Also Johnny Castle. And Those Pants
September 24, 2013 6:28 PM   Subscribe

Dirty Dancing is A SUBVERSIVE MASTERPIECE and here are four reasons why. "While I loved it as a mushy romance starring a relatable heroine and a dreamy guy, a huge portion of the plot flew right over my tiny unworldly preteen head. But it was only as an adult that I realized how RADICALLY subversive and politically bananas this movie really is."

Bonus insights in the comments, for once. For example.
posted by juliplease (61 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
 
It is the best movie and I will monkey knife fight anyone who says otherwise.
posted by elizardbits at 6:33 PM on September 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


Even better- watch Dirty Dancing and Red Dawn back-to-back.


*bwaaaaaamp*
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 6:33 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Damn, all that from Dirty Dancing. Imagine if the author watched It's a Wonderful Life.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:42 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Nobody puts Baby in the corner!
posted by briank at 6:42 PM on September 24, 2013


> "Damn, all that from Dirty Dancing. Imagine if the author watched It's a Wonderful Life."

Well ... it is THERE is Dirty Dancing. I mean, the author isn't really beanplating or anything. How many summer romance movies have an illegal abortion as a major plot incident?
posted by kyrademon at 6:45 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


This article is good and you should feel good for posting it. I love this kind of analytic nostalgia.

FYI, these days Jennifer Grey is married to Clark Gregg, thereby forming my celebrity OTP of cute.
posted by nicebookrack at 6:52 PM on September 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


I never saw Dirty Dancing when it came out. I was 16 or so and I remember girls obsessing over their VHS copies. I still have only seen bits and pieces. At the time, I think I was led to believe it was sort of trashy by my mother. I wish I had seen it then, I think my 16 year old self could have used it.
posted by Biblio at 6:54 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I mean, the author isn't really beanplating or anything

Fair point, Just saying Wonderful Life is just as subversive. It was the subject of an FBI memo in which they classified it as communist propaganda.

There are quite a few movies like this where the original intent if far different than how we view them today.
posted by Ad hominem at 6:57 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's interesting to ignore the movie I know as an adult and think back to the movie as I understood it as a kid. One of the things that surprised me was Johnny smashing the window of his car when they were locked out. Maybe because as a kid it was drummed into me to be very careful not to scratch a car, it didn't occur to me that someone could ever have the agency to do that. He didn't agonize, or rack his brain, he just did what would work and accepted the cost.

Heh, when I accidentally locked myself and a lady friend out of my car, instead of breaking a window, I pulled out my cellphone and had Onstar remotely unlock it for me right then and there on the spot. The subtext reads completely differently...
posted by anonymisc at 6:57 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I do believe that Dirty Dancing was my first understanding of why the word 'abortion' was always on the news, as a 12 yr old in the 80's.
posted by Tandem Affinity at 6:59 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Fun fact! Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights was assembled atop the corpse of Cuba Mine, a Peter Sagal screenplay intended as a serious, street-level treatment of the Cuban Revolution.
posted by Iridic at 6:59 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


I love dance movies and am now racking my brains to come up with other films that have a class analysis as a plot component. Strictly Ballroom has a touch, what with Fran's (oooh! Fran vs. Frances!) family as immigrant storekeepers. Bring It On has that race/class/cultural appropriation angle.

iridic, I have to confess I watched DD: Havana Nights and remember thinking "oh, they actually put some history in this one?!"
posted by spamandkimchi at 7:12 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


And where does Road House fit into all this?
posted by JohnnyGunn at 7:14 PM on September 24, 2013 [5 favorites]


From This American Life. Don't spoil it!
posted by Quilford at 7:20 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


BABY'S MARRIED TO AGENT COULSON?!
posted by alynnk at 7:29 PM on September 24, 2013 [32 favorites]


SERIOUSLY!!! I just found this out also. Why am I so amazed!??
ps: Dirty Dancing is a GREAT movie, and I really miss Patrick Swayze and Jerry Orbach.
posted by maryrussell at 7:32 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


I love dance movies and am now racking my brains to come up with other films that have a class analysis as a plot component. Strictly Ballroom has a touch, what with Fran's (oooh! Fran vs. Frances!) family as immigrant storekeepers. Bring It On has that race/class/cultural appropriation angle.

