Summer of Swayze: Dirty Dancing

I have to be honest. I kind of struggled with this one! I grew up on this movie, so it felt weird to turn a critically eye on it. And once I did, it felt difficult to know what to say about it. On the one hand, we have a light-hearted rom-com that’s trying to convince us we’re at a summer resort in the 1960’s despite all that 1980’s hair. On the other hand, absolutely none of the action in this movie would be happening if not for an illegal abortion. Baked into that is class struggle, coming of age, toxic masculinity, and the double edged sword of the sexual revolution (see previous list item regarding toxic masculinity). So frankly, I didn’t know where to start.

Let’s start with a fun fact about the music before we get into the hard-hitting family/class/abortion drama subject matter: According to The Movies That Made Us, the scriptwriter, Eleanor Bergstein, was dead-set on using music from the early 60’s that she hand picked. The budget was so tight that most of it went to acquiring the music rights. But honestly, thank God they did or we would never have had this gem:

I also learned in The Movies That Made Us that this tight budget presented Patrick Swayze with the opportunity to approach the film’s creators with “She’s Like The Wind.” Originally recorded for Grandview, U.S.A, the song went unused until it was included on Dirty Dancing‘s soundtrack.

Anyway, not to burst your “Time of My Life” or “She’s Like The Wind” bubble, but “Hungry Eyes” is the best song on the soundtrack.

I suppose the above scene is a good segue back into the subject matter of the film. Frances “Baby” Houseman is at a summer resort with her parents and sister when she clandestinely borrows money from her doctor father to pay for featured dancer, Penny, to have an abortion. Baby will also fill in for Penny during the procedure and her post-op recovery time. Oh and this is 1963 so things don’t go so well during the procedure.

Now I’m sure you’re expecting a better recap from me, and frankly I was too, but I can’t afford another streaming service, and I haven’t seen this movie in a long time. So I relied on YouTube clips. My sincerest apologies. 

Here’s a clip of Robbie explaining to Baby why he is unwilling to help Penny after he slept with her. Robbie is working as a waiter but it’s just a summer job to him. He’s from a wealthy family and attends Harvard.

Anyway, Robbie’s a real Ayn Rand kind of guy and he doesn’t think Penny matters. (He’s also probably a narcissist who doesn’t think anyone counts but suffice it to say he’d be a little more helpful if knocked someone of his social status up.

Robbie’s social status is, of course, largely why Baby’s sister, Lisa, thinks he is a good catch. And failing to recognize the universal symbol for, “someone is having sex in here,” Lisa pushes right past that towel on Robbie’s doorknob and finds out who he really is the hard way. (This clip is in Italian. But. You get it.)

Of course, Robbie is the fu**boi villian of this movie, but he’s really a metaphor for a larger point the film’s making. Some people have options and some people don’t. And the decisions people make can look very different and have wildly different repercussions when they don’t have any options.

And I guess that’s what made me super sad about all of this and perhaps reluctant to write this post. I’ve seen this movie numerous times over the past twenty-years or so and it’s never felt more relevant than it does today, which is weird because you’d think we’d learn from history (but time and again, I suppose, we don’t). In 1963, abortion was illegal for everyone, though maybe people like Lisa or Baby could have found a more reputable doctor to help them out quietly than Penny could have. Nowadays, I’ve found myself increasingly concerned that our supreme court could revert abortion laws back to the early 70’s when some states allowed abortion and others didn’t.

Regardless of how you feel about abortion, federal abortion laws are an equalizer. Overturning Roe vs. Wade won’t stop abortions, it will just stop safe abortions for people who can’t afford to go somewhere safe to get one…you know the same people who can’t really afford to have a child or even afford the pre-natal care that it would take to safely have a child and place it with a family for adoption. It’s never the people like Lisa and Baby who loose access to abortion (pretending for a moment they don’t all live in New York already). It’s the people like Penny who loose access because they don’t have the means or the opportunity.

And I’m anticipating all of the negative comments from random people coming across this post which I imagine will contain moral arguments levied mostly against Penny. To which I can only say, nothing happens to Robbie. They make the same decision and there’s no repercussion for Robbie. There’s no moral judgment. Doesn’t that bother you? It really bothers me.

In this class struggle of the wealthy and the working class, it’s not only Penny who suffers. We see this arc with Johnny’s character too. He’s repeatedly used by the women who visit Kellerman’s, who he finds sophisticated and interesting, only to find that they’re using him as an easy lay because he isn’t the kind of person they’d take seriously anyway. Just horrible.

