American movie media is not simply a visual display for entertainment, but, analyzed correctly, can be a cultural display of life in America in the immediate time. Several movies were utilized by the mass media to show how education was perceived and continually reforming in America during the 1980s.
These movies portrayed teachers, principals, and coaches as heroes who overcame great odds in a poor educational environment with troubled students to achieve an ultimate goal of higher educational values in a community. In several of these movie media, the goal was to teach the students an ideal that would send them searching for the education that was being offered so that they might become better educated and thus change their own lives for the better and thereby gain a more hopeful future.
Concentrating on the dialogue and visual narrative to achieve this cultural display, Michael Ritchie, director of the movie Wildcats in 1986, created a media representing the reforming American culture of the eighties, the strong bond between students and their educational leaders, and a sense of the American dream for the underdog, in this case, women versus men in the world of football. The ultimate goal of this film was to teach the American lesson to never give up. Against any odds, win or lose, never give up.
Americans are not losers or defeatists; we are winners, and we will keep trying until we eventually reach our goals. Ritchie uses visual narrative during the opening credits to allow the audience to sense the importance of football to Molly McGrath, the heroine. She is shown in old family movies as playing football while other girls played party games, attending football games with her father who was a football coach, and receiving a football helmet as a Christmas gift.
This method of visual narrative is a successful constant in setting a cultural background for the viewers. Also an important method of movie media to send information to the audience is dialogue. In the opening scene through the use of a conversation with her best friend, Molly McGrath is announced as a disappointed girl’s track coach who longs to coach football. But grasping at an opportunity at her current school to coach junior varsity football, she is mocked by the men at the school and jokingly offered a job at another school to coach their losing team.
Passing over her for the job, the current varsity football coach appoints a male home economics teacher who knows nothing about football against her vast experience and understanding of the game which she reveals with a monologue of rhetorical questions about football plays and terms. Through this dialogue, Ritchie displays the American mindset of football: football is a man’s sport. But Molly surprises the men at her school by taking the job at Central High and accepting the challenge of making a winning team out of a losing team, a job that no man has been able to accomplish.
Here is where the reforming culture of American education is revealed. When Molly meets the team, they are disrespectful, meeting her for the first time in the locker room with no pants on. Again this displays the American idea that football is for men, as the boys chose to greet their new coach like this because they thought to disarm her mentally as she is a woman. But Molly ignores the situation and directs them to meet her on the field for practice.
Molly’s greatest retort to her best friend after a difficult first day is that she feels like giving up and actually decides to, but a special gift from her best friend, a brand new stop watch encouragingly engraved on the back plate, changes her mind and incites within her the urge to fight the odds and beat the challenge before her. According to educational authorities in America at the time of this movie, this is an important characteristic of a good teacher. Mortimer J.
Adler, an educational analyst from the 1940s through the present agrees, saying that the teacher’s first job is to motivate students in order to transfer knowledge from one person, the master, to the other, the student, but that good teaching does not stop there. In order to have been a successful teacher, one must have made the student “able to pursue learning himself” (Adler, 1988, p. 164). With a challenging and motivational attitude, Molly is portraying herself as having a strong personality which can be predicted by the audience to persuade her students to achieve.
And this is exactly what happens. Molly’s personal challenge is to overcome great odds to achieve at a personal goal. She does not give in after several setbacks, and facing a man’s world in football is only one of them. At one point we learn that her ex-husband is a controlling entity in her life and she must learn to stand up to him to keep her job. In the scene where he enters her bathroom while she is in the tub, he attempts to overcome her by convincing her to quit the job citing that he thinks it is a wrong decision.
In this scene through the use of dialogue, once again, the audience learns that Molly has taken orders from this man even after the divorce and has finally decided to stand up to him and make her own decisions for her own life in order to accomplish an extremely personal goal. Molly continues this behavior against the hardships of winning the respect of her football team. The lesson to never give in or to never give up is a recurring theme and a lesson she reiterates to her team.
Molly McGrath keeps returning to her job after setbacks and blatant attacks on her position. After the first day when the team refused to listen to her, refused to do warm-ups, and basically ignored her, she returns. On the next practice even though she has proven her vast knowledge of football by teaching the team members who were willing to listen to her how to play such great plays that they beat the better players in a scrimmage game, she is knocked down by a disgruntled player and given a black eye.
Still, Molly returns the next day, but this time to face a personal attack: her office is demolished with profanities spray painted on the walls and door. But worst of all her endearing stop watch is destroyed. Again, Molly does not give in, in fact this last display of disrespect only gains her motivation. She marches out to the locker room and challenges the team to a run around the track last one running is the winner, the loss being that she leaves, the win bringing their respect and full cooperation.
Molly wins and this is the beginning of the motivational lesson she teaches to the team. After their first game, which is a loss, Molly commends the boys, explaining to them that they had improved immensely and giving up is not an option. Later after practicing hard and trying harder, the team begins to win game after game, finally reaching the championship level. At this point, the audience realizes that the team has been taught a lesson that reaches beyond a classroom environment. This is an important entity of American educational reform.
“Clearly pushing the curriculum outside of the school walls, can lead to students taking an active interest in the world around them” (Wood, 1992, p. 215). As educational philosophers reveal, a great teacher’s job is to incite the students to take an active part in their country and their world and use the education they absorb to make the world a better place for all. But the great realization that the team has decided that giving up is not an option is revealed when they witness Molly giving up a fight to keep her job when her ex-husband takes her to court citing her job as creating an unsafe environment for her daughters.
Afraid of losing custody, Molly agrees to quit her job the next semester. But the next day is the championship game and when they meet the opposing team on the field, the players have lost all resolve and begin to lose. At half time, Molly tries to boost their motivation, but is met with indifference, until she realizes that she has failed them all by giving in when the lesson she has taught them all along was to never give up but to continue to fight until the battle has been won.
Once again resolute, Molly marches out to the stands where she confronts her ex-husband and insists that she will not give up her job or her daughters and will fight him all the way at all costs. Here her ex-husband gives in and agrees to find a compromise. This stimulates the team who then brings home a championship win. And Molly is lifted on their shoulders as their hero. Director Michael Ritchie has accomplished many American realizations with this piece.
These being, the American dream can be a reality, as Molly, a woman has succeeded in a man’s world, the educational system is reformed by a caring teacher, and the lesson to never give in and to fight at all costs is learned by all: teacher and students. Citations Adler, Mortimer J. (1988). Reforming Education: The Opening of the American Mind. New York: MacMillan Publishing Co. Wildcats. Dir. Michael Ritchie. Warner Bros. ,1986. Wood, George H,. Ph. D. (1992). Schools That Work: America’s Most Innovative Public Education Programs. New York: Penguin Books.