March 29, 2024

Doggie Dancing

The Minneapolis Star Tribune's Variety Section isn't necessarily known for being hip, or prescient, when it comes to culture. "Culture" on these pages means going to see Mamma Mia! when it comes to town instead of watching Gophers hockey on Fox and "variety" is planting Nasturtiums next to the Foxgloves. So I was quite surprised last week to see the Variety section wade front page first into the culture wars with an excellent article on the latest fad undermining traditional marriage: Doggie Dancing.

Staff writer Robyn Dochterman sets the mood:

Patie Ventre is ready. The sequins edging her costume and the rhinestones in her earrings scatter light from the overhead fluorescents. A crowd rings the dance floor, curious to see this new craze.

This is what the religious fundamentalists are really afraid of when it comes to marriage, laid out in a beautiful broadsheet checkerboard. Patie Ventre and her border collie prance seductively across the stage. She straddles him, he lunges, pirouettes gracefully. She shakes her booty, and he answers her provocative come hither with a bit of a shake himself. It's a dance of love, as sexy as a tango—a couple, completely in tune to one another's bodies, speaking a language that transcends species. The dance ends with paws on hips as the two, intwined, prance offstage.

Robyn, please! Tell us what's going on!

Musical canine freestyle, also known as dancing with your dog, is the latest trend in the pet world, and it's picking up speed faster than a retriever bounding after a tennis ball. Like pairs figure skating, freestyle involves partners performing a choreographed program to music. Imagine Olympic ice dancers Torville and Dean, only Torville has four legs and a tail.
The "steps" can include obedience exercises, movements inspired by equine dressage, even standard dog tricks. In competition, tandems are judged on creativity, athleticism and how well the human-canine team works together.

It's all the rage in the South (of course), but is just beginning to catch on up here. Ventre and her border collie demonstrate their skill all over the place—from nursing homes to obedience schools. You can buy videos of the performances on the Internet. A colleague at work was absolutely ecstatic when this article appeared, and he currently has it pinned to the outside of his cubicle. Recently he recounted a party he had been to that weekend. And yes, he added sheepishly, there was some doggie dancing.

But what does all this mean?

Although the premise of dancing with a dog might make some people snicker, it's an exciting idea to dog owners looking for new ways to enjoy the company of their animals. And in a society that may be shifting toward seeing dogs more as family members than pets, the reward of learning a routine together offers a satisfying bond.

Yes, that's right. Dogs aren't just pets. They're more like family members. Almost our equals (a new law proposed in Santa Fe this week would require motorists to buckle up the pooch). And that's exactly what the fundaMENTALS are scared of.

As Richard Goldstein points out in a recent Village Voice article, religious fundaMENTALS are obsessed with guys fucking dogs.

Why can't we have marriages between people and pets?" the bishop of Brooklyn recently remarked. "I mean, pets really love their masters"—and, let's face it, the feeling is usually mutual. Was the bishop being fanciful or does he really think America will go to the dogs if gays are allowed to wed? Only his confessor knows, but for what it's worth, this is a major clerical fixation, and not just among Catholic prelates. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have warned that gay rights will lead to bestiality. I hadn't realized that so many men of God are worried about folks helping sheep through the fence.

Surely this is just a bit of drama? A little bit of fire-branding to scare the flock into towing the party line?

But when a fantasy repeats itself again and again, you have to consider what it means. To borrow a timeless insight from Titanic , a right-winger's heart is an ocean that holds many secrets. Just ask Strom Thurmond's black paramour. So it's fair to wonder: What lust lurks behind the fear of gay marriage? A specter might-could be haunting America. It is the specter of petaphilia.

What could this mean? Goldstein insinuates that with the notion of gay marriage, an image might immediately spring to mind in the individual—two dudes goin' at it, doggy-style. Ewww! (or, ooooh!) As gays become more upwardly-mobile in our culture, so too does sodomy take on an air of respectability, and with that, the borders of civilized behavior are redrawn. Shit, my straight friends get more butt-action than me these days.

While I'm sure every time 'gay marriage' is uttered around Pat Robertson he can't help but picture two guys fucking (or maybe him fucking Elijah Wood), there may be more to this. As Goldstein continues,

Maybe this panic isn't merely symbolic; maybe it's the subconscious demanding to be heard. When dudes talk about doing it doggy-style, are they alluding to the real thing? When they call Hillary Clinton a bitch, are they paying her a compliment? If all men are dogs, what does that say about their predilections?

Simply put, it would suggest that we've got a lot of fucked-up emotions when it comes to our pets. From J.R. Ackerley's 1947 languishing ode to the love of his life, My Dog Tulip, to last year's classic King of the Hill episode, "Dances with Dogs", there's something at work here. I'm sure it isn't as simple as reducing the whole issue to some guys wanna fuck dogs. But a loving, uncomplicated, relationship with a loyal pet, where a master assumes complete reign over a subject, juxtaposed next to the messiness of relationships ... perhaps it speaks of a residual nostalgia for dynamics long since out of fashion. In any case, these currents often lie submerged, but sometimes they bring flotsam to the surface we'd rather not have to sift through. Gay marriage is that issue right now—perhaps it's bad timing, or perhaps it's long overdue. Some topics become cultural thorns in our sides, and some don't. These thorns work themselves up through the skin, they emerge in remarkable ways. Reasonable, rational public discourse doesn't seem to have any effect on fundMENTALS, for they've mined the Bible to find quotes that fit with their paranoia, and the Bible is neither a reasonable nor rational tool for constructing a civil society. Psychoanalysis might be useful as a way of illuminating why some Biblical topics like homosexuality and abortion attract the fire-and-brimstone, apocalyptic pulpit-thumping that they do—though psychoanalysis, as Goldstein's essay demonstrates, is never very sure of itself, and can only speak haltingly about what can so easily be rendered silent. I think Goldstein is right though—the unconscious often wants to speak—and if you've got a problem with what it has to say, it will find other ways, other languages, for getting out its message. Hysteria—localized or mass—is one way that happens. It's a type of body-language that can infect a culture. If there's a desire inside you—to fuck someone of the same sex—and the notion of confronting that thought makes you feel so incredibly uncomfortable, well, sometimes it's easier to look away, outwardly. To place the stain you've recognized in yourself on another person or group of people and then to vehemently attack them for that stain. In doing so, you take the heat of yourself. You set yourself in opposition to that stain, proving to the culture at large that you are certainly not that, and hoping that in your attacks against this stain in others will some how scour it from your own body. In the end though, your obsession gives you away entirely.

Posted by jason at March 29, 2024 06:49 PM