Sandy and Danny acculturation

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“.



6 thoughts on “Sandy and Danny acculturation

  1. I really like this post because it gives a good aspect on what society looks like today. For example, Danny reminds me of some average high school boy that tries too hard to get the girl he likes. I believe society should look at the people the way they are and not the way society thinks they should be. The reason why is it makes people have a false sense of hope that ultimately make that person only looking like a jackass. I think if people would actually take the time to get to know someone for who they are, it would cause for less trouble and heartache and make society a little bit better for everyone.

  2. Anonymous thank you for your comment. I agree with your assessment of people trying too hard to get the girl, not just in high school but throughout life. The problem is that people think they can change to become more attractive without being true to themselves. I think this is what leads to heartache because you fool yourself into thinking it will work out, but change is not something acquired over night. It is an accumulation of years and experiences that ultimately shape the type of person you become. For this reason, people struggle conforming to the hegemonic culture through the process of assimilation because they lose their senses of self. Without a strong grasp of your identity, I feel like this causes depression and other mental disorders, which negatively impact an individual’s productivity and life.

  3. I love this show. The 50’s seemed to be a time of freedom, to be who one wanted to be. The culture seemed to be more relaxed. This movie shows how teenagers go through a time, either in middle school or in high school, where they have to find out what social group they fit into. Unfortunately, some of them will change who they are to fit in to that group. I say unfortunately, because changing who you are or your beliefs to fit it or to be liked is not being true to yourself. I believe that if I have to change to be accepted by society, then I’m not being myself.

  4. robrienco thank you for your comment. I think the 1950’s seemed to be the “Golden Age” of America primarily due to how the media framed that era. Although the media shape our reality by telling us what the dominant group looks like and acts like, I feel like youth are more susceptible to this depiction because they lack the education to critique the media. This lack of critical understanding is what perpetuates the hegemonic styles for clothes. Ultimately, class is established throughout middle school and high school based upon the brand name clothes on your shirt. If you do not have access to those brands, then you are less privileged and less “cool”. For this reason, I would classify assimilation toward the dominant group a youth’s way to prove they belong there, even at the cost of losing what they stand for. This can be forced upon the individual by the members of the group he seeks to belong to in the form of micro-aggression. This is a day-to-day interaction between the individual and the group in order to coerce him to “look like us” before he can be considered one of them. When discussed in this vain, micro-aggression could, arguably, be a form of bullying through peer pressure to change one’s outward appearance to be socially accepted.

  5. Thank you for sharing the idea of assimilation in an American movie.I think that the blog post explain the concept of cultural assimilation really clearly. The example is analyzed quite well and it helps me to understand the film alot while I have no idea about this film. You did a good job, Lauren.

  6. Thuy, I’m glad you were able to understand the concepts in relation to the movie. I encourage you to watch Grease so you can better understand the process associated with assimilation, beyond what I describe here. The idea of assimilation can seem fairly straightforward; however, I think when it is displayed in this movie, you can grasp the true complexity of it. Grease is also a good example of establishing class status based upon the outward appearance the characters evoke. It was also interesting for me to watch it, after graduating from high school, because I realized how marginalization and assimilation are at battle with one another during those four years. Each person struggles with establishing her sense to belong to a group while trying not to lose oneself in the process.

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