Footloose, The Explicity v. the Implicit

So, I was thinking about it, what bugged me about Footloose, which I still think you should go see.  And again, I keep coming back to this thought that everyone involved in this production is better than the source material.  Especially when it comes to casting choices (though, I might have just gone ahead and let Hannah McGinley somehow turn Footloose into a one-woman show, because she’s a firecracker).

I mean, for a play being put on in a library up in Metro Center… well, it benefits from the truth of Nashville, which is that there’s no lack of extremely talented folks.  But whenever you stop the music to focus on the acting, you are inevitably wishing that the play gave these folks more to work with.  Cary Street, who played Ren’s mom, and Susan Taylor, who plays the Reverand’s wife, do a great job of conveying to the audience a lot of information about how conflicted and wound up and oppressed their characters are, but they have so little time in which to do it.  I already said how good Ed Amatrudo is at his part, when he finally has something more to do than just be the bad guy.

But the most brilliant/problematic casting decision was to cast Deonte Warren as Ren.  Don’t get me wrong–he’s great fun to watch and conveys that kind of pent-up youthful combination of rage and exuberance.

(And can I just say that the more I think about this, the more I do think that this show would be great fun to take Supermousey and a couple of her friends to, or Slarti’s kids?  There are some “shits” and a little sexual innuendo, but if your kids have ever watched MTV for longer than 3 seconds, they’ve seen much, much worse.)

Where were we?

Oh, yes, my point.

Warren as Ren.

It makes explicit what was, in the movie, and I imagine in renditions of the musical where the male lead is white, implicit–what being “from the big city” meant, for better or for worse, to those of us growing up in small towns in the 80s.  It was kind of a “holy shit, of course” moment for me, but in my defense, I haven’t seen or thought about Footloose in ages.

But there it is.  The kid from the city who listens to that music with drums and who has rhythm and can dance and who only has a mom and who’s pissed off and can’t be controlled and doesn’t respect authority.  Ren has always been “black.”  (And I put black in quotes deliberately because obviously Ren is not black, but I think, and so do most film critics, that movies give us a safe way to talk about the things we’re feeling anxious about, often without having to acknowledge that that’s what we’re up to.  See the Batman controversy, for further proof*.)

So, while Ren’s just implicitly *black*, the movie and the musical move forward under the conceit that there will be some way to reconcile Ren into the community–which is, of course, “white.”  The “white” folks can learn to loosen up and dance and enjoy music again and Ren can settle into the community on his own terms, finally figuring out how to shape it to meet his needs.

(Whew, you could have fun with a feminist critique of that plot, couldn’t you?  How all of the women are obviously miserable under the control of the town Patriarchs, but how they have no effective means to rebel on their own terms and can only hope that the new Patriarch, Ren in this case, puts in place a less stifling regime.)

Ren, when played by a white guy, is almost the opposite of the magical negro–in that he teaches white people to love black culture without having to actually like any individual black people.

But the second Ren is played by a black guy, like I said, all those things become explicit.

And that to me is both the genius and the problem.  I love that it makes you confront head-on that this is a story, in many ways, about race.  But there was a reason that, in 1984, they didn’t make the movie explicitly about race–in that it wouldn’t not have mattered that he was black.

So, on the one hand, it’s cool to see it played as if it’s no big deal that he’s black.

But on the other hand, seeing as how it makes explicit what the subtext of the story is, it seems really, really strange.

————-

*I would argue that, while the Batman as George Bush theory is interesting, it’s bullshit.  Not because it’s not true.  I don’t know if it’s true or not, but because at the level this shit works, it usually can only be understood in retrospect, like waking from a dream.  Like Ren has always been coded black, but you only notice it years later or how Top Gun is all about homosexual and homosocial desire–even the “woman’s” name in Charlie, folks, come on!–but you don’t see it at first.  Yes, surely there’s something going on with Batman which is speaking to a lot of folks on some level and maybe ten years from now it will be obvious that it was about finding some way to redeem George Bush, but I don’t know.  To me, it sounds like wishful thinking.

