Monday, July 4, 2016

Why 60's Films Annoy Me

There is such a fraud to movies from the 1960’s. You know the ones I mean... anything starring Dustin Hoffman, films like Midnight Cowboy, The Graduate, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Easy Rider, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, anything connected to Polanski, Capote, Warhol, etc. What fraud, you ask? This...

You know how these films work. The story begins with some normal middle class young man, like Benjamin Braddock. He’s going about his life, being bullied by his father and manipulated by his mother. They don’t care about him, they care about appearances.

This normal young man, however, isn’t sure he wants to fit into this conformist world his parents have built. He believes in art and literature and beauty, unlike the troglodyte society around him. He believes in twue wove, er, true love, not passionless marriages of convenience, like his parents have. He wants freedom to run his own life. And he feels morally superior to his repressed, racist, conformists square parents.

As he meanders through the film, he learns that his parents are messed up. Yep, that’s dad in panties snorting coke off the belly of a male gigolo as mom deep throats the biker gang. How disgusting they are! All these hypocrite conformists are secret perverts!

Then he meets the beautiful, clean, well-educated, smart hippie chick. She's the one who clues him in that he just needs to do something anti-social to find his freedom. The moment he does, of course, the authorities grab him. They will not tolerate a man breaking petty rules! If Nazi-lite society is to succeed, then everyone must follow every rule to the insane letter, regardless of how unjust or stupid the rule is. They put him on trial, where a room full of white, boring, conformist males knowingly refuse to accept the truth and they punish him for being different.

That’s when the movie usually ends.

This is all hypocritical bullsh*t, and that bothers me. Observe.

First, keep in mind that none of these actors/writers are really normal middle class young man. Most came from upper-class NYC families and attended elite schools you never will. Many turned out to be homosexuals or communist fellow travelers. Almost all were drug addicts. So them pretending to be normal middle-class people who've soured on their own world is as fraudulent as if I claimed to be a normal black woman and then I wrote a scathing critique of black mother-daughter relationships.

Next, the 60’s generation claimed to be attacking the white, conservative conformist world of the 1950’s. But the 1950’s was when the Civil Rights Era really began as a white American project. It was a time when vast numbers of people started going to college, left the farms for the cities, left the cities for the suburbs, when Americans began traveling the world, when America became an idealistic world policeman and neutered the British and French colonial empires. A highway system was built to connect every backwater in the country, planes and television connected the world and world culture. It was a time of surreal and abstract art, and the adoption of black music as Rock and Roll by the public. Books were written attacking every institution. Tennessee Williams and a dozen others were already well on their way by the early 1950's to slandering all normal people as crazy perverts in stifling familial or marriage relationships. It was a time of massive upheaval, the shattering of ancient taboos and laws, a massive expansion of personal freedom, and the adoption of a new worldview. The only conformity was massive change everywhere.

Moreover, while this group of 60’s armchair heroes claimed to be inspired by art and literature and beauty, their generation produced very little of it that was worth remembering. The reason was they were happy to shout about their need for "freedom," but they got very lazy when it came time to actually exercising it. And by the time this generation hit the 1980s, they became ultra-conformists.

No doubt, I don’t need to mention the irony that a supposedly Nazi-like society of conformists should sprout a generation of “free thinkers” and support them through their silly childhood tantrums. Not a gulag, a re-education camp, or a column of tanks to put down protesters in sight.

And speaking of loveless marriages, what do these people know of love? The 60’s generation has a divorce rate that is more than double every other generation before and since. So you can look at all that talk about being against the passionless marriages of their parents as just that... talk. Marriage to them was entertainment and their spouses were just rentals.

Speaking of their parents, doesn’t it bother anyone that they attack the “conformist generation” for being secretly kinky –- gays, drug users, perverts -- when this is who they were themselves? Pot calling the kettle black much? What's more, weren't they calling for these things to be accepted? How can you mock someone for doing what you claim should be acceptable?

Finally, we come to the last bit of hypocrisy... the trial. This scene typically involves boring, white, conformist males refusing to see the truth which was so heavy-handedly jammed into audience faces and wanting to bring down the gavel of justice like a sledgehammer. But is that truly reflective of the prior generation? Hardly. The 1950's was the beginning of the era of the over-the-top, insane expansion of criminal rights and the shattering of government regulation of morality and petty crimes. Free speech was broadened to include whatever the hell you wanted, including graffiti, flag burning and anything else. Obscenity was made legal - Playboy was formed in 1953. The regulation of sex was essentially banned in any form.

This was the era where petty criminals were returned to society with a hearty handshake and an apology for being inconvenienced. It got so bad that films like Dirty Harry were written in response and a nationwide campaign began to unseat these judges and undo the damage they had done. It was a time when a single dissenting atheist could destroy decades old Christmas displays, when adultery was legalized, when psychology replaced morality. It was never what gets portrayed in these films.

