A Citizen of Earth

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7 years ago today, I spent my last day in Los Angeles. Alone, I went to Venice Beach. I had lunch and walked along the boardwalk, reflecting on my 15 years there. I was born and lived the first 24 years of my life in Central New York, a very provincial region close to the Canadian border.

When I lived there, the area was largely inhabited by the descendants of Polish, Italian and Irish immigrants. The community celebrated St. Patrick’s Day, ate corned beef, lasagna and Golabki. The majority of my friends and co-workers were Catholic and Evangelical Christian and many of them hunted or fished for sport.

As I walked along the boardwalk, past all of the shops and performers, I became aware of just how much Southern California had changed me. Upon first arriving, in many ways, I felt like an immigrant. Despite being in the same nation, L.A. offered a far greater amount of diversity. Along with Irish and Italian traditions, I came to love the art, culture, music and cuisine of cultures I had heretofore not been exposed to. I experienced Chinese New Year, Dia de Muertos, ate Kimchi, sushi and mole pablano. I worked and hung out with Jews, Buddhists and Wiccans. There were very few hunters or fisherman but plenty of surfers and mountain bikers. It is one of her greatest assets that America is comprised of such diversity both culturally and geographically.

Yet, despite all being American, we are chronically obsessed with identifying our ancestry. Particularly on the East Coast, we often ask each other “What are you? Are you Irish, Italian, Latino or what?” I’ve never been certain of the purpose of this exercise other than to categorize people so that we might judge them based on our own pre-conceived notions of what it means to be a member of a particular group.

In 2011, I moved to London – ironically to get my Masters in Japanese Studies. In a few short months I will be applying for British citizenship. My new home has once again transformed me. Instead of basking in the sun, I take vitamins B12 and D to stave off the seemingly endless months of dreary weather. I can still get Japanese and Korean food, but instead of eating Mexican food (which I miss terribly), I eat Spanish tapas and Indian cuisine. I still go to great museums and probably enjoy an even greater degree of different types of music and art.

Living outside my homeland has changed my outlook as to what it means to be an immigrant, what it means to be American and most importantly, what it means to be human. Rather than being asked about my ethnicity, I am now seen by all British, regardless of their own ethnic heritage, as simply “American.” Because the UK has a long-standing tradition of judging people by the economic class they are born into, I am an enigma to many. Normally, it’s easy to judge a person’s education level based solely on how “posh” their accent is. With me, they hear only an American accent. What follows is usually a covert conversational operation peppered with questions designed to reveal my family’s socioeconomic and educational status.

I’ve never been certain of the purpose of this exercise other than to categorize people so that we might judge them based on our own pre-conceived notions of what it means to be a member of a particular group.

Interestingly, I have experienced this in my dealings with both the upper and lower classes, each deciding what kind of person I am based solely on what my parents did for a living and where I grew up. Both ends of the spectrum are equally guilty of their own forms of snobbery.

In the time that I have lived here, I have seen an increase in outward hostility and even violence towards immigrants. At the same time, I have watched in horror as the same dynamics play out in my home country.  I don’t get it. Outside of Africa, there are very few humans on earth whose distant ancestors do not come from lands further afield.

As long as we have been to walk, people have sought out new places to explore (generally in search of new resources.) It is human nature to migrate and bring with them the art, music, language, cuisine and customs of their homelands. Thus, there is no such thing as “cultural purity.” Each only exists in relation to a moment in time.  Over time, as different cultures come into contact with one another, each evolves into something new. As people move around, they make friends, fall in love and create new generations whose culture is built on everything that came before it. That pasta that Mrs. Vecchio used to make? It came from her grandmother in Italy. Going back many years further, we discover that pasta came from China in the 13thCentury. There are no absolutes ever. What we are left with instead, are commonalities.

Of the two countries I have called home, the common element seems to be the tendency to label and judge “the other” despite all we have in common. Whether the judgment is based on race, class or immigration status is irrelevant. We inevitably form ourselves into little groups and scream “intruder” at the first opportunity. Because this characteristic lies in direct conflict with our inclination to move around on earth in search of new horizons (and resources) the results are very often violence, oppression and war. Carl Jung would perhaps describe this dichotomy with the human psyche as a collectively unresolved “shadow-self.”

After seven years, I am now only a few months away from applying for permanent residence and then full citizenship. If both are accepted, I will be able to fully participate in many aspects of British society previously restricted from me, while still retaining all of my American rights. On paper, I will be both British andAmerican.

