I watched the original Footloose on Amazon Prime the other night. I suppose two decades had passed since I’d last seen it, mostly likely on VHS.
The movie help up pretty well. Kevin Bacon fantastic as the city boy fish out of water rebel. Lori Singer sizzling as the wild child preacher’s daughter. John Lithgow riveting as the uptight Preacher. Pure American golden camp where rock and roll triumphs over Puritanism.
The scene that most intrigued me was when the townspeople wanted to ban the teaching of Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five in the high school. When Kevin Bacon overhears some hicks saying that, he tells them he’s read it, “it’s a classic.”
The movie was released in 1984. Slaughterhouse-Five, published in 1969, to huge acclaim, was just about ending its run as one of the most widely taught books in high school English classes. It was the anti-war, trippy, edgy novel to teach for years. I read it high school in the early 80s, but on my own. I also read a lot of other Vonnegut checked out of the Oregon City High School library. My creative writing teacher insisted I had to dive into Vonnegut and I did. I bet there isn’t a single copy of any of Vonnegut’s novels in the OCHS library today. I distinctly recall reading Breakfast of Champions and having it reorient my entire belief about American history and infiltrate the writing style I was developing at the time. (It still does.) That novel provided the antithesis (meaning the truth) to the mythology being shoveled to me in the social studies education of my youth. It’s a funny thing when your US history class in high school stops at WW II and it’s 1981.
When I taught high school English and creative writing, I encountered multiple class sets of Slaughterhouse-Five in every building where I worked. They were all gathering dust in the tombs where old class sets went to die. (Siddhartha was another novel like Slaughterhouse-Five.) I never did teach Slaughterhouse-Five and I sort of regret it now. Oh well. I like to to think I taught some good books over the years and they stayed with some of my students.
I’m not really sure where I’m going with this piece. It’s just that I was so struck by the idea of high school student singing the praises of a novel like Slaughterhouse-Five. I guess I’m sounding wistful here. Books go in and out of vogue as far as making the lists of books to teach to high school students. This list has always been political and always will be. Some books still get censored, from the Left and Right, more the Left these days. Some classics remain timeless. New vital books replace stale irrelevant ones.
Final thought: I wish I could see a movie about contemporary high school students who just want to dance, and somehow, the mention of a classic novel makes its way into the dialogue. What might that book be?