25 thoughts on “Footloose, The Explicity v. the Implicit

  1. This is only an agreement on Batman, since I have not seen Footloose.
    It’s just nonsense to suggest that Batman v. The Joker is an appropriate allegory for the US v. terrorism, or rightwing ideology vs. leftwing or Bush vs. whatever. Despite that rightwing ideology is couched in the language of good and evil, it’s an ideology that insists on fabricating and perpetuating its own truths (cf. WMDs, the “reasons” to start a war in Iraq, beliefs about how babies are made).
    And making one’s own truth, ladies and gentlemen, is a tragically postmodern relationship to truth, as well as a rather Jokeresque thing to do.

  2. Wow, I hadn’t heard that certain members of the right think that a character created in 1939 is based on a President elected in 2000 (hell, born in 1946). How quaint.

  3. Have either of you seen the movie?

    Not that I agree with the idiotic theory linked above, but watch the movie and you will get how its a valid topic of discussion. Not so much the blather about Bush, but how we all might be tempted to compromise our principles in order to defend those principles.

  4. Based on her comment, I think it’s safe to assume that tanglethis has seen the movie. For me, I’m anxious to see it but $4 gas and $8 movie tickets don’t mix well so I’ll be waiting til it comes out on DVD. Perhaps I’ll be proven wrong, but even without seeing the movie I feel quite comfortable mocking the idea that “Batman = Bush” is a valid topic of discussion.

  5. Wow, I hadn’t heard that certain members of the right think that a character created in 1939 is based on a President elected in 2000 (hell, born in 1946). How quaint.

    The Batman circa 1939 has very little to do with subsequent portrayals of Batman. He’s been reinvented for each era.

    That’s the thing about Comics. They’re sort of a tabula rasa against which each zeitgeist can draw its own portrait.

  6. And in only another 1400 years or so, history teachers will be driven nuts by students wanting to know about the “real” Batman and Superman, and saying that there wouldn’t have been so much talk about them, and so many versions of the stories, if they hadn’t been real.

  7. Were that only what you said to begin with.

    It was (precisely). I said it was quaint (though perhaps laughable would have been a more accurate term), that some people think Batman is based on Bush. Don’t know how to make that any clearer.

    The Batman circa 1939 has very little to do with subsequent portrayals of Batman. He’s been reinvented for each era.

    True enough, yet if someone were looking for a W in the bat signal, I’d think they’ have better luck finding it in the 1989 Tim Burton film than in “The Dark Knight” signal, assuming they didn’t change it from “Batman Begins.”

  8. Weak.

    As you aren’t discriminating between ‘Batman’ the cultural icon and ‘Batman’ the character in the movie ‘The Dark Knight’, you aren’t being precise nor making anything clear.

  9. Funny, I thought the Batman character in The Dark Knight WAS the same character as Batman the cultural icon.

    Caped guy dressed like a bat who fights a criminal dressed like a clown. Sounds kinda like the Batman cultural icon I’m familiar with.

    Face it, in this hyper-partisan world, you’re out to cut down anybody who doesn’t vote the same as you (something I’ve never understood). You read way more into my comment than you should have just to try and find something to attack, and now that I’ve called you out on it, your struggling to justify yourself instead of just admitting you were wrong.

  10. And Aunt B. I’m sorry for participating in the hijacking of your Footloose post to being a political debate on whether Batman = Bush. For my part of it, I’ll stop now.

  11. Dude, when it comes to dealing with the hyper-dense, I am strictly non-partisan.

    I’l spell it out for you in terms that even you can understand.

    This whole bush=batman nonsense has nothing to do with anything ‘circa 1939’. For you to bring it up in the first place demonstrates just how far you are out of your depth. It has to do with the most current incarnation of the character circa 2008. The grownups are talking about the character as written in a specific movie. You are bringing up almost seventy years worth of numerous artist’s widely varied portrayals for apparently no good reason other than a desperate need for attention.

    In my view, the film has allegorical moments that look at how we as a nation deal with the moral dilemma of effectively combat terrorism without losing our metaphorical souls. That’s just my interpretation. You may prefer Adam West doing the Batusi. Other dimwits may see G.W. Bush leaping off buildings dressed as a bat.