In the future, when people ask, “What are you?” or “What does your family do?” rather than indulge the shadow, I will answer simply, “Me? Oh, I’m human. Been that way forever.”

 

 

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The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine – 50th Anniversary Review

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This week marks the 50thanniversary of The Beatle’s animated classic Yellow Submarine (1968). To commemorate the occasions, many cinemas around the country (and in the U.S.) are screening the film’s 2012 Dolby Surround restoration in 4K. For fans and younger newbies alike, it is well worth the effort to seek it out.

Although The Beatles themselves weren’t very involved in the project (it was a way to fulfill their contractual obligations to United Artists) the film does not suffer for it. The voice actors perform reliably decent impressions of John, Paul, George and (especially) Ringo and the frame-by-frame hand-restored animation is gorgeous. The separation on the soundtrack offers a depth and richness that modern audiences are accustomed to but could not be achieved during the period of the film’s original release.

Stylistically, it offers up a rich cornucopia of ‘60s pop-art styles. While this mixture of different types of animation could be criticized as inconsistent, it offers a glimpse into the different movements pioneered by the likes of Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein and in this respect, serves as a sort of time capsule for that period.

There are two sequences worthy of exploring in greater depth.

The first is the submarine’s visit to monster land. This segment of the film shows that the animators not only had a solid foundation in the history of animation but that they were well aware of what the medium was capable of in those pre-computer times. At one point, a vacuum monster sucks up everything within the film frame including the background, leaving only the title’s namesake floating in the vast nothingness of the white space on which the invisible omnipotent animator controls their destiny.

It is reminiscent of the classic Warner Brother’s short Duck Amuck (1953)where Daffy Duck was held hostage, helpless against the manipulation of the unseen animator later to be revealed as Bugs Bunny who then slyly addresses the audience with “Ain’t I a stinker?”

Rather than break the 4thwall as Duck Amuckdid, Yellow Submarinegoes one layer deeper within the drawings themselves, having the monster devour itself until the audience is left with nothing to look at but a blank white frame. Just as we are about to ponder what happened, the submarine inexplicably re-appears. In animation, the standard world rules do not apply and it is a joy to see a film play with this freedom at every opportunity.

The movie’s other great sequence, which accompanies the song Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds, the filmmakers aren’t so concerned with stretching the boundaries of the medium as they are concentrating on creating colorful movement within the frame. The images are filled with subliminal (and not so subliminal) messages, featuring Lucy herself dancing as well as all kinds of animals, flowers and rainbows, sometimes residing in the heads of unnamed masses of people lined up geometrically in stark contrast to the colorful worlds inside their heads. The segment merits a repeated viewing at home where the frames can be paused and studied.

As an accompaniment for the song, which is one of the best Lennon-McCartney compositions of all-time, it works perfectly. The editing even changes tempo with the song when it switches between from ¾ verse to 4/4 time chorus. As for the song’s meaning it matters not that the original inspiration was a drawing by then-toddler Julian Lennon. It’s clear here that the audience is meant to take in the images on the screen in a state of altered awareness. Who knows, perhaps the animators themselves were high when they created them.

In terms of story, it is simple albeit still relevant today with the music-hating warlike Blue Meanies invading peace-loving Pepperland because they simply can’t abide by all of their positivity. The Blue Meanies remain a timeless representation of Britain’s conservative party. They even have grenade-launchers that look like clowns who send people into a joyless state of catatonia where all color is removed from the frame. In contrast, the peace-loving residents of Pepperland represent an entire generation of 1960s hippies who just wanted everyone to get along, play music and love each other regardless of age, race or nationality.

Pepperland’s happy ending is a far cry from where real society ended up in the Reagan-Thatcher era and beyond. What a shame that John Lennon didn’t survive to criticize all the hippies who voted for Thatcher and to create more great songs like All You Needs Is Love. Luckily, we still have the music of The Beatles and Yellow Submarine’s message to get us through these continuing dark times of considerable political division. It really is better to live All Together Now, isn’t it?

 

Polarity Of The Mind

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One of my jobs is the ghost-writer of autobiographies. People tell me their life stories and I write them in their voice. Over the course of several projects, it became very apparent that people tend to remember the negative events with much more clarity than the positive ones.

This can be said for myself as well. I remember quite vividly falling into a camp fire and getting a third degree burn on my leg in the summer of ’82 but I cannot tell you what I got for Christmas that year. I can remember every negative comment made by the opposite sex about my looks going all the way back to kindergarten. It’s harder to remember the compliments. This can have a massive effect on a person’s general outlook and self-esteem in life.

Interactions in our lives can be broadly organized into three categories: Positive, negative and neutral.

Examples:

Positive = You receive a compliment on your hair.

Negative = You are told by your boss that your new idea will not be implemented.

Neutral = A barista takes your order.

Research shows that for every one negative experience, it takes a full five to counterbalance it (1). Since our brains our wired with a bias towards negativity, neutral experiences can also become negative. For instance, if someone spends a lot of time planning and cooking a meal for their friend and they do not receive gratitude for the effort (perhaps the friend had a bad day at work or just forgot to say thank you) then the feelings associated are those of disregard and neglect. The friend didn’t say the food sucked but they didn’t say anything at all and sometimes that is worse. So, the neutral becomes negative.

In addition to interpersonal interactions, we are also under constant bombardment from the media telling us that we aren’t good enough and we all need X product to feel positive. We hear about school shootings and corrupt politicians. With such overwhelming negativity all around us, what can we do to feel positive or at the very least, balance the polarity?

First, we can try to focus on the good things in our own lives. Try not to allow the neutral become the negative. Accept your flaws and move forward. Try not to let it get to you when someone disregards your own politeness, assistance or is an outright asshole.

Second, we can make an effort into helping others to create good memories. Be mindful of someone who looks like they might need a kind word, no matter how insignificant it might seem at the time. If you’re at a restaurant and the food is good, tell someone. Instead of sitting silent when a co-worker makes a good suggestion, say the words “good idea.” Compliment your friends on whatever it is they do well and thank them for their efforts, even if they fall short.

Tell your spouse how much you appreciate the way they do that silly, insignificant thing that makes you laugh. It may be the 1st positive thing that this person hears that day and it might get outnumbered by the negative. Or it may be the 5th that changes his whole outlook and memory of that day or week forever. It’s really not that hard.

We all want our autobiographies to be filled with good memories. But, we can’t do that on entirely on our own.

  1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/200306/our-brains-negative-bias

8 Ways Bladerunner 2049 Is Not Sexist – SPOILERS

 

The best science fiction literature and films deal with modern cultural and societal issues. They frequently do so set against the backdrop of a distant technologically superior albeit dystopian future. Bladerunner 2049 succeeds in this respect. As well as exploring issues of humankind’s reliance on technology, the theme that was the most prevalent was that of the male gender’s diminishing role in the new world and the emerging importance of the female. Much has been written over the generational gap of understanding of the film. Several reviews have noted that demographically, only people over 40 were interested in seeing the film to begin with and those younger people who did go to see it, decried the film for being sexist. Yes, there is female nudity and representations of male-created ideals of femininity. Yes, there is violence perpetrated against females. But this shallow criticism shows a lack of ability to read beyond the surface images and apply meaning to them within the narrative of the story. In fact, Ryan Gosling’s K/Joe spends the entire film being both manipulated by women who are both more powerful and intellectually superior to him. There are many reasons why this film can arguably be read as feminist. Here are 8 of them:

SPOILER ALERT

  1. K’s boss is a woman. He does everything she tells him without question. He even kills his own kind (he is a replicant) because it is what he believes he was made to do. A belief she reinforces regularly. He does not question her, even when he is questioning his own identity. It is implied several times that he is a ‘’good boy’’ placing him in an inferior position.
  2. K has a virtual holographic girlfriend. Joi is young and beautiful. The first time we see her, she is dressed in typical 1950s housewife attire fretting about the results of a new recipe that she has made for dinner. This era is considered by many American males as being the ‘’good old days’’ when women knew their place. The fact that she is entirely a creation of K’s fantasy version of a perfect woman is not meant to be ironic or demeaning and it is far from sexist. Rather, it places K in the role of a man who has created an outdated fantasy for himself and refuses to see reality. It makes him seem ridiculously old-fashioned. It is even explicitly said at one point that he ‘’doesn’t like real girls’’ and that Joi is nothing more than a product manufactured for his shallow needs. She holds no relation to anything close to a real woman. She feeds his ego over and over and it is though her suggestions that K ultimately comes to believe that he is the first replicant child born naturally. In other words, it is because of her that he believes he is special. When she gives him a human name, she calls him ‘’Joe.’’ Because he’s just an average Joe. This is true in every way possible.
  3. K is led to the group of rebels by a female prostitute with the aid of Joi. In other words, a female who is seemingly exploited every single day, uses the manufactured image of ‘’Joi’’ (the male’s ideal girl) to get what she wants from him. She exploits his need to fulfill his sexual fantasies by ‘’syncing’’ up with Joi. Here the word ‘’syncing’’ takes on a possible double meaning. One is technological, combining the virtual and the real. The second, conceivably comically meaning refers to the long-held common male-originated myth that women who reside together can ‘’sync up their menstrual cycles.’’ Like this myth, K’s sexual experience with the synced up hooker is also not what it appears to be. She doesn’t really like him. It is merely a ruse to lead him to the rebels, who are…surprise…led by a woman.
  4. The leader of said rebels informs K that no, he is not the special child. It’s a lie whose idea was planted by a fake woman and reinforced by the actual special child, who is…another surprise…a woman.
  5. When he visits this woman, Dr. Ana Stelline, he finds her to be a memory maker. In other words, she creates the identities of and is therefore responsible for the psychological make-up of every single replicant on the planet. She is a creator. When K asks her if his traumatic childhood memories are real, she answers vaguely (but not untruthfully) with tears in her eyes that ‘’these things are true.’’ K (and the audience) read her tears as sympathetic to K’s difficult childhood. Later, it turns out that they were HER traumatic memories. She was crying because of her own trauma and K was so wrapped up into his own need to feel special that he (and we) completely misread her emotions and her response. Despite her having a compromised immune system, she is emotionally and technologically superior to every human on earth as she is the first of her kind. She cannot be touched, hugged or physically exploited as she lives in a hermetically sealed bubble. She is the special person and the one who will bring revolution. The future does not, therefore lie in the hands of the average Joe because he is little more than a slave to his own antiquated ideals. At the end of the film, when confronted with a giant nude, over-sexualized holographic image of Joi, K comes to the realisation that his entire purpose, unbeknownst to him up until that point, was to fulfil the mission of the replicant rebellion led by a females. The memories that he thought were real, were actually those implanted by the true miracle, who is female. He is little more than a puppet.
  6. The use of Las Vegas as an outdated, dead city as a backdrop. K enters flanked by large dominating statues of female figures. He is small within the frame and they look as though they are going to eat him. Once inside the city, we are bombarded with images of old -school masculinity. There are holographic showgirls, and Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley sing the songs that gave them their reputations in their time, of being ‘’man’s men.’’ Even Deckard, who, in the first film was at his peak in terms of stereotypical maleness, limps along slowly and is flanked by a lame old dog. It is obvious that their time is over. The entire city is covered in a layer of sand and dust waiting for the last winds of change to cover it over forever, with only the women at the entrance remaining.
  7. Corporate magnate Wallace is a blind man who both physically resembles and speaks like a religious prophet. The first thing we see him do is to create a woman replicant. When he discovers that she is incapable of breeding, he destroys her by stabbing her in the reproductive organs. The film then immediately cuts to the reaction of his female replicant assistant, the very strong, but mercenary Luv. She sheds a single silent tear. Wallace represents every old-school man that clings to religion and wealth and attempts to exert control over womankind’s bodies in 2017. Luv’s tear can be read both as sadness from seeing a fellow replicant cut down but also as sadness for having participated in the cutting down of a fellow female literally at the start of her existence. x Even so, it is Luv who at the end of the film, obliterates the old male ideals of the feminine when she literally stamps out the existence of Joi by stepping on K’s emulator where she is stored. She is the ultimate traitor.
  8. When Wallace meets with Deckard, he makes it perfectly clear that Deckard’s falling in love with Rachel in the first film was entirely outside the realm of his own agency. Whether possible because he was programmed to do so as a replicant (which is highly hinted at in the Director’s cut of the original film) or simply because he is a human male is irrelevant. Deckard was simply the sperm donor falling prey to his own idealized view of women. It was Rachel who was more important as she would would give birth to the child who will bring revolution in a chapter as yet unwritten in the Bladerunner universe.

Visually, Bladerunner 2049 is stunning. I would encourage the younger generation, to look for meaning in these images as they are presented within the narrative in relation to the characters and their actions.  History will be kind to this film. There is more going on here than meets the eye.