Now I’m kind of telling this story out of order, but you’ll see from the clips number below that Penny’s botched abortion happens prior to the clip above. And this is, of course, when Baby’s wonderful father Jerry Orbach gets involved. Even though he doesn’t personally agree with abortion, he provides Penny with free and diligent medical care. (I’ll just list this as a great option that our country could offer if we actually wanted to reduce abortions for everyone.)

The “You make me sick” line from Baby’s conversation with Robbie earlier is for some reason dubbed onto the end of this clip, which isn’t the case in the movie but we’re working with what we got on YouTube here, folks.

Anyway, the fact that Baby lied to her father originally to get money for Penny — which to be fair it makes complete sense her father is angry about this — eventually comes to light after she provides an alibi for Johnny when he is accused of stealing wallets at Kellerman’s.

And this brings us to the most beautiful scene in the movie, Baby’s heart-to-heart with her father.

In the end, Johnny is fired anyway. But he crashes the end of the season show to perform the final dance as he always does, this time with Baby and his own choreography. And Baby’s father apologies for accusing Johnny of being the creep who knocked up Penny and then left her all alone to handle it. Still no repercussions for Robbie though…which may be the most timeless message of all. *Sigh*

Stay tuned for Road House, which I remember having lighter subject matter — hopefully, my memory is correct on that one!

Further Reading/Watching

The Movies That Made Us from Netflix

Dirty Dancing Is The Greatest Movie Of All Time by Irin Carmon for Jezebel

How ‘Dirty Dancing’ opened my eyes to the urgency of abortion rights by Katy Brand for Independent

‘Dirty Dancing’ Was A Safe-Abortion Champion Wrapped In A Rom Com Bow by Jillian Capewell for HuffPost

‘Dirty Dancing’ Writer On Why She Integrated Illegal Abortion Into A Love Story by Alanna Vagianos for HuffPost

Summer of Swayze: The Outsiders

Patrick Swayze’s second feature film role in Francis Ford Coppola’s 1983 film The Outsiders, based on the novel by S.E. Hinton. According to The New York Times, it was a librarian and a petition from middle school students that convinced Coppola to make the film.

The cast of this movie is truly a who’s who of the Brat Pack. Patrick Swayze was the eldest (and only one I wouldn’t consider a Brat Packer or at least Brat Pack adjacent) playing the father-figure of the group at 29. You wouldn’t know it from his perennial baby face, but Ralph Macchio was the only other lead cast member over the age of twenty at the time filming began. Tom Cruise hadn’t even had his teeth fixed yet, though he did remove a cap to make himself appear more street-tough for the film.

This is the first film Patrick Swayze would appear in with C. Thomas Howell. They would appear together again in the following year’s Red Dawn, alongside Jennifer Grey, and in Grandview, U.S.A. — released one week prior to Red Dawn. Swayze would also appear on screen again with Rob Lowe, playing Lowe’s mentor in the hockey film Youngblood.

Has The Cast Of 'The Outsiders' Managed To "Stay Gold" Since 1983
from L to R: Emilio Estevez as “Two-Bit,” Rob Lowe as “SodaPop,” C. Thomas Howell as “Ponyboy,” Matt Dillon as “Dallas,” Ralph Macchio as “Johnny,” Patrick Swayze as “Darry,” and Tom Cruise as “Steve.”

The Hollywood Reporter, reviewed Swayze’s role in The Outsiders favorably overall, though not without criticism of Darry as a character: “Patrick Swayze makes a strong impression as Howell’s older brother, although the script has him a brute one minute, a compassionate pal the next and dilutes his possibilities.” This is fairly true to my memory of the character from the book as well. S.E. Hinton wrote the book between the ages of fifteen and sixteen and quite possibly grasped the younger characters better than she would have understood their pseudo-father Darry. Or perhaps, this hot and cold demeanor is a fairly accurate portrayal of a young man in his circumstances. Patrick Swayze may have been twenty-nine, but I believe Darry was written a bit younger, perhaps in his early twenties.

The film is solidly good. It’s hard to go wrong with a Coppola flick. Stevie Wonder wrote an original song based on Johnny’s last words to Ponyboy and Van Morrison re-recorded “Gloria,” which he originally performed with Them in 1965. But the most interesting thing about The Outsiders is the film’s legacy. C. Thomas Howell and Ralph Macchio regularly visit schools for screenings and talkbacks. They describe kids that are still enthralled with the movie and use it as medium for discussing bullying, social, and class issues. And even more interesting, is the queer reading of the movie — though S.E. Hinton staunchly denies it.

