Class of 1989 Extra Credit: A Scene from SOCIETY that’s not “The Shunting”

Dad: “We know all about the automobile accident, son. It’s terrible. Just terrible.”

Mom: “Oh my, it’s just awful”

Bill: “Wait a minute, I don’t think you quite understand here. Dave is dead. Jenny?”

Jenny: “I know. I’m really going to miss him.”

Bill: “That’s it? You’re really going to miss him? Look, I know the guy freaked out after you dumped him, but c’mon, still…”

Jenny: “I’d rather not talk about it, please…So, what are you going to wear?”

Bill: “You mean to the funeral?”

Jenny: “No you weirdo. To the Ferguson’s party?”

“The shunting” scene is probably what most people remember from Society. If you haven’t seen it, go watch it, but go in with an iron stomach and make sure that there is no one around you that might be easily offended. I mean, there is a part where a guy’s head morphs into his butt and he talks out his butthole. It’s pretty cool. But I think it’s the scene above that is the most important in the movie. It’s a scene that occurs about thirty minutes into the film, and follows the death of Jenny’s ex-boyfriend, Blanchard. Jenny is the daughter of two wealthy Beverly Hills parents, and sister of the main character, Bill. Blanchard comes from a lower rung on the social ladder and is dumped by Jenny when she reaches her “coming out” party; a ritual among those in the upper class where a young woman is “introduced” to society. I never had a coming out party. In fact, I’m not really sure I even remember my 18th birthday.  I guess it was a big deal because I could buy cigarettes, but I’ve never smoked. Maybe I bought a pack for a minor, I could see that. Anyway, I’m glad I didn’t have a “coming out” party because in the world of Society a “coming out” party is a big orgy involving other members of Beverly HIlls high society, including Jenny’s parents. Blanchard is kind of bummed out that he isn’t invited to this, and he’s also super paranoid, so he tracks down Bill and plays him a tape of the orgy that he was able to make by bugging Jenny. This is good because it sets Bill on the course to uncover the true secrets of society, in particular the secret that they perform a ritual called “the shunting” where members of Beverly Hills high society literally eat poor people. However, it is also bad for Blanchard, because he dies.

Society is so fucking weird. It’s one of those movies where you sit down and watch and think, “Wut” throughout most of its running time. It’s also, by no means, a subtle movie. The main crux of the movie thematically seems to be, “Wow rich people are weird, and also pretty shitty to the people that belong to the economic classes beneath them”. Well, duh. But I like the movie a lot, and the scene in the living room is a big reason why. That particular scene is important because it showcases the attitude of the rich in Society toward lower socioeconomic classes; an attitude that essentially boils down to, “Who gives a shit? I got mine.” At the same time, the scene serves as the inciting incident that sends Bill on his quest to uncover the truth about his parents and the vast conspiracy they belong to. Also, what I really like about the scene is that it all boils down to his family’s complete lack of empathy toward the well-being of another person. That’s what raises the red flags for Bill, and I like that. A lot. Especially as the driving force for the protagonist, as empathy, to quote Roger Ebert, “is the most essential quality of civilization”. I don’t believe Roger Ebert ever reviewed Society, but I’m sure he loved it and would agree with this take. I also think it’s also a clever way for the movie to explore some of the fundamental differences among the class systems in American society in the 1980’s, and today.

I was born in 1984. My memories of the ‘80s are pretty blurry. Most of my memories from that time are a hodge-podge of family stuff, my old house, the “Like a Prayer” music video, and the Pistons winning the NBA championship. I don’t have a great first-hand perspective on the deeper aspects of American society in the 1980’s. Like a lot of people my age, my entry point into the ‘80s is through its pop culture.  If you were to sit me down and force me to blurt out things that I think signify the ‘80s, I would probably just turn into one of those “Hey, remember the ‘80s” Facebook pages. Teddy Ruxpin! Reagan! E.T.! Prince! Cocaine! The ‘80s were totally awesome! But like every other decade since the beginning of time, the ‘80s weren’t TOTALLY awesome. In fact, for a lot of people, they were pretty shitty. There were huge class differences during this time, where the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. There’s a duality to the ‘80s that is sometimes glossed over. Scarface gets shot at the end of the movie. Gordon Gekko goes to jail. You can’t have Ferris Bueller without having Society, basically.

At the same time, I think the main theme of Society is overly simplistic.  Okay, rich people are weird and they eat poor people, sure. But the simplicity of the movie’s theme doesn’t really bother me because I’m not sure it’s going for anything particularly deep. Society hits the mark in the same way that a Dead Kennedy’s song hits its mark; by being filthy, irreverent, and in-your-face.  That’s pretty much all its going for, and that’s cool, but if you’re looking for nuance, Society probably isn’t the movie for you. That scene in the living room though, and the way his family’s callousness and lack of empathy tips off Bill, is probably the closest the movie comes to approaching subtlety, and that’s why I keep coming back to it.

Here’s the thing: I’m not rich. I’m probably never going to be rich. And that’s fine. I also don’t think that all rich people are evil. I’m a capitalist and I like money, so if you work hard and make a lot of it, good for you. You also can’t help what station in life you are born into. Them’s the breaks, good or bad. But Society’s central thesis that rich people are different than the rest of us, isn’t exactly a crazy notion. I’m not talking about people who have money, by the way. I’m talking about people who are RICH, like Koch Brothers rich, and one of the differences between the super-rich and the people on lower rungs of the economic ladder is in the empathy department. Rich people act differently toward other people. Sometimes they act like assholes. Look, here are some studies I found to help me try and prove that there is depth to this movie which features a talking butthole:

In 2011, Berkeley psychologists conducted several studies that focused on social class and how a person’s standing influenced how much that person cared towards others.  Here is what they found:

“..Participants were asked to watch two videos while having their heart rate monitored. One video showed somebody explaining how to build a patio. The other showed children who were suffering from cancer. After watching the videos, participants indicated how much compassion they felt while watching either video. Social class was measured by asking participants questions about their family’s level of income and education. The results of the study showed that participants on the lower end of the spectrum, with less income and education, were more likely to report feeling compassion while watching the video of the cancer patients. In addition, their heart rates slowed down while watching the cancer video—a response that is associated with paying greater attention to the feelings and motivations of others.

