The Rocky Horror Picture Show and four decades of queer sci fi punk

Great article! Nice summary of the appeal of RHPS for many of us.

I think the main message of RHPS is just “don’t be afraid to be yourself” and “you can choose who you want to be in this world.” For me it’s an empowering, uplifting message.


I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I had the realization that RHPS was an access point for a lot of queer kids in the 80s and 90s. It was a place where, week after week, we could gather and be around “our kind” in a mostly safe environment. By the time I started going (I lost my RHPS virginity when I was 13, but didn’t go more regularly until I was maybe 16 or 17) across the country the drinking age had been raised to 21. That meant that the other gathering places - bars (since by 1988 most bathhouses and spas had been closed) - were off limits. So for me, and for a handful of friends who were somewhere on the “not straight” spectrum, Rocky was a haven where we could be glammed up and campy, stay out way past bedtime, and get home mostly sober and safe.


Shock Treatment i’ve only seen once and i was pretty let down by it. The music was pretty flat for me and the plot wasn’t terribly interesting, though the premise for the movie itself wasn’t bad but it felt like a missed opportunity for me.

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New Zealand. We must remember that in his youth Richard O’Brien lived and worked as a hairdresser in New Zealand’s largest farming service centre - Hamilton (which gained the nick-named Hamiltron sometime in the early 2000s for reasons I can’t quite grasp but maybe someone can fill me in), a town somewhat well-known for it’s rural conservatism. Richard considers Hamilton to be the town where he is ‘from’, and that his time there was a key influence on RHS. Maybe parallels can be seen between the influence and context of inspiration for RHS, and the NZ influence on other DIY, punk and ‘horror’ movements that have arisen in New Zealand. I’m thinking of Chris Knox and the Flying Nunn music scene, and even Peter Jackson’s early DIY horror flicks (Peter has connections to Weta Workshop - see below for relevance. His more recent films are pretty much the same formulae but with much larger budget - but that’s another topic). In a way, these movements can be seen to be responding to and rebelling against the conservative, homogeneous, dominant-but-small society that was ‘New Zealand’ (maybe Aotearoa New Zealand is less conservative now in many ways e.g. legalisation of same-sex marriage). And as well, each of these examples of expression drew on a view-from-afar of the film and music from US and UK, to create and in some ways re-mixed theses materials into something unique yet very much recognisable to those mega-cultures.

In 2004, the Hamiltron city council and private partners erected a Weta Workshop built statue of Richard as Riff Raff with a plaque that reads:

It’s astounding!
Where we stand is the birthplace of
The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
On this site stood The Embassy Theatre, the home of
Hamilton’s ‘Late Night Double Feature Picture Show’ and the barber shop
where Richard O’Brien cut hair and daydreamed from 1959 to 1964.

See the statue’s live webcam:


My only concern with the new remake is that a “Tamed-for-TV” Rocky Horror Picture Show won’t have the “Dirtiness” to live up to the taboo-breaking of the original. Can it be a home for weirdos if it’s on network TV?


Can someone tell The Mary Sue blog this? For some reason they completely have the wrong idea about Rocky Horror and it’s heartbreaking and sad. They think it’s harmful to the LGBTQ community and the comments are even more heartbreaking with younger people saying things like: “Wow, I always was curious about Rocky Horror now I know to avoid it, thank you Mary Sue.” Yeesh.


I was a rather sheltered 16 year old when an ad came on TV for it. My commented it had some great music in it, he made no other comment about it all, so I taped it and watched.

Whatever I was expecting, it wasn’t what I watched. But I do love it.


It is true that genderfuckery existed long before we had all this fancy terminology for it, and I’m glad you get trans issues because you were exposed to it, but I don’t think it’s the same for everyone. Even if people see all the queer freaks they still often believe that they’re all just men in women’s clothes. I’m not sure if stuff’s actually changed in ways that people think it has in terms of understanding of trans issues, like, okay, we have a word for everything, but does that automatically mean we understand each other?
I guess what I’m saying is, transphobia seems to vary a lot more from person to person and community to community than from one age group to another, even though gender expectations and whatnot change over time. Maybe that’s why some young queers think it’s only the older queers that don’t get things - it’s confirmation bias?

Side note, do you think it’s weird when people think of the queer community, as a whole, as going in a particular “direction” ? because we’re not a homogeneous, unified group, we didn’t all turn queer because we shared political goals and a single vision of the future, we just got stuck together, like a really huge, annoying, loud family.


These are all systems in motion and not lurching towards some universal direction of progress.

The fact that we are all oppressed for roughly the same reasons does not mean that we share common aspirations above and beyond ending the oppression. We learned that in ACTUP.

