Gremlins is the story of the Peltzer family of Kinston Falls, USA.
Dad, Randy, is an inventor and on his way home from a convention, he stops in Chinatown where some kid takes him to an underground store to pitch products to the kid’s grandfather. Randy hears the grandfather’s pet making noise and, when he sees the animal, offers to buy it. The grandfather tells Randy that the pet, called Mogwai, is not for sale and sends him on his way. However, the kid sneaks the pet to Randy for $100. He tells Randy there are 3 rules to caring for the pet: 1) do not leave it in direct light, especially the sun; 2) do not get it wet; and 3) never ever feed it after midnight.
Randy takes the Mogwai home and gives it to his son, Billy, as his Christmas gift. Billy seems like a nice young man. He’s over 18 and lives in his parents’ attic. He wants to be an graphic or cartoon artist — but, for the time being, he works as a teller at the bank. He has an obvious crush on his co-worker, Kate, which seems mutual.
He’s grateful to his dad for giving him the Mogwai, which they call “Gizmo.” Billy tries to take care of Gizmo and follow the rules. But it isn’t more than a day before a kid from the neighborhood spills water on Gizmo, which causes 5 more Mogwai to spawn. The new Mogwai look like Gizmo but do not have Gizmo’s kind, gentle disposition. These animals get into mischief, they make mess and they are mean.
Ultimately, they trick Billy into feeding them after midnight and they transform from cute and furry Mogwai to scaly and green Gremlins! They get out of the house and into a pool of water at the local YMCA and, before you know it, they’ve taken over the town. They attack and kill humans as well as each other. They cause accidents and property damage. They steal and riot in the streets.
Eventually, all the Gremlins end up in a movie theater watching Snow White. Billy rigs the boiler and blows them all up — except for 1, the leader, Stripe, who’d left the theater in search of candy. Stripe makes his way to the fountain of the local department store to spawn himself again — but Billy with help from Kate, his dad, his dog Barney and Gizmo, stop Stripe and kill him, saving the town.
The next day, the grandfather from Chinatown shows up to take Gizmo back. He chastises Randy for taking the Mogwai in the first place and tells the Peltzer family that they are not ready for the responsibility of such a creature. Gizmo says a sweet goodbye to Billy and the movie is over.
When I chose this movie for the series, I was planning to write about the importance of safety and following the rules. If Billy had followed the rules and hadn’t let the neighbor boy get Gizmo wet or if Billy had paid closer attention to the time before feeding the spawns, none of this would have happened.
And that’s still true and applicable … but I got stuck on 3 unexpected things:
Mogwai means Demon
Yep. A quick google search revealed the meaning of the word. Mogwai are ancient Cantonese demons who reproduce in the rain and take revenge against humans they believed harmed them while they were living.
Now, I know there was no Google in the 80s when this was made — but there was a library full of encyclopedias and other reference texts. Nobody thought to go research this creature or even find out the meaning of its name??? The closest to research they got was giving one of the spawn to the local science teacher, Mr. Hanson. He was the only Black person in town and, in typical 80s horror movie fashion, the first person to die when the spawn transformed to a full-fledged Gremlin.
It was the privilege of cultural appropriation that allowed Randy Peltzer to buy this Mogwai for $100 from a kid in Chinatown behind the rightful owner’s back. And it was privilege that made him think he could care for the creature without doing any research on its origins or needs. Even after the Gremlins unleashed havoc on their family and town, they still didn’t take Gizmo back! Then they gave a weak azz’d apology to the elderly shop owner when he showed up at their house to reclaim Gizmo — and didn’t offer him a ride or any money to get back home.
If they respected the old shop owner or his culture, the Gremlin tragedy could have been avoided.
From the moment we are introduced to his character, it is clear Mr. Futterman has a disdain for all things “non-American.” He speaks of gremlins placed in the television and appliances by foreigners to sabotage the American experience.
If Mr. Futterman is alive today, I’d bet he voted for Trump and would be in favor of building a wall on our southern border.
I understand characters like his were common and socially acceptable in the 80s, just like holiday songs with questionable lyrics about drugs and sexual consent were common and socially acceptable in the 50s … but it doesn’t mean we’re not allowed to be creeped out or call it out when we see it today.
If we remain unwilling to discuss hateful and damaging practices of our past, we’re going to keep repeating them. If we keep choosing nostalgia and political correctness over candid conversation and inclusive evolution, we’re going to keep losing out on the opportunity to become our best selves.
I’m not calling for a ban to Gremlins or anything else. But acknowledging something as problematic and potentially triggering to others shouldn’t be too big of an ask … Right?
Kate’s Holiday Grief
As Billy walks her home from work one day, Kate shares she doesn’t like Christmas. And she points out the holidays are hard for lots of people due to financial struggles and grief from losing loved ones. Billy acknowledged her point but it was clear he didn’t agree or really understand how anyone couldn’t love the Christmas season.
Later in the movie, when they’re hiding out from Gremlins who were attacking people in the street, Kate shares with him that her father died on Christmas Eve trying to slide down their chimney like Santa to surprise her and her mom. She admits the holiday has been sad for her ever since and triggers feelings of grief.
Being attacked by little green monsters probably didn’t help her healing or recovery.
The holiday season is hard. Not being able to buy gifts or travel to see loved ones puts our financial difficulties right in front of our faces. Loved ones who have passed away or who we are estranged from are missed even more this time of year. Some people are able to push passed this and celebrate in spite of negative feelings. Others cannot. Be on the lookout for the latter and offer support where you can. Your check-ins and kind words may just save a life.
The Rules Still Matter
So this isn’t the lighthearted post about following rules I thought it would be. Instead, I was reminded there are bigger rules than the ones designed to prevent us from causing accidental physical harm to ourselves or others in our workplaces.
There are the rules about respect for the culture of others. And there is the importance of educating ourselves before charging into unfamiliar territory waving our perceived superiority and privilege.
There are the rules about inclusion and recognizing the global majority. And there is the importance of progress toward equality and equity, which require us to acknowledge the “good ol’ days” weren’t as good as we thought and that we can’t do better or be better until we admit that.
There are the rules about struggle, loss and grief. And there is the importance of being sensitive to others who are smiling thru their pain or not smiling thru their pain during this time.
And all of those rules matter.