Southern, White, Religious, and Racist

In the middle of a summer in which Black flash mobs have ambushed and terrorize unsuspecting Caucasians at public events and a mulatto President speaks placating words to militantly racist Mestizos intent on reclaiming “Aztlan” from the gringos, it just figures that the heartwarming, inspirational and “relevant” new family film is about the abiding cruel perfidy of…White Southerners!

But then some things never change, at least not among the image-makers and opinion-shapers of Hollywood, where simplistic segregation-era morality plays featuring murderously mean-faced rednecks and saintly, martyred magic Negros are forever de rigueur. From To Kill a Mockingbird through Mississippi Burning and now The Help, with several lesser productions in between, we can chart the history of this singularly monotonous cinematic trend. Movies of this genre are typically as shorn of nuance as any Goebbels-approved Nazi propaganda film, except with the exact opposite racial message. Still, the aim is identical: to fill the viewer with righteous indignation against the enemies of the Zeitgeist, who also just happen to be enemies of the state.

If our Hollywood masters are eager to draw our attention away from the messy and miserable failure of present-day multiculturalism for favor of a smarmily black-and-white portrayal of a past supposedly rife with White racism, these same cultural commissars seem oddly fixated on the once prevalent, now thoroughly exorcised, bugaboo of sexual repression. Contemporary Western pop culture is endlessly saturated with sexy pop songs, sexy music videos, sexy TV shows, sexy movies, sexy magazines, and sexy books (for those few still functionally literate); try as you might, you pretty much can’t escape the sight of leggy, buxom starlets miming fellatio while drunkenly exposing their bare crotches, or the sound of mind-numbingly raunchy dance anthems in which the singer orgasmically celebrates his or her unapologetically libertine lifestyle, or the sight and sound of gleefully fornicating teenagers in the latest “provocative” reality show or “hilarious” sex comedy. Yet for all that, moviemakers still apparently felt the need to remake Footloose, a movie which even in the '80s seemed to belong in some kind of weird Twilight Zone America located in an alternate universe.

In the America of Footloose, a nebulously “Christian” Wahhabi-style fundamentalist organized religion holds sway over American culture to such a degree that the poor kids in the hick town where the movie takes place aren’t even allowed to have a school dance! (cue a gasping, dying Kurtz: “The horror! The horror!”) This state of affairs is due, naturally, to the oppressive influence of the stodgy old City Council, who take their cue from the town’s holy-rolling preacher-man, who sees rock music as demonic and dancing as a lewd expression of forbidden sexuality. Even the local cops get in on the act; when cool newcomer Kevin Bacon plays Quiet Riot too loud on his car stereo, some mean ol’ boy in blue pulls him over, pulls out his cassette tape, and slaps him across the chin with it. (This humiliating brush with police brutality later prompts Bacon’s character to smoke, drink, and do a bunch of vengeful pirouetting in an abandoned warehouse while a generic '80s song plays over the soundtrack—a scene of epic, iconic silliness.)

Eventually, of course, Bacon’s character leads the kids at the school—all of whom look like they’re at least in their mid-'20s— in a righteous rebellion against the forces of adult oppression, repression, and suppression of libidinous youth. The requisitely hot n’ wild daughter of the preacher-man rebukes her dad for having his head in the sand, memorably screaming “I’m not even a virgin!” at him in a moment cued to provoke audience oohs, ahhs, and applause. The preacher-man eventually sees the light, learns that he must give way to flaming youth, who then go forth to dance an expertly choreographed number in the gymnasium when their savior Kevin Bacon arrives late, slides in on his knees, and mandates that the pseudo-teenage booty-shaking begin. Cue Kenny Loggins, fresh from scoring the theme song to Caddyshack, yet another movie which had the courage to bash conservative, religious repression in an age where it barely existed. “Kick off your Sunday shoes,” indeed. 

Judging from the trailer for the new Footloose, we’re going to get much of the same, with a few more Black faces, and a touch more hip-hop-derived dirty dancing. The heroine appears to be a Miley Cyrus-lookalike with an attitude, the hero another blandly handsome white boy with the dance moves of a ‘gro and pluck and gumption to take on those all-powerful Christian fundies who so rule this America that isn’t.

Yet the propagandizing, while still trite and ridiculous, could have been worse. We might have been treated to an interracial romance, or a gay romance, or an interspecies romance, or an intergenerational romance, among the two leads. I guess one of those scenarios will have to wait for the next remake of Footloose, in the early 2040s.

Or perhaps the corrupt, debased, and debauched Hollywood system will have died a horrible death by that time, and America will be ruled by new masters with a different agenda to promote. We’ll just have to wait and see.