Adolescence is a time of conflict and turmoil for developing teenagers. From the biological changes brought about by puberty to the social challenges one may face, many young people find that this period of their life is far from easy. All adolescents experience certain physiological changes, such as increasing hormone levels and neurological changes that often impact behavior as well as social and emotional functioning. These changes lead to risky behavior and greater sensitivity and impulsivity that many adolescents frequently exude. Storm and stress, a phrase coined by G. Stanley Hall, perfectly describes this phase in a person’s life. The theory of storm and stress is composed of three major aspects: conflict with parents or authority figures, mood disruption, and risky behavior. By analyzing the film Grease, the three major components of storm and stress will be identified and compared in detail to the actions of the teenagers within the story.
The movie Grease tells a story of two young teenagers who fell in love in the summer of 1958. Danny Zuko, a leather jacket wearing bad boy, and Sandy Olsson, an innocent blonde-haired blue-eyed girl, met each other at the beach and spent many romantic days together. When the summer came to an end, Danny and Sandy had to say their goodbyes because Sandy would be returning home to Australia. The two teens were both upset that they had to separate, but they were hopeful that one day they could reunite. However, Sandy’s family had a change of plans and they did not return to Australia. This led to Sandy enrolling as a foreign-exchange student at Rydell High School, the same school that Danny would be attending.
Sandy quickly became friends with a girl named Frenchy, who would eventually introduce Sandy to the schoolgirl clique “The Pink Ladies”. Danny was also a member of a clique. He was the leader a group of four other boys who called themselves “The T-Birds”. On the first day of school, each clique questioned Danny and Sandy on how their summer went. To appear cool to his friends, Danny exaggerated the extent of his relationship with Sandy. On the other hand, Sandy purely described the romance for what it was. When the Pink Ladies realized that Sandy was describing Danny Zuko, they took it upon themselves to reunite the two.
When Danny and Sandy reunited, they were both ecstatic to see each other. However, Danny quickly became dismissive to maintain his image in front of his friends. His rude behavior caused Sandy to run off angrily. Danny paused for a second to reflect on his actions, but then turned around to rejoin his friends. As an attempt to cheer Sandy up, Frenchy invited her to a sleepover with the rest of the Pink Ladies. During the sleepover, Sandy was mocked by the other girls for her innocent behavior. She had no interest in smoking, drinking, or piercing her body, yet she gave in and tried those things after being peer pressured to do so.
Later that night, the T-Birds showed up to Frenchy’s house. Kenickie, a member of the T-Birds, kicked the other guys out of his car so he could go off and flirt with Rizzo, a Pink Lady. Danny then decided to leave on his own while the other members of the T-Birds went out for pizza. Meanwhile, Sandy ponders why she ever loved Danny while the other girls write to their boyfriends and curl each other’s hair. Things then started to heat up with Rizzo and Kenickie in the back of his car, and they decided to have sex without protection. The two were soon interrupted by Leo, the leader of a rival gang The Scorpions, who damaged Kenickie’s car by purposely backing into it.
The next day, the T-Birds gathered together to repair Kenickie’s car. The boys all fantasized about the potential “major piece of machinery” that Kenickie’s car could be. Afterwards, Danny intended to apologize to Sandy at the Frosty Palace but spotted her sharing a drink with a jock instead. Danny then took it upon himself to become a jock, since that was the type of guy he thought Sandy must be into. However, Danny performed terribly in basketball, wrestling, and baseball, and he began to lose his temper. He then turned to running track, which ultimately led to Sandy and Danny resolving their conflict with one another.
Danny and Sandy began to go on dates again and they even attended the school dance together. At the drive-in, Danny gave Sandy his class ring to show her just how much he respects her. Things were going well for the two of them until Danny tried to seduce Sandy, which made her feel uncomfortable and led to her giving him his ring back before storming off. Danny then sung about how helpless and miserable he is without her.
The next scene was the drag race between Kenickie and Leo. Due to an injury, Danny had to take Kenickie’s spot in the race and compete against Leo himself. Sandy sat on the sidelines and watched Danny win the race. While she was happy that Danny won, she was also upset with her self-image. She wanted to change her entire appearance to please Danny. With the help of Frenchy’s knowledge of fashion, Sandy showed up to the last day of school wearing the complete opposite of her normal attire. She was dressed in a leather jacket, skintight pants, and high heels with curled hair and a cigarette in her mouth. Danny was in awe of her new look and fell to his knees. The movie then concludes with Danny and Sandy singing “You’re the One That I Want” and “We Go Together”. The two then hopped into Danny’s car and drove off until they vanished into the distance.