It may not have been S.E. Hinton’s intention, but The Outsiders certainly reads like a tale of first love in many ways. I can remember finishing this book in the public library when I was eleven years old. I locked myself in the bathroom so I could cry privately after I read the part where Johnny died. I felt a little silly, but I had developed a crush on Johnny, largely because of how he is portrayed through Ponyboy’s eyes and through the tenderness he shares with Dallas. Are either of those relationship necessarily romantic, no? But they could be or one day could have become so.

Personally, I’m really disappointed that S.E. Hinton didn’t embrace the queer messaging even if that’s not what she intended as a teenage writer. The text certainly does lend itself to a wide range of interpretations. That’s the best part of books and movies, you can take from them what you personally relate to and what feels most cathartic to your individual experience in life. Books and movies should be more inclusive so that more people can have that experience.

The house used in the film is now a museum that is open to the general public, offers student tours, and private screenings of the film.

Join me next week for Red Dawn.

Sources & Further Reading

STAY GAY, PONYBOY: ON LGBT INTERPRETATIONS AND AUTHOR TWITTER BATTLES

21 Crazy Details Behind The Making Of The Outsiders

12 Facts About The Outsiders That Will Stay Gold

‘The Outsiders’ Stays Gold at 35: Inside Coppola’s Crafty Methods and Stars’ Crazy Pranks

MAKING ‘THE OUTSIDERS,’ A LIBRARIAN’S DREAM

The Outsiders House Museum

That Time America Forgot The Letter “E.”

If this isn’t proof that we need Sesame Street, I’m not sure what is.

As I’m sure all citizens of the internet are now aware, today is May 1st. But lest we forget, Justin Timberlake was not the only American pop star of the late 90’s who couldn’t remember his vowel sounds.

Perhaps, the worst offender is Mandy Moore. And she can’t even get a cool meme out of her “COME TO MAYYYYY” chorus. Also, has anyone else noticed that she doesn’t really dance in this video? It’s a lot of quick jump cuts to give the impression that she’s dancing, but no actual dancing occurs.

Of course, it always comes back to Britney doesn’t it? She does remember how to say “me,” but she seems to forget how to pronounce baby, saying instead “bay-bay” or as my friend insisted in 1999, “baybin’ baybin’.”

Shout out to Christina Aguilera for remembering how to pronounce the letter “E” in every word of “Genie in a Bottle.” P.S. I thought this song was about kissing and I’m pretty sure that my parents only let me listen to it because they didn’t want to have to correct my perception of the lyrics.

The Very Best TLC Song

Usually, I have no problem making sweeping, definitve statements about subjects with relatively little real world value. Some might even say that’s the entire reason for this blog’s existence.

But I’ve tried to resolve this myself and I’ve reached an impasse. I need your help with this one. I’ve narrowed it down to my top 4 favorite TLC songs. And I’d really really like for you to tell me which TLC song is your personal favorite.

Your “Very Best TLC Song,” so to speak.

Creep

Unpretty

No Scrubs

Waterfalls

So which one is your favorite?

Why now? Why TLC? Why are you incapable of making this decision on your own? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of data entry at work. And I’ve found that pretty much the only way that I can do this is to mainline Milli Vanilli. Yep, that’s right. I enjoy Milli Vanilli and I’m saying it right here loud and clear on the world wide web.

But when you’ve been listening to two model/dancers sing mouth-the-words-to as much bubblegum pop as I have, you start to doubt that you are able to discern levels of quality anymore. Basically, I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole of kitsch and I’m not sure I can pull myself out of it alone. If you’ve read this far down the post without taking the poll, please scroll back up to the poll-area and cast your vote. Think of this as my pop-culture cry for help.

I’m going to link this to the daily prompt even though I don’t really think I wrote this “as if I were a music critic.” I’m just opportunistic and I’m taking the chance to post about TLC.

Very Special Mixtape

OMG I have never been more excited for a daily prompt. This one requires me to make a mix tape, you guys!! So I will now proceed with making The Very Special Blog it’s very own mixtape to represent its vibe to the masses. Well, actually I’m just going to take this opportunity to share some YouTube videos of ridiculous fictional bands in television. It’s Wednesday and I’m needing a good laugh to make it through the rest of the week. So I’m making you this mixtape of hilarity and I hope you enjoy it.

When Nick wrote a weird song for Lindsay on Freaks and Geeks:

That time Family Ties created a weird version The Go-Go’s:

When we got to hear Jordan Catalano play his guitar in My So Called Life (as if he could be any dreamier):

When Jesse & The Rippers clearly listened to Graceland one too many times:

The only “band” that I legit want to purchase an album from, The Beets from Doug:

Honorable Mention: Lenni’s MTV music video from Ghostwriter:


Mix Tape Masterpiece