George A. Romero’s Feminist Themes

Yesterday, we lost the most influential filmmaker to the horror genre in generations. George A. Romero was single-handedly responsible for creating the zombie sub-genre with 1968’s Night of the Living Dead. Known more for his themes of anti-consumerism, he also wove threads of the changing roles of women in society throughout the narratives of many of his films. On first glance, one might say that Night is outright sexist in its representation of women. I used to think this way. The adult female characters in are all ineffectual. Barbara is comatose from having witnessed her brother’s death, Helen Cooper speaks her mind but never really does anything and is constantly overshadowed by her loud-mouthed husband Harry. Worst of all, we have Judy who stupidly follows the lead of her boyfriend Tom all the way to her death.

But there is one more female that must not be overlooked. Karen Cooper, the feverish little girl who was bitten by a zombie prior to the start of the film. She is the future. It is surely no coincidence that she utterly destroyers the previous generation, stabbing and consuming them. Karen generates the biggest impact (and the biggest scare) of the entire film. Even today, with more almost 50 years of gore in its wake, the garden trowel scene loses no impact. Drawing a parallel with societal change, the scene is violent, painful and leaves the viewer shocked and slightly sad.

For the next 2 decades, Romero’s subsequent films consistently featured stories concerned with the role of women in society as perceived by both themselves as well as the men around them.

Season of the Witch (1971), which was originally titled Jack’s Wife, is not a horror film, although it does contain the plot device of witchcraft. Produced in 1971 Witch is very much a reflection of the period when feminism and the Women’s Liberation movement were gaining traction in America. The lead character of Joan (Jan White, who coincidentally shares her name with a very real famous witch) is very much “a product of traditional patriarchy who seeks individualism and freedom from oppressive conformity” (Wilson).

The first scene in the film is a dream sequence in which Joan follows her husband Jack (Bill Thunhurst) through the woods obediently. He ignores her and allows the branches he is parting to whip back and scratch her face as he passes through. Further on, Joan sees an image of herself swinging happily on a tree-swing dressed completely in symbolic white. Before Joan can reach out to her own self- image and grab happiness, Jack reaches into the frame, attaches a collar to her neck, and leads her around on a leash for the remainder of the scene. It ends with Joan receiving a smack on the nose with a rolled newspaper and left alone in a kennel while Jack is away. In match-cut that retains Joan’s seated position in the cage, she is suddenly sitting in her home, creating the visual association that Joan’s home is like a cage.

Joan is led around by a realtor, who describes her life to her as if it were everything anyone could ever want. The house is nice and up to date for the time period. Her kitchen has all the best appliances and her closet has “all the latest styles” but the dream turns into a nightmare when Joan once again encounters her doppelganger. Instead of being happy as she was on the swing, this time she is an old hag who has wasted her life being “Jack’s wife.” When Joan awakens in her bedroom, reality and the nightmare are the same. Reflecting Romero’s typical anti-consumerist stance, a seemingly deal socio-economic situation is actually a slow death for Joan where she will grow old and die lest she break out of her role as a financially dependent wife and mother and declare her independence.

Mirrors feature prominently within the overall mise-en-scene and help to illustrate the shallowness of Joan’s attempt at an internal transformation via external sources. There are many shots of Joan inspecting her face and other parts of her body as well as applying make-up to help turn back the clock. Beauty is only skin deep and therefore not very different from the labels that society places on women. To truly change and become happy, Joan will have to reject her social conditioning, and embrace an ideology more progressive for the time period.

Following a visit with her friend to a local self-proclaimed witch for a Tarot card reading, Joan is intrigued and immediately converts from Catholicism to Magick. She embarks on an affair with a younger man and eventually kills her abusive husband “accidentally” as she believed him to a be a prowler.

The dog imagery at the open of the film comes full circle to the end where she is tied up with a collar during her initiation rights into the local Coven. She is now making her own decision to be objectified, even if she is not consciously aware of it. True change was difficult for women in that time, even for those who desired it. Perhaps Romero is saying that changing our ideology does not make us any less a slave to it.

By 1978, Dawn of the Dead’s Fran (Gaylen Ross) has a career, speaks her mind, learns to shoot a rifle and becomes a helicopter pilot.  All despite being pregnant. She is smart and quickly adapts to the new reality of the zombie apocalypse, even when her macho male counterparts suffer from battle fatigue. In 1985’s Day of the Dead, we have a lead zombie-fighting, gun-toting scientist named Sarah (Lori Cardille), who was perhaps the most badass of all his female characters. It’s her movie and she carries it well.

1980’s Knightridgers gave us Romero’s most richly diverse cast of females. The film deals with highly principled motorcycle enthusiast Billy Davis (Ed Harris) who wishes to live outside the confines of an increasingly shallow and materialistic society. To accomplish this, he creates his own private Camelot in the form of a self-sufficient medieval style nomadic commune where the members move from town to town putting on motorcycle jousting shows for the local citizenry.

The group includes artistic misfits from just about every walk of life. There are bi-racial couples, homosexuals, doctors, entertainers and craftspeople, who have made a “conscious adult decision” to live under low-income conditions in exchange for the ability to live as they wish outside the stifling conventions of “normal” society.

The women inside the group are portrayed as strong and independent. At first, bike mechanic Angie (Christine Romero), puts up with a lot. She is constantly cheated on by her boyfriend Morgan (Tom Savini). Once she realizes her value as a human being at the behest of her gay friend Pip (Warner Shook), she speaks her mind freely and confronts Morgan telling him that although there is no one else she is interested in courting at the moment, “someday there will be.” Additionally, the lesbian character of Rocky, quickly identifies as one of the best bikers in the group.

Conversely, life on the outside in the straight world is portrayed as lonely and shallow for women. Julie Dean (Patricia Tallman) is a bubble-headed sweet teenager who runs away from her abusive home to join the group and embark on a whirlwind romance with Billy’s favorite knight Alan (Gary Lahti). The girl’s father is portrayed as an oafish drunkard who beats his wife, Helen (Iva Jean Saraceni) regularly. In the best shot in the film, we see Helen crying in her kitchen, dwarfed by large, neutral colored empty walls.

After realizing Julie is too young for him, Alan brings Julie home and leaves her crying on the curb in front of her house. When the light in the front room turns on, Julie raises her head with an expression of abject fear. Her father will beat her for running away. Rather than give the audience resolution on the matter, we never see this character again. It is an editorial choice that resigns the audience to the depressing fact that things like this happen all the time. Knights in shining armor aren’t real and sometimes, men just suck.

Although his output dwindled in quality over the last decade, George A. Romero will always remain a legend for creating the flesh-eating living dead sub-genre. I’d like to remember him as a feminist as well.

 

Works Cited

Belton, John. American Cinema American Culture. Boston: McGraw Hill, 2009.

Dawn Of The Dead. Dir. George A. Romero. Perf. Gaylen Ross, Ken Foree, Scott             Reiniger and David Emge. Laurel Entertainment, 1978.

Gagne, Paul R. The Zombies That Ate Pittsburgh: The Films of George A. Romero.

New York: Dodd, Mead & Company, 1987.

Knightriders. Dir. George A. Romero. Perf. Ed Harris, Tom Savini, Christine Forrest and Patricia Tallman. Laurel Entertainment, 1980.

Nemiroff, Perry. “Interview: Survival Of The Dead Writer-Director George A. Romero.”

Cinemablend.com. May, 2010. < http://www.cinemablend.com/new/Interview-Survival-   Of-The-Dead-Writer-Director-George-A-Romero-18735.html

Season Of The Witch. Dir. George A. Romero. Perf. Jan White, Bill Thunhurst and Ray Laine.     The Latent Image Group, 1971.

Williams, Tony. The Cinema of George A. Romero: Knight Of The Living Dead.

Great Britain: Wallflower Press, 2003.

Wilson, Brian. “George A. Romero.” Senses of Cinema. November, 2006.

< http://archive.sensesofcinema.com/contents/directors/07/romero.html#biblio

David Lynch’s America

The Death Of Generation X

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If one Google’s Generation X, one of the first things that comes up is an article in the Telegraph titled ‘’Whatever Happened to Generation X?’’ Born roughly between 1961 and 1981 and sandwiched between the much larger baby boomer and millennial generations, our invisibility can be attributed to a generally mellow ‘’live and let live’’ attitude. Are we truly forgotten? With yesterday’s announcement of the suicide of Chris Cornell, it occurred to me just how influential we have been and how many of the good things we created and/or embraced, have been lost over the past 18 months.

It’s been a tough time for Generation X and with Cornell’s death on top of everything else that came before it, I first felt that we are on the precipice of losing our identity. Then, I realized that this is a part of our identity and it’s not our fault. The main event that kicked off the current run of crappy events was the death of Prince in 2016 from an opioid overdose. Opioid addiction is a problem that has reached epidemic proportions. It was created by the greedy pharmaceutical industry. Run by baby-boomers whose sole intent is profit, it operates with complete disregard for the suffering caused by the mass distribution of their addictive products. Additionally, many turn to street drugs when their Doctors cut them off (after having received their kickbacks from the manufacturers for the initial overprescribed doses they gave patients, of course.)

When he died, we lost something big. Although Prince was not the first artist to break racial and gender identity image barriers, he was the first to do by crossing musical genres in a successful way commercially. What other black artist in history could pull off a yellow ass-less jumpsuit and high heels and still be the most masculine guy in the room? What other musician before or since could compose, produce, mix and play all his own music? (Maybe Dave Grohl) What other artist fought for artists’ rights and changed the way we think about record companies and the concept of copyright and ownership of sound? There was only Prince.

Although a boomer himself, he was embraced commercially by Gen X and I remember vividly, older people in the mid ‘80s not understanding him at that time. We understood him. Our open-mindedness contributed to his success. We didn’t care about his curious sexuality and accepted his positive racial message ‘’white, black, Puerto Rican. Everybody just a-freakin’.’’

This was made abundantly clear when our generation’s President, Barack Obama was elected over the boomer favourite Hillary Clinton in 2008 and under his watch, gay marriage was made legal. For a short time, it seemed as if we could let go of our disenfranchisement with society and we almost became hopeful. Almost.

Collectively, we spent the ensuing years watching the older generation try to tear down and reverse the wheels of progress that we put in motion. By the time Obama’s second term in office was over, there was a full-scale boomer revolution whose fires were fuelled by those who preferred to throw society into regression rather than continue the forward momentum we started. Shocking to anyone under the age of 60, Obama was replaced by a bullshitting trust-fund baby reality TV star con-man whose alliances lay with a foreign enemy. Since then, we’ve seen an erosion in voting rights, healthcare policies, immigrant’s rights, women’s rights and pretty much everyone who isn’t healthy, wealthy, male and white is now fucked. Once again, we were robbed of our accomplishments by a bunch of old establishment types that just never understood the things that seemed perfectly logical to us.

Then Chris Cornell died. His suicide is currently being reportedly as being connected to an adverse psychological reaction to a medication he was on. Strike two for the pharmaceutical industry.

As one of the founding members of the seminal Grunge movement that began in the early ‘90s as a reaction to the crappy state of the economy and late ‘80s hair-band rock music, Cornell’s bands Soundgarden and Audioslave contributed greatly to the revitalization of the hard rock landscape and gave us some of the best albums ever made.

Their lyrics spoke to Generation X. Then, as now, we were pissed off. Many of us raised ourselves because our parents worked constantly. Then, after seeing their successes, we were told ‘’Sorry, not for you kids!’’ and graduated into a world of boom/bust cycles created by decades of Thatcher/Regan/Bush economic policies that made the boomers rich but ensured that Gen-X would be the first generation since WWII to not do better than our parents. The songs were dark, honest and raw. No bullshitters allowed. Once again, the message was liberal. ‘’Times are gone for honest men.’’

Now, along with Scott Weiland, who died from a drug overdose and Kurt Cobain, who also committed suicide, we have lost three of the most influential members of the musical movement that defined our youth.

Unfortunately, this is our legacy, as well. Anxiety, depression, addiction and suicide are common among Gen-X but rather than admit complicity, it is frequently dismissed as being self-indulgent by the hypocritical boomers, whose social and economic policies have helped to create this shit show we now live in.

My heart goes out to Chris Cornell’s kids, who will now have it even worse than we did. Their Dad isn’t at work. Their Dad is dead. My only hope is that they, and the countless others like them will grow up to start their own musical movements, reflective of and a catalyst for the change that they too crave. They have the numbers that we didn’t and as the boomers die out, and Generation X gets older, we won’t be as resistant to change. They seem more optimistic than us but are equally as angry for the socioeconomic and political situation they have been left with. I know there are good bands out there with something to say. I just hope that there enough of us Gen-Xers left to see them when they come around on tour.