    Whatever turns you on.

  12. And in only another 1400 years or so, history teachers will be driven nuts by students wanting to know about the “real” Batman and Superman, and saying that there wouldn’t have been so much talk about them, and so many versions of the stories, if they hadn’t been real.

    Having just read The Historian, I can’t help but wonder if you’re talking about Dracula. Or, well, the Knights Templar. Or any other Ren Faire “slice of history” that’s so popular right now.

    I myself am going to see Batman tomorrow. Until then I have no opinion on the WOTness of it all.

  13. Face it, in this hyper-partisan world, you’re out to cut down anybody who doesn’t vote the same as you

    Seeing as how NOBODY votes the same as Sarcastro, that would give him licence to excoriate everyone.

    Come to think of it….

  14. Seeing as how NOBODY votes the same as Sarcastro, that would give him licence to excoriate everyone.

    But see if that’s the case, I’m left confused as why he went after me (here and elsewhere). You somewhat reiterated my point when you said “They’re sort of a tabula rasa against which each zeitgeist can draw its own portrait.” And yet he didn’t attack you the same way. I assumed it was because you vote Republican.
    I think that the claim that the Bat Signal (which has been around prior to Christopher Nolan’s interpretation of Batman, hence my 1939 statement though in fairness I don’t know when the Bat Signal was first used) is a direct abstraction of the letter W (as claimed in the linked article) is laughable on it’s face. For that I was attacked. If the attack wasn’t partisan, then I’d like to know why someone who has never met me has such a problem with me.

  15. You weren’t ‘attacked’. You were called out for not only making a point that was worthless, but for defending it in your particular passive-aggressive style. It wasn’t until you maligned me as a Republican that things got ugly.

    You have further demonstrated that you don’t know what you are talking about by lumping both Kat and I as GOP voters/fans.

  16. You have further demonstrated that you don’t know what you are talking about by lumping both Kat and I as GOP voters/fans.

    I know Kat is not GOP fan. But I also know from having read her for a very long time that she votes GOP more often than Dem. I don’t know you which is why I was surprised at your attack. And yes, you did attack me. Calling someone hyper-dense, telling them to let the “grown-ups” talk and claiming they have a desperate need of attention (for what, saying Batman != Bush?), are all examples of attacks. If you have a problem with me, I’d rather you just come out with it? Insults aren’t an effective way to solve differences.

  17. And it’s yet to be shown that my point was “worthless.” You’ve not offered ANY evidence that Batman (from The Dark Knight or elsewhere) is a direct symbol for Bush. My point stands.

  18. At this point I have to wonder if you have a learning disability. I haven’t offered ANY evidence, because if you’ll use your reading for comprehension skills, I think that batman as a direct symbol for bush is idiotic. Seriously read it. It’s right above. The key word is ‘nonsense’ if you are still looking. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    See, you are like one of the dopes who want to vote against Barack Obama because his middle nae is Hussein. That’s his name all righty, but a pretty stupid reason to vote against him when there are plenty of good ones. Same thing goes for those who are voting against McCain because he is ‘old’. Also true, also stupid. Plenty of reasons to not vote for McCain before you get to his, or Batman’s birthday.

    My point stands.

  19. But I also know from having read her for a very long time that she votes GOP more often than Dem.

    I also vote Libertarian more often than Dem. The last 10 years I’ve voted Libertarian more than Republican. Well, Libertarian/Write-In more than Republican.

    But see if that’s the case, I’m left confused as why he went after me (here and elsewhere).

    I don’t know about the “elsewhere”…this is the only place I’ve seen him go after you/your ideas. Personally I thought he was attacking the idea you were sticking up for–at first. Now that it looks personal I’m trying to stay out of it.

    is a direct abstraction

    I don’t know for sure, but that feels kind of like an oxymoron to me. How is something both direct AND an abstraction?

    You’ve not offered ANY evidence that Batman (from The Dark Knight or elsewhere) is a direct symbol for Bush.