That's why these films bother me. To put it simply, a bunch of rich-kid drug addicts were pretending to be straight-laced Americans shocked to find "their" values to be so oppressive, while making films attacking a totalitarian America that never existed and smugly demanding changes that were already long-since underway. As their reasons, they cited ideas they never believed themselves and which they would disavow once it no longer suited them.

Hypocrisy is truly ugly.



Anthony said...

I agree the seeds of the 60's were planted in the 50's but beyond that I don't agree with much else in your essay.

I've never seen any of the movies you named (the 60's movies I have seen are the Bond movies, The Dirty Dozen, Jason and the Argonauts and many Westerns) and probably never will but the fact you name 50 year old movies and people know them is prima facie evidence of them being memorable.

As for reality and the personal lives of the artists not syncing up with those of their characters or the plots, I'd argue that is A) par for the course and B) immaterial. Making a film that sucks people in and that stays with them (ideally they tell their friends about it) and you have succeeded as a director.

No one really cares if a story is grounded in reality, they want to be swept away. Which is not to say that entertainment is the only purpose of art or the only thing audiences are looking for, but if a movie or book or game or play doesn't capture and hold the attention of the audience, it can't do anything else.

As for your question 'How can you mock someone for doing what you claim should be acceptable?'. It happens all the time. Everyone does it (though we don't all have the same targets). Anti-gun types with armed bodyguards get mocked, as do conservationists who travel everywhere in private jets, as do anti-gay types who get caught with dudes.

ScottDS said...

I actually watched The Graduate for the first time in its entirety just last year and I was expecting to have a similar reaction, especially since I consider Mike Nichols a tad overrated... but I liked it! I found myself interested and NOT annoyed with Dustin Hoffman which is what I was expecting.

The plot you describe might be hypocritical BS (and even then, that depends on who's making it) but there's nothing wrong with it. One story is as valid as another as long as it's done well.

Isn't it a historical constant that every generation bitches about the one that came before? I see this as an extension of that. Perhaps it's only natural that the upheaval in the 50s made it possible for movies like this to be made in the 60s.

Koshcat said...

I'm have to agree with Anthony. The films you mentioned where part of a genre that doesn't come across as well today as they did then. There are other movies during the 60's that have held up well over time such as 2001. Breakfast and Tiffany's doesn't really fit your rant. It is an odd movie. If anything the protagonist stops looking to marry only for fame and fortune and instead follows her heart...which was buried deep. I haven't seen most of Polanski's work but my biggest complaint about Rosemary's Baby is it is too long. The only book from Capote I have read is In Cold Blood, which is fantastic and frightening.

There were other great movies from the 60's that have held up over time: Psycho, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, Dr. Strangelove, The Sound of Music, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Dr. Zhivago, The Birds, Mary Poppins, Goldfinger, To Kill a Mocking Bird, Judgement at Nuremberg, Who Shot Liberty Valence, Planet of the Apes, and Bullet.

What I will agree with is that the above movies are somewhat timeless while the others, particularly those who mentioned are not. That criticism can be levels at just about any era. I have never been able to finish The Graduate because I find it boring. Good music but uninteresting plot.

tryanmax said...

Hypocrisy isn't defensible just because it is commonplace. If you mock someone--especially a strawman of your own device--for doing what you claim is acceptable, you should be roundly mocked in return, cornered on your words, and forced to answer for what you truly believe, since it has been made in no way clear. To shrug off hypocrisy is the ultimate hypocrisy, because it makes a standard of having no standard. It is the (in)active counterpart to the claim that the absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth. /rant

tryanmax said...

the beautiful, clean, well-educated, smart hippie chick

Also known as the manic pixie dream girl.

PikeBishop said...

I've always maintained that what so many boomers refer to with almost religious awe as "The Sixties" were in fact 90% bull shit! "Do your own thing" as long it's "our thing" and you can't support your country or believe in the Vietnam War! I've also enjoyed pointing out that all the interest and support for the poor oppressed people of Vietnam and the rest of southeast Asia disappeared about a nano-second after Nixon ended the draft.

AndrewPrice said...

I'm sadly running short on time today (need to run), so I will make some generalized responses.

1. There were some excellent films in the 1960's, but they weren't made by this group. They were made by people whose careers began long before the 1960's and whose style was very much traditional American. They were also typically based on books that long predated the arrival of the Smuggest Generation.

2. The fact you remember the names of a couple of the films made by the Smuggies is not evidence of any real wave of artistic genius. For one thing, you're talking about a handful of films out of the thousands that were made by these people. For another, the reason you remember the names is that the same groups who made them have been mentioning them over and over and over for 60 years in magazines and other films. Even despite this constant sales pitch, how many know more about these films than just the titles? By comparison, I can name dozens of actors (John Wayne, Bogart, Flynn) each of whom have more remembered and watched films than the entire catalog of all the Smuggies combines.

3. The fact that other people can be guilty of a similar misbehavior doesn't make the misbehavior any less wrong.

4. Hypocrisy matters. It is something Hollywood uses to turn normal characters into villains. It gives political scandals life. It is damaging to a reputation. And when you have someone who says, "X should be accepted," they can't turn around and mock someone for doing X. The second behavior makes the first statement a lie.