What about Flashdance? Billy Eliott?
posted by Bwithh at 7:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I carried a watermelon.

(I still say this in my head whenever I say something awkward and can't scream about it.)
posted by MCMikeNamara at 7:43 PM on September 24, 2013 [7 favorites]


My brain just seized up... THAT Peter Sagal? Yes indeed. I wish Carl Kasell had played Castro.
posted by sockshaveholes at 7:46 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


When I worked at a Video rental store way back in the go-go 80's, store policy was all eight TV's running Dirty Dancing non-stop from open to close until the last unrented copy was removed from the machine to place on the shelf. That experience solved any problem with me thinking that Baby should not be placed nose first in a quiet corner. I normally don't bash a movie, but I feel compelled to share my tortured endless hours of pain and anguish.

.
posted by vozworth at 7:48 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Since we're talking Swayze, I just got reacquainted with Point Break and that movie is completely bonkers. Point Break Live, the show, however, is possibly the funniest thing I have seen in my entire life and if you have a chance at all you should go see it.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 7:58 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


I carried a watermelon.

This sounds so much like slang for "I was pregnant."
posted by jamjam at 8:01 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


One of the highlights of my existence is projecting/watching Dirty Dancing on a large screen, late at night and alone, in the mess hall of the biological station that now occupies part of the resort where they filmed Dirty Dancing.
posted by unknowncommand at 8:04 PM on September 24, 2013 [15 favorites]


This probably explains why it has never gotten a remake... in an era when the word for remakes and reboots is "darker", Dirty Dancing would need to be bleached.
posted by oneswellfoop at 8:26 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


unknowncommand, that's got to be the final scene of a movie where the protagonist is the last one remaining on Earth after a bioweapon wipes out humanity. And you know what song has got to be playing.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:35 PM on September 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


I almost squeed with joy when I saw that the author of this piece was going to talk about "I carried a watermelon." I love that line so much for all the reasons the author talks about - it's just so funny and awkward and perfect. And it doesn't get nearly as much love as it should.

I must have seen this movie dozens of times as a kid (it was a slumber party staple), and yet somehow I completely missed the abortion subplot. I have no idea how (I did know what abortion was) but it just sailed over my head. Must have been distracted by the dancing and the music and the sex. I was floored the first time I saw it as an adult.

Now I have "Be My Baby" in my head.
posted by lunasol at 8:39 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Step Up has elements of class conflict, plus Channing Tatum's bare arms.

I think class conflict is a really common theme of dance movies, honestly. Dance is both a sexy freedom thing a rich kid can try while slumming it with the poor AND be a classy artsy thing that the poor kids can show natural talent for.
posted by nicebookrack at 9:00 PM on September 24, 2013 [13 favorites]


I never missed the abortion plot exactly but it was a couple of years ago when I realized just how amazing it was that it was in that film and that the film remains such a favorite and such a big "romantic" film.

I also felt like there was a definite "Robbie is a bit of a rapist" thing going on. I never got the idea that he and Penny were in a relationship; more that he raped her but because of his higher status she couldn't do anything about it.
posted by marylynn at 9:08 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't think of any fairly modern dance-centered movie that doesn't have class as a big part of it, actually. From West Side Story onwards it's basically always there.
posted by elizardbits at 9:09 PM on September 24, 2013 [3 favorites]


Baby was one of the few teen girls in movies I could actually relate to as a teen girl. And oh, how I wished Jerry Orbach could be my Dad.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:04 PM on September 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


This confirms another angle of my suspicions about why my (conservative Republican) mother did not want me watching Dirty Dancing as a kid.

As a kid, I assumed it was because of sex/having "Dirty" in the title.

A few years ago I rewatched and realized it was about the abortion.

