Society

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UK Release Date 20th September 1989
Director Brian Yuzna
Starring Billy Warlock
Runtime 99 Minutes
Certificate 18
Reviewer Mark
Reviewed 11th June 2015

The journalist and social etiquette authority Judith Martin, better known by her pen name, “Miss Manners” regularly blamed “blatant greed” as the most heinous etiquette problem in America. In her wonderfully titled book, Miss Manners' Guide to Excruciatingly Correct Behavior she writes, “There are three social classes in America: upper middle class, middle class and lower middle class. Miss Manners has never heard of an American’s owning up to being in any other class. However, if there is one thing that all Americans agree upon, no matter what their background, it is that the middle class is despicable. The shame of being born into it is sufficient excuse for a lifelong grudge against one’s parents and the entire society.”

The upper class in Brian Yuzna’s cult classic, Society has no issue with their privileged lifestyle, Ralph Lauren jumpers draped over their tanned shoulders as they swan around in exclusive beachfront country clubs like smart-casual Nazis. Perhaps that’s why Billy Whitney doesn’t fit in, he’s shorter and darker than everyone else-including his own Aryan family, “I think I was adopted,” he moans to anyone who will listen. He certainly harbours a grudge against his parents and his visits to Dr. Cleveland reveal his growing paranoia. Perhaps he’s middle class after all. When asked about how he feels about his family Billy replies, “I don't think about them, they don't think about me. We're just one big happy family... except for a little incest and psychosis.”

Billy feels uneasy around his popular sister Jenny who seems a little too close for comfort with their society parents. Mr. and Mrs. Whitney are Beverley Hills society stalwarts and support Billy in his quest to become class president. Unfortunately for Billy they prefer priming Jenny for her debutante coming out party and leave him feeling alienated and detached from his white bread relatives. Even when Billy roughhouses Jenny’s stalker-ex David out of their mansion Jenny and his parents don’t really pay him any attention. Did she ditch David because he’s Jewish? Why does Billy feel so guilty after catching Jenny in the shower? Does she really look like a monster behind that dimpled glass or is he repressing his own incestuous desires?

David certainly has too much time on his hands and bugs Billy’s family. He plays Billy an audiotape of Jenny and his parents indulging in a sick and twisted orgy with some high-pitched murder thrown in for good measure. Billy is skeptical at first but those lurid colours that adorn his house don’t sit well with him and David’s conspiracy theories certainly fit his own worldview that society is out to get him. Even Billy’s smoking hot fantasy girl Clarissa favours the perverse, “How do you like your tea? Cream, sugar... or do you want me to pee in it?” Flabbergasted Billy can only respond, “You are a class act, Clarissa.” Like the blue bloods in Society Clarrisa seems more like a separate species than a human being. Can she really contort herself into those shapes or is it just wishful thinking?

The closer Billy looks into the abyss of his glossy, daytime soap life the more surreal and frightening his existence becomes. The school bully Ferguson and his cronies leer over him like rejects from Back to the Future or The Karate Kid whilst even the working class cops treat him with disdain, “Is it really that boring being rich? I guess you're just naturally fucked up.” Are they merely tools of the capitalist regime, programmed to protect the status quo and quell the rebellious spirit that has the temerity to question America’s social hierarchy? And what are they protecting? The infamous shunting climax, where the rich and powerful indulge in a glutinous orgy of sex and violence, gorges themselves on their inferiors and one another. If the middle classes are “despicable” then the upper classes in Society are excruciatingly diabolical. 

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