There are a lot of things about me that aren't what you thought: the politics of dirty dancing

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This essay locates Dirty Dancing within a broader 1980s culture of 1960s, or sixties, commemoration. Examining its production and reception I argue that the film was developed so as to explicitly intervene in public debates on the women’s liberation movement. However, while other films of the 1980s such as Platoon (1986) and Mississippi Burning (1988) were received as significant contributions to public memory of the sixties, journalists and public commentators’ refusal to treat Dirty Dancing’s representation of private relationships and personal development as a political statement ensured it was by and large dismissed as apolitical, mindless entertainment. Drawing on interviews with screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein, a 1985 draft script, and the finished film, I argue that Dirty Dancing’s narrative was shaped so as to represent broader developments in the 1960s New Left, whereby younger activists sought to synthesise public politics with a demand for upheavals in the private realm. The essay’s second section examines Dirty Dancing’s reception in national newspapers and magazines. Having heretofore argued that Dirty Dancing is in many ways Platoon with a female protagonist, I offer an interpretation as to why the film did not receive the same attention in national debates as did Stone’s Vietnam drama. I argue that because the feminist principle, “the personal is political,” was not as legitimate a subject in Sixties commemoration as masculine public politics, the film was not elevated to the status of national historical monument. It would seem that, for many commentators, the film’s feel-good tone and focus on personal relationships worked to the detriment of its political message.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe time of our lives: dirty dancing and popular culture
EditorsS. Lincoln, Y. Tzioumakis
Place of PublicationDetroit
PublisherWayne State University Press
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)9780814336243
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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