These findings build upon previous research showing how upper class individuals are worse at recognizing the emotions of others and less likely to pay attention to people they are interacting with (e.g. by checking their cell phones or doodling).” (1)

Here’s another study where psychologists at NYU performed a series of experiments that measured how interested the participants were in the lives of other people. Here’s what they did:

“In the first experiment, 61 participants were asked to walk around Brooklyn, New York, while wearing Google Glass — normal-looking spectacles that can also record everything coming into their field of vision. They were told that they were merely testing the technology. Later, when their walking tours were over, each participant had to fill out a survey which determined which social class they belonged to. After logging each participant’s time spent watching other people, the team found wealthy individuals spent less time gazing at other people on the street.”

And here is what those psychologists theorized from those findings:

“Psychologists have a couple of ideas to explain this odd, but maybe not surprising, behavior. Wealthy people have the cash to pay other people to take care of their things, which makes them less dependent on others — socially speaking. As such, wealthy people are less likely to see other people as rewarding or threatening, hence they pay little attention — not even to those who belong to the same social class. One 2009 study found students of higher socioeconomic status paid less attention to a stranger with whom they were paired at a discussion table, even when that person was as wealthy as they were.” (2)

So yeah, rich people probably DGAF. Obviously, not all rich people DGAF, but the rich people in Society certainly don’t, and that’s why I like the scene in the living room so much. It highlights the difference between Bill, an adopted child from a lower class, and his parents who are members of Beverly Hills high society. He cares that Blanchard is dead. They don’t. They just want to move on. To them the lower classes are an inconvenience, a distraction from what really matters: their next social gathering.  Blanchard is just another cog in the machine, which becomes more evident as the film progresses.

Blanchard is probably the most important character in Society. Not only is his death the inciting incident that moves Bill’s investigation forward, but he’s also a conduit into the alien world of Beverly Hills high society. Blanchard is crazy, and really paranoid after he is dumped by Jenny. He is constantly cranked up to 11, and even plants a bug on his ex-girlfriend, because he is that shook from being dumped. That’s kind of crazy, man. Just move on. But really, I kind of get why Blanchard is so nuts. Jenny was his meal ticket. She was his way into high society. Now he’s screwed. Paranoid, worried, perpetually terrified, and constantly trying to break into the ring of society above him; Blanchard is pretty much the embodiment of the 1980’s middle class. What a bummer for him! Time to work a 9 to 5 with the rest of rubes, Blanch!

It turns out that a 9 to 5 would be preferable to Blanchard’s ultimate fate in the movie. Later in the film, it’s revealed that Blanchard is still alive, kept by “Society” so that they can feed on him during the climactic “shunting” scene. The “shunting” scene is probably what the movie is best remembered for, as it should be. The scene is disgusting, but also impressive in its use of practical effects to showcase the ritual of the aliens as they literally feed on the poor; deforming and melding with one another to feed off the still-living Blanchard. The sequence is batshit, and the brazenness is something that demands respect. You couldn’t make this movie today, and I’m not really sure how they were able to make it then. The film ends with Bill defeating and escaping “society” and running away with his friend, Milo, and Bill’s new alien girlfriend, Clarissa. It’s a happy ending for Bill, and since it’s his story, it’s obviously the character the movie should end with. But the real crux of the story revolves around Blanchard, and that scene in the living room with Bill’s family.

Society is mostly pretty silly, and the themes that it hits on are ham-fisted and on the nose, but sometimes people need that I think. The 80’s were a weird time, and it’s nice that we remember it through the prism of stuff like John Hughes and Amblin movies. But sometimes it’s necessary to remember that a lot of the problems we deal with today, lack of empathy and social class inequality, to name a couple, can be tied back to this decade as well. Society is a movie that is pretty emblematic of that duality. It’s a movie that deals with a bunch of issues like paranoia, class structure, and the relationship between the haves and the have nots in America, but It’s also a movie where a guy’s face talks through his butthole, and I think it’s important to remember that.





When you’re tired of winning

When you get tired of fame

Or when your head is spinning

And you’ve drunk all the best champagne


Then we’ll all sing together

To society we’ll be true

Then we’ll all sing together

Society waits for you


Oh how we all get richer

Playing the ruling game

Only the poor get poorer

We feed off them all the same


Then we’ll all sing together

To society we’ll be true

Then we’ll all sing together

Society waits for you


Some may call us sinners

We think of ourselves as saints

Some may call us killers

It’s done with such restraint


Then we’ll all sing together

To society we’ll be true

Then we’ll all sing together

Society waits for you


CLASS CLOWN: Bill’s dad. When his face morphs into his butt, he calls himself a “butthead” and makes farting noises. Classic dad jokes.


MOST ATHLETIC: Clarissa. How’s she pull this off?

Thanks for reading, everyone. Make sure to check out our latest episode on the rest of 1989, where Willie and I talk about SHOCKER, PET SEMETARY, and INTRUDER!