When I saw Dirty Dancing at the age of eleven at a friend’s sleepover party (despite being explicitly told by my parents I was not allowed to), I didn’t follow the abortion subplot. What I did understand was the excitement at the forbidden nature of the relationship between Patrick Swayze and Jennifer Grey. Adolescents tuning into the remake of the movie airing on ABC tonight will probably have the opposite experience.
Thanks to overly explicit sex education curricula and parents who think it’s their responsibility to tell their children everything as early as possible, today’s eleven-year-old girls are much more familiar with the idea of birth control and abortion. But they will probably have little sense of why a father would try to control the romantic interests of a girl who is going off to college in the fall. Doesn’t he understand that his daughter is about to experience four years of drunken hookups?
In the original movie, whatever you think of Jake Houseman’s (Jerry Orbach) mistaken judgment of Johnny Castle (Patrick Swayze)—Baby’s (Jennifer Grey) suitor is still much older and more experienced than her—Houseman has his daughter’s best interests in mind. Maybe he is a snob about people who work as dancers at hotels and thinks his daughter is too good for them (though he does save the young woman who had a botched abortion). Or maybe he doesn’t want his daughter hanging around with what used to be called a fast crowd. In the end, he may have been wrong about Johnny’s being responsible for the situation of his dance partner, but he wasn’t wrong about Johnny’s intentions with Baby.
But this was 1963, the days before parents saw preserving their children’s innocence as a fool’s errand. Even parents in 1987 were still making more of an effort. Now we are supposed to trust our adolescents and teenagers, supposed to host the parties with the alcohol and supposed to invite teenagers’ significant others to spend the night in our homes.
Jake Houseman’s sin is standing in the way of true love. But it will be hard for young people watching the movie today to see him as anything other than ridiculous. Why wouldn’t the father of a seventeen-year-old let her have some fun?
In the remake, Jake Houseman is apparently going to be portrayed as not just a class snob, but a sexually repressed racist who doesn’t protect his daughters from the real dangers to them. According to the New York Times, older sister “Lisa Houseman … fights off an attempted date rape by a conventional, parent-approved suitor and then falls into a coy friendship with Marco, a Kellerman employee who is black.” And wife Marjorie Houseman is “a woman whose husband’s attention is fully focused on his career. ‘You haven’t touched me in almost a year,’ she laments to Jake.”
If the new Dirty Dancing is any guide, in 2017, if you get in the way of your daughter’s or wife’s sex life, you aren’t just a well-meaning but misguided father; you’re a real villain.