Pt 4: The King Won’t Die – Cultural Abortion in the U.S.
An Aborted Changing of the Guard
What do these events have in common? The popularity of Democrats since the Nineties, with Obama’s favorability ratings high despite US entanglement in several wars; the astounding progress in race relations exemplified by ever increasing numbers of African-Americans elected and appointed to the highest posts in US government since the Nineties, highlighted by the election of the first ever black President in the most lopsided victory in decades; massive demonstrations around the U.S., attended by hundreds of thousands at times, in favor of liberal Democratic causes and opposing Republicans and showing people carrying signs displaying the peace symbol; outpourings of peaceful pro-freedom and democracy protesters throughout the Middle East and North Africa; the reborn popularity of the "peace sign"–two fingers extended in a V-like shape, for those who don’t know–including saying "peace" while extending it as a greeting (most often these days, when leaving); renewed interest in the book, Catcher in the Rye; the nostalgia for Sixties and Seventies cultural accouterments as exemplified by the TV show, That 70s Show ; the resurgence of fashion items like bell-bottoms and, on women, clunky high-heel shoes; the movies "Pleasantville" and "The Truman Show"; the popularity of Nineties shows like Ally McBeal and The X Files; one-time Sixties activist Bill Clinton’s sixty-some percent approval rating throughout almost the entirety of the White House Sex Scandal alongside the pundits’ complete and total befuddlement as to the causes for it; the strong presidential run by a woman, also with roots solidly in Sixties activism, Hillary Clinton, in the 2008 Presidential race…significantly only beat out, and barely, by an African-American; the passage of medical use of marijuana laws in a number of states and poised for passage legalization of marijuana initiatives (I may be wrong, but I believe that the voters ruled that marijuana’s medical use would be allowed, or would continue, in every instance where this issue was on the ballot!); the return to ballad-style, Dylan-esque music embracing and expressing social, philosophical, and extremely intimate personal views and experiences…. We’ve also seen, in California, the passage of Proposition 10—the ballot measure that imposes a fifty-cents tax on cigarettes to fund programs for young children…which ballot measure, significantly enough, was begun by Sixties-Generation representative Rob Reiner–formerly Meathead from All in the Family!… I could go on.
On the other side of this we have seen, in the last two decades, several "Republican revolutions" taking the opposite side on women’s issues, union and worker’s rights, environmental policy, health care and education, budget and economic issues benefiting the poor and middle class, and all other "liberal" causes; the rise of a media-supported Tea Party movement, heavily funded by wealthy and corporate interests, espousing wildly reactionary and regressive measures like eliminating social security and medicare, gutting environmental policies to give corporations a free hand in despoiling the environment, anti-union measures, deep budget cuts in social programs, and the showing in this movement of demonstrators hoisting signs with racist images and slogans and gleefully applauding the acting out of a slave auction depicting an African-American president, Obama, and his supporters in Congress and his administration as bloodied slaves in chains; the popularity of a news network promoting, in blatant and mostly dishonest form, reactionary issues and figures; the resurgence in the careers of Pat Buchanan, right wing propagandist out of the Nixon administration turned talk show pundit, and Newt Gingrich, reactionary culture warrior during the early Nineties; extreme pro-gun positions and actions, including openly carrying weapons to political rallies and events and proposing the allowance of children to bring guns to schools; thuggish attacks on left-leaning activists and demonstrators; the murder of physicians on the pro-choice side of the abortion/ women’s rights issue; and attacks and threats against progressive politicians and legislators, including the nearly successful assassination attempt on Democratic Congresswoman, Gabriel Giffords…. I could go on.
Most folks would see nothing connecting these issues on either side. What I believe we are seeing is a resurgence of the underground "culture war" that has been going on in the US since the 1960s between the Sixties Generation–those whose adolescent and young adulthood, formative years were influenced by the events of the Sixties–and the World War Two Generation–those whose equivalent times of life were forged in the Forties, during and around the time of World War Two.
Generation Gap and Counterculture
The huge ravine separating the views of these two generations was most apparent when those of the Sixties Generation were in their youth, engaged in the process of discovering and exploring their values and therefore expressing them blatantly and with all the indiscretion, lack of subtlety, confrontation, and rebelliousness that characterizes the inexperienced. Thus, terms like generation gap and counterculture were bandied about, analyzed, and fervently discussed. The differences were "on the table," in full view; and because the views and values of the youth were so "counter" or opposite to those of the WWII Generation, much debate and analysis was spawned in the media to try to explain–for the most part to the WWII Generation–how this could be so.
