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Thursday, March 23, 2017

One of the most sexually disturbing movies I've encountered

David B. Witwer writes a blog with this goal:
My goal is to post more regularly about film, literature, or other arts, digging into style and form or unpacking themes from my own perspective (an amalgamation of maleness, whiteness, continental philosophy/critical theory, materialism, sacramental Christianity, etc.). I hope my thoughts will prove interesting, or at least challenging in some vaguely positive way.

.... When you let go, you are ready to receive all the beauty and grace which the world, angst-ridden as it may be, is prepared to gift to you. ... Life often seems to be out of our control (which it is) and many of the possibilities we face bring us anxiety. It takes a lifetime to learn how to live in such a world with peace ....
Witwer's blog article about Dirty Dancing includes these excerpts:
... I found Dirty Dancing to be irresistibly problematic (i.e. worthy of investigation) in terms of its morality. On the one hand, there is a lot that is morally exemplary, especially the actions of the protagonist, Baby. Baby wants to “save the world,” but she approaches her calling through the people directly in front of her. ...

Baby comes to the defense of Penny, a dancer at Kellerman’s who is impregnated and abandoned by one of the other staff. Baby’s actions are messy, yet in the end she draws on all of her relationships to get Penny the help she needs after a botched abortion. The event pits Baby’s family against her staff friends, yet she refuses to abandon either and continually tries to create peace between them. Surprisingly (from a realistic perspective), Baby’s efforts succeed.

Dirty Dancing is a film simultaneously naive and realistic. On the one hand, it addresses class issues and the consequences of pregnancy. On the other hand, its address of these issues only goes so far. Class issues are never resolved in any sustainable way, just resolved in a scene of rich guests and poor staff dancing together at the end. As resolution goes, this is drivel.

Penny’s abortion, likewise, is handled in an incredibly flippant way, drawing no real consequences (which is all too often unrealistic) partly due to Penny’s speedy and complete physical recovery. Any consequences from the real problems presented in the film are either ignored or swept under the carpet with a tenuous closed ending.

Where the film is really problematic, however, is its sexuality. Now, I must confess I was raised with a fairly moralistic approach to sexuality in films, an approach I might add that is shared by the MPAA and websites like my old favorite Such a perspective typically raises issue with nudity (as defined by the government) and explicit sexual activity over “softer” forms of sexuality, like “dirty dancing.”

I, however, have come to adopt a fairly opposite perspective. For this reason Dirty Dancing, despite its PG-13 rating and lack of nudity or explicit sex, is one of the most sexually disturbing movies I’ve encountered. For instance, the films first images are slowed-down exhibits of “dirty dancing,” an amalgamation of exposure and touching by complete strangers (i.e. without characterization). There’s a name for this: voyeurism.

Later, Baby’s coming of age is visualized by the sequential shrinking of her clothing. On the one hand, this can be seen as her growing confidence in her own body, which is a good and healthy thing. On the other hand, skin seems to be clearly treated as naturally sexual. ...

... sexual activity is treated as natural to any kind of romantic relationship. However, sex is treated as naturally emotional without being physical, the effect of before / after shot-pairs that eliminate the physical act. It is all to easy, in this realm, to ignore the physical complexities and consequences of sex, which cannot be separated from the act in the real, physical world.

Dirty Dancing thus reinforces the myths of sex without babies (despite its forgettable abortion subplot) and bodies (which have unique physiologies). There isn’t much the film gets right about sex, other than that everyone wants it and will pay for movie tickets to experience it vicariously. ...
In my own words, Witwer is disturbed by Dirty Dancing because it depicts Baby's sexual fling essentially as merely emotional fun with no significant consequences. Witwer seems to think not showing the sexual intercourse of Baby and Johnny causes the audience, ironically, "to ignore the physical complexities and consequences of sex". The movie merely tantalizes people about sex, instead of causing them to ponder sex profoundly.

Witwer's logic is nonsensical for people whose religious philosophies are superficial or absent. However, Dirty Dancing does disturb many religious people -- because of the abortion an also because of the casual sex.

Witwer apparently thinks that sexual intercourse to be a profound experience that should be limited to marriage. He explains his own attitude toward marriage in another essay, titled The Mysteries of Marriage. He wrote this marriage essay in July 2013 and his Dirty Dancing essay in January 2014. So, he was criticizing Dirty Dancing as a profoundly religious man who had been married a half-year. His marriage essay includes the following excerpts.
... my own marriage is just over a month away. At certain points this summer, I have lamented that I have not undertaken a more thorough theological study of marriage as preparation. Still, today I have received a rush of thoughts on a theological understanding of marriage, which I will offer as well as I can ....

I want to reflect on four mysteries of marriage and their symbolization in sacrament within the wedding ceremony.

The first begins from ... [with] an anthropology of personhood must be theologically derived .... a marriage of two persons is a sacrament (symbol, icon) of Trinitarian personhood and relationship. In marriage as in perichoresis (the “dance” of divine love), two persons exist in harmony, which I think can be understood in one sense as sharing of will. To share will, two persons must be in constant communication, and not just speaking but deeply listening to each other – both to the words the other says as well as the meditations of his or her heart. In the marriage ceremony, this is symbolized by what I will call the “unity moment,” traditionally the lighting of a candle – demarcating a sacred space for the joining of two fleshes (in Jean-Luc Marion’s full sense of the word).

A second element of Trinitarian love is the desire of each person to bless and serve the others. ... Leadership, within relationship, must be shared and expressed in each mode: blessing and service. In the marriage ceremony, this is well (albeit rarely) symbolized by foot washing, an act of humility and a gift of respect, devotion, and gentle care.

Third, Trinitarian love is characterized by eternity, that is, persistent and faithful presence. ... those who are married pledge to abide with each other in “sickness and health, for rich or for poor.” A marriage covenant is a commitment to eternal love for that person.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is one element of life that is not shared between Triune love and marriage. That element is suffering. The Triune life is one of infinite, divine joy, a mystery which we have little comprehension of here on earth. Earthly live, including married life, is not perpetual joy but brings many seasons of suffering. This difference, however, is key, for it is only in the context of divine joy that a marriage can thrive (or at least survive) even in seasons of suffering. ...

Marriage, in moments of suffering, receives grace and support from a church family, a larger body which is powerfully enlivened by Christ and can therefore be a mediator of grace to individual families. However, the Church is also prone to suffering, and thus its life is sustained by its being embraced in divine joy, in perichoresis. The sacrament of this joy and fellowship which sustains the Church, and by extension its members, is Holy Communion. This is why I think it essential to celebrate Holy Communion within a marriage ceremony: it is a symbol of the couple’s fellowship with their larger families, their larger families fellowship with the Church, the Church’s fellowship with Christ, and Christ’s fellowship with the Trinity. Each of these layers is connected through communion and each receives grace, ultimately, from the divine joy of the Trinity. ...

This understanding of marriage is, I think, a beautiful one, and thereby a compelling vision which anchors marriage within its true theological home. A marriage cut off from God is a marriage endangered, just as a marriage cut off from the Church is at risk. .... This, however, is the way I am coming to understand it and the way I hope to celebrate it in a little over a month.
People who think of marriage in this religious manner are disturbed by the casual sex in Dirty Dancing.

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