Now I see the complete picture.
posted by Sara C. at 10:06 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I never saw Dirty Dancing during my formative years (it has the word "dirty" in the title and my parents were the kind of parents who wouldn't let me sign up for a Hotmail account because it sounded like something inappropriate), but I watched it for the first time when Lifetime broadcast it a few months ago. I was struck/impressed by many of the same themes that the author of this article lauds the film for (smart girl gets not only a hot boy, but THE HOTTEST BOY, just by being herself), but I especially loved the lesson that guys who evangelize The Fountainhead are douchebags who should be avoided at all costs.
posted by Pizzarina Sbarro at 10:12 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think class conflict is a really common theme of dance movies, honestly. Dance is both a sexy freedom thing a rich kid can try while slumming it with the poor AND be a classy artsy thing that the poor kids can show natural talent for.

This is a great point. I think even the dance parts of Fame had a class element.
posted by Sara C. at 10:20 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


I also felt like there was a definite "Robbie is a bit of a rapist" thing going on. I never got the idea that he and Penny were in a relationship; more that he raped her but because of his higher status she couldn't do anything about it.

My takeaway when I watched it recently was that Penny thought she was actually in a relationship with a sweet guy from an affluent family who was going to be A Doctor someday (i.e. possibly her ticket out), and she was pressured into sex by Robbie, who never meant it to be about anything more than sex. And then of course she gets pregnant and is dropped like a hot rock, because the consequences of date-raping your summer fling are too much for Mr. College.
posted by Sara C. at 10:23 PM on September 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


I can't think of any fairly modern dance-centered movie that doesn't have class as a big part of it, actually. From West Side Story onwards it's basically always there.
posted by elizardbits at 9:09 PM on September 24 [+] [!]


Not quite the same issue, but a large part of the Australian film Strictly Ballroom is about multiculturalism
posted by Hello, I'm David McGahan at 10:32 PM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


My connection with this movie is growing up in Blacksburg, Va. Near where it was filmed. My high school girlfriend is in one of the big group dance scenes on the lawn. She cut school that day to act as an extra. I was mad she cut school.
posted by gorbichov at 10:41 PM on September 24, 2013 [4 favorites]


Even Breaking 2: Electric Boogaloo had class elements!
posted by lunasol at 11:19 PM on September 24, 2013


You know how small children get obsessed with a particular film for a period of time and make you watch it over and over and over again and eventually you can never watch that movie again and it doesn't matter if all your friends think it's amazing because jesus christ, you still think you know all the words and you just hate it with burning?

My little sister and the following films:
Top Gun
Cinderella
The Little Mermaid
Yellow Submarine (yeah, I don't even know)
and Dirty Dancing

Even the name makes me cringe.
posted by Katemonkey at 1:45 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Am I the only person on earth who was bothered by the fact that the music in Dirty Dancing didn't actually match the period it was set in?

crickets chirping

Okay. Sorry. Carry on.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:37 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was not allowed to see Dirty Dancing when it came out, because I was very young and my parents thought I should wait a few years. What that turned into, however, is that I didn't watch it early enough to have it imprinted on my psyche or libido in any meaningful way. The result was that when I finally watched it in college, all my friends were all "don't put Baby in a cornerrrrrrrr" and my reaction was along the lines of:

-why should I care about Baby, she sucks
-so does her family
-so does everyone
-I think I now hate the Catskills
-why is everyone in 80's movies so mean all the time?
-there is nothing wrong with saying you carried a watermelon, it explains how you wound up at the party
-Why is this movie set in the past but all the music on the soundtrack is set in the present

So I guess I just missed the window? Maybe I need to watch and re-evaluate, I don't know. (That said, the slightly racy 80's movie I DID see at a formative age was Splash, so I think it resides in the "I'm watching a grown-up movie as a small child so I will love this movie forever!" slot in my heart.)
posted by a fiendish thingy at 5:45 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


crickets chirping

Most of the songs on the soundtrack are from 1963 or before, with a few notable exceptions (The Time of My Life, She's Like the Wind, Hungry Eyes). Those crickets do, however, get pretty upset about the terrible '80s hair on just about everyone. Otherwise, it ages well. And Patrick Swayze is simply magnetic.

