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12 Movie Moments of 2012: We Built This City (Rock of Ages)

As well as counting down the top twelve films, I’m also going to count down my top twelve movie related “moments” of 2012. The term “moment” is elastic, so expect some crazy nonsense here. And, as usual, I accept that my taste is completely absurd, so I fully expect you to disagree. With that in mind, this is #12

Rock of Ages was not a terrible film. It was also not a great one. It had a lot of fundamental problems holding it back from any sort of consistent. The film didn’t seem to know quite when it was camping it up to eleven, when it was taking itself too seriously, or when it was approaching near-critical levels of irony.

Except…

When the cast broken into a medley of We Built This City and We’re Not Gonna Take It. It’s the only point in the film when it seemed like everybody involved grasped the ridiculous irony of basing a jukebox musical around the concept of rock ‘n’ roll’s refusal to sell out. Most of Rock of Ages was silly, enjoyable, hypocritical nonsense. With We Built This City, for about a minute, Rock of Ages seemed just a little bit smarter than the rest of the film might have you believe.

Of course, if you explain the joke, it is no longer funny. That said, it has never stopped me before. Anyway, the irony of the scene is in the way that it aligns the two rival factions protesting the appearance by Stacy Jaxx. The “dyed-in-the-wool, never-sell-out, true-believer” rock ‘n’ roll fans chant their own version of We Built This City by Jefferson Starship. Meanwhile, on the other side of the street, the concerned moral guardians chant We’re Not Going to Take It. The brilliance of the scene comes from an ironic reversal of what any seasoned eighties rock fan would actually expect.

On the surface, the lyrics seem to match the philosophical position of either side. After all, the rockers probably believe that rock ‘n’ roll is a legitimate part of the social fabric that makes Los Angeles the city that it is. In contrast, the moral guardians are making a stand against what they perceive to be a belligerent stance on the part of fans of rock ‘n; roll, refusing to passively allow the erosion of moral values in the service of whatever clichés you want to trot out.

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The beauty of the scene becomes clear to anybody with any familiarity with the material. We Built This City is a song that is all but dismissed by serious fans of rock ‘n’ roll, because of what it represents. The song has been repeatedly voted one of the worst songs of the eighties (and even all time), because of its blatant hypocrisy:

The tune “seems to inspire the most virulent feelings of outrage,” says editor Craig Marks. “It purports to be anti-commercial but reeks of ’80s corporate-rock commercialism. It’s a real reflection of what practically killed rock music in the ’80s.”

As such, allowing the rockers in Rock of Ages to sing it is ridiculous, something that becomes exceptionally and bitterly absurd when you consider that selling any artist’s music for a jukebox musical like this is exactly the sort of absurd commercialism that the film itself seems to rally against – because, you know, selling out is bad… unless it’s to an eighties jukebox musical!

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At the same time, the bunch of moral guardians – mothers against rock – singing a Twisted Sister song is hilarious. The video to We’re Not Gonna Take It even features the band terrorising such a civic-minded couple of parents. Twisted Sister themselves even got involved in the whole moral guardian issue during the eighties, best represented by the Parents Music Resource Centre, which embodied the sort of self-righteous moral guardians portrayed in Rock of Ages:

Beginning in medias res, Mom asks her son to consider this philosophical question: “In what way does your life contribute to society as you sit here day after day after day in this dark room stringing along on that stupid guitar?” 

So asked the comically exaggerated father in Twisted Sister’s 1984 video We’re Not Gonna Take It, created for the usual reasons (rock and parents have always been locked in mortal combat) and in the climate of Tipper Gore’s Parents’ Music Resource Center, a censorious, sticker-warning and outright banning group of right-wing lunatics.

So the notion that these “right-wing lunatics” could suddenly appropriate We’re Not Gonna Take It as an anthem of their own is a delightfully ironic moment. Dee Snider testified against the censorship proposed by the Parents’ Music Resource Center, making the decision to use his music here particularly uncomfortable.

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That said, the nature of the jukebox musical adds another interesting layer to all this. Is the appropriation of the song by a bunch of right-wing nuts in the musical any less hypocritical than the film itself taking a song about rebellion and integrity and adding it to a cookie-cutter feel-good nostalgia musical? Rock of Ages works quite well when it focuses on the ironies of this sort of situation – restructuring Any Way You Want It as an ode to capitalism is also a moment of surprising wit. It’s times like this where it seems the movie almost has teeth.

It’s just unfortunate that the rest of the movie was so firmly focused on two leads who can’t act and trying to convince us to hope that our leads don’t sell out in a multi-million dollar packaged commercialised would-be blockbuster.

Check out our other movie moments of 2012:

12. We Built This City (Rock of Ages)

11. September (Intouchables)

10. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (The Dark Knight Rises, Premium Rush, Looper)

09. Throwing the toys together (The Avengers)

08. Running (Shame)

07. “You’d love my boyfriend, he’s a total chick flick nut.” (ParaNorman)

06. The Dark Knight Returns (The Dark Knight Rises)

4 Responses

  1. I loved Rock of Ages, but I love musicals and it’s just one of those films I couldn’t stop smiling through. (Pretty much like most episodes of Glee…) It was cheesy, but knew it. To me, it had it’s tongue firmly in its cheek and there’s people I know who hate it. Plus, well, what’s not to love about Russell Brand & Alec Baldwin doing a love duet together?

    Maybe it helps that I love that sort of 80s rock, anyway?

    Okay, so there’s no plot, I would have liked to have seen anyone else cast as the main female (I didn’t think the guy was too bad…)but it made me laugh and made me really, really wish my life was a musical.

    Great post, and I’m so happy this made your top movie moments.

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