Life Lessons from Movies

Dirty Dancing

In Drama, Movies on April 18, 2013 at 6:03 PM

Dirty Dancing (1987) is a drama directed by Emile Ardolino about a privileged young woman, Frances “Baby” Houseman (Jennifer Grey), vacationing with her family in a resort, where she falls in love with Johnny (Patrick Swayze), a dance instructor, and learns a ballroom routine to help out his dance partner, Penny (Cynthia Rhodes), who needs a medical procedure.

Life Lesson:

Everyone deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

Movie Scene:

Baby [talking to her father]: “I’m sorry I lied to you. But you lied too. You told me everyone was alike and deserved a fair break, but you meant everyone who was like you. You told me you wanted me to change the world, make it better. But you meant by becoming a lawyer or an economist, and marrying someone from Harvard. I’m not proud of myself, but I’m in this family too and you can’t keep giving me the silent treatment. There are a lot of things about me that  aren’t what you thought, but if you love me, you have to love all the things about me. And I love you. And I’m sorry I let you down. I’m so sorry daddy. But you let me down too.”

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  1. Robbie Gould, one of the waiters in the movie, tells Baby that “some people count and some people don’t” as he pulls out a copy of the book, “The Fountainhead” by Ayn Rand. He says this to justify his abuse of Penny, who he treated unfairly and without dignity. While it could be argued that on a personal level some people do matter more than others — after all we care more about those who we are close to than those we do not know — this does not mean that strangers do not matter. Everybody matters to somebody, and nobody should be brutalized or exploited for any reason. There is no justification for it.

    Because his societal position is higher that Penny’s, Robbie also seems to be justifying the hierarchical society represented in the movie. Although not as well defined perhaps, in real life we certainly are made to feel that those who are successful or wealthier count more than those who are not. One example of this is the media coverage that someone of renown garners, versus someone who lacks fame. It’s hard not to feel that celebrities matter more since the exposure they get suggests, intentionally or not, that they are more important than others. While it is true that some people make greater contributions to society (e.g. Steve Jobs, Carl Sagan) and therefore deserve to be acknowledged and celebrated, this does not mean that those who are not recognized deserve contempt or mistreatment. One person may only be able to help very few people, and therefore never get much recognition, but for those few people, that individual’s contribution could be as important as the contribution of a revolutionary or a scientist is to the world.

    The fallacy that Robbie makes is equating a lack of compassion or empathy for somebody as justification for hurting them. Not caring for someone does not give you the right or the reason to injure them. And just because someone is in a more humble station in life than you are, does not mean that you should take advantage of that to abuse them. Whereas people who make positive contributions to society, whether it be by merely being courteous to others, or by discovering a treatment that prolongs life, are deserving of respect, those that are not acknowledged as contributing positively nevertheless deserve to be treated with dignity. If they are not, then the fabric of society weakens and larger groups of people become targets for maltreatment. The effect is illustrated in the poem “First They Came…” by pastor Martin Niemöller about the Nazis:

    First they came for the socialists, 

    and I didn’t speak out because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists,

    and I didn’t speak out because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews,
    
and I didn’t speak out because I was not a Jew.

    Then they came for me,
    
and there was no one left to speak for me.

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