turn it up

This week on Facebook, people are talking about Pump Up The Volume, because that odd little movie turns 25 this summer.

*pours one out for my lost youth*

I was twelve in 1990, and I know I didn’t see Pump in the theatre – my best friend Sandy and I rented it on VHS one weekend, and it was the first “R” rated movie I’d ever seen. I’m guessing I was probably about thirteen the first time I listened to Christian Slater as Happy Harry Hard-On ranting about the environment, the government, how his parents’ generation was all fucked up and how the school system served no one.

When you’re a teenager living in rural Nova Scotia, when you don’t fit in and your one boob is bigger than the other one and you get bullied and teased on a daily basis, when you feel that overwhelming sense that something is out of whack and you can’t see a way to fix it, to have anyone say this is so validating it’s a physical relief:

You hear about some kid who did something stupid, something desperate; what possessed him? How could he do such a terrible thing? Well, it’s really quite simple, actually. Consider the life of a teenager – you have parents, teachers telling you what to do, you have movies, magazines and TV telling you what to do, but you know what you have to do. Your job, your purpose is to get accepted, get a cute girlfriend, think up something great to do with the rest of your life. What if you’re confused and can’t imagine a career? What if you’re funny looking and can’t get a girlfriend? You see, no-one wants to hear it. But the terrible secret is that being young is sometimes less fun than being dead.

I mean, COME ON.

It’s the kind of movie that really only makes sense in a pre-internet world. Lonely teenager starts pirate radio station in his basement? Today’s kids would have no idea why this would happen. Today, Mark Hunter would have a Tumblr and accompanying Spotify playlist, not a station on the FM band.

When I was fifteen I went to a week-long summer camp sponsored by Amnesty International & the Youth for Social Justice Network, and we actually set up a pirate radio station. By that time I’d seen Pump many dozens of times. I had favourite lines from the movie scribbled on my binders (“rise up in the cafeteria and stab them with your plastic forks!” “Now I feel like killing myself, but luckily I’m too depressed to bother” “I can smell a lie like a fart in a car” ) and so it felt like some sort of anarchist fantasy.

In reality I spent a lot of time on the air flirting with my camp romance, and by Friday my copy of The Breeders’ Last Splash cassette had gone missing. We incited no rebellions and the CRTC didn’t come shut us down.

Stupid activists stole my cassette. Buncha jerks.

Stupid activists stole my cassette. Buncha jerks.

I’m pretty sure I read some of the poetry written by Samantha Mathis’ character Nora while I was on the air. That sounds like something I’d have done. We didn’t expose a plot by the school administrator to expel all of the low-scoring students in order to maintain a high average grade, and at no point did shirtless Christian Slater come find me while Ivan Neville crooned Why Can’t I Fall In Love. (That clip has boobs, so don’t watch it at work. Just FYI.)

This movie acts as a sort of companion piece to Christian Slater’s other big movie, 1989’s Heathers. Really, one should watch them both together. Get some snacks and a bottle of wine. If you have teenagers, make them watch your dystopian movies for once.


And talk hard.


8 thoughts on “turn it up

  1. “Make your teens watch YOUR dystopian teen movies for once.” YESSS. I watched Maze Runner the other night and could barely tell the difference between it and Hunger Games or Divergent.


  2. I loved that movie. I was 15 at the time and Christian Slater was a huge deal in my group.

    It’s funny how these movies would never be made anymore. I was talking to my husband about it last night, how the original Vacation could never be made today: enraged guy holds Wally World staff at gunpoint so he can ride the rides. Heathers is another one you’d never see these days. And, I guess, movies about pirate radio stations.

    Remember how his parents were hippies turned yuppies? That detail always intrigued me.


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  4. I was 19 in 1989 when Heathers came out and 20 when PUTV came out so I wasn’t directly in their HS target market, but they still resonated. They are such Gen X movies to me – WAY more so than like Slackers or Reality Bites or Singles because they were darker and slightly off like I always felt being Gen X was (in comparison to say the Boomer generation). I rewatched Heathers just last month and it still holds up. And BOY would that movie never get made today. NO.


    • What about “Jawbreaker”? Have you seen that? That was Heathers-ish, but not made *that* long after.

      Mean Girls is an interesting one. Even that feels old now.


  5. I loved Heathers. I tolerated Pump Up The Volume. It felt pandering to me (and my much older than you self – so sophisticated! *pfft*) plus I likely thought I (and a couple of awesome friends) could have done a better job. 😀

    I love Christian Slater however, and I feel like Hollywood did him wrong. Wrong I tells ya! Oh sure he’s kind of managed to turn it around, but he was on a good path there for a bit… he could have slipped into many River Phoenix roles after his sad passing … but nope.

    By the by, is PUTV on Netflix? That seems like a choice way to spend my last Saturday of freedom before the man makes me get all organized and scheduled for school. 😉


  6. I also loved Pump up the Volume – mostly for the Christian Slater factor. Remember this from Buffy The Vampire Slayer, the movie? “All I want to do is graduate from high school, go to Europe, marry Christian Slater, and die.” WORD.


  7. Eek! Hannah! You were a radio pirate, you’re so badass! They’re so young! All his hair! Samantha’s insanely perky boobs! “I like to dance – with my shirt off”. My sister and I loved Heathers too – my mother walked in and caught some of it and thought we were totally insane. You’re right, I need to make Eve watch these with me. And then make her write a paper or something.


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