Becoming a Pink Lady and a Jock
Throughout the movie Grease, Sandy Olsson and Danny Zuko forego their identities in the hopes of being like the other. This process is known as cultural assimilation: becoming a member of a new culture while losing apart of yourself in the process. However, there are four outcomes possible when a person partakes in the acculturation process. Assimilation is when the person moves toward dominant culture while leaving the old culture behind. Integration is the blending of the old and new cultures in a bi-cultural identity. Rejection is when the person disagrees with the new culture, which leads to reaffirmation of his traditional culture. Marginalization is separation from both cultures and an individual cultural identity.
With a basic understanding of cultural assimilation, we can better analyze the transformation Sandy and Danny exhibit in the movie.
When we first meet Sandy, we notice her struggle to fit in at Riddle High School. She assimilates into the group of cheerleaders, which shapes the interactions she has with the football players. Her assimilation as a cheerleader, and thus attraction to football players, reinforces the hegemonic belief that cheerleaders date football players. From the portrayal of Sandy, at this point in the movie, it seems as though she consents to the pom-pom label. However, during a Pink Ladies sleepover, Sandy partakes in the integration process. She wants to become a member of both and is willingly coerced into smoking and drinking, after Rizzo persistently forces the issue. Afterward, Frenchy convinces Sandy that she can pierce Sandy’s ears after Sandy’s multiple shrieks from being poked by a needle. The Pink Ladies continue this micro-aggression, daily interactions to change Sandy, throughout the movie until Sandy succumbs to the image of a Pink Lady. Due to this micro-aggression, Sandy rejects her bi-cultural identity to avoid marginalization from the Pink Ladies, and ultimately her chance to be with Danny.
Danny is a member of the T birds and is the cool guy at Riddle High School. But, during the past summer he rejected this identity to assimilate to the more socially accepted, hegemonic “nice guy” – all for love. He was attracted to Sandy and even dressed in white sweaters to appear groomed. But, when he encounters Sandy at a football rally, he assimilates back into the T birds culture. Unfortunately for Danny, Sandy is upset and calls him a phony. From that point on, Danny is determined to get Sandy back so much so that he decides to become a jock. He tries to become a wrestler, a baseball player, and finally a track and field athlete. In order to be welcomed into the dominant, sports culture, Danny utilizes code-switching. Code-switching is when a person shifts his dialect throughout different situations in order to showcase his status and worth to be a member of that culture. That means Danny cannot punch people when he is losing to even the stakes since violence is not accepted in the hegemonic society. Danny is successful in the acculturation of his attitudes and behaviors so he is absorbed into the cultural body and will be able to be with Sandy.
As Sandy assimilates into the Pink Ladies group, since she was the only pom-pom, Danny rejects his new jock identity and assimilates back into a member of the T birds. In the end, the process of acculturation changed Sandy and brought Danny full circle before both exclaimed, “You’re the One I Want, Oo-oo-oo“.