January 31, 2008

"Hairspray"

I finally saw (follow me closely here) the 2007 movie version of the 2002 Broadway musical version of the 1988 movie about a fat girl in Baltimore in 1962 who wants to be on a teen dance show on local TV.

And "Hairspray" is pretty good. 1962-style rock music wasn't as good as 1956 or 1965 rock music, but it works reasonably well in a musical. Indeed, many of the hits of 1962 were written by professional songwriters in Manhattan who grew up on Rodgers and Hammerstein, so the musical vocabularies were much more similar than they would become soon after. When roaring electric guitars came into fashion -- say, on the Kinks' 1964 single "You Really Got Me" -- popular music and Broadway started to permanently diverge since you couldn't hear the lyrics anymore. But the pre-British Invasion rock and roll sound wasn't incompatible with story-telling through song.

And the best thing about the latest version of "Hairspray" is that it's mostly music, with spoken dialogue taking up only a small fraction of the whole movie.

Because it's a musical, and a story originally written by John Waters, they had to gratuitously gay it up. Because that's what people expect from musicals these days -- gratuitous gayness -- which is why musicals are so much more popular now than in the B.G.G. (Before Gratuitous Gayness) era. So they had John Travolta play the heroine's mom, and he does a good job. Travolta doesn't play Edna Turnblad like a drag queen, but more like a nice middle-aged fat lady. Unfortunately, his voice is too low. (Can't they digitally raise the pitch of a voice these days? If not, he could have just spoken his dialogue slowly and then they could have played it back faster, Alvin & the Chipmunks-style.)

Anyway, the hard-hitting controversial message of the movie is that civil rights is good. And that's because black people are better dancers than white people. Evil is represented by the bigoted villainess Velma von Tussle (Michelle Pfeiffer), the producer of the Corny Collins dance party show, who only lets one day of the week be Negro Day on the show. And she allows the white kids on the show to only do traditional boring WASP dances like the rumba, cha-cha, and tango. But when the spunky heroine gets interviewed on the show, she shocks Velma by saying, when asked to tell the TV audience a little bit about herself:

Tracy Turnblad: Well, I watch the Corny Collins show everyday and I do nothing else! ... I also hope to be the first female president... or a Rockette!
Corny Collins: As your first act as president, what would you do?
Tracy Turnblad: I'd make every day Negro Day!

And, when it comes to dancing, that, indeed, is what happened. Starting in the 1960s, white Americans, who used to dance all the time, started sitting on their couches and watching blacks dance on TV. Before the Black Pride era, whites would take lessons to learn how to dance. White people are good at taking lessons.

They would especially take lessons in Latin American dance styles like the ones that Nazi vixen Velma von Tussle has the white kids on the show doing. But American pop culture got de-Latinized during the 1960s, so white people stopped dancing as improvisatory African-American dancing became the fashion. But white people aren't good at making up their own dances. So, they got embarrassed because they weren't as cool as blacks, and they went and sat down.

Fortunately, we have professional dancers to celebrate for us this great stride forward in "Hairspray," which we can now watch from our couches.

My published articles are archived at iSteve.com -- Steve Sailer

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Steve musicals are probably less popular now than before gay. No straight guy would go see one unless his girlfriend threatened him. But back in the 1940's before gay musicals did good business with both women and men.

Gay means gay ghetto which means women and gays watch it.

As for dance, more likely it's because Latin styles that were "sexy" went out of style and guys had more avenues to meet and impress women than with dancing the tango or whatever. Not many Black kids dance either and those that do look like a minstrel show.

Check out a rap video. Cringe inducing.

Bill said...

Before the Black Pride era, whites would take lessons to learn how to dance. White people are good at taking lessons.

-SS


Do you have to give my wife ammo for her unending crusade to drag me onto a dance floor?

But American pop culture got de-Latinized during the 1960s, so white people stopped dancing as improvisatory African-American dancing became the fashion. But white people aren't good at making up their own dances. So, they got embarrassed because they weren't as cool as blacks, and they went and sat down.

The secret to good "improvisational" black dances is constant practice from elementary school on. I saw it myself growing up in the 'hood. Black girls would be on the sidewalk doing hop-scotch for hours and more than a few boys got into it as well. Some pretty amazing stuff, like cartwheels through the spinning ropes, but that took a lot of practice. But I know what you mean: their kids would dance as soon as they could walk (but then again so do mine, just differently).

Now they're sitting in front of the TV or the video games, too. The age of impressive black dances is dying because of this. Youthful artistic expression in America is losing its physical touch, and blacks aren't immune to this trend.

Blame the parents who don't kick their kids out until dinner time, but rather shut them up in dens with electronic toys. But then blame me too -- I'm scared to death they'll get run over by some moron yakking on a cell-phone driving a ten-foot tall SUV.

