Monday, November 16, 2009

My #@%*$ Generation

Keith Phipps writes, setting up his reassessment of Easy Rider:
Released on July 14, 1969, between the Stonewall riots and the Apollo 11 moon landing, Easy Rider became an unexpected success and, like Woodstock, a touchstone for a generation. Not my generation, though. Before seeing it, I'd imagined Easy Rider as one of those you-had-to-be-there '60s clichés that so irritated those of us who came of age in the '80s—something to be slipped into that-was-then montages between footage of Vietnam and the '68 Democratic Convention.

Film enthusiasts my age had warned me to expect a film with long, often dull, experimental patches and stoner vagaries. When I finally got around to watching Easy Rider, I discovered those warnings weren't entirely unfounded. But I also discovered a more complex and sour movie than the one I'd imagined. More an elegy for a generation that never got where it wanted to go than a celebration of that generation's superiority, it pits hopefulness against resignation and sets the battle on a lovingly photographed stretch of the United States.
Now that's annoying.

First, if you've ever actually seen the film, you're thinking: duh. That's the whole fucking point of Easy Rider: these guys honestly, deeply love America, and they can't figure out why America doesn't love them back. Why does Phipps sound like he thinks he's the first viewer ever to see that?

Second, he's a self-professed film enthusiast, but not only has he never seen Easy Rider, he seems proud of the fact. Pardon me while I gag myself with a spoon. That's such typical '80s-generation idiocy.

I say this as an '80s kid myself. Graduated from high school in 1987, the first (hardly the last) Summer of Nostalgia for the Summer of Love. First learned of the '60s through the very same self-laudatory Boomer clip montages Phipps did. Luckily, though, my parents sat out the '60s, so I never had any Freudian issues with the art of their generation like so many of my cohort did. Sure I found/find Boomer narcissism annoying, that assumption they tend to make that they invented pop culture, but I didn't have to, you know, kill the father in order to listen to his Doors albums or watch Woodstock.

Which is good, because Boomer narcissism aside, there's a lot of great art to be discovered in the '60s and '70s. As there is - and this is my real point - in any era. I don't take anybody to task for liking the culture of their generation and never moving beyond it, but once you take on yourself the mantle of "film enthusiast," or whatever - once you decide you're interested in art/culture for its own sake, in understanding it and contextualizing it and appreciating it and knowing it (in every sense including, perhaps foremost, the Biblical) - then you have no business allowing Oedipal issues to blind you to the good stuff.

Any critic, any lover of art, will have loves and hates, or areas of greater and lesser knowledge. But no critic has any business basing his/her judgments on something he/she "imagines" to be true about a piece of art. That's just ignorance. Sure, we all have our blind spots. But we shouldn't be proud of them.

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