ContractsProf Blog

Editor: Jeremy Telman
Oklahoma City University
School of Law

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Thanksgiving Frivolity: The Arthur Murray Cases and Malcolm in the Middle

This Thanksgiving, I am grateful for students who provide me blog fodder, in addition to a sense of professional purpose.

Somehow I was unaware that Malcolm in the Middle had an episode, Poker, back in 2002 that plays on the theme of the Arthur Murray Dance Studio cases previously discussed here.

Those cases generally involve an elderly woman (sometimes an elderly man) who pays an absurd amount of dance lessons.  Arthur Murray had a strategy to entice such investments: instructors would flatter and seduce until the marks came to believe themselves uniquely gifted.  They would buy scores of lessons, followed by packages, followed by lifetime memberships and, in some cases, multiple lifetime memberships.  It was all a con. However, as Deborah Threedy has argued, the "victims" of the con might have complicit in the scheme.  They enjoyed themselves, rode the tiger, and then sued once the ride had lost its appeal.

Mingle Media TV, CC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Bryan CranstonIn the Malcolm in the Middle episode, far too little space is given, IMHO, to the plot line of the Lois character (the mother), played by the wonderful (left).  The incomparable Bryan Cranston (right), who plays her husband Hal, has bought her dance lessons as a birthday present.  But he is invited to a poker game and has to back out.  Lois goes alone, and the dance instructor pulls the usual schtick with her, complimenting her on her talent, her grace, her dancer's ankles.  It's all very convincing, because we see it all as Lois experiences it.  She performs a charming little dance number with her instructor that we get to see both in her imagination and from the more objective perspective of her son's video recorder.  The veil lifted, Lois abandons (for now) her dreams of advanced dance lessons and seems content to romp around the kitchen (gracefully or clumsily) with Hal.

Meanwhile, her oldest son is showing that Deborah Threedy was right: the women at the dance studios willingly pay to dance with Lois's oldest son, who happily accepts their payments and observes that a lot of people save up money all their lives and then end up with nothing to spend it on.  So why not spend it on dance?

H/T to my former (and future?) student Francisco Herrera Chinchilla.

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