You know, though, it's interesting that you mention digital tools for adjusting pitch. I was playing with one today, thinking about setting up an audio blog in conjunction with writing stuff for my family. Although I don't have the best voice (it's a little low-pitched and creaky) I read to my little ones and tend to get pretty involved, so I thought I might give it a shot online just for kicks. Writing or finding scripts to integrate sound into pages is ridiculously easy.

Check out this program:

Audacity

It's open-source, and really fun. Pretty sophisticated tool for free, and even novices like me can make good use of it.

Guest007 said...

Steve,

The one place where dance lessons are still important is cheerleading. If you look at the bios posted for the Songgirls at USC, you will see that they have been taking dance, gymnastics, and cheerleading lessons since they were three years old.
Also, for all of the talk about blacks and dancing, someone should notice how few black females there are on college dance and cheerleading teams.

Steve Sailer said...

Okay, but who is going to dance _with_ the cheerleaders? Or are they just going to next take their dance training to the strip club and continue to dance for men sitting around?

Cato said...

Starting in the 1960s, white Americans, who used to dance all the time, started sitting on their couches and watching blacks dance on TV. Before the Black Pride era, whites would take lessons to learn how to dance.

I wasn't alive then, but my perception is that it wasn't that black dancing supplanted white/latin, but that partner-dancing (which often required lessons) was wiped out by new dances that anyone could do by themselves (which didn't, unless you were really bad). If one song can be seen as the turning point, it was Chubby Checker's "The Twist" in 1960.

Martin said...

I once heard John Waters interviewed on "Fresh Air". He talked about how oppressed he felt growing up in the segregated Baltimore of the fifties. I guess he projected on to blacks the alienation he felt due to his especially wierd and creepy kind of gayness (keep in mind, his idea of great cinema is obese, dog-excrement eating transvestites).

Well his dream has been realized to a greater degree than he could have ever hoped for. Society has broken down to a sufficiently degraded state, that a man like John Waters is considered a "filmmaker", rather than simply a purveyor of sick and perverse trash. And in Baltimore today, every day is indeed "negro-day".

And how has that worked out for Baltimore?

Martin said...

"Anonymous said...

Steve musicals are probably less popular now than before gay."

Yeah, he knows that. He was being sarcastic. You haven't read much of what he's written, have you.

Concerned Netizen said...

"Because that's what people expect from musicals these days -- gratuitous gayness -- which is why musicals are so much more popular now than in the B.G.G. (Before Gratuitous Gayness) era. "

Yeah I'm confused about this too.

Musicals are way LESS popular than they were pre-1950s, the golden age of the Bway musical.

Oklahoma was a cultural phenomenon. Everyone hummed those tunes. No one realized that 90% of the guys in the chorus were homo.

Concerned Netizen said...

"But back in the 1940's before gay musicals did good business with both women and men."

True.

Why does something turn gay?

That is the question.

SKT said...

I hate dancing.

That said, I could go for some sort of ballroom dancing, with fixed moves that you can learn.

However, today "dancing" means night club dancing, which 99.9% of straight non-black guys hate. If you're not black, you can't even attempt it unless you're really drunk, and you inevitably end up embarrassing yourself.

David Davenport said...

... few black females there are on college dance and cheerleading teams.

Just enough to cover their Affirmative Action behinds.

Even black guys prefer white cheerleaders.

David Davenport said...

They would especially take lessons in Latin American dance styles like the ones that Nazi vixen Velma von Tussle has the white kids on the show doing. But American pop culture got de-Latinized during the 1960s, so white people stopped dancing

Check out Burt Lancaster and Yvonne De Carlo in 1949's "Criss Cross."

It's got a scene that I think they'd call the music video drop-in nowadays. Burt and Yvonne really shake it hard to Ezy Morales' Rhumba Band.

This dance scene is kind of eye-opening, because until I saw that movie I believed the received Pee Cee wisdom that white people didn't dance like that until Chubby Checker liberated them and taught them all to twist in the early '60's.

Michael said...

"White people are good at taking lessons."

Funny line, and so true.

Lucius Vorenus said...

Steve Sailer: Okay, but who is going to dance _with_ the cheerleaders?

Uh, the Pole?

stari_momak said...

You know, I was at a wedding in England and they had a folk band at the reception. Everyone was white, nearly everyone of English or anglo (in the strict sense) celtic American descent. The band leader basically had the crowd, well juiced on homemade ail, doing what were basically square dances. And we did them pretty okay, at least according to my fuzzy recollection.

And I remember thinking -- wow, this is it, this is our music and our dancing. And you know what was great about it , it was pretty complex. I mean, you go to a Jewish wedding or a Turkish wedding or even a slavic wedding and you get a bunch of people holding hands and going round in a circle. And here we are forming lines, swinging parters to the left, to the right, dozy doing and doing all sort of maneuvering while sauced with zero practice. I couldn't help but remember that the Athenians practiced dance -- choreography -- to prepare themselves to move in the phalanx. Its our roots baby. We should stick to it.

regular joe said...

