** This is a paper I wrote on the nuances of Rocky Horror. Many people view him as just a dumb oaf, but there is a lot more to his character than that! In a nutshell, this post shows that Rocky Horror the science fiction creature is WAYYY more interesting than Rocky Horror the person! I know it's long but I think it's worth the read!**
The Rocky Horror Show is well-known as a cult classic with overt sexual overtones, but it's rarely referred to as a science fiction piece when people try to explain it. That's strange, since Richard O'Brien hits us from the very beginning with multiple science fiction references in the opening song (named "Science Fiction/Double Feature"). Worse yet, by ignoring the very real science fiction elements of the piece, fist-time movie watchers - known as "virgins" - and even veterans will abandon any attempt to make sense out of a movie that has so much to offer.
Rocky, the titular character, is a prime example of the science fiction elements present in both the movie and play. His very life is the product of alien technology, created by other-worldly creatures from another galaxy who nonetheless take the form of humans. His presence alludes to both the classical Frankenstein and the more contemporary (at the time) Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
On the other hand, Rocky comes off as nothing more than idiotic eye-candy. This is perhaps why he is not seen as a character worthy of analysis, particularly in a genre as cerebral as science fiction. To compound the problem, Rocky has no or very few speaking lines, depending on whether one consults the movie or the play, and so text analysis becomes very difficult.
However, this is not unusual. Very often, creatures of science fiction are described by human characters rather than having speaking lines of their own. Such characters are still pivotal to their works due to what they are rather than what they say. In the case of Rocky, he is a creation of Dr. Frankenfurter, who reveals himself to be a demanding, meticulous master who knows exactly what he wants and does not want. Therefore, the quickest way to understand Rocky is to understand Frankenfurter.
Recognizing Frankenfurter's dominating character, it can be appreciated why Rocky has so few lines throughout the show. Remember that he was designed to be the perfect man for Frankenfurter. Given the doctor's desire to be the constant center of attention, he would hardly design a creature more ostentatious than himself. In fact, Rocky's generally passive personality is convincingly explained during the reprise of “Charles Atlas”, when Frankenfurter sings:
I don’t want no dissension… just dynamic tension.
More than likely, Rocky was created to attend to Frankenfurter without providing any criticism of his own, and so it stands to reason that such a creature would have little to say. It also provides a fresh look at this dialogue, which would otherwise look like the ramblings of a simpleton:
Rocky: Oh, it’s you – look I’m trying to hide from my creator and his minion – they scare me – I feel that all is not well here. I have been thinking about Eddie. I have a feeling of foreboding.
Janet: It’s all like some terrible dream.
Rocky: Is it true you don’t like men with too many muscles?
Rocky: Have you got any lip gloss?
Janet: I’m engaged to Brad, just the same as Betty Munroe was to Ralf Hapshatt. But Frank’s kisses overwhelmed me with an ecstasy I had never dreamed of before… Oh Brad, Brad my darling, how could I have done this to you?
Rocky: This room is a womb to me.
Rocky's comments are completely scattered, but they're not without intelligence. His last comment is curiously insightful and perhaps no one else in the play can sense how deadly the night will become. We also know that Frankenfurter values intelligence from his "mental relationship" with Eddie, his former lover, and because he fumes when Janet is unable to "wise up", so he wouldn't make an idiot. Finally, Rocky understands analogies such as the Sword of Damocles. So why does he sound so stupid?
The answer is simple, but hard to imagine at first - Rocky is intelligent until the moment he could potentially dissent. Rocky begins by describing his anxieties, but because his mind will not let him elaborate, he shifts to a meaningless question. Likewise, the monster listens to Janet as she laments her situation, but he cannot comment on her actions so he changes the subject again. His inability to maintain this conversation, then, may not be a character flaw but a disability intentionally installed by Frankenfurter.
Rocky's inability to provide true dissent masks an important truth: not only does Rocky possess intelligence, but he is acutely aware of his surroundings, perhaps more than any other character. In the movie, he is the only character who leaves the castle during the night. In the staged performance, the narrator speaks directly to Rocky alone. This awareness makes sense since Rocky was designed to pose while being ogled, but it also adds to his tragedy. Twice during the show, he escapes his creator and his doom in a panic only to return to his womb. He cannot conceive an improved circumstance, but is keenly aware that his current position is a bad one.
Finally, Rocky's inability to act on his impulse of dread solves a paradox that would be very important to Dr. Frankenfurter. How do you create a monster that is much stronger than you while maintaining complete control? He might have created a creature that simply bowed to his master’s will, but this is not Frankenfurter's idea of a perfect man. He makes this point clear when he reacts to Brad's minor act of defiance:
How forceful you are, Brad, what a perfect example of manhood – so dominant – you must be very proud, Janet.
Frankenfurter wants a creature that exhibits dominance. Yet he also wants to retain control of Rocky at all times. The easiest way to do that is to remove the creature’s capacity to crave independence. Rocky does not obey his creator out of respect, fear, or love – he does it simply because that is his circumstance and he cannot consider another circumstance to take its place.
