Don’t Dream It, Be It: How Rocky Horror Taught Us Acceptance And Freedom
by Heather Gosling, Staff Contributor
***WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD***
Forty four years after its release, the Rocky Horror Picture Show continues to run in cinemas.
It is considered the longest running release in film history. Despite this, when the film first came out, it was a complete and utter flop. But when midnight screenings were introduced, it gained a cult following. The film was based upon the musical The Rocky Horror Show, a tribute to science fiction and horror B movies.
When I first discovered Rocky Horror, I was watching the film on a Friday night and I later went to see a stage production in Brighton. The story revolves around a young couple, Brad and Janet, who are recently engaged. Their car breaks down in the rain and they seek help from a castle to see if they can call for help. Everything in the castle is not as it seems, there are people dressed in eccentric costumes, wearing party hats and dancing the Time Warp. The head of the house is Dr Frank-N-Furter, a bedazzled alien transvesitite from the planet transexual (trust me, it gets weirder). He appears from behind an elevator door, and with one dramatic swish of his cape he reveals his costume; a corset, suspenders, and a gigantic pearl necklace.
Through a series of dances and rock songs, Frank-N-Furter reveals his latest creation: a muscle man called Rocky. Brad and Janet stay the night, and Frank seduces both of them separately, posing as Janet when visiting Brad and Brad when visiting Janet. Janet sees Brad in bed with Frank on a CCTV screen, and she goes looking for him. She finds Rocky hiding in the laboratory, and starts to become intimate with him. Frank’s servants Riff Raff and Magenta overthrow Frank and after revealing themselves to be aliens, they release Brad and Janet and head back to their planet.
The reason I love Rocky Horror isn’t because of the cool costumes, or the makeup, or the dances (although all of these things are amazing). Rocky Horror is about a celebration of the freedom to be yourself in whatever form that may be. A new phenomenon that the show created was audience participation, another reason why this show remains great. Everyone in the audience dresses up, whether that be with glittery makeup, thigh high boots or fishnet tights and this created a sense of community. When the film was first released in 1975, the midnight screenings saw people from all walks of life come together, and these people included social outcasts who wanted to find a way of expressing themselves. The audience are a hugely important part of the show; they heckle innuendo and bring props such as water guns, newspapers, and glow sticks to use in certain scenes. The audience participation lines change all the time, each time you watch the show something is different and this makes the show even more entertaining.
Considering the year it was released on screen, Rocky Horror broke several boundaries within cinema. Tim Curry’s role, Dr Frank-N-Furter was a “Sweet transvestite from Transexual, Transylvania” who dressed in a black glitter corset and suspenders. The topic of gender fluidity was certainly a taboo one as the Stonewall riots took place merely a few years prior. Public attitudes towards the LGBTQ+ community were shifting, but there was still an immense amount of stigma around sexuality and gender fluidity, and it was this stigma that Rocky Horror intended to break. Today, there are still countries where homosexuality is illegal and is met with criminal punishment. In Singapore, section 377A criminalizes acts of “gross indecency” between men, so when Rocky Horror came to town, the line: “It's not illegal, you know” caused quite the stir in the audience with a retort of “Well, it is here”.
Now, more than ever, Rocky Horror’s message of acceptance is still relevant to all minorities all over the world experiencing social injustice. All forms of art can act in a powerful way to change people’s prejudices, and this is why many years later Rocky Horror’s message that everyone should have the freedom to honestly and truly be themselves without facing persecution is so, so important.