What we do know is that lesbians and gays made the strides we did because we punctuated our activism with exclamation points like Compton’s, Stonewall, ACTUP and Queer Nation but got down to business in doing the grassroots connecting with people not like us so that our realities were no longer mystified. Over a period of 30 years, more and more lesbians and gays came out to family, friends, coworkers and community and that is what did the trick. Our politics aside, our collective journey proved the value of not presuming antipathy and connecting ours with the humanity that resides in most everyone. That is the gold standard template for making social change in this society. I am humbled to have lived through it, going from pariah to inevitable.

In the social sciences, you never get better than 80%. There will always be 20% racists, sexists and queerphobes or people who get off on pushing those buttons. We’ve got to figure out healthy ways to deal with that fact rather than generalize that marginal conduct as in any way normative or normal. We might not be normative but we certainly are normal. But that kind of perpetuated hatred breaks the rules of sustainable societies. If the human species were in any danger of underpopulation, then the a similar social necessity case could be made against not breeding. But the opposite is the problem we face.

The trans stories are different stories. Many of them are as contradictory amongst themselves as we see in the broader lesbian and gay communities. This is the problem, as you point out, in using communities united by the irrational hatred of others as a basis for a rational, common emancipatory community. It would be nice but it ain’t gonna happen. We learned that in ACTUP 30 years ago when conservative gay white men shit talked direct action for being rude and improper. Our putting our lives on the line probably helped save many of their lives.


Sure, I wouldn’t say that either Shock Treatment or Rocky Horror are great movies, critically speaking. I should have probably qualified that by “brilliant” I was thinking “inspired and significant”. Both are far from my usual taste in music, and are more interesting in concept than execution, but I still find the results entertaining.

yes! well said!!

I just read A Queer History of the United States a few weeks ago and it talks a lot about this stuff, although it spans 500 years or so. It specifically mentions the different strategies for battling homophobia - trying to explain in academic/philosophical terms why gay people deserve rights had very little effect, whereas gay people explaining to their families and friends how they would be affected by legislation that takes away their rights worked much better, just like you said. It’s about individual social change.

Now I’m reading Gay Berlin and suddenly the proliferation of Latin- and Greek-based words to describe sexuality makes so much more sense.

Got any book recommendations? I have a list and I’m starting with the entire 306.7 section of the local public library.


I read A Queer History of the United States a few weeks ago and it described exactly that. It compared two approaches that were used at exactly the same time, one being philosophical/academic explanations of why gay people deserve human rights, which had very little effect, and the other being gay people describing to friends and family how homophobic legislation affected them, which changed the minds of a lot of voters. Like you say, it’s about individual social change.

Can you clarify that bit? I only know a little bit about ACTUP.

I love reading about queer history though, it makes everything make so much more sense! I’m reading Gay Berlin right now, and now I understand why have all these academic-sounding words for sexuality that are just Latin and Greek words smashed together - it’s German!
I’ve got a huge list of queer books and I’m going through the whole 306.7 section of my local library, do you have any recommendations?

Can you link to some examples of them saying this, maybe?

Probably talking about this:


Thanks! I went to the Mary Sue did not see a search button, and gave up… lazy me.

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There is a great interview with RoB in New Zealand, in Hamilton, and they show the statue and he talks all about the creation of RHPS and he says he’s trans at one point. Such a lovely lovely man, I highly recommend watching all five parts. :slight_smile:


Can you clarify that bit? I only know a little bit about ACTUP.

My thinking was that I’ve just moved to San Francisco which is liberal with a lot of lesbians and gays so therefore I will find myself amidst progressive lesbians and gays. This is not the case, we fall out according to the political distributions of the rest of the culture, from left to right. Sexual orientation is orthogonal to political orientation.

There were conservative homosexuals who opposed ACTUP because we were uppity and did direct action that inconvenienced people and disturbed the public order.

HIV/AIDS disturbed the public order much more, and our direct action helped to push the government and pharma towards taking not just our interests seriously, but reconfiguring the entirety of how clinical trials are conducted (CFR 22 part 11) to ensure that they are conducted to ensure that meds and devices are tested against the population, not just straight white men.

I really appreciate the clarity and integrity of the discussion, unexpected in the comment section.


Nice, i’ll have to watch it after i get off work. He’s great, for the longest time i had no clue he was one of the main baddies in Dark City.

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Dang, I didn’t know about the change in clinical trials - I mean, I knew they used to only do clinical trials on (presumed) straight white dudes, but I never knew ACTUP was the one that changed the legislation. They don’t teach us this in school. AP US History goes all the way up to the present and goes into a lot of detail but it’s like HIV/AIDS never even happened. And I sure as hell don’t have a normal way to meet queer people who lived through it, as a 17 year old, so this and the library are my only options.

I appreciate your comments too!!! It is really a refreshing change of pace to say my opinion on the internet and then have a thoughtful discussion with someone who gives a damn about things. :smiley: