Last week, I took my wife to see the Zac Efron flick 17 Again. I didn’t expect much. After all, I think High School Musical and its endless sequels are insipid. I certainly wasn’t expecting any morality tales about the virtues of abstinence until marriage. But that’s what 17 Again was — a tribute to the value of chastity before wedlock.
For those who haven’t seen the movie, Matthew Perry plays Mike O’Donnell, a former high school hotshot who passed up a college athletic scholarship to marry his high school sweetheart Scarlet, whom he had impregnated before marriage. It’s been 20 years and O’Donnell is stuck in a dead-end job, his marriage is falling apart, and his kids hate him.
Through a contrived series of events, O’Donnell ends up suddenly regaining his youth. He turns into his high school self, played by Zac Efron. O’Donnell enters the local high school, where his daughter Maggie is dating the school sleazebag, Stan.
Pretty typical fare so far. But the movie suddenly shifts into deeper territory during health class. Young Mike is sitting in class with Maggie and Stan when the teacher announces that the official policy of the school is "abstinence only" sex education. She then takes out a giant basket full of condoms and begins passing it around the room, announcing that teens can’t be expected to abstain from sex. Stan grabs a giant handful of condoms, leers at Maggie, and states that he’ll make sure to take enough.
At this point, Mike stands up and issues a clarion call in favor of abstinence until marriage, explaining, "I don’t need one because I am not in love and isn’t it called ‘making love’ for a reason?" You’re supposed to be in love before engaging in sex, Mike continues. And not only that — sex should be reserved for marriage, where the union between two people can produce children. Remembering cradling his newborn daughter in his arms, Mike talks about the responsibilities and magic of fatherhood. "You hope you can always do right by that little girl," he says, as his daughter Maggie sits transfixed by the speech. The girls in the class immediately throw the condoms back in the basket.
It’s a wonderful moment in what is a truly brave movie, a film that targets high schoolers and dares to challenge their assumptions about the inevitability of premarital sex, the virtue of self-respect, and the ideal of a two-parent household dedicated to preserving love between parents and preserving innocence for the children.
And the left hates this movie. Hates it. Just listen to Amanda Marcotte, militant feminist, writing at AlterNet.org: "The message of the film is clear — only bad people use condoms to have sex for pleasure." Manohla Dargis of The New York Times seconds the motion, issuing a notice: "17 Again is rated PG-13 (Parents strongly cautioned). Girls are particularly cautioned." Why shouldn’t girls hear that they should have enough respect for themselves to demand that boys treat them with honor and commitment? Because of "the story’s obnoxious implications — sex, meaning girls, can ruin your life." This, of course, misses the point by a few thousand light years. At the end of the movie, Mike realizes that Scarlett made his life complete — she didn’t ruin it. And Mike encourages his daughter, Maggie, to dump her repulsive user boyfriend (in the end, Stan dumps Maggie because she refuses to have sex with him — a nod to the reality of teenage dating).
When did it become sexist to suggest that men stop acting like pigs, and women start treating themselves and their bodies with respect? When did it become feminist to suggest that female liberation lies in promiscuity? When did films pushing abstinence until marriage become worthy of a special warning for girls, while PG-13 movies that glorify mindless teen copulation get the critical seal of approval?
We can only hope that 17 Again spells the beginning of a moral turnaround in popular culture. For decades, America’s perspective on teen sex has been shaped by idiotic fare like "American Pie" and "Porky’s." American teens, with the tacit or explicit encouragement of their 1960s-era parents, have bought into the "mindless sex" value system. But with 40 percent of American children now born to single mothers, with high suicide rates among sexually active teenage girls a tragic reality, with the explosion of sexually transmitted disease — and most of all, with the loss of emotional and spiritual intimacy endemic to marriage and destroyed by promiscuity — it is time that popular culture began reflecting another set of values. A set of values that truly values human sexuality. A set of values that upholds the value of innocence. A set of values that carries emotional truth rather than using children as vessels of political militancy.
Who knew Zac Efron would lead the way?