span.fullpost {display:none;}

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trump and Clinton Sing "Time of My Life"

My "Dirty Dancing" Fantasy

Below are excerpts from an article titled My Dirty Dancing Fantasy, written by Judith Rosenbaum and published in Jewish Women's Archive.
I was 14 when the movie Dirty Dancing came out, and I was utterly entranced. I loved watching the frizzy-haired Jewish girl not only prove her sexiness and get the guy but also change the people around her. At the time, I didn’t think much about the Jewish subtext of the movie – I just knew that it felt familiar and relevant in some way.

Now, 20 years later ... I’ve been revisiting the question of what’s Jewish about this film, and whether it’s important that Baby is Jewish. I don’t think the word Jewish is actually ever mentioned in the film, but the setting of the Catskills provides an obvious Jewish context. In this case, “Jewish” is coded as middle class, comfortable (perhaps too comfortable), and well-meaning – remember, Dr. Houseman is a do-gooder – but somewhat na├»ve and insensitive to class issues. I think it’s also important that the world of the Catskills depicted as one on the wane, is no longer appealing to people like Baby, who is turning away from her family’s middle class comfort for something more raw, honest, and sexy, represented by Johnny and the other working class dancers.

What’s interesting to me is that by making Baby – the spunky, uncompromising idealist – a Jewish girl, the movie confirms my own sense that these characteristics are part of what constitutes Jewish womanhood. And there’s something that feels historically accurate about this depiction, too. ...

[Baby is] between high school and college, already politically aware (she knows that starving children aren’t in Europe but in Southeast Asia), but with no real place to implement her politics except to fight for the rights of working class hotel employees to do their own “dirty” dancing. 
But let’s imagine her life after this film. She goes to college in the fall, and in my fantasy, she spends the next summer not at Kellerman’s but in Mississippi, doing voter registration with African-Americans as part of Freedom Summer. She remains involved with civil rights activism when she returns to school, becoming a campus organizer. Her affair with a fellow organizer ends in pregnancy, and in 1965, she joins Penny in the ranks of women who’ve had illegal abortions (though through her contacts in the Left, she’s able to find a real doctor who doesn’t botch the job). 
This experience, plus her realization that despite her intelligence and great organizing skills, she’s still expected to be the note-taker and coffee-maker in her campus SNCC chapter, leads her to wonder about the place of women in the “beloved community” she’s helping to build. When whites are kicked out of SNCC the following year, she turns her activism to the antiwar movement, but is soon fed up with the arrogance of the male leaders who turn out to be basically scruffier versions of Robbie (the Kellerman’s waiter/Yale med student).

When Baby graduates in 1967, she moves to New York City to work for a neighborhood organizing project. Looking to meet other young women in the city, she goes to a meeting of the group that soon becomes New York Radical Women, and guess what – Baby becomes a feminist! She helps develop the process of “Consciousness Raising” and participates in the early women’s liberation actions, such as the protest at the Miss America convention in August 1968.

I’m pretty sure that’s Baby’s trajectory. You can tell, in the movie, that she’s an incipient feminist, just waiting for Women’s Liberation to appear on the horizon. ... 
Whatever the plot line, I’m almost certain that by the 1990s, she’s realized that Judaism is cooler than she thought back in the Kellerman’s days, and she joins a Rosh Hodesh group, has an adult bat mitzvah, goes to Israel for the first time and participates in an Israeli/Palestinian women’s dialogue group…. 

Here are the article's comments:


Rabbi Janie Grackin

And let us not forget to have Baby appear in tallit, tefilin and kippah at the Kotel in time for the next Rosh Hodesh prayer service.



.... It wasn't until I was 14 that I saw Dirty Dancing for the first time while attending the Genesis program at Brandeis. I was more captivated by the dancing and by Patrick Swayze glistening than by the issues of class, religion, and abortion in the film, but I did have some understanding of the film's historical context and its Jewish subtext.

Curiously, when I talked to my 16-year-old sister the other day--she's a dancer who thoroughly enjoys this film--and told her about JWA's celebration, she asked: "What does Dirty Dancing have to do with being Jewish?" Baby's Jewishness wasn't ever part of my sister's consciousness. Neither was Jewish life in the Catskills. As I brought all of this to her attention, I suddenly sensed disappointment -- almost embarrassment -- in her voice as she exclaimed: "What?! Baby is Jewish?! "Yes," I said. She is. Does this now make Baby and the film less cool?" "No," she replied. "It isn't less cool. I just hadn't ever thought of Dirty Dancing as Jewish or not Jewish. And I don't think it matters one way or the other. It's just a fun film about dancing and falling in love." (sigh)

Maybe in a few years I should encourage her to put on her historian's hat and have a Dirty Dancing fantasy of her own... hopefully, by that time, being Jewish actually will matter.(sigh)

What Patrick Swayze Did for Jewish Women

Below are excerpts from an article titled What Patrick Swayze Did for Jewish Women, written by Judith Rosenbaum and published in Jewish Women's Archive.
.... [Patrick] Swayze's death is not just sad (he was only 57); for Jewish girls of my generation, it's the end of era. I've written here already about the cultural meaning of Dirty Dancing, exploring the Jewish subtext of the film and Baby's imaginary trajectory after the film ends. But today I'm thinking about Swayze as Johnny and what it is that he offered young girls like me.

