Retro Review: ‘The Outsiders’


Tiger Media Network

Everyone has something to say about everything. I certainly have shared opinions that vary in terms of how they line up with the general consensus, and I am sure you have to. I have examined, criticized, and praised all sorts of media. This includes film, video games, music, and more. I have had friends, family, and even personal rivals of mine read my work to not only get their thoughts on the structure, but of the ideas discussed. A few times I shared a few short notes on a film, piece of music, or series (say five sentences) and I was met with a long full-length rebuttal. This could be in the form of a verbal conversation, a text, or a fully published review on its own. When I would receive this kind of criticism or dissent, it came from different places and with different goals. For example, I might criticize aspects of a certain film and one might retort with a seething essay about my lack of understanding, negative assertions about the kind of person I am, or even shady comments. I have also received the reverse. People garner different responses not only to the art they create but also for their critical rating or interpretation of a work. 

Agreement about interpretation or critical rating could determine one’s opinion of the author’s skill, credentials, or individual merit. Growing up a gay kid in Salina, I loved watching and playing with movies and video games. As any nerdy gay kid does I had my ships, I had my queer interpretations, and of course, I had my detractors. There was a boatful of angry responses for every interpretation and assertion I made about characters in the past. While there were some canonically queer characters most of them were villains, and while I love a good villain it never fully encompassed our full range of characters as queer people. 

Pegasus from “Yu-Gi-Oh,” Double D from “Ed, Edd n Eddy,” Neil Perry from “The Dead Poets Society,” and of course Johnny Cade and Ponyboy from “The Outsiders” all were gay in my interpretation. While I would often receive the classic line “why do you always have to make everything gay?” from others, I didn’t care. It was what I thought and felt that mattered to me and no one was going to stop me. I mean who didn’t want greasers to kiss by the end of the book or movie, boring people, that’s who.

Darry played by Patrick Swayze

During the early parts of the pandemic, my roommate (my little sister) and I began to become interested in exploring activities that we had not often had time for. I had sorely neglected my book collection that was slowly accruing dust on my old black shelves, when my sister said why don’t we read. I suggested that we read together. Both of us like audiobooks and we decided to sit down together at the end of the day and I would read a passage from a book. The first two books we picked out were Nisio Isin’s “Death Note: Another Note – The Los Angeles BB Murder Cases” and S.E. Hinton’s “The Outsiders,” the latter of which my sister told me she never read in her middle school years. I was shocked as that book was the best time I had read in all of my school years and I simply had to share the experience with her. By the end of our reading venture, we picked up on some subtext that, for us, implied a level of intimacy between some of the characters that could have led toward a romantic reading. None of which include Cherry Valance. 

Often times, characterizations like these leave the gays and allying girls with a bitter taste of disappointment lingering, reminiscent of the feeling a player might have finishing the Yosuke Hanamura social link in “Persona 4.” I was led to further disappointment in 2016 when S.E. Hinton herself snuffed out fan interpretation. In response to Twitter user @MrCadeWinston’s (their name itself a reference to the ship) tweet “haha nah, I’ve seen your answer. (Everyone’s gonna hate me 4 this) Were there any romantic feelings between Johnny and Dally?”. Hinton said  “No. Where is the text backing this?” When the fan said they thought it was cute and that they were just asking, Hinton replied “ask someone in the ’60’s how “cute” it was to be gay. I have many friends I love & do not want to sleep with.” Her final comment is what leads to the most interest. She says this snide comment about how cute it was to be gay in the 60s which implies there was something wrong with it, there were certainly gay people in the 50s. Unless Hinton was implying that couldn’t have written the characters in this way due to the period this comes off as a homophobic silence of interpretation. However, I can’t imagine this being her actual intent. There were certainly gay teenagers just as there are today. Hinton was a mere teenager when writing. Her description through Ponyboy’s perspective could have been her youthful attraction seeping in, however, that being said when such positively affirming descriptors are made by a boy protagonist and are attributed to his friends (who are also guys) it definitely gives at the very least a gay vibe, especially to gay readers.  

Now picture it’s 1983 upcoming Hollywood heartthrobs and classic 80s actors in their youthful years are joined up for one of the most iconic coming-of-age stories in American literature now being brought to the big screen by Francis Ford Coppola no less. “The Outsiders” cast included C. Thomas Howell, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, and Ralph Macchio. The film was an adaptation of the novel of the same name that was originally released in 1967. The film’s talent was undeniable and it was a faithful enough adaptation to keep fans happy. The film looks beautiful, the adapted scenes especially the fights are well choreographed, the wardrobe is on point and era-specific. However, what was it about this film that made it so special the most?

A component of the film that felt very natural and adhered with the text was how Johnny, Ponyboy, and Dallas’ interactions were directed or conveyed. Ralph Macchio and C. Thomas Howell shares beautiful moments together, Whether this be before the incident with the socs, in the church, when the church is burned down, or on Johnny’s deathbed. Gay fans like myself enjoyed the on screen chemistry between both Johnny and Pony. For some viewers with them cuddling, on the run together, and saying beautiful words to each other. Matt Dillon as Dallas was also convincing and proved to be an important emotional component of the film. With the way both the text and the film conveyed the relationships between the greasers, it is surprising that in the later half of the 2010s S.E. Hinton would respond to such an interpretation. What I take away from this particular experience is something akin to the “Death of the Author” idea. In that, I think while it’s interesting to examine what the author’s original intent was, especially if that intent overpowers and heavily influences interpretation, what is actually important is the interpretations that we have ourselves. How did a specific piece of media make you feel? What did you gain or take away from certain stories? With that mindset and not worrying whether or not other people agree with you (which can be hard), you will start to feel able to enjoy the content you consume. 

Matt Dillon as Dallas Winston

Interpretation is an important component of the media consumption process. Often, our interpretations or opinions will garner reactions, especially if they don’t line up with the majority. A lot of the time there is no right or wrong answer. So have your ships, have your ideas about what the media you consume implies. Whether it was the creator’s intent or not, do not be silenced for having ideas that don’t assimilate or conform. Whether that be a queer reading of “The Outsiders,” your personal political view of “Animal Farm,” or if you are dragging toxic rich people in “The Great Gatsby.” Your interpretations are valid whether the greasers had any potential of being gay or had feelings for each other or were simply “just friends.”