The progression of civilization is all about revolution within the crevices of the generational divide. The old ways sometimes are annihilated just enough to allow the new to stake its claim. Or, in some cases, the very old is repurposed so that it can be assimilated back into fashion. Whether the result is annihilation or assimilation, there is always resistance within that divide and sometimes the pressure builds up to a such a point that cultural change occurs with all the force of a powerful earthquake.
The conservative establishment is Public Enemy #1 when it comes to cultural shifts because it represents a threat to everything esteemed as High Culture. With that capital “H” and that capital “C.” The newest kids on the block are always denigrated as popular culture with a lowercase “p” and a lowercase “c.” By definition, anything that is popular and enjoyed by the masses is not worthy of being genuine Culture.
The handbook for establishmentarian resistance to popular culture is the philosophical tome written by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato known simply as “The Republic.” It is within the pages of this maintenance manual for preserving the establishment that Plato establishes the Great Wall of Culture. You might not think that one of the defining texts of philosophy would be of much help in coming to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the 1980s pop culture touchstone “Footloose.” But then again, you might not expect that a 1930s Warner Brothers movie about automobile racing titled “Red Hot Tires” is really just an unacknowledged modern-day version of “Ben-Hur.” If you take the time to realize that school does not just exist to make your life miserable, you might discover new pleasures in watching movies you’ve seen dozens of times.
The message of “Footloose” is the same whether you catch the remake, the touring version of the stage musical or the original BLT version (Bacon, Loggins and Tepid Anthems for the Revolution.) And that message fits well within the outline of an authoritarian philosophical utopia as envisioned by Plato coming into conflict with the real world of progressive civilization. Rev. Shaw Moore is the Platonic head of state charged with maintaining the status quo of preserving the ideals of mature, reflective, sober morality.
Of course, lots of movies portray the collision between the authoritarian Old Guard and the rebellious nature of progress. “Footloose” narrows the focus down by shading the outline of the collide specifically in terms of High Culture being challenged by pop culture. I mean “Footloose” is literally about a self-appointed moral guardian of High Culture (he listens to classical music) seeking to preserve the integrity of a civilization constructed upon the foundation of that Culture by actually banning pop!
Not just pop music, but pop music so tepidly out of sync with the very spirit of rebellion that defines rock music. “Footloose” was released less than 4 ½ years after their release of the British post-punk band Gang of Four’s debut album “Entertainment!” which could very well be listened to as the soundtrack for a devastating point-by-point annihilation of Plato’s arguments in “The Republic.” You replace every non-confrontation middle-of-the-road pop song on the soundtrack of “Footloose” with the songs on “Entertainment!” and you have an entirely different movie.
But perhaps the fact that the songs which Rev. Shaw Moore works so hard to ban kids from dancing to are so unquestionably and patently lame is the very point. The arrival of an outsider who looks a little weird with his Sting haircut but is never going to be confused with Sid Vicious and his Travis Bickle haircut from the modern day equivalent of Sodom (a big city) with the seeming intent of corrupting the youth by inspiring them to dance to music way too flaccid to ever really be the force or revolution and thereby turn them against the healthy conventions of High Culture could just conceivably be a stealthy commentary upon the fact that once upon a time the extremely lame classical music now considered High Culture was the “Never Mind the Bollocks….Here’s the Sex Pistols” of its day.
You certainly don’t have to be familiar with Plato’s philosophy to enjoy “Footloose.” Well, actually, you probably do. Unless you are the spawn of Rev. Moore.