According to G. Stanley Hall, storm and stress is an inevitable part of adolescent development (Vitelli, 2013). The “storm” component of his hypothesis refers to the impulsivity and loss of self-control seen during this stage of life. The “stress” component refers to the increase in stimuli that ultimately causes adolescents to feel highly sensitive to their surroundings. When these two components are put together, they lead to the three major aspects of storm stress: conflict with parents or authority figures, mood disruption, and risky behavior (“Storm And Stress”).
Each of the three aspects are portrayed by the characters in Grease, beginning with conflict with parents or authority figures. Although most of the conflict within the movie is between the teenagers and their own social groups, there are still a few instances that exemplify this element of storm and stress. On the first day of school at Rydell High School, the T-Birds were caught skipping class and were scolded by the principal. Additionally, at the school dance the T-Birds and Pink Ladies were being policed by the teachers and the rest of the school staff on the way that they were dancing. Those who decided to dance provocatively were not tolerated on the premises. Both of these situations display a disagreement between the behavior that the teenagers wanted to partake in and the standards of the authority figures within the school. What the teens found fun was considered inappropriate in the eyes of the adults, thus creating conflict.
The next aspect of storm and stress is known as mood disruption. This involves adolescents feeling emotionally intense and socially sensitive. These elements are shown in the movie through the songs they sing and through peer pressure. Danny is seen as emotionally intense when he sings “Sandy”. In the song, he states that he is helpless without Sandy in his life and that he is miserable without her. He also adds that there is nothing left for him now that they are apart. At this stage in his life, Danny lacks the capacity to understand that he will be fine in time because all he can think about in the moment is Sandy and the love he has for her.
Other examples of mood disruption include the many instances that Danny and Sandy are peer pressured by their cliques. When Danny and Sandy were reunited, Danny felt that he had to act cool in front of his friends to maintain his image in the gang. Protecting his image was worth it to him, even at the expense of Sandy’s feelings. When Sandy was invited over to Frenchy’s house for a sleepover, she decided to try smoking a cigarette, drinking wine, and piercing her ears after her friends mocked her for being too innocent and pure. Sandy felt pressured to please the other girls, even though it compromised her health. In both of these cases of peer pressure, Danny and Sandy were both socially sensitive and wished to be accepted within their cliques.
The final element of storm and stress involves risky behavior. Throughout the entire movie, many of the teenagers are seen smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol. Additionally, Rizzo and Kenickie made an impulsive decision to have sex without protection. Not only did they engage in unprotected sex, but they also had sex illegally in the back of Kenickie’s car. Both of them were caught in the moment and failed to consider the long-term consequences that their actions could bring. Finally, more risky behavior is shown towards the end of the movie when the two rival gangs drag raced their vehicles. Not only were the drivers putting themselves in danger, but they were also putting those sitting around them in danger too.
In the beginning of Grease, both Danny and Sandy are in the adolescent stage of development. They both demonstrate behaviors that show they are very conscious of what others think of them. By conceding to peer pressure, they put the wants of others first and even jeopardize their own health. This reveals that they lack long-term and critical thinking. By the end of the movie, both Danny and Sandy are in the emerging adulthood stage of life. They display long-term critical thinking when they make decisions about adulthood, such as choosing the person they want to be committed to. Additionally, Danny and Sandy both explored different facets of life throughout the movie to help them figure out who they really are. Danny tried four different sports and finally found one that was ideal to him. Sandy gathered the courage to completely change her style, which allowed her to explore a new side of her personality. Without the theory of storm and stress, it is likely that Danny and Sandy would not have found themselves. Instead, they would have stayed comfortable with who they originally thought they were because they wouldn’t have cared enough to fit in with their peers or experiment with new stimuli.
The three aspects of storm and stress adequately explain the development of both Danny and Sandy in Grease. Through conflict with authority figures, social and emotional intensity, and risk-taking, the characters explore the difficulties of adolescence and ultimately come to find themselves and who they are. Whether you are an adolescent living in 1958 or an adolescent in 2019, it is likely that we all have faced similar challenges during this time in our life. No matter how alone you may feel, remember that there is always someone out there who knows exactly what you are going through.
- Storm And Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.alleydog.com/glossary/definition.php?term=Storm+And+Stress.
- Vitelli, R. (2013, September 30). Storming into Adulthood. Retrieved November 30, 2019, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/media-spotlight/201309/storming-adulthood.