Back to US Life Histories


Before delving into my life history, I feel a need to preface the disclosures about my life and perceptions by first saying that my earliest memories of media are very vague. I didn't watch a lot of television growing up, and during my tender years, it seems pretty straightforward to say that I couldn't read any papers or magazines or print media. However, while there are instances I do remember, these memories are primarily how I felt related to the people I was with at the time, and less to any ways the media affected any aspect of my world view.

For example, I remember being at the movie theater with my dad holding his hands over my eyes as the bad guy tried to pull out Indiana Jones heart with his hands. I remember being in the hallway with all the third-grade classes to watch the Challenger take-off and explosion. I remember having the paper delivered to our class every day of the fifth-grade and reading Ann Landers and the comics when we were discussing the front page. But I daunt remember forming or changing any opinions because of these memories.

Post-childhood, however, bears different fruit. High school and college fostered critical examination of the media and I became both more aware of the presence of the media around me, and also of how it attempted to influence me. Thus, I paid more attention to my surroundings and have clearer memories as well as more conscious reactions to them. One might think that this more mature awareness of the media would inoculate me against exploitation attempts, but there is a particular instance that assures me I am still vulnerable.

At this late a date in my life, its a little embarrassing to think I can still be manipulated by the media and be so into what I know to be a mediated fad. But its true. And to prove it, I almost went swing dancing this weekend-- again. Ill probably try again next week too.

The catalyst came two and half years ago when I rented the movie Swingers for the first time in the summer of 1997. Its true I was taken by the whole movie, but the most salient part of the film for me was the swinging dancing scene at the end that sucked me in one hundred percent. I think one reason I liked that particular scene so much relates to my sophomore year of high school English when we watched The Great Gatsby and they had some great dancing scenes in there. I had never watched any old movies growing up so I didn't have any concept of Fred and Ginger. My frame of reference for dancing consisted of junior high dances where girls danced together in a circle while guys remained in the background. I remember thinking, and then later discussing with my girlfriends, how reluctant guys are to actually dance with girls and how great it would be if it were like back-in-the-day when guys and girls would actually dance together.

And the Swingers scene definitely showed guys and girls really dancing. So started my campaign to get my boyfriend to take me swing dancing. A friend and I looked for places to get lessons, and although there were advertisements in things like the Reader and in the UIC Special Workshops guide, school overtook social life and swinging got put on the back burner until summer (and free time) came around again.

At this point, swing could no longer be considered an almost indy thing that I was hip to when the movie came out because not only had time passed, which renders many things pass, but the media had sunk its teeth into swinging as well and brought it to mainstream attention.

For example, I was in Hollywood a couple of weeks ago and there was an advertisement for a bottle of wine on the side of a bus stop the said Here's to boyfriends who take swing lessons. Of course, I took the opportunity to point it out to my boyfriend in a shameless attempt to manipulate him into feeling the necessity of being seen as a quality boyfriend who would take his girl dancing.

And of course there's the Gap ad that proclaims Khakis Swing!. I wont deny it! I liked the commercial too and even almost wanted the damn khakis! Even the song in the background of the Gap advertisements made it onto the radio and I'm pretty sure I saw it on a CD at Target. And speaking of CDs, although my boyfriend has remained adamant about proclaiming the fleetingness and marketability of swing and continues to try to get me to drop the swing-thing, he did buy the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy album this past summer-- which is the band that was playing in the touted Swingers scene.

Because I've had to defend my desire to go swing dancing to people who point out how media-manipulated it is, I've perfected denying or explaining away psychological attributes or even dialog concerning my interest in swing, but there's no denying behavior. And there is more than one time that I've tried to go swing dancing.

The first was near the end of the summer of 1998 when I heard (through word of mouth and the Reader) of The Liquid being a pretty cool place that gives free swing lessons (a necessity!) every week night, and then has regular club hours for swing music. Myself, my boyfriend, and my friend who had been searching with me for lessons from the beginning decided to go one Friday night. Each of us dressing separately, we all met up wearing black or white tops and khakis. It was the unofficial Gap uniform. But we were all too cool to go back and change. Unfortunately, at the club, my borrowed i.d. didn't fly, so we had to abandon swinging for that night.

My latest attempt at swing dancing came just this past weekend after I saw an announcement on icarus from the UIC Swing Club, and then another ad posted on the door of the Honors College that heralded free swing lessons Saturday night. I convinced my boyfriend to go with me to check it out.

When we got to the first floor of where the lessons and dancing were to take place, we could hear what I hesitantly term waltzing music, but more generally, what my boyfriend and I distastefully called old-people music playing from the second floor. A look of dread came over my boyfriends face as he realized I was still going to drag him to a swing lesson where it sounded like there was nothing going on resembling the swinging we had heard in Swingers, nor on the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy CD, nor in the Gap ad.

He stayed on the first floor as I went to scope things out on the second. There were all of three couples on the dance floor. Consequently, I let my boyfriend convince me to ditch the UIC Swing Club in exchange for him promising to take me to The Liquid next Friday with my new i.d. His only stipulation was that I buy him that bottle of wine for boyfriends that take swing lessons.

I didn't immediately catch his reference to the Hollywood ad. But I'm pretty sure that if I bought him a bottle of wine and told him it was in compensation for taking me swing dancing, he would accept it. So at least the next time he complains of how I'm letting myself be talked into swing dancing by the media, I can point to an example where he does the very same thing.

February 1999

Back to US Life Histories