(If you love Dirty Dancing, you will likely enjoy Heartbreaker (2010), a French film in which Dirty Dancing plays a major role. Delightful!)
posted by mochapickle at 5:49 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


If you love dancing dirty and random grunts of "skeeeen yah!", you'll dig this.
posted by dr_dank at 5:53 AM on September 25, 2013


I'd just turned 12 when Dirty Dancing came out--absolutely the sweet spot for seeing it. Afterwards, our mother made us watch Love with the Proper Stranger because she thought it was similarly themed. Boy, that was much darker and stranger in my pre-adolescent mind.

I think, "Me? I'm scared of everything. I'm scared of what I saw, I'm scared of what I did, of who I am, and most of all I'm scared of walking out of this room and never feeling the rest of my whole life the way I feel when I'm with you" is one of the most romantic things ever said in a movie. I think I went through puberty watching that scene. I even named the first car I bought with my own money "Frances," because 1) she was my baby and 2) after the first woman in the cabinet.
posted by gladly at 6:11 AM on September 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Since we're talking Swayze, I just got reacquainted with Point Break and that movie is completely bonkers. Point Break Live, the show, however, is possibly the funniest thing I have seen in my entire life and if you have a chance at all you should go see it.

BROTHER!
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:16 AM on September 25, 2013


My brain just seized up... THAT Peter Sagal? Yes indeed.

What's even weirder (although off-topic) is....that play that Ira Glass talks about in the TAL piece, the one he wrote about the Holocaust denier? ...One of my old companies was the one that finally produced it in New York and I very nearly worked on it.

And this relates to the topic because...um....uh, someone else did that job instead of me like Baby was in the dance contest instead of Penny. Yeah.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:22 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I would have been somewhere in the whereabouts of sixteen when Dirty Dancing came out and was familiar with the issues involved thanks to the very disturbing chapter of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex (But Were Afraid to Ask) about illegal abortions. (Come to think of it, I must have had the 1969 edition, so it was probably fairly timely for the 1963 setting of the movie). It also struck me that Baby's father didn't seem angry at Penny's decision, but at how hurt she was, and knew exactly what he was dealing with.
posted by Karmakaze at 6:36 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


I love this movie, really. Really really. I still have my VHS copy that I bought at a yard sale in the early 90s when I was in middle school. And I would love to talk about its themes and likeable (and not-so-likeable) characters and how much I wanted to be Baby in my teens (and how much I wanted to date Patrick Swayze, because YUM).

But I'm still stuck on BABY IS MARRIED TO AGENT COULSEN SQUEEE!
posted by ashirys at 6:43 AM on September 25, 2013


It also struck me that Baby's father didn't seem angry at Penny's decision, but at how hurt she was, and knew exactly what he was dealing with.

YEAH! In my later (more recent, I mean) watchings of it, it occurred to me to wonder if Dr Houseman was maybe that sort of kindly family physician who opened his private practice late at at off-hours for special cases who might not have a lot, or any, money, and I liked him even more for it.
posted by elizardbits at 6:51 AM on September 25, 2013 [7 favorites]


I was raised Catholic and was, as a kid and young teenager, super-duper pro-life. I don't recall any sort of ah-ha moment, but in a very short span of time I became super pro-choice. Maybe it was when I had to learn all about all the kinds of birth control (and their failure rates) for "marriage" class in Catholic high school or when I found out that my sisters and I were all accidents. (Technically, the folks spent about a week thinking they wanted a child--their third--before changing their minds. But it was too late.)

Whatever it was, when I went to visit my little sister in college, I happily went with her to the meeting of the campus pro-choice group. For the icebreaker, they went around the room and everybody shared why they were pro-choice.

I racked my brain as people around the circle shared their beliefs and personal stories. When it got to me, I said the only thing that had come to mind: "Because of Dirty Dancing."
posted by MsDaniB at 7:43 AM on September 25, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm curious: what's the earliest frank depiction of abortion in fiction? As in, more detail than "Hills Like White Elephants?" The Adventures of Augie March comes to mind, but 1954 seems awfully late in comparison to the c.1915 emergence of the American birth control movement.
posted by Iridic at 7:55 AM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


Iridic, there are a couple of Dorothy Parker stories that center on abortion -- Mr Durant and Lady With A Lamp, and a passing reference to it in Big Blonde.
posted by jfwlucy at 8:54 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


In my later (more recent, I mean) watchings of it, it occurred to me to wonder if Dr Houseman was maybe that sort of kindly family physician who opened his private practice late at at off-hours for special cases who might not have a lot, or any, money, and I liked him even more for it.