4. It does matter that none of these people were typical Americans yet claimed they were. That's deceptive. In fact, in the internet world, it's called being a "concern troll." This is also one of the most discrediting things you can do when presenting an argument, to falsely claim an affinity with the side you are attacking.

5. And Scott, no, it's not true that every generation complains about the last. My generation very much respected the Greats/Silents, and has never attacked the Millennials. The Millennials don't seem to have anything to say about my generation either. The one key element in inter-generational conflict has been the Boomers. The Boomers attacked their parents. They attacked their kids. And now, they are attacking the Millennials. Pay attention the next time to the ages of those attacking your generation. They're Boomers.

6. Finally, don't dismiss how late to the party the "60's generation" was. Everything they claimed to be fighting for was already well underway or already finished by the 1960s. This idea of an heroic struggle against an oppressive society that refused to change is utter crap. These people arrived at the tale end of all the change and invented a self-aggrandized mythos by completely, falsely painting the prior generation as something they were not.

Anthony said...


IMHO there is no such animal as hypocrisy in fiction, even fiction which takes place in the real world. Nobody says Harriet Beecher Stow wasn't black and was never a slave, so she was a liar and a terrible person for writing Uncle Tom's Cabin.

If a someone writes what they claim is history or an autobiography and they get creative, that is a problem, but fiction writers are expected to make things up and many good writers can convincingly write in multiple voices :) .

Also, while its true the Civil Rights movement had started decades before the 1960s and some progress had been made, when the 1960s rolled around there was still a lot to be done and a lot of people died doing it. The fact that by dint of their success they were at the tail end of things doesn't diminish their courage.

tryanmax said...

Anthony, I know you didn't address me, but I shared some thoughts on hypocrisy earlier. Hypocrisy in fiction is something of a feat to achieve, but it is not impossible. Let's take the example of Stowe. In attempting a perspective she did not personally have, she was merely doing what authors do. Obviously there is no hypocrisy in that. (Though the current wave of easily triggered college segregationists might differ.) But what if Stowe, in writing her sympathetic tale of enslaved blacks, were herself an active slave holder and trader? Would that not be hypocrisy?

The 60s filmmakers don't provide quite so stark an example, but when their villians engage in the predilictions they themselves favor, while their heroes do not, it is a manner of hypocrisy. Furthermore, it isn't as though we are left to wonder about these filmmakers' intent. These are some of the most interviewed and documentend filmmakers of all time. We can know with profound certainty what messages they meant to convey and how they comport--or rather don't--with the lifestyles they engaged in.


A word on the 60s Civil Rights movement. The critique is not that they didn't lay their own groundwork. The critique is that they claim to have laid it by tearing down the generations that actually did. They decried all progress before them not merely as inadequate, but as part of the problem itself. They were worse than the athelete who scores the winning point and fails to acknowldege the efforts of the rest of the team. Rather, they are like a rookie player who is let off the bench in the final moments of play, who scores the final points on top of a decicive lead, and who after the game not only takes credit for the win, but bashes his team for holding him back and even undermining him.

Because of their selfish ingraditude toward their forebearers and their unwillingness to share their spoils with their decendants, even to the point of sowing discord among the children of their revolution, their victory seems tenuous to this day. (I say 'seems' because that is not truly the case.) Ideally, they should enjoy the outsized glory of that falls to the victorious final charge. That is the way things work. But the Boomers are the Civil Rights movement's sore winners, and it is only because they are so wrong about closet racists and systemic oppression that they haven't upset their own victory.

Anthony said...


I think works of fiction have their own lives. There are weird exceptions where the writer is pertinent to the book (Primary Colors springs to mind) but generally speaking most people judge fiction solely by how compelling it is. The writer and his or her lifestyle is not a factor.

In a recent Commentaramapolitics post someone pointed out Independence Day was a pro American, conservative film from an anti American liberal director. It was offered as an amusing tidbit, not reason to change one's stance on the film. I think that is the way most people feel about works of fiction.


As for the Civil Rights movement, the names of and contributions of pre 1960s activists like WEB Du Bois, Booker T Washington, Rosa Parks and Medgar Evars are widely known and honored. That isn't to say that a wider, older pool of people doesn't deserve more recognition, but most people's grasp of decades old history is pretty sketchy because their interest is very limited.

tryanmax said...

Anthony, just because people don't always recognize hypocrisy isn't an argument against its presence. In fact, it's the argument that favors pointing it out.

As for people's lack of interest in history, again, that's the argument in favor of enlightening them rather than leaving them to conjure their own myths. Besides, if I've heard it from one person I've heard it from dozens that they wish they only knew how interesting history is, but for the lousy way it was presented in schools.

Kit said...

I thought The Graduate was well-done, or at least the first act. I also found the characters obnoxious and annoying.

And Sixties and early-70s movies can be good but their messages are often little more than smug Boomer angst.

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