Staying Afloat: `The movie turns out to be an all-singin', all- dancin' celebration of sexism and racism'

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The Independent Culture
WE ARE wedged, Simpsons-style, on the sofa, for the inaugural run of our new DVD player. The replacement of our knackered video with this shiny new piece of kit is welcomed by the children as a hopeful sign that we, as a household, are entering the age of new technology ("I expect we'll be getting a PlayStation soon," says Con, encouragingly.)

Unfortunately, our choice of family viewing does not quite fit the progressive mode. Annie Get Your Gun, carefully selected on the grounds that it was pounds 3.99 in Virgin's bargain bin, turns out to offend on every possible count. Made in the Golden Age of Hollywood, when political correctness meant white gloves for Labor Day, the movie is an all-singin', all-dancin' celebration of sexism and racism. The children hum along happily to representations of cartoon cut-out "Injuns", raking in the benefits of the reservation system, but cannot quite ignore the smoke coming out of their mother's ears when Howard Keel launches into his opening number:

"The girl that I marry," croons Keel, "will have to be, as soft and pink as a nursery." By the time we get to the last line of the song, "a doll I can carry, the girl that I marry must be", Clara, who has little patience with her mother's dinosaur feminism, is anxious to head me off at the pass.

"He's probably only saying it because it rhymes," she offers, while Conor simply cannot see what the fuss is about. "What's wrong with marrying someone soft and pink?" he wants to know. "People can't help being pink.

"It's just the way they're born. I wouldn't mind marrying someone pink," he goes on, quite carried away with his own liberalism, "except of course that I'm never getting married."

I hold my peace, discomfited by the not-entirely-correct maternal satisfaction I feel on hearing this declaration of celibacy, and restrict my comments to a barely voiced "oh yeah?" when Betty Hutton belts out "You Can't Get a Man With a Gun". But I'm pleased to note Clara's rising indignation as the plot grinds to its appalling pay-off when Hutton deliberately loses a sharp-shooting competition to protect Keel's macho sensibilities, and thereby bags her man.

"That's terrible!" she splutters. "She's the rightful champion, and he," she says, searching for a suitably crushing term, "he's just a great big Big Head!"

My daughter, I think proudly, has grasped the essence of 21st-century feminism; it's not the vocabulary that matters, it's the way you behave. Even to my jangled 1970s sensibilities, this seems like a result. Con, however, spectacularly misses the point, roused to Keel's defence by some atavistic boys-against-girls animus. "He's not that much of a Big Head," he argues. "He's still going to marry her, even though she's a rubbish shooter."

Clara and I exchange meaningful glances. Weapons in the sex war may have changed. But the shooting match isn't over yet.