October 25, 2011


Babies in the Corner: The mad popularity of Dirty Dancing explains Ronald Reagan's ideological victory and the ongoing crisis of American politics (Liel Leibovitz, October 25, 2011, Tablet)
It's hard to imagine a more befitting cinematic tribute to the Reagan presidency than Dirty Dancing. Having spent so much of his political career struggling to deflate the various democratic movements of the 1960s of their energy and might, the Gipper would've been thrilled with a film, set in 1963, in which a wealthy middle-manager boasts of running down to "freedom ride" in Alabama on his time off before imperiously denigrating his working-class white staff. He would've cooed upon hearing the paragon of said staff, Swayze's Johnny Castle, describe with abject horror the fate that awaited him were he to lose his job as a dance instructor--a life as a member of the house painters' union, an organization that just happened to be strongly involved in advocating for the Civil Rights Act that would pass the following year. And at the sight of a young woman who plans on joining the Peace Corps but is happy to be called Baby, is subservient to her father, and is happy to be led by her man, on the dance floor and off, Reagan might have declared with delight that it was morning in America yet again.

Call it Reagan's Revenge: More than Reagonomics or Operation Urgent Fury, more than the disastrous War on Drugs or the appointment of Antonin Scalia to the Supreme Court, Reagan's real legacy was the creation of a powerful conservative mythology that still defies resistance. Put coarsely, it claims that the 1960s and 1970s have been bad and dispiriting times and have created many problems for normal Americans; that progressives who suggest that these problems are complex and require complex solutions are missing the point; and that only a traditional, individualistic, and optimistic worldview can offer balm for the nation's aching soul.

He put it best in a 1964 speech he made on behalf of Barry Goldwater, a speech that marked him as a political figure of national prominence and catapulted him, two years later, to the governor's mansion in Sacramento. "They say we offer simple answers to complex problems," he thundered. "Well, perhaps there is a simple answer--not an easy answer--but simple: if you and I have the courage to tell our elected officials that we want our national policy based on what we know in our heart is morally right."

What makes this a comedic gem is that the author is so anxious to caricature the Gipper that he succeeds only in self-caricature. Who knew there were still people furious about replacing a Marxist regime with democracy in Grenada?

Posted by at October 25, 2011 6:44 PM

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