Does The Legend Of Billie Jean Have A Message For Today’s “Revolutionaries”?

by Travis Mateer

On a hunch that I’ve seen this Zooey Zephry film before, I rewatched a 1985 movie about a hot piece of trailer trash who unwittingly starts a movement for female empowerment by symbolically appropriating a male haircut inspired by a historical woman by the name of Joan of Arc. Are there any relevant messages for today’s movement to ensure young people can make lasting, sometimes irreparable, changes to their bodies? Maybe, so let’s take a look at the legend lesson of Billie Jean.

Here’s how the film begins, from Wikipedia:

Billie Jean Davy, a teenager from Corpus Christi, Texas, is riding with her younger brother, Binx, on his Honda Elite Scooter to a local lake to go swimming. Stopping for a milkshake, they have to deal with Hubie Pyatt, a rowdy local teen, and his friends hitting on Billie Jean, but Binx humiliates Hubie by throwing a milkshake in his face. Later on at the lake, as Billie Jean tells Binx about the weather in Vermont, a place he has always wanted to visit, Hubie steals Binx’s scooter.

As Binx goes to retrieve his scooter later that night, Billie Jean goes to the authorities with her friends Putter and Ophelia. They report the theft to Detective Ringwald, who is sympathetic but urges them to wait and see how things play out. When Billie Jean returns home, she finds Binx beaten, and his scooter severely damaged. The next day, Billie Jean, Binx, and Ophelia go to Mr. Pyatt’s shop to get the amount of $608 to repair the scooter. While initially appearing helpful and understanding, Pyatt propositions Billie Jean and then attempts to rape her.

The attempted rape is disrupted when Binx and friends come to find out what’s taking so long. Binx finds a gun in the cash register and accidentally shoots the sleaze ball, Mr. Pyatt, immediately transforming the kids into fugitives. So, how do the tides turn from helpless kids on the run to the symbolic rise of a rebranded version of feminine power?

Before the haircut that transforms Billie Jean into a legend occurs, the young fugitives meet a rich kid with daddy issues. Conveniently, this rich kid has the technology (video equipment) and social awareness to understand the playing field, not to mention the daddy issues to act on them. And who is daddy? Oh, you know, just a district attorney running for Attorney General.

With the video technology, political acumen, and catchy messaging embodied by the slogan FAIR IS FAIR, all that’s needed is something eye-catching to turn this hot piece of powerless trailer trash into a equalizing force powerful enough to counter the male-dominated world of rapists she was setup to be victimized by. Thanks to a televised depiction of Joan of Arc playing on the TV at the rick kids’ house, Billie Jean gets an idea.

Here’s the lead up to Billie Jean cutting her hair. To set the scene, our merry band of wayward youth are watching their circumstances get terribly misconstrued by television news reports.

Change the channel. Who wants to hear this?

I do.

You like anything that’s on the TV.

While there were no shot fired. The gang head north from here in a late model Sedan…

Late model I wish.

…and reportedly robbed a truck stop on the boarded community of Juliet.

I love it. We’re everywhere.

…yeah, sure they had guns that’s how they got me tied up.


…and they broke up the register and cleaned it out. Took $427.

Great now we’re thieves.

Probably took it himself.

Was there anything said during the harass? Just words. Profanity. Vile words. They were bombed out of their minds.

Bastards! They’re all bunch of liars.

I told you.

How can they say things like that?

They can say anything. We’re in the news now.

‘I cannot live.’

Is that a boy or a girl?

‘I was crying through the frost. Blessed church bells, send my voices to me on the wind.’

It’s a girl. Joan of Arc. She dressed up as a man and all the French followed her to fight the English.

Did she win?

Yeah and no. She heard voices. ‘Stop being a peasant, be a soldier. France needs you. Truth. Justice.’ And she won. She beat the English.

And then…

Then what?

The French burned her…

After this exchange, the son of the District Attorney comes up with the idea of countering the false narrative with their own video-taped truth, and Billie Jean comes up with the idea to look like this:

With her newly acquired power–bestowed, in part, by the youth who start idolizing and emulating her (adopting her hair style, for example)–Billie Jean is able to stop abusers from abusing. There’s a bizarre scene where this power is enlisted by kids in a neighborhood where they all know a particular kid, a boy, is being physically abused by his father. Billie Jean enters the home and when the abusive father realizes it really is the now famous Billie Jean, he folds like a spineless punk.

Billie Jean’s own father died in some unspecified accident, that’s why her younger brother had the money for the scooter in the first place, because of the insurance payout. To protect her younger brother, Billie Jean is, in some way, becoming the “man” of her own household.

The power Billie Jean acquires by cleverly marketing her own righteous side of the creep/victim dynamic is emphasized when her own brother emulates her by wearing a dress and copying her hairstyle, while Billie Jean deemphasizes herself by wearing a feminine wig, in a final ploy to get the money owed by the creep.

While it doesn’t go as planned, Billie Jean ultimately exposes the creep through his own inability to not be an obvious fucking creep, and a sort of mob-mentality takes hold of the crowd as everyone decides NOT to help the creep after his store catches fire, including the cop who knows he screwed up at the very beginning by NOT taking Billie Jean’s report seriously in the first place.

Is there a message somewhere in all this for today’s revolutionaries? I don’t know, but I do think the movie is an interesting cultural artifact to consider in light of current events. Maybe it could even help broaden the perspective on an issue making lots of people very upset for very different reasons.

If you appreciate my work reporting on local issues from unusual perspectives, Travis’ Impact Fund (TIF) is one way to help, while using the donation button at my about page is another.

Thanks for reading!

About Travis Mateer

I'm an artist and citizen journalist living and writing in Montana. You can contact me here: willskink at yahoo dot com
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4 Responses to Does The Legend Of Billie Jean Have A Message For Today’s “Revolutionaries”?

  1. Eric says:

    I thought transgender people wanted equality.

    If any other lawmaker had created a disruption that required the Highway Patrol to come in and make arrests, that lawmaker could expect punishment for breaking the rules.

    I guess some people expect special rights?

    • J. Kevin Hunt says:

      Bullshit. Rubbish. Your “thwy want special rights” vomitus is same old, same old, mindless, trite, archaic, clichë bigotry. Instead of parroting some dumbass hack you probably heard on talk radio, try using your brain. How is it a “special right” for an elected state Representative to be permitted to take her seat, and speak on the floor, on behalf of the 11,000 constituents who elected her? You do kniw, don’t you, that the last time a motion was made to censure a MT legislator for debate speech, was in 1975, and the motion failed? Here, your Fascist friends went much farther and kicked Zwphyr out for speech highlighting the deaths the bill would lead to. And you don’t know Jack about MT politics if you really believe that a Republican would ever be called to account by colleagues to even the slightest degree for the most obnoxious inaults directed at adversaries on the chamber floor. Jesus, the shit leveled at adversaries by Neanderthal rightwing dundeeheads during debate is appalling. Hey, you know, running with the ignorant majority is easy. It takes a modicum of guts to insteas tell truth. You got any?

      • Greg Strandberg says:

        “It takes a modicum of guts to insteas tell truth. You got any?”
        I do – proofread before hitting post comment. You know you’ve had this problem for years.

      • Eric says:

        Thanks for the comment Kevin.

        It doesn’t say much about Montana politics, but it says volumes about you 🙂

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