    I don’t know if he’s a symbol for “Bush”, but I think he’s very much a man conflicted between the fight for his principles and the ethics of such a fight. He’s the DARK nature duelling with the better angels of nature. That’s always been Batman’s intrigue. Right now we’re just throwing him up against the wall of modern conflicts to see what sticks.

    By “we” I mean “people in general who are talking about this.” Before I say any more I think I need to see the movie. I’m doing that now instead of waiting til tomorrow.

    So I’ll catch you on the flipside.

  20. KCo, I was thinking about “the real King Arthur,” but your examples work equally well.

    I liked the Batman movie with Michelle Pfeiffer in it, and I’m not crazy about Footloose. So the rest of this conversation is not for me.

  21. At this point I have to wonder if you have a learning disability. I haven’t offered ANY evidence, because if you’ll use your reading for comprehension skills, I think that batman as a direct symbol for bush is idiotic.

    Then what exactly are you castigating me for? Also, fuck you with your reading comprehension bullshit. I was reading at a college level back when I was in 8th grade (probably before that, but that was the first level that they tested such things). Here’s the thing: I know you said you thought it was idiotic. But I said it was idiotic and you took me to task for it. So I can only assume you’re attacking me because you think I’m wrong, hence you no longer believe in your previous statement. Otherwise, we’re back to the question of why you’re attacking me.

    See, you are like one of the dopes who want to vote against Barack Obama because his middle nae [sic] is Hussein.

    This is not only a bizarre attack to level against me, but it doesn’t even make sense in the context of this discussion. At. All.

    Personally I thought he was attacking the idea you were sticking up for–at first. Now that it looks personal I’m trying to stay out of it.

    That’s the thing though. I’m trying to figure out exactly what idea of mine he is attacking. The only idea I’ve presented here is that Batman is not a direct symbol of Bush. And he says he agrees, then proceeds to verbally assault me.

    How is something both direct AND an abstraction?

    Most abstractions are somewhat direct, in that they can be directly traced back to that which they are an abstraction from. The only non-direct abstractions are pure abstraction which was not based on a representational object to begin with (think Picasso = Direct abstraction. Rothko = Pure abstraction).

    I don’t know if he’s a symbol for “Bush”, but I think he’s very much a man conflicted between the fight for his principles and the ethics of such a fight.

    And that’s my point. When an issue being addressed is a broader one, obviously different people will read it as it applies in different views and life experiences. But that’s a far cry from “The Bat Signal is really supposed to be a W.” That’s DIRECT symbolism, and I don’t think there’s much of a case to be made for it in this instance.

  22. I was reading at a college level back when I was in 8th grade (probably before that, but that was the first level that they tested such things).

    That’s precious. I bet Mommy is so proud that she puts that in the Christmas letter every year.

    But I said it was idiotic and you took me to task for it.

    No, you said: Wow, I hadn’t heard that certain members of the right think that a character created in 1939 is based on a President elected in 2000 (hell, born in 1946). How quaint.

    Which is as true as Obama’s middle name being whatever, but just as irrelevant in the discussion of the larger point. Call it a direct abstraction.

    Then you want to bleat about being attacked? I ‘attacked’ your moot point until this passive aggressive gem showed up. Face it, in this hyper-partisan world, you’re out to cut down anybody who doesn’t vote the same as you (something I’ve never understood). You read way more into my comment than you should have just to try and find something to attack, and now that I’ve called you out on it, your struggling to justify yourself instead of just admitting you were wrong.

    Cry into your pillow all you want and claim the mantle of victim. You brought this on yourself and yet you still won’t shut your blowhole about the symbolism in a movie you haven’t seen.

  23. Wow. I was going to pop back in and say that I had seen the movie, and therefore I stood by my previous claim that any Bush-as-Batman interpretation (or America vs. terrorism interpretation, which is what I heard on the radio) was misguided since Bush/America’s relationship with good and evil is not binary or fixed or even aimed for the greatest good of the greatest number of people.

    But it turned into a clusterfuck here, so play like I didn’t say anything.

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