So far, there has been a lot of discussion on how Rocky behaves, without any indication of the cause of his behavior. Rocky's actions seem almost impossible to follow from the moment the creature sings “Sword of Damocles”. Why would a monster designed solely for pleasure begin his existence by citing classic Greek tragedy? For that matter, what causes his angst in the first place? Rocky’s creator hints at a promising explanation when he says:
Rocky is behaving the same way that Eddie did. Perhaps I made a mistake by splitting a brain between the two.
This comment is made incidentally, almost as if it is mere trivia that Rocky shares a brain with Eddie. However, when this information is combined with the deficiencies that Rocky has in processing information, it becomes clear what has happened: Dr. Frankenfurter was able to create Rocky's brain by selectively inserting the portions of Eddie's brain that he enjoyed, while leaving the rest inside Eddie. The ability to take action and exert independence was decidedly kept out of Rocky.
Eddie and Rocky, while sharing the ability to talk, move, etc., seem to have diametrically opposed personality traits. For example, while Rocky never frees himself from his “womb”, Eddie breaks free of the icebox to which he was confined, upstaging Frankenfurter in the process. Conversely, Rocky is extremely aware of his surroundings and the impending doom it brings, while Eddie sings “Hot Patootie” happily until his demise becomes apparent. This also explains Frankenfurter's callous murder of a former lover - the parts of Eddie that Frank loved are already in Rocky, and the Eddie that we see has all of the parts that Frank hates.
There are many possible personality traits that can be explained this way. Rocky’s ideal demeanor is certainly up for interpretation, and the permutations are as innumerable as Frankenfurter’s desires. However, we have just covered two important principles that guide our analysis of Rocky as a creature of science fiction: 1) his brain comes from Frankenfurter's former lover and 2) his brain has been deliberately censored or limited by his creator. There is also a third guiding principle, which has to do with the brain transplant itself.
So far, Rocky’s role as a creature of science fiction explains differences between his own conscious actions and that of an ordinary person. However, the science fiction theme dictates his subconscious behavior as well, yielding extraordinary theories about his psychology. It is revealed that Rocky is wracked with grief from birth, as he sings:
I woke up this morning with a start as I fell out of bed
And left from my dreaming was a sense of un-amenable dread.
In fact, the entirety of the song refers to his life as a “misery” and a “downer”. Since he is singing this verse at the tender age of thirty seconds, his mind is either programmed to be pessimistic towards everything or he is reacting to some memory from before his birth. It is hardly plausible that Frankenfurter would intentionally wire Rocky's brain to hate everything, so we turn to the more likely scenario: Rocky’s trauma is the result of Eddie’s past.
This theory is supported by Eddie's behavior before and after his brain surgery. Dr. Scott tells us about Eddie's nervous state in “Eddie’s Teddy”:
But he must’ve been drawn into something
Making him warn me in a note which says
“I’m out of my head. Oh hurry, or I may be dead.
They musn’t carry out their evil deeds.”
Eddie was evidently in plenty of distress before his brain was cut open. Yet during “Hot Patootie”, there is virtually no sense of emotional trauma, nor is he even aware of the impending danger around him until it is too late. In all likelihood, the part of Eddie's brain that stored all that fear and trauma was transferred into Rocky.
Yet there's reason to believe that Eddie was traumatized still further. After all, Eddie writes his letter to Dr. Scott before his head gets cut open. There is nothing in the script that details Eddie’s final moments with a complete brain, but given Frankenfurter’s capacity for cruelty, it can be assumed that proper anesthetic treatment was not a high priority during this operation. Eddie may have even been forced to watch Dr. Frankenfurter's scalpel press against his head, which may well have been his last memory.
Rocky may not have a conscious recollection of Eddie’s surgery, but his brain could certainly carry that emotional trauma. Perhaps this is the reason that Rocky chooses, among all allegories, the Sword of Damocles. He is not just speaking metaphorically, but is instead reacting to the literal blade that was placed above the head of his brain's former owner.
In a sense, Rocky is haunted by memories of his own origins. Worse still, the face that haunts him belongs to the man he was designed to obey, Dr. Frankenfurter. This easily explains his erratic and inconsistent behavior throughout the show. It is also clear that this comes as a complete surprise to the controlling doctor as he says:
That is no way to behave on your first time out.
Whatever Dr. Frankenfurter’s intentions were, Rocky was not created quite as planned. It is unlikely that Rocky was designed to have such impending dread inside of him, but realistically, Frank does not care that his creation is under such emotional duress. It is reasonable to suggest, however, that the same part of the brain that allows Rocky to be so self-aware also gives him such a heightened sense of worry, if not fear. If this is true, Frank’s ill-treatment of Eddie doomed his project from the beginning.
Science fiction remains a popular genre because of its inherent ability to explore life under a different set of rules. The Rocky Horror Show gained infamy, and then fame, by ignoring the boundaries of social mores and contemplating a new sense of morality through self-indulgence. It is therefore no surprise that understanding Rocky Horror as a work of science fiction also allows the audience to appreciate the social impacts of a creature like Rocky. At the very least, it allows the audience to gain some insight on the madness that they have come to expect from the show.