On the surface, 1984’s Revenge Of The Nerds appears to be another entry in the slobs-vs.-snobs canon that dominated most comedies of the late ’70s and ’80s. But whereas most see it as another entry alongside films like Meatballs, Caddyshack, or Animal House, Rob Ager has a slightly different take on the film. Over on his site, Collative Learning, Ager offers up a much more detailed and sociopolitical analysis of the film than even its most ardent (and, well, nerdy) fans might have dreamt possible.
In 14 chapters clocking in at about 37 pages, Ager dissects the film’s merits and cultural legacy (not unlike The A.V. Club’s own A.A. Dowd did when he ran the series) but also looks deeper into some of the more troubling aspects of the film and the implied life at Adams College under, as he calls it, “Nerd Rule.” He notes that while the film’s supposed (and quite literally voiced) message of acceptance of differences and otherness, the titular nerds actually only end up getting their titular revenge by effectively transforming into their most sworn enemy: the jocks.
The film demonizes jock behaviour and mentality, yet shows the nerds effectively transforming themselves into jocks as if it’s a thing to be proud of. The jocks have a wild drunken party and the nerds go one better by having a drunken and stoned party. In the jock party a song with cock rock lyrics called Are You Ready is played and in the opening of the nerd party there’s a similarly themed song called Are You Ready For The Sex Girls. I love the wild vs. boring juxtaposition between the scenes too. In another parallel Booger has two women like Ogre does. Like the jocks, the nerds start treating women as sex objects and parading their own sexuality (Poindexter dancing and moving his crotch). They sit up all night drinking beer and doing something we’d expect jocks to do–watching porn, which Wormser is under age for. And look at the changes in their usually rigid body language in the same scene–they’ve become the legs wide open lounge cats that the jocks domestically would be, their nerd clothes are gone and they’re boozing and eating junk food. Wormser and Lamar even have army fatigues on–a sign of masculinity. They disregard the law in their pursuit of fun and get away with it as if they’re untouchable. And Takashi breaks his cultural politeness by swearing during the tricycle race, as did his jock competitor at the start of the race.
The entire analysis is a pretty fascinating look at the film from multiple angles. Ager examines the various stereotypes the film traffics in—be it ethnic, gender, sexuality, or basically any group that can be reduced to two-dimensional representation. He also looks at the ramifications of the nerds’ revenge and some subtle meanings behind various imagery used in the film (and, yes, he mentions the Freemasons). It’s a greatly detailed, researched, and exhaustive look at what many consider a simple entry in a comedy subgenre. Hey, Ogre—what do you call someone that writes up 37 pages on an ’80s sex romp culture comedy?