Off topic. But a response to MJ’s question about a particular scene in Little Miss Sunshine…
I LOVE Olive’s pageant performance in Little Miss Sunshine. It is one of my favorite scenes in any movie, ever. Not because it’s ‘ironic’ or funny (though it certainly is), but also because it’s such a smart send-up of the unspoken creepiness of child pageants and the way that in the U.S. we both (1) insist on sexualizing girls in icky grown-up misogynist ways, and (2) are unable to allow girls to express their sexuality in any healthy, childlike ways.
So, of course, we have Britney, Lindsay, and JonBenet. And the median age of fashion models has been going down ever since a 15 year-old Brooke Shields wore her Calvins.
Yet at the same time, we’re trying to protect girls from knowing what a ‘vagina’ is (the accepted medical term for a body part they have). And some jurisdictions have been trying to pass statutes saying that two people under 15 who have any sexual contact must be reported for molesting one another. Huh?
This is what’s called a “sex panic.” One thing has everything to go with the other. That is, the more we turn young girls into sexual objects (in these mainstream, everyday ways we don’t like to talk about), the more we have to point at, and loudly protest our moral outrage about, sex involving children or teens. Witness, for instance, the popularity of those Dateline “stings” — we have to say that adult men who have sex with teens are perverted and freakish, individual twisted sickos who are nothing like the rest of us. (The rest of us just look at Lindsay Lohan’s vulva on TMZ.com, and enter our daughters into beauty pageants.) They’re certainly not a product of a sexist culture that eroticizes youth and young people in troubling ways.
Of course, the sad part is that there’s no room for healthy child sexuality in this cycle, especially for girls.
So all the other girls at the Little Miss Sunshine pageant are dressed-up and made-up and grown-up, like Miss Freakin USA, but Olive is just a regular kid. Her performance (dancing and strip-teasing to Rick James’ “Superfreak”) puts the pageant’s unspoken sexualization of little girls right OUT there.
The other parents are, of course, horrified – what happened to their respectable, middle-class ways of making little girls sexy? What is this chubby, sweatbanded child doing, gyrating awkwardly to a black man’s song, and with poorly executed hair and make-up?
But in spite of the music and the movements, Olive is performing in this wholesome, exuberant way, which isn’t about adult sex at all, or about turning children into sexualized objects, but about her body and dancing and her relationship with her grandpa and her genuinely childlike love of those things. Although this is the first time they’ve seen the routine her grandpa taught her, Olive’s family gets that, and their rushing the stage to support her makes me laugh/cry every time.
And yet, in spite of all this hopefulness, the movie doesn’t pretend that Olive’s performance happens in some kind of social vaccuum where Olive can single-handedly revolutionize the way we understand youthful sexuality. The ‘pedophile’ in the audience is still turned on. The road ahead is a messy one.
Plus, it all comes back to the one of the movie’s main themes: that the ‘normal’ people (the “winners”) are actually the ones who are fucked up, as they turn out a thousand spoiled, cruel little bourgeois barbie dolls. And the “losers,” like Olive and her family, are the ones who can experience the richness of life and share real joy, if only in the midst of angst and suicide attempts and broke-down cars. Rad.