.... What made the character of Johnny so long-lasting in the fantasy life of Jewish women of a certain age is that the unattainable, sexy non-Jewish boy became (in the movie, at least, briefly) attainable. Baby's love for Johnny isn't unrequited. Johnny loves Baby back. He recognizes what's sexy about her, loves her despite -- or perhaps because of -- her Jewish nose and frizzy hair and tendency to blurt things out awkwardly. ("I carried a watermelon?!?")

Usually, movie love between Jewish women and sexy, non-Jewish men is unrequited. Take The Way We Were for example -- sure, Hubbell (Robert Redford) and Katie (Barbra Streisand) get married and even have a baby, but it's clear that Hubbell doesn't really love Katie the way she loves him. She can only be fully appreciated by a fellow Jewish activist-type -- whom we never see but are damn sure cannot compare to Robert Redford -- not the hot gentile.

But Johnny is different. Even though he and Baby can't ultimately be together, he really gets her. Not only does he like her and desire her, he is changed by her, and he acknowledges it publicly. Sure, he gets the big moment of agency in pulling Baby out of that corner, but she's the one who gets to fly in the lift. She saves him as much as, if not more than, he saves her. After all, he has the time of his life, and he owes it all to her!

The earnest, nerdy, frizzy-haired 14-year-old Jewish girl inside of me will be forever grateful to Patrick Swayze for making me feel like I could be graceful and sexy as I am, for giving me hope that someday someone might be turned on by my mind and my principles (and, well, maybe my body, too). ....
Below are a couple of the article's comments:



I think that speaks a lot to the self-hatred that a lot of Jewish girls and women have. Why do we hate our "Jewish noses" and "frizzy" hair? Why are we trying to attain some standard of beauty that is sexist, anti-semitic, and racist? Yes this inter-religious love affair is sweet and inspirational, but why did you need Patrick Swayze to tell you that you were desirable as you were, as a Jewish woman? We need to stop looking for reinforcement that it is OK to "look Jewish" or to be Jewish, we are amazing as we are, and if some blond gentile doesn't see it, so be it.



Hi, I just wanted to check to see if you're sure he wasn't Jewish. He certainly was cute enough to be.

"Dirty Dancing" is the Greatest Movie of All Time

Below are excerpts from an article titled Dirty Dancing is the Greatest Movie of All Time, written by Irin Carmon and published in
The greatness of Dirty Dancing was not lost on me in my near-daily viewings as a child and preteen, re-enacting every dance with my sister. What I learned a little later: it's a great, brave movie for women.

That it was a wildly successful, commercial film, widely seen as "ugly duckling gets the guy" doesn't change that, although screenwriter Eleanor Bergstein told me this week it always dismayed her that that's how people saw it. In her mind as in mine, Jennifer Grey's Baby is a strong-minded idealistic young woman with her own interests, who doesn't have to change herself to get the guy even as she undergoes a transformation from gawky wallflower to confident onstage dancer. But Patrick Swayze's Johnny, too, changes and learns from her, under the force of her stubborn, naive belief that you can "fight harder."

"I conceived of her and made her a fighter. A girl who just won't give up... and who doesn't expect the world to be handed to her. There's a lot she doesn't understand, but she works very, very hard," says Eleanor. ....

The first time we glimpse Baby, she's reading a book called Plight Of The Peasant, because she's going to major in the economics of underdeveloped countries and not English. The daughter of the first generation of American Jews to read widespread upper-middle class prosperity, if not elite cultural acceptance, she is swathed in a pre-Kennedy assassination liberalism. But her time at Kellerman's that summer is a loss of innocence in one significant way — and I'm not talking about her virginity.

Told her whole life that she could do anything and change the world, she's faced with the hypocrisy of a long-shunned minority enacting its own unexamined exclusion, this time on class grounds. The guests at Kellerman's look comfortable, but they were raised in the Depression and traumatized by World War II. She can contrast the welcome her family received at the resort with the chilly, dismissive one Johnny and his working class dance crew gets. She can dance with the owner's son and thaw a little when she learns he's going freedom riding with the bus boys, then see how he treats Johnny. She can find out that the supposed prize, Yale Medical school and out-WASPing-the-WASPs Robbie, is also an Ayn Rand-reading cad whose life philosophy is, "Some people count, some people don't."

.... Eleanor Bergstein says the moment Johnny falls in love with Baby is when she screws up the lift in their first performance at the Sheldrake and does what she called the "hitchhiker move." ...