But these terms of generation gap and counterculture, which highlighted the great disparity of views, would fade mostly into disuse. This was because, later, the Sixties Generation would learn to keep their private views and values more hidden, for practical reasons having to do with making a living, advancing in their careers, being able to raise their children, and so on; but this did not mean their values had changed. They were biding their time, waiting–sometimes hopeless that it would ever arrive–for a reversing of the pendulum and a return in society to the ideals and visions of a better world that had so inspired them in their earlier years.
For the most part, these Sixties adherents did not know about the psychohistorical tendencies I will be describing here–as for example in the evolution of child-caring and the triumphant phase of generations. For most it was just an awareness that something so strong and so right could not simply have completely vanished from the Earth, that with time comes change, and therefore there had to be a time, again, when the mood of the country would swing in the direction they felt to be healthiest and more ideal. For some of these people their hopes were based on the simple rules of gambling: Eventually, at some time or other, with the passage of time, the dice just had to roll their number, if just out of pure chance or randomness.
Others had a slightly more reasoned view buttressing their hope for a return to idealism. These folks were those of the Sixties Generation who had applied themselves to implementing the values they learned in the Sixties in the jobs and careers they held, in whatever small or not-so-small way that they were allowed by their older generation superiors, bosses, managers, or supervisors. Never knowing that they had allies among their generation that were doing the same kind of thing in their separate fields, they followed through, the best they could, on simple conviction, born of experience, of the rightness of the more idealistic ways.
Lastly, there were those of the Sixties Generation who identified themselves completely with their youthful idealism. In putting themselves "out front" this way in their values and beliefs they found others who were doing the same. They would together become the "New Age" movement, actively engaged in bringing about the better world their generation had envisioned in the Sixties and early Seventies. They would wonder, as decades passed, why it took so long for the rest of society to catch on to what they felt was an inviting and appealing evolution–one both necessary and therefore inevitable as well.
But these last, the New Agers, would be marginalized and scapegoated by the mainstream of society—a mainstream whose outlines, of course, were determined and inscribed by the mainstream media, which was, in turn, controlled by the wealthy elite of the World War Two Generation (more about this to come). Examples included Jerry Brown labeled "Captain Moonbeam," the family dynamics in the TV show Family Ties, the burnt-out hippie depiction of cabdriver, Jim, in the Taxi television series, and thousands of other instances where those holding New Age views were labeled "flakes."
Attack of the Body-Snatchers
Another reason these terms depicting cultural division, viz., generation gap and counterculture, went into disuse was due to the mobilization of the World War Two Generation–after their initial phase of somnambulant confusion over the events that were emerging in the Sixties which left them paralyzed and watching, growing in irritation and anger–into a comprehensive counterattack against the Sixties Generation, using all the Nixonian-like tactics in their arsenal…understandably, since Nixon was of that generation and his tactics were typical of the defensive style of his contemporaries.
Lassoing the Universities. In the early Seventies, the World War Two Generation used their power and wealth, being themselves in the Triumphant Phase of their lives, to put pressure on colleges and universities, nationwide, to discontinue the programs, courses, and the professors that they felt were responsible for the youth’s rebellion. Their targets for destruction included such noteworthy "dangers" as liberal arts programs in general, and especially "highly revolutionary" philosophy, religious studies, anthropology, and humanistic psychology courses. A transformation of colleges and universities into "career mills"–whose primary function was to prepare the young for practical and skill-oriented jobs and professions–was called for…or else! Or else these World War Two alumni would discontinue their contributions to these educational institutions. The "bottom line" being threatened in this way, no university administration, to my knowledge, withstood their demands for very long, if at all.
Cloning Themselves…WWII Generation creating an 80s generation of "Mini-me’s." The youth produced by these institutions would hereafter be dissuaded from thinking for themselves and from "questioning authority"–as the previous generation had been encouraged to do–so part of the lapse in the terms of division between the generations–counterculture and generation gap–had to do with the fact that the wave of youth that followed the Sixties Generation would be molded, in their college years, into distant replicas of World War Two Generation members. They would be termed the "Me Generation," since selfishness, greed, money-as-god, and upward mobility were characteristics of the WWII Generation that they were able to instill in their youthful clones. Thus, we saw the rise of Young Republicans on campus in the late Seventies, the return of ROTC to campuses, and the seeding of fertile young minds with the values that would later be verbalized–in the movie "Wall Street"–in the mantram "Greed is good!" At the height of this phase, periodicals were declaring how similar the "youth of today"—meaning those of the late Seventies and Eighties—were to their parents, how close they were to their parents in the beliefs and values they held, and how the generation gap had inexplicably closed. Such was the success of the WWII Generation in cloning themselves in producing Eighties youth.
In sum, beginning in the early Seventies institutions of higher learning turned away from their idealistic goals of "bringing out" from the students their inner truths and wisdom (the original meaning of the term educate), which is the avowed role of liberal arts programs, and instead turned hard, to the right, onto a path of churning out engineers, MBAs, hard scientists (even in the field of psychology, where humanistic psychology was shunned), medical professionals, lawyers, and the like. My liberal arts, semi–ivy-league college–founded, by half, by Benjamin Franklin–turned from the idealistic studies that typified Franklin and those of his time and swung from being a bastion of energetic inquiry into all controversial realms–political and spiritual and societal–a virtual "Plato’s Academy" of inquiry, into being a career mill centered around a "pre-med" program.
Harnessing the Media. Similarly, these frightened and wealthy WWII "conspirators" (however unconscious their alliance) would use their leverage to ensure that books and the media–TV, radio, magazines, and newspapers–would expound their views predominantly, would present events through the particular psychological lenses and filters with which they were familiar, and would eschew viewpoints, and even coverage of events, that would in any way strengthen the stance of the, by this time, scapegoated Sixties Generation. The media declared, with much fanfare, in the early Seventies that a "conservative backlash" was occurring; and they published books documenting this event. Meanwhile they ignored the polls and the events–specifically the ongoing and growing antiwar and other counterculture "demonstrations"–that would show the lie to this idea, and they rejected and refused publication of the kind of books and articles, still being effusively churned out–that would support the counterculture movement. Controlling the media in this way and saying it long and loud enough, the "big lie" of the "conservative backlash" began to be accepted as truth. And even many in the counterculture and among the youth began to believe it.
Interestingly, those on the extreme right did not forget that the great divide in views was still with us. In the Nineties, Pat Buchanan and Newt Gingrich said a "culture war" was going on. More recently we see WWII and Fifties style Tea Partiers going up against huge rallies of Sixties style pro-union demonstrators and massive recall efforts.
So those on the right decry such massive outpourings against them, but they are correct that it is a "culture war." Obviously they can see that the world has changed from the Fifties-style "Pleasantville" that they had imagined and wanted it to be.
The King Must Die
But the World War Two Generation could not maintain control forever. For one thing, people die. And being older than the Sixties Generation, eventually their numbers had to dwindle. Their numbers dwindling, they had to be replaced by those younger–some of whom were of the Sixties Generation and were now in what psychohistorians call the triumphant phase of life–that is, the time of life when a generation is in its "prime," when it is most influential, when it takes over the reins of society, when it gets behind the wheel of the cultural bus.
From this perspective, we can view a remarkable film, "Pleasantville," released in the late Nineties at the peak of the Sixties Generation’s triumphant phase, and see that it is a metaphorical review of history from the early Fifties up to that time–one which shows the Sixties Generation, in the end, finally realizing their vision of a more colorful, alive, open-to-new-experience and to change, growthful, changeful, passionate, unregimented, truthful, sensual, feeling and emotionful, and less determined, ritualized, and preordained existence. More about this later.
The Generational Changing of the Guard
First let me point out that this change in power, evident by this movie and the other recent cultural items I’ve mentioned, is a change as old as our species. Every generation, at some point, leaves or is removed from their seats of power when they are at or near the end of their arc of effectiveness and prowess by a younger generation that is coming into or–as in the unusual case of the Sixties Generation for the reasons unique to this time to be mentioned below–is fully in the prime of its life.
Myths, fairy tales, stories, historical tales, and legends the world over depict this change of power. The myth that is most transparent in its depiction of this change is the one in which a monarch, despot, or ogre controls and rules the land, keeping the people miserable with oppressive and selfish decrees and policies. A young prince emerges and, after a period of trial (in the case of the Sixties Generation, an unusually long period of trial) in which the prince proves himself worthy, he takes up the cause of the people and overthrows the old king and takes his place. Thus the saying "The king is dead. Long live the (new) king."
The triumphant phase of the Sixties Generation had been delayed, however, longer than any other generation in history because of the advances in modern medical science, which has served to keep the World War Two Generation alive and kicking longer than any previous generation. The average life expectancy in the last sixty years (since the time when the World War Two Generation were in their youth or young adulthood) has increased remarkably. Hence the Sixties Generation has had to wait longer than the World War Two Generation to get a chance behind the wheel of society. It is strange and ironic that at a time when the speed of cultural change is greatest because of an ever increasing speed of technological change, at a time when the elder generation’s worldview becomes obsolete sooner and faster than ever before, at such a time when it would seem the younger generation’s view would attain relevancy and effectiveness faster and sooner than at any previous time, at such a time we have the reverse occurring, that is, the younger generation’s ascendancy is delayed and the older one’s stranglehold on power is extended.
But this rapid change and increasing rate of obsolescence may just have something to do with the WWII Generation’s desire to hang on and their vehement struggle against change. For, as mentioned before, there is a gap—greater than ever before—between the views of the younger and those of the older. This gap is wrought of the different technological worlds and the corresponding sociocultural worlds that each experienced. It is widened by different, more advanced on the one side, child-caring of children as well as by different drugs used and the contrasting world views they would elicit–as explained previously, in Part Three.
So the WWII Generation might be said to be more threatened than any previous one by the generation to succeed them, because the ascendancy of the next generation would appear to overturn and oftentimes reverse so much of what they believe, value, worked and sacrificed for. Because of the unprecedented technological change and corresponding change in material culture, catalyzing in ways too numerous to mention a myriad of sociocultural and psychological changes in their successors, there is less overlap than ever before between the worldviews of the generation handing over power and the generation coming into power. It follows that it would seem to the generation in power, even as they approach the end of their mortality, that less of what they are and were will live on after them than has ever been the case in the history of generational succession.
This being so, this generational succession represents a previously unheard of personal invalidation and undermining of the self-esteem of those of the World War Two Generation and a corresponding unprecedented attack on the usual delusions of immortality (themselves living on in some fashion in their successors) that older generations are allowed in exchange for their relinquishing power.
Generational Changing of the Guard, Aborted
At any rate and whatever may be the reason, the fact remains that the World War Two Generation has used their longevity for all their worth to block the ascendancy of their successors. They used their longevity to amass wealth and power–wealth greater than any previous generation before and, because of their actions, likely to come.
For example, their actions have led to a situation, currently, wherein they were taken care of in their old age by a Social Security and Medicare system funded by the work of the Baby-Boomers, aka Sixties Generation, at the same time that predictions abound that that same Social Security and Medicare system will be depleted when it is the Baby-Boomers time to belly-up to the bar. One might also note the WWII Generation’s environmental and ecological decisions making it that no generation after them will enjoy anywhere near the benefits—health and quality of life among them—of clean environment, abundance of natural resources, and ecological balance that they enjoyed. Finally, their decisions regarding arms buildup and proliferation may deny life itself to the generations following them. Other unprecedented ogre-like—greedy, selfish, and uncaring-of-succeeding-generations—actions can be numbered against this generation.
So the World War Two Generation used their unprecedented wealth and power to wage a war against the generation who would be taking over from them, keeping them and their values under attack and away from the centers of power and influence in society as long as they possibly could.
Desperate Stand: The Battle of the Bill (Clinton)
It is enlightening to consider in the Nineties the persistent attacks on Bill Clinton (similarly, on Al Gore and Hillary Clinton, continuing)–the first Sixties Generation U.S. president–ever since he took office. The Monica Lewinsky scandal is a typical example of the extent to which the World War Two Generation so effectively controlled the views and values expressed and subtly expounded in the media ever since it took conscious control of the society’s "collective consciousness" in this way in the early Seventies. By this I mean that in the entire time of the scandal, it was assumed that sex is bad, or at least that sex outside of marriage is bad. It was assumed that Hillary must be horribly pained and angered by the revelation of her husband’s affair(s).
Make love, not war. It is as if the slogan "Make Love, Not War" was never a generational outcry. I don’t believe you will ever find in the history books paid for/ published by World War Two Generation owned publishing houses mention of the fact that slogan was ever used. Indeed, with all the talk by pundits, analysts, and commentators on literally hundreds of TV shows during the entire time of the Lewinsky scandal and impeachment drama, that slogan, "Make Love, Not War," was practically never mentioned. I am aware of only one time–when I heard it slipped in unnoticed by a participant in the middle of a talkin’-all-at-once brouhaha on the TV show "Politically Incorrect," whereupon it was totally ignored.
Even more astonishing, those same pundits discussed, ad nauseum, this scandal and all the myriad ramifications of it yet never, to my knowledge, made note of Clinton’s generational status and the views, exemplified by "Make Love, Not War," which our generation espoused. It has simply been assumed that all of the Sixties Generation "grew out" of that kind of "nonsense" and had adopted the views of the WWII Generation..again, polls on values and viewpoints be damned.
Rewriting history. Most telling of all in the attacks on Clinton’s behavior is the assumption that such a stance on open marriage and uninhibited sexuality is a product of uncontrolled lewdness and the sexual license exhibited primarily by the young, which naturally everyone grows out of in order to adopt the constrained and secretive sexual views of the old. The sexual revolution’s parallel growth in the Sixties with expanding civil rights, women’s rights, and individual liberty is completely ignored. Its roots in an idealism about final and complete gender equality is totally vanquished as if it were never so.
In fact, I doubt you, the reader, know of this. Yet hordes of Sixties youth shared with each other, conspiratorial like, the Sixties novel, The Harrad Experiment by Robert Heinlein, that portrayed–in poetic and highly intelligent fashion–an evolution to a radical equality between the genders, to an elimination of neurotic suffering around sexuality as, for example, in painful jealousy, to an ending of sexual violence as in spouse abuse, and a final and complete solution to a gender war existing for all time with incalculable casualities and near infinity of suffering on both sides. It was a story about non-monogamy and open relationships…"free love."
Neither did the pundits point out that Bill Clinton is of a generation who made a book on "open marriage" a bestseller. The clinch on the media by that older generation has been so complete as to have, apparently, completely dismissed or erased from the minds of the pundits the facts that those ideas and books ever existed. Another thing erased from history since the Seventies: the "sexual revolution." Remember that? When was the last time you heard that talked about? All of the energy that had surrounded these controversial ideas has, because of media manipulation and repression of these views, been channeled into and reduced to a fight over a woman’s right to choose, i.e., the abortion issue, and more recently to fights over union rights and budget cuts.
Abortion wars. Incidentally, it is no coincidence that the issue of abortion has taken on such importance for so many in the electorate, for it is the last remaining battle of the "culture war" directly continuing from the Sixties. Prior to the Sixties, women’s bodies could not be considered their own, in many ways; a prominent way was the illegality of abortion, which made outcasts and corpses out of untold numbers of women. It was reversed by Roe v. Wade in the Sixties. But the battle never went away and is the major front in a Gender War that has been going on for millennia.
And your position on the abortion issue is the closest thing to a military uniform indicating on which side of the culture war you have enlisted. Specifically, I am saying that there are few of the Sixties Generation who would not classify themselves as "pro-choice." Meanwhile, the anti-abortionists are found to be comprised primarily of those of the WWII Generation, their Eighties Generation clones, and the Eisenhower-Presley-McCarthy—and now we might add "Pleasantville"—Fifties Generation. (For a definition and explanation of Fifties Generation see previous part, "Drugs of Choice and Generational Cultures")
World War Two Generation just doesn’t get it…never has, and never will. Of course, I am saying that the War on Clinton was, in its essence, an unacknowledged but desperate battle in the Culture War that has been going on since the Sixties–despite these attacks not being framed or talked about this way–between the World War Two and the Sixties Generations. The World War Two Generation, especially after the elections of November 1998, has learned that it is way off in some of its assumptions, that their analysis of what has been happening in this country is woefully miscalculated. They are like the deluded schizophrenic who has believed passionately in the world he has himself created coming up against some of the hard, harsh, and indisputable facts of existence which undermine his world. The World-War-Two-Generation–minded–whatever the individual’s age–have been fighting back, since the Nineties, with all the firepower they can muster against realizing the harsh realities around them of their waning ideals. They have been in total and absolute denial of the direction of the American, indeed the world, consciousness; and they have been flinging all their wealth into the mix to try to repress the emerging truths.
When I first published on this topic in 1998 I wrote, "But we shouldn’t be surprised if we see some of those in their ranks–wealthy and facing their inevitable demise–merely increasing the ferocity of their war waging…humiliating themselves and seeming ever more pitiful in the minds of the majority of observers, who increasingly, as time continues to decimate their WWII ranks, are younger than they and thus do not share their delusions."
I’m sorry to say I was more correct than I could ever have dreamed as we have faced, since the change of the millennium, neo-con wars built on lies and confused tea-baggers railing against their own interests.
"Pleasantville" as Culture War Allegory
Not So "Pleasantville"
The film, "Pleasantville," is a postmodern sociological allegory or fable released in the late Nineties. It begins in then-current time against a backdrop of the usual violence, chaos, and turbulence that we are conditioned by the media to believe characterized the Nineties in America. Two high school teenagers, David and Jennifer, played by Tobey Maguire and Reese Witherspoon are planning their evening.
A Tale of Two Siblings
David is planning to watch the Pleasantville marathon on television and to participate in the trivia contest that will be part of it. Pleasantville is a an old sitcom from the 1950s in the Father Knows Best, Leave It to Beaver, My Three Sons style which has attained a cult-like following and is shown regularly on a cable channel similar to the "Nick at Nite" one that we know of which specialized in reruns of old sitcoms. It becomes clear that David is an ardent devotee of the show in part because it compensates for the lameness of his real life. Unlike his sister, who is portrayed as a real "firecracker" of a young woman, he doesn’t date or participate in the school scene. It is implied that he may be using the sitcom as an escape from not only a boring life but a threatening one and that he longs to live in the kind of ordered, safe, and unchallenging reality that the sitcom depicts. David is such an avid follower of the show that he is shown to be a master of "Pleasantville" trivia and is primed and eager for the contest on Pleasantville trivia.
But his sister, Jennifer, is planning for a hot date at home…their parents being away for the weekend providing an opportunity for her to be unchaperoned with her guy—which she eagerly anticipates. At odds over what will be played on the TV–Jennifer wanting to watch instead an MTV concert with her date—they wrestle over the TV remote and end up breaking it. However all is not lost as at just that moment and completely inexplicably a television repairman played by Don Knotts drives up in his truck, knocks on the door, and imposes his services on them in fixing the problem.
Don Knotts—perfectly cast, in a Jungian sense, for it is often the impish or normally overlooked and unnoticed element that initiates sweeping changes in people’s lives—indeed does introduce the magical element into the film. He produces a different kind of remote control, which he claims has special effects saying, "You want something to put you right in the show!" Sure enough, in checking out the remote they hit a mysterious button and are transported into the TV and thus into the sitcom and the town that is called Pleasantville.
To Follow Or Not to Follow "The Script"
After their initial confusion, they realize what has happened and try to return, but do not know how to. David–who it becomes apparent has been thrust into the role of Bud in the sitcom–advises his sister–Jennifer who has become Mary Sue in the TV series–to go along with events until they figure a way to get home. Since he knows all the plots of every show of the sitcom, his idea is that they act out the events as they are supposed to happen and that they do what the two characters–the teenage son and daughter of the parents in the sitcom, Betty and George Parker, played superbly by Joan Allen and William H. Macy–are known to do in the different episodes he has seen.
Essentially, then, David as Bud is advising his sister to "follow the script." And of course it is not hard to discern at this point that we are beginning to see a metaphor for psychological realities and that "following the script" has a broader meaning for a choice that everyone must make in life in growing up, viz., to follow the script laid out for oneself by one’s parents and society in general or to follow one’s inner direction and inner guide in asserting one’s individuality and expressing one’s unique self.
The rest of the movie is the story of how these two characters–transported magically from the future as well as from the real world as opposed to a made-up TV world–introduce change into the town and thereby color. Mary Sue, formerly Jennifer, does it consciously. Rebelling against her brother’s admonishments to follow the script, she goes on a date with someone she is not supposed to according to the sitcom script and then–horror of horrors for a 1950s world – engages in sex with him at the local "lover’s lane"–where the farthest that anyone goes, according to "script," is holding hands. We find later that her date describes this unheard of experience to his classmates, and, like ripples emanating from a pebble dropped in a pond, her action results in a number of the school youth engaging in sex and thereby becoming, to everyone’s amazement, colorized!
The brother also introduces change, and therefore color, but it is done unconsciously at first. As mentioned, he tries to get his sister to follow the script. Still, in a metaphorically powerful scene, when he is late for work at the local malt shop–this is unheard of as well because "Pleasantville" is a world where no one is ever late for work–he inadvertently introduces change himself. In fact, he introduces the most insidious element of change because he explicitly advises–without realizing what he has unleashed–that his boss think for himself!
In this scene Bud, formerly David, finds his boss and coworker, Mr. Johnson, played by Jeff Daniels, stuck at the end of the counter, cleaning away with a wash cloth, like a stuck record, at the same spot, even as the surface of the counter is rubbing away. When the soda jerk, Mr. Johnson, explains confusedly that the normal regimen would have required Bud to arrive at work before he, Mr. Johnson, could go on to the rest of his chores, "Bud" simply suggests to Mr. Johnson that in the future he continue with his next chore even if Bud isn’t there.
So simply in being himself, coming from a future in which people react to change by thinking out new responses and thereby adapting to them, Bud, aka David, introduces a totally new element into the soda jerk’s script. This has far reaching consequences as the movie progresses and Mr. Johnson begins thinking for himself and having ideas about other things as well. In this way, the soda jerk, soon to be artist, too ends up "colored."
This movie, thematically, is remarkably akin to the 1968-released movie "Yellow Submarine" put out by the Sixties Generation rock group The Beatles. In that film there is a region ruled by the "Blue Meanies." These Blue Meanies, especially their leader, are depicted as powerful and cruel, yet sniveling, insecure, weak, and selfish underneath. Their angry and oppressive personas are shown to reveal poor little whining babies behind them. Their actions are shown to be those of "big babies," whose gruff exterior must remain intact at all costs, lest their hidden sniveling and hurt little selves be revealed. The analogy the Beatles are making to those of the WWII Generation—at that time the parental generation, those "over 30"—is impossible not to make.
"Nowhere Man." The movies are so similar in theme that the only major thematic difference between "Pleasantville" and "Yellow Submarine" is that it is music that is not allowed in "Yellow Submarine" whereas in "Pleasantville" it is color. But the idea behind them both is the same: Music and color both represent deep feeling, aliveness, thinking for oneself, and change. In "Yellow Submarine," the man without music is Nowhere Man, who "knows not where he’s going to, doesn’t have a point of view." In Pleasantville, the men without color act in the same ways, performing the same actions, day in, day out, without change, zombie- or robot-like–like characters in a 1950s-style sitcom in which nothing unpleasant, different, new, or too emotional is allowed to occur.
And above all, the black-and-white men do not think for themselves. This is graphically portrayed in the scene mentioned where the owner of the town malt shop, Mr. Johnson, portrayed by Jeff Daniels, is left cleaning the same spot of the counter for hours so that its top is rubbed away because his coworker is late and the routine they use to close up cannot be completed in the way it is done, everyday, in exactly the same way. Confronted with this small change, he shows himself to be the "Nowhere Man" and like a needle stuck on a record, he is rigidly stuck repeating the same action, not having the power to think of an alternative action in response to a change in the usual routine.
No longer a distant vision. The differences in the years of the release and the different artistic modes used to express the themes of these two movies have something to say as well. In 1968 the changes in culture of the New Age were a vision and a hope. It is appropriate and telling that "Yellow Submarine" was expressed in animated form. Like a dream that would take a long time to realize, it needed to be expressed in cartoon-like fashion, for the time of its emergence in reality was too far off.
By contrast, "Pleasantville" blends a fantasy world–appropriately it is a TV sitcom, which has more similarities with reality than an animation–with the actual reality of postmodern times. The advance toward reality is patent in the evolution from an animated form–indicating the change is far off, a fantasy, a wish, a hope–in the 1968 movie; to a black-and-white form involving real actors, real people; and then to a colorized version involving real people in what is supposed to be real time and real cultural reality, in the movie released thirty years later. One might say that what was a fantasy over forty years ago is, however unconsciously, being heralded as, hopefully, emerging and coming into being now–in actual, black-and-white or colored, real time and place.
Reversing the Invasion of the Body Snatchers
Concerning the movie "Pleasantville," noted movie critic Roger Ebert quite astutely pointed out that it was "like the defeat of the body snatchers" (from his excellent review, "Pleasantville" ). One might also say that it is one in which Holden Caulfield, the character in J. D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye, wins out and children do not grow up to be adult "phonies." Another analogy would be that it is a depiction in which Peter Pan stays young, when he succeeds in keeping the children from ever growing up and thereby losing their capacity to "fly"–representing the capacity to dream, to envision, to be open to new possibilities, to adventure.
What It Is That Makes One Alive
Against this backdrop of lack of real aliveness, the introduction of "color" into the town of Pleasantville through the introduction of sex is not seen as something bad at all. Similarly, in recent history, despite the increasing drum beating of the Religious Right in the last three decades, those of us who grew up in the Fifties know that the introduction of sex–in the Sixties, as in the "sexual revolution"–was a step forward from the hypocritical sameness and plodding repression of the Fifties.
Other elements introduced into Pleasantville that produce colorization in the participants include thinking for oneself (Jeff Daniels in his role as the soda jerk), intellectual passion (the sister), questioning the way things are supposed to be or, in Sixties terms, questioning authority (when the brother finally becomes colored), artistic and creative passion (Jeff Daniels again), and even the passion of honest rage (the chairman of the Chamber of Commerce). These elements arise in Pleasantville just as they arose into the collective consciousness of those of us living in the Fifties and Sixties.
Of course I am not naively saying that these elements never existed before the Sixties. The underlying factor that was introduced into the movie causing color and that was also introduced into our society causing all the sociocultural changes that we, usually, complain about is the factor of choosing something different than what is expected by society, than what is expected by the outside. What is introduced in the movie–as it was introduced in our culture–is the preeminence of inner authority in making decisions, as opposed to outer authority.
A New Psychohistorical Era! In psychohistorical terms this difference is marked by Lloyd deMause as a difference in a mode of child-rearing. The black-and-white Fifties Pleasantville is a representation of a mode of child-rearing—which characterized the Fifties—wherein the role of the parents is to "mold," model, and guide children along paths that the parents have deemed to be correct–called the socializing mode of child-rearing. The child is expected to be a clone of the parents, a mini-me, or at least to represent the parents’ ideas of proper behavior, ideals, and mode of living, irregardless of whether the parent models them or not. And when not, the phrase "Do as I say, not as I do" and the term hypocrite as applied to the parents are apropos. The basic nature of the child is considered to be sinful and evil or at least beastial; the classic novel Lord of the Flies depicts this view of human nature. Therefore the child needs to become other than itself and conform itself to something outside of itself in order for she or he to be considered "good" and to receive good responses in turn from parents and society.
By contrast, the colorized Pleasantville represents the mode of child-caring that came out, big time, beginning in the Sixties, wherein the parents’ role is that of "bringing out" from and supporting, encouraging, and helping the child to discover what the child’s talents and inherent abilities, feelings, and proclivities are, and then encouraging the child to "believe in him/herself" in the expression of those inherent and inborn good qualities and values–termed the helping mode of child-caring. [Footnote 1]
This mode contains a radically new view of basic human nature. Humans are seen to be essentially good (even "divine"). It is evil and painful events impinging upon the child from the outside—family and society—that are deemed causative in taking the child from its natural state of innocence and goodness and inherent unique talents to one wherein the child is corrupted and thus becomes beastial and lacking in inherent good qualities and talents. Therefore the solution is to protect the child from traumas coming from the outside, especially the huge one of feeling unloved through not being seen or respected as a unique individual…as opposed to being seen as a mere outgrowth or mini-me of a parental entity. And in so doing the parents’ role includes helping the child to discover his or her uniqueness and dispensing unconditional love, that is, love that is given freely, without the requirement, as in the socializing mode, that the child do and be what the parents want before the child is accepted or shown approval or any emotional warmth.
In representing this advanced mode of being (and child-caring) the "colorized" people in Pleasantville open themselves to possibilities that were never before considered; they stray from the earlier mode requiring strict conformity to parental scripts. Robert Kennedy’s Sixties quote comes to mind as expressing this: "Some people look at things as they are and ask, why? I think of things that never were and ask, why not?" This means, then, a capacity to experiment and adventure in one’s life, which, at bottom, involve a belief in questioning authority and thinking for oneself in Sixties terms or, in Sathya Sai Baba’s words, a belief that we are, each of us, "experiments in truth" in our sojourns on Earth. And just as these elements and beliefs became more and more a part of America’s collective consciousness in the Sixties and Seventies and ever since then, they also gradually develop in "Pleasantville."
"Love My Uncertainty"
One reviewer described the ending of the movie as "not at all easy and tidy, but rather very, very messy" ( "Pleasantville" by Chris A. Bolton). Ebert–more astutely but not quite correctly—wrote that the determining factor in whether someone became "colored" was the factor of change. The first reviewer, like someone with one foot still in "Pleasantville" or one who is still not fully colored, does not understand that the ending, wherein the characters proclaim that they do not know what is going to happen next, contains exactly the essential message of the movie. The ending can only be "messy" if one expects a particular ending.
And the whole point of change is that it is always something one does not expect. Likewise, when people act out of inner rather than outer authority, one can only expect that what happens will be unique, like people are when they are not conforming to external expectations. So there could be no pat or predicted ending. The moviegoer could not leave knowing whether Betty Parker, the Stepford housewife turned liberated woman, returns to her husband, George, or takes off with the soda jerk turned artist, Mr. Johnson, because that would destroy the uncertainty inherent in change, growth, aliveness, and so on. So the ending is exactly what it has to be.
And this ending expresses the spiritual razor’s edge each of us must cross during our life’s sojourn. Whenever we try to put life, or love, into a box, package, or a gilded cage, it dies or stagnates—just like a boring black-and-white sitcom world. Real change and spiritual growth means letting go and opening oneself to the unexpected and the unknown. So it is in this vein that the spiritual teacher Sai Baba tells his followers, "Love my uncertainty," in helping them to deal–after the usual "honeymoon phase" at the beginning of their spiritual path–with the trials, changes, tribulations, and suffering that his devotees experience later on, along their path to greater purity of heart and compassion, and eventually spiritual liberation.
The Scenery of Healing
One of the reasons the movie, "Pleasantville," so appealed to me is that its view of current events is so akin to that which I have been expressing in other of my more recent writings–e.g., the articles "The Sometimes Messy Scenery of Healing" and "The