We close out the month of May with this post, which originally ran in May of 2009. Pegged on the movie “Dirty Dancing,” it’s a short but fascinating look at how heroes and villains have switched places in pop culture — at least when it comes to messy issues such as social class.
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Every so often Hollywood makes a film that perfectly crystallizes the inversion of values that has taken place in America since the 1960s. “Dirty Dancing” — made in 1987 but set in 1963 — perfectly illustrates the newfound bias against clean-cut, Ivy-type guys who wear madras jackets.
Set at a summer resort in New York’s Catskill Mountains, the movie is a powerful piece of countercultural propaganda that, through the medium of cable television, repeatedly brainwashes American women into thinking that uneducated hunks in leather jackets are preferable to college boys in oxford-cloth buttondowns. Johnny, played by Patrick Swayze, is poor and dresses in all black. He is the film’s hero. Robbie (pictured) wears white bucks and tennis sweaters. He is the film’s villain.
Yeah, try and wrap your head around that one.
Robbie is a Yale med student working a summer job at the resort. Evidently planning to study gynecology, Robbie has no less than three dalliances during the course of the film. But while Robbie has the collegiate look, he’s no rich kid: Not only is he forced to work as a waiter to pay for med school, his sense of superiority, unsupported by high birth, must seek its justification in the novels of Ayn Rand. At one point Robbie spouts a cynical remark about the superiority of the select few, then whips out a tattered copy of “The Fountainhead.” He’s promptly called a sleazebag.
At the end of the film, the resort’s owner laments how the business has survived two World Wars and the Great Depression, but he isn’t sure he’ll make it through the ’60s.
“It all seems to be ending,” he says wistfully. “You think kids want to come with their parents and take foxtrot lessons?” — CC