This is a "false climax," Eleanor says. Another movie would have built up to a performance she got perfectly right (and indeed there is one, later), and she gets the guy. Instead, they come back to Penny's botched abortion, a still incredibly rare and key plot point that Eleanor says she put in back in the mid-1980s because she was afraid Roe v. Wade would be overturned. ....

And she likes sex. Did I mention she likes sex? Watch, if you will, how she slowly, deliberately surveys his body, ...
You'll have to read the entire article to read its juicy parts.

Is ‘Dirty Dancing’ the Most Jewish Film Ever?

Stephanie Butnick, the deputy editor of Tablet magazine, published in that magazine in 2011 an article titled Is "Dirty Dancing" the Most Jewish Film Ever? Before I read that article, I myself had begun to write an article about the film's Jewish element. While I still am writing it, I am posting here some excerpts from Butnick's article.
.... Eleanor Bergstein, the writer and co-producer of the incredibly popular film Dirty Dancing [said] that it was a seriously Jewish movie. So Jewish, in fact, that none of the characters ever need to explicitly mention their Jewishness — they’re spending the summer at Kellerman’s resort in the Catskills, after all, and, Bergstein pointed out proudly, milk and meat are never served in the same scene. It’s a Jewish film, she explained, “if you know what you’re looking at.” ...

The film is hugely Jewish, capturing a 1960s Jewish family and their open-minded but still guarded sensibilities. ... Told her whole life that she could do anything and change the world, she’s faced with the hypocrisy of a long-shunned minority enacting its own unexamined exclusion, this time on class grounds. The guests at Kellerman’s look comfortable, but they were raised in the Depression and traumatized by World War II.
Butnick did not develop her thesis, but her recognition of the film's Jewish essence is correct.

Below are some of the comments to Butnick's article:


marjorie says:

.... I adore this film, with its very Jewish depiction of bungalow colonies, liberal idealism, changing times, Baby and her dad’s relationship, “I carried a watermelon,” THE LIFT, and the total hilarious adorability of the very Jewish-looking Jennifer Grey. ...


Joy says:

OMG..I love this film… I was a ‘hotel brat’ ([my] family owned country Catskill-like hotels also) and every scene resonated with me then and even now!!

Jewish? Of course…..We who married oh, so young grew up in the ‘Marjorie Morningstar’ era and Dirty Dancing reconfirmed the excitement of sudden liberation we experienced … including ‘forbidden’ loves! ....


Jacob Blues says:

Most Jewish film ever? I think you have serious competition from the following:

The Frisco Kid
A Serious Man
A Prince of Egypt

And of course that Jewish classic – Blazing Saddles (oops) I meant Fiddler on the Roof.


Marilyn Cohen says:

I agree with Jacob Blues, but I would also include “Yentl” in a list of most Jewish movies.


Marilyn Cohen says:

I forgot to mention “The Chosen” and, of course, the original “Jazz Singer”.


Margaret says:

I’m not even Jewish and loved the film (as a Jewish film)… who else would have a ‘save the day doctor” for a dad but a Jewish princess! Anyway, I think the idea of a remake is a sacrilege (if you know what I mean).


Michael Wasser says:

I nominate Crossing Delancy


Vic says:

This movie came out when this Jewish girl was a freshman at — you guessed it — Mount Holyoke. It will always be very close to my heart!


Pat says:

I nominate “The Way We Were”


Judith says:

I also consider this one of the quintessential Jewish movies, and a movie that is particularly important to many Jewish women. I’ve blogged about it here:


Mark L. Levinson says:

It was a terribly anti-Semitic film. The sexy goyish boy liberates the girl from her uptight Jewish environment and teaches her to express her sexuality, while on the other hand when a girl gets pregnant it’s the fault of the ostensibly nice Jewish student… and even when there’s pilfering of valuables, it turns out to be the ostensibly harmless Jewish oldsters. Can’t trust these innocent-looking Jews. In fact the Jews can do no right in DIRTY DANCING, except to learn from the goyim how to live life.


Heather Scholl says:

Mark L. Levinson, the woman who wrote it….wrote it from her OWN experiences as a Jewish girl. She says in the interview that she was celebrating her Jewish heritage in the screenplay. Are you trying to say that she is closeted anti-Semitic? That seems rather silly.

I have watched the movie multiple times with Bergstein’s commentary and she seemed incredibly focused on the dichotomy of Kennedy liberalism combined with a decades-present class structure. She was foreshadowing the coming rather explosive end to the neat and tidy class structure that rich people had built for themselves. With the Kennnedy assassination, the Vietnam war, civil rights, Watts riots, the hippie generation…..the walls of class came crashing down. What exists now are remnants of it but the world was forever changed.


One of the comments mentioned a podcast that I would love to listen to, but the link does not work.


Binnie Klein says:

Had the unusual experience of meeting Jackie Horner, who was the inspiration for the character “Penny” in the Catskills last year. She’s still teaching the mambo!

Here’s a 4-minute audio piece I produced about that meeting, first aired on AARP radio: