakfast Club (1985) or Revenge of the Nerds (1984), stereotypes of teenagers were the building blocks that so many stories were built on. It seems that stereotypes, which by definition, oversimplified characters, was a vehicle to set up the premise of the movie, only to reveal later that maybe everyone is a little more complex than initially presented.  The Goonies,  was no exception, although it is interesting how middle school and high school age characters are put together in this movie, highlighting the difference between the expectations of the two groups. The film is ultimately a story about a rag- tag group of "losers" in a small coastal town in Oregon, who pull together to find a treasure that will allow them to solve all their problems, only to realize that the journey itself reveals who they truly are. 
Mikey, the main character and his band of middle school friends are faced with an adult dilemma that threatens their group cohesiveness. Mikey's house is under foreclosure and he and his family will have to move if they cannot pay off the bank. Mikey, " the optimist" and "true believer" is a middle school kid who still believes is some of the fairytales of his youth. In contrast to his older brother Brand, who is jaded and has a firmer grasp on the reality that his mom is facing, Mikey is not ready to let go of childhood dreams and one of those dreams is... treasure! The film leans hard into Mikey's optimism and seems to suggest that if he is able to hold on to some of his childlike beliefs, he will grow into a full grow hero and a better version of a teenager. Indeed, perhaps it is already within him despite his age as implied by the scene where his is mistakenly kissed by Andy, the cheerleader, who is impressed by his liplock technique. 
Another character who has some abilities that are largely unappreciated until they literally save the day, is Data. Data is a caricature of a caricature in some ways as his character embodies just about every Asian stereotype of that era- fast talking, funny accent, over the top facial expressions, technology and gadgets tied to his body and obliviousness to how ridiculous he looks. Beyond the unfortunate Asian stereotypes, Data represents the middle school kid who is a bit socially awkward and does not yet care about his appearance or his image. He comes off as "nerdy" because he does not hide his intelligence or curiosity. He may struggle with small talk and is still pretty inwardly focused in that he may be unaware of how he is perceived all the time, but still wants to be helpful or useful to others. He reminds us of the shift that middle school kids will make from being focused on themselves to being aware of others. Data is useful to the team because of his inventions and intelligence. His bravery is also revealed in the film in some of the more perilous scenes as he tries to get the team out of the "booby traps" set by the pirate to protect his treasure.  
Chunk is a character who is revealed to be brave in a different way. A "chunky" or fat kid with curly hair and a mole, Chunk is loud, brash and uses humor as a way to beat people to the punch when it comes to his weight. Middle School kids are in transition physically and Chunk represents all those kids who put on the weight, only to shoot up in height and become proportional again. Interestingly enough, the actor who played Chunk went on to college and was a student leader, an RA on his floor. By that time he was a very normal looking college guy who had no problem seeing the  humor in his former self and used the movie to bond with his floor. What is revealed about Chunk's character is that despite his "clown" image, he is capable of great empathy and is able to see beyond external appearances as he does with the villian's younger (but giant-like) brother, the grotesque looking "Sloth." Chunk is able to win this"gentle giant" over with friendship and inclusion into his group of "Goonies." His winning over and acceptance of "Sloth" creates an ally that is key in overthrowing the villains. 

Mikey is a hero, Data is brave and Chunk is a great friend are the takeaways from the movie. They a joined by several other characters who also fit into neat stereotypes until the search for treasure reveals their inner treasure- the cheerleader who finds her voice, the older brother who rediscovers his bond with his brother, the mouthy kid who finds a girlfriend who is just as mouthy as he is and several more.  In thinking about the character that I would most identify with at that age, there is a little of all of them in my story, but I think that Mikey, the main protagonist, would embody the most of what I was about at that time. I distinctly remember thinking of myself as striving to be "friends with everyone", an optimist and in search of authenticity. Part of me was nostalgic for my childhood adventures and I felt the tension of what I was "supposed" to care about as a new "teenager" and what I really did care about. Unique to my story was that, for the last half of my 7th grade year, I had the opportunity to live in Honduras with my best friend's family, who were doing a one year mission as a family at a Hospital. After six months of living in a different culture with a radically different standard of living, not to mention police corruption and other threats, I came back to the states to the summer of 1985. "We are the World" and Madonna's "Material Girl" were at the top of the charts. Music videos on MTV were repeated multiple times a day and teenage "Mall culture" was at an all time high. I had such culture shock, even though I had not been gone that long. I had to reconcile what I had seen in a third world culture with the bright and bizarre pop culture I was now immersed in as I returned to Junior High in the States. Like Mikey, I desperately wanted to believe in hidden treasure that would help my world make sense. Something optimistic that would reveal that I could move forward without losing my authentic self. The search of that "authentic self" that you refuse to be embarrassed by, is what it means to me to be a "Goonie." That is the ultimate peer group where anyone can feel like they belong.

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