Today is my birthday! It has been a very nice birthday, even though none of the basketball games are going the way I want them to go. I got cake; I am easy to please.
I have seen lots of family and friends today, all virtually, of course. Last year for my birthday, the Covid lockdown was just about to start in Chicago. When we were planning my virtual party, it felt weird and unique, and people thought it was unlucky for me that I was the one who couldn’t celebrate his birthday in the usual way. We figured that by summer, things would be back to normal. We had no idea that this would drag on for a year, and that everyone was going to experience a Covid birthday.
The nice thing about having written these emails for over a year now is that I can look back and see what I said about it! I wrote that it was special and unusual, and that it was nice not to feel to feel pressure to make an event of it. That’s one of the biggest changes for me: I always identified so strongly as an introvert and wanted to spend as much time as possible at home, and now I have a far better appreciation of being with people and being in the world.
I forgot all about the birthday caravans, where people drive by someone’s house and honk and wave at them. I wonder if people kept that up all year, or if it got wearisome, just like everything else about the pandemic did.
Before I saw this movie, I had the idea that it was another silly 80s rom-com, like Heathers and the John Hughes films. Then I saw it, in my early 20s, and that impression didn’t change. I must not have been paying close attention, or I wasn’t experienced enough to understand, because we just watched it again and I absolutely loved it. There’s so much depth and feeling to it. And its theme is as relevant as ever.
The scene that sums it up best comes when Lloyd Dobler, the happy-go-lucky main character, seeks advice from his two best friends, both female, on what to do after his girlfriend, Diane Court, has broken up with him and won’t tell him why. Lloyd’s fellow high-schoolers universally consider Diane, the valedictorian, way out of his league. He never worried about that, correctly judging that he had nothing to lose, and he proved everyone wrong by earning her love.
Now having lost Diane, though, he’s feeling hurt and defensive. He tells his friends that he’s left Diane seven answering machine messages and he’s drawing the line there. They encourage him to try again, but he refuses.
D.C. : Lloyd, why do you have to be like this?
Lloyd : ‘Cause I’m a guy. I have pride.
Corey : You’re not a guy.
Lloyd : I am.
Corey : No. The world is full of guys. Be a man. Don’t be a guy.
So many of these kinds of movies, from that era and from today’s, are chock full of toxic masculinity. They’re obsessed with telling us how real men should look and act. Say Anything, however, is actually about how to be man.
Lloyd is contrasted with Diane’s beloved but clingy father, Jim, who forces her to choose between the two of them. He’s obsessed with two things, his business and his daughter, whose responsibility is to do as he says, since in his mind he has provided her with everything she’s needed to achieve success in life.
Jim’s idea of success is based on educational achievement, material gain, and social status. Lloyd’s outlook on life is, famously, very different.
Lloyd : I don’t want to sell anything, buy anything, or process anything as a career. I don’t want to sell anything bought or processed, or buy anything sold or processed, or process anything sold, bought, or processed, or repair anything sold, bought, or processed. You know, as a career, I don’t want to do that.
During this scene, Lloyd is being grilled about his post-high school plans at dinner with Diane, her father, and several of Jim’s friends and associates. Lloyd definitely comes across as naive and awkward, and when I originally saw this scene, back when I was less confident myself, I thought Lloyd really needed to get it together and start being serious about his future.
Now when I watch it, it’s the adults who puzzle me. Lloyd is regarded as a great person by everyone at school, and as the events unfold, we see that they’re right. The adults, however, don’t know what to make of anyone who isn’t interested in money or career success. They don’t see anything more to life than that. They’re the ones who are really naive.
When people talk about this movie, Lloyd often gets portrayed as this weak sad-sack. And I still thought so even after seeing the movie once. The iconic boombox scene is part of that. But I think this is also due to the persistent trope in our culture that men who perform women’s roles aren’t real men. Lloyd’s best friends are women, he shows strong empathy, he lives with his sister, a single mom, and helps her parent her young son, and he’s not threatened by Diane’s achievements. These are all strengths. Lloyd knows who he is, and he’s there for his family and friends when they need him. And he’s also a pretty mean kickboxer.
Lloyd Dobler is not just another guy. He’s the man we need.
That’s all I’ve got. Please take care, write back if you can—what’s your favorite coming-of-age movie?—and I’ll see you next week.