With the shocking election of Donald Trump as President came the news that white people are upset that they’re not as important as they used to be. Indeed, this is reflected in current media, where white people problems account for only 75% of the plots of movies and TV shows, as opposed to all of them. We’re just not seeing as many juicy dramas about lonely doctor’s wives, or bored, absurdly rich teens who spend much of their time either engaging in loveless sex or basking in the warm glow of their own ennui. We also just don’t see as much grade-A pulp like 1980’s The Babysitter, in which a miserable upper class family is torn to shreds by their manipulative, psychotic hired help.
The film opens with the Benedicts, newly moved to a remote island off the coast of Seattle. Dad Jeff (William Shatner) is a workaholic dentist, ignoring the needs of both his brittle, bitter wife Liz (Patty Duke) and their possibly emotionally disturbed, definitely creepy adolescent daughter Tara (Quinn Cummings), who spends much of her time alone, sullenly muttering to a rag doll. They seem to have it all, but, of course, still aren’t satisfied.
Vintage TV “just say no” propaganda focused largely on marijuana, only occasionally giving proper acknowledgment to cocaine, the real star of 70s and 80s drug culture.
If weed represented dark basements, interminable prog rock, and your neighbor’s unemployed son, then coke represented glittery nightclubs, high energy disco, and emaciated supermodels. Despite it being highly illegal, it was once considered so fashionable that Studio 54, a pile of cocaine shaped into a building, had a gigantic sculpture of a crescent moon with a spoon to its nose hanging from the ceiling. There wasn’t anything subtle or winking about it–jewelry companies sold 14K gold spoons and diamond encrusted vials (the better to advertise your extravagant drug habit in style), and cocaine was openly served on trays at parties, like cocktail wienies.
Because coke was the drug of choice for the beautiful people, it was also staggeringly expensive, which meant it only rarely trickled down to the bourgeoisie. But when it did, it always spelled certain disaster, as illustrated in 1983′s Cocaine: One Man’s Seduction.
Back in the gentler time of the 1970s, nothing short of a cancer diagnosis was more devastating than being told you had VD. Even though nearly all forms were curable with antibiotics by then, it still caused the kind of shame that ruined lives and tore families apart. Of course, by the following decade doctors would discover a sexually transmitted illness that made old fashioned VD look like a summer cold, but in 1975 we still had Someone I Touched, quite possibly (yet disappointingly) the most tasteful movie ever made about contracting syphilis.
With some movies, all you need to do is come up with a great title and it practically writes itself. A movie called Attack of the Killer Tomatoes or Chopping Mall is a movie with a built in audience. The plot need not be explained, it’s right there in the opening credits. SyFy all but rebranded itself as the number one source for low budget movies with absurd titles like Dinocroc vs. Supergator, Christmas Icetastrophe, and Mansquito. It’s also SyFy that spawned perhaps the most famous of this genre of sorts, Sharknado, deeply self-aware trash that gained an implausibly large amount of audience goodwill mostly due to its silly title. Sure, that goodwill was almost immediately squandered when three more of these things were made, each one relying on an ever growing roster of D-list celebrities and has-beens for cheap laughs, but my point still stands. Give your horror/sci-fi/adventure movie a goofy title, and someone will show up to watch it.
With the threat of cable television looming on the horizon, network television in the late 70s had to find new and interesting ways to maintain audience viewership. One way was to move further away from family friendly entertainment, focusing more on “jiggle TV,” the derogatory (yet accurate) term for programs in which young, attractive actresses were prominently (and arbitrarily) featured wearing tight t-shirts, short shorts, skimpy bathing suits, or just a carefully placed bath towel. Due to the limits of network standards, it came off as more juvenile and smutty than sexy, but it worked, and television viewing numbers by the end of the decade was as high as they had ever been.
The genre, if you want to call it that, occasionally carried over into feature length movies too, such as 1979’s Mysterious Island of Beautiful Women, an adventure story woefully lacking in adventure, but with a lot of exposed female skin, if you’re into that sort of thing. After a brief flashback that sort of explains the origin of the titular beautiful women, the film opens on a plane carrying oil company executive Gordon Duvall (Peter Lawford), who’s traveling across the South Seas with a handful of ex-employees, a bodyguard, and an alcoholic pilot who accidentally gets them lost. Neither where they’re going, why they’re going there, or why everyone initially seems adversarial towards each other is ever explained, nor why they’re dragging along Danny (Michael McGreevey), very recently blinded in some sort of accident, who does nothing and disappears for large stretches of the movie.