In that era, most physicians who trained in family practice or obstetrics in an even moderately urban area would have had extensive experience in managing the complications of amateur abortions, as this short essay in the NYT by one of his contemporaries demonstrates. It was very, very common. It's also worth noting that abortion became legal in New York in 1970, several years prior to Roe v. Wade. So whether or not Dr. H practiced abortion himself, he would have been intimately familiar with the consequences and most likely (given his social and geographic background) pro-choice even in 1963.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 9:55 AM on September 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


This entire discussion has been filled with so many delightful "OMG me too!!" moments for me, but this one is by far my favorite, gladly:

I even named the first car I bought with my own money "Frances," because 1) she was my baby and 2) after the first woman in the cabinet.

... because OMG ME TOO.
posted by juliplease at 9:59 AM on September 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


Insightful.

I always assumed girls made their boyfriends watch this movie as a lesson on romance and dancing. Now I guess they were really seeing it closer to how I always encapsulated it "Girl and mom make dad shut down dick".
posted by surplus at 10:48 AM on September 25, 2013


Mad Magazine had a pretty good rip on the movie, IIRC.

It did seem a bit predictable, to me at snarky age 16. The characters, especially the owner's grandson, seemed too one-sided. And it baffled me how any father would give his daughter that much money without knowing what it was for. Did rich fathers actually do that?

But overall, not too bad, if I'm bored I'll watch it when it's on TV.
posted by Melismata at 11:24 AM on September 25, 2013


But I'm still stuck on BABY IS MARRIED TO AGENT COULSEN SQUEEE!

Do you ever wonder if they dance dirty?
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:56 PM on September 25, 2013


alynnk: "BABY'S MARRIED TO AGENT COULSON?!"

I just figured this out YESTERDAY, and I've been all squeeeeeee ever since.

On topic, Dirty Dancing is one of the touchstone movies of my youth. And I love love love this analysis of it.
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 3:02 PM on September 25, 2013


You know the Greyggs must dirty dance often. Here they are acting together! Maybe Grey can show up working for SHIELD at some point.
posted by nicebookrack at 3:30 PM on September 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


In my later (more recent, I mean) watchings of it, it occurred to me to wonder if Dr Houseman was maybe that sort of kindly family physician who opened his private practice late at at off-hours for special cases who might not have a lot, or any, money, and I liked him even more for it.

My lovely wife and I watched it last night, and a telling line is when Penny tells Johnny "I can still have children!" Since "I can never have children!" is standard Hollywood (and in some cases Real Life) for anything that goes wrong with a pregnancy, that one line communicated to me that indeed Dr. Houseman knew -- at a glance! -- exactly what he was dealing with and more importantly, how to handle it.
posted by Gelatin at 6:17 AM on September 28, 2013


And it baffled me how any father would give his daughter that much money without knowing what it was for. Did rich fathers actually do that?

To me it was about the trust and confidence in their relationship. The movie didn't portray it as a normal run of the mill 'here's your shopping money' kind of thing. It seemed like she knew she was asking for a lot and he knew, and she told him she couldn't tell him why and asked him to trust her, and he did. I think it was a big part of what made people like that character - a father who has trust and confidence in his daughter, even to support her in keeping things from him. That's huge.
posted by Salamandrous at 11:11 AM on September 28, 2013 [1 favorite]


Dr. Houseman knew -- at a glance! -- exactly what he was dealing with and more importantly, how to handle it.

My brilliant sister points out the scene at the beginning of the movie, during the merengue lesson that Penny teaches, when she says something about counting to 3 and then you're going to find the man of your dreams. And "1-2-3...", Penny ends up dancing with Dr. Houseman, who is indeed the man of her dreams.
posted by unknowncommand at 5:37 PM on October 5, 2013 [2 favorites]


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