Steve

they were not dancing rumbas or any lating couples dances in that dumb movies, they were dancing non hip wiggling dance moves like the mash potatoes or whatever, but american pop cultural non couples ones. did you actually watch the movie?

regular joe said...

oh, and by the way, there still is a white, couples dance tradition, its called the Texas Two Step and the Polka (Country Western variant). it allows you to ask a girl to dance without it meaning "can a have sex with you" and can be mastered adequately with lessons, and is immune to hipster and black mockery. If you're in a cowboy bar, you already don't care what Hip Hop stars and latte sippers think of you.

Steve Sailer said...

Velma von Tussle, when first seen, is talking about the rumba and cha-cha to the kids, and then she sings a tango song.

David Davenport said...

If you're in a cowboy bar, you already don't care what Hip Hop stars and latte sippers think of you.

Check out the dancers in these Dale Watson live at some dive videos:

Dale Watson - Honky Tonkers Don't Cry

http://youtube.com/watch?v=TPfdUNtrFQY&feature=related

Dale Watson - Are the Good Times Really Over?

http://youtube.com/watch?v=VyTq2gtOGDs

guest007 said...

Lucius Vorenus,

I have always thought it would be interested in studying the connection between high school and college dance teams (i.e. minor league Laker Girls) and working as strip clubs. It would be interesting to see if taking your daughter to dance lessons make increase the chance that she becomes a stripper.

Steve,

If you look at backup dancers for hip-hop or pop music concerts and videos you find many of those of interracial marriages. Maybe a white/black marriage produces a child who is exposed to black culture enough to want to dance and comfortable enough in white culture to stay with dance and gymnastics lessons. Just look at the dancers behind Beyonce/Christina/Madonna. The choreographers seem to like light skinned blacks as black up dancers.

anony-mouse said...

The interesting thing is that 'Hairspray' is based on a true event that did happen in Baltimore. There was a TV dance show in Baltimore called 'the Buddy Deane show' that did have a (once a week) 'negro' show. When Deane wanted to have black and white couples on the same dance floor at the same time (as Dick Clark had on Bandstand) the station refused so he quit.

see Wikipedia

Bill said...

Lucius Vorenus,

I have always thought it would be interested in studying the connection between high school and college dance teams (i.e. minor league Laker Girls) and working as strip clubs. It would be interesting to see if taking your daughter to dance lessons make increase the chance that she becomes a stripper.

-guest007


Hmmm. Very good point. I'll definitely keep that in mind.

HughRistik said...

White people are good at taking lessons.
They would especially take lessons in Latin American dance styles like the ones that Nazi vixen Velma von Tussle has the white kids on the show doing. But American pop culture got de-Latinized during the 1960s, so white people stopped dancing as improvisatory African-American dancing became the fashion. But white people aren't good at making up their own dances. So, they got embarrassed because they weren't as cool as blacks, and they went and sat down.


Now in high school dances, there are three ways to dance with someone:

1. Dance in a circle with them and their friends, without touching them. This type of dancing can be fun for people with moves who can improvise, and for females. Females can have a good time moving their bodies any way they want; non-black males who do the same will look lame at best and gay at worst. Furthermore, non-black males cannot really use their limited range of motion to attract females. If you aren't dancing with a woman, or dancing in a way that attracts women, it's a waste of time.

2. Slow dance. Not an interesting dance, but can be fun if the other person is attractive. Only a few of these will be played the whole dance, though.

3. Grinding (also known as "freaking"). The problem is the most girls are not comfortable doing this with you unless perhaps you are an alpha male.

The result is that there are two classes of people at high school dances: those who freak, and those who don't. For non-black males, if you are an alpha male, girls will freak with you (and you may even be able to initiate this wordlessly). Otherwise, you have the choice of spending most of the evening dancing lamely in a circle, or standing by the wall.

However, doing the improvisational or hiphop forms of dancing (including freaking) is not just about genes. In college, a black friend of mine explained how it worked, how you go up to a girl wordlessly, test the waters, and initiate dancing. I could understand what he was doing, but I could also tell that it took a lot of practice, practice that he was getting since middle school and high school while I was standing by the wall.

Luckily, ballroom and latin is making a comeback in colleges, giving a break from the horrible system in high school (outside colleges, though, ballroom and latin dance places can have dismal average ages of 35+). People who do ballroom and latin dance, as far as I can tell, are 1 SD below the mean in attractiveness, but 1 SD above the mean in IQ. It's a tradeoff. I've found the best balance, as well as most enjoyment, in salsa dancing.

Philly Expatriate said...

I've always found the kind of dances done down South are charming. Not particularly demanding, but nice enough that women can do it with her boyfriend or her father on the same night. I don't know if they have names though.

Truth said...

"Even black guys prefer white cheerleaders."

How long have you been a black male?

nick said...

This is part of a larger trend that has been going on since the beginning of mass produced sound and movies.

Almost every straight man once not only danced, but sang, as part of normal romance. As hard as it is for us to comprehend it now, it's not just a Hollywood fancy -- many a man did in fact go to the house of the woman he loved and serenaded her. Even harder to comprehend -- as often as not, she thought he sounded pretty good.

The phonograph killed off singing, and first movies and then TV killed off dancing. Amateurs trying to compete with professionals sound and look silly. The only remnant of this tradition is the competition of neighborhood rock bands for groupies, but even here the deck is stacked against the average.

Anonymous said...

The phonograph killed off singing, and first movies and then TV killed off dancing. Amateurs trying to compete with professionals sound and look silly

This reminds me of a scene from The Dead, a 1987 movie based on a James Joyce short story. The characters, middle-class, turn-of-the-century Dubliners, have gathered for a festive evening, and they take turns singing and playing the piano, evincing minimal talent. Right after the scene, my friend leaned over to me and whispered, "and you thought television was a vast wasteland."

Well, it was funny at the time.

Anyway, it's true that the easy accessibility of professional entertainment (often electronically enhanced) has largely killed off amateur musical efforts. This is too bad, as singing is a lot of fun, and most people can do an OK job of it - especially in a group - with a little practice and low expectations on the part of the audience.

Anonymous said...

Many of those wasp latin dances that you mentioned came from their afro latin community please read the history of salsa ,tango ,cha cha white latins were horrified but eventually took these dances up.Whites generally have liked black dance styles a take them for there own

Anonymous said...

Luckily, ballroom and latin is making a comeback in colleges, giving a break from the horrible system in high school (outside colleges, though, ballroom and latin dance places can have dismal average ages of 35+). People who do ballroom and latin dance, as far as I can tell, are 1 SD below the mean in attractiveness, but 1 SD above the mean in IQ. It's a tradeoff. I've found the best balance, as well as most enjoyment, in salsa dancing.

That depends on where and at what level you dance at. Go to any high level Latin dance club in LA, SF or NYC and you’ll find some pretty hot women (e.g. former Russian ballet dancers, etc). The problem for most guys is these places are pretty cut-throat where all the babes will flock around the few alpha males for a dance or two rather than waste the evening with betas.

John of London said...

I hope it's not too late to add a few random observations.
American dance music has always been Black. As it's been taken over by Whites, this has been forgotten. See old 78s with "Foxtrot (Negro dance)" on the label.Vernon and Irene Castle before WWI used only James Europe's Black dance band. An interesting example of how White musicians displaced Blacks is that JE's band played a similar role during WWI to Glen MIller's in WWII. Not that GM's band wasn't immeasurably superior to anything that passes for dance music today, tho not as good as Basie, IMO.
In the swing era there was a great deal of very competitive improvisatory dancing (in couples), and Blacks were better at it. I've read that White dancers who really fancied themselves would go to Black dancehalls in NYC (the reverse wasn't allowed, of course). This sort of dancing continued as Jiving in the early rock and roll era.
Even middle aged White people can dumb down.From Texas two-step to line dancing. Another way of avoiding having to ask a lady to dance.

Anonymous said...

"People who do ballroom and latin dance, as far as I can tell, are 1 SD below the mean in attractiveness, but 1 SD above the mean in IQ. It's a tradeoff. I've found the best balance, as well as most enjoyment, in salsa dancing."

Salsa music and salsa dancing is significantly more African than most Black-American music and dance styles.

The people who either dance or play the music may not be particularly African looking, but much of the music is, and the watered down, ball room style we see today on shows like "Dancing With the Stars" really doesn’t do justice to how these dances are really done by people in these Latin American countries or communities.


Examples:

Mambo Salsa
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N4ULm7ha5pY&feature=PlayList&p=1EA96025CF8B85F0&index=26

social dancing cuban salsa
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YE_QFzce68&feature=PlayList&p=E1AFD712C0D5FAEF&index=18

Danzon Son Mambo Chachacha Casino - from Havana, Cuba
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=11qPpZAZyMY


And how do you know the mean IQ of these people? Did you administer tests or something?

HughRistik said...

When I said:

"People who do ballroom and latin dance, as far as I can tell, are 1 SD below the mean in attractiveness, but 1 SD above the mean in IQ. It's a tradeoff. I've found the best balance, as well as most enjoyment, in salsa dancing."

I was talking about white middle class people. I agree that white people latin dance doesn't do justice to the real thing. But it works for white and Asian people.

anonymous said:
"And how do you know the mean IQ of these people? Did you administer tests or something?"

Yes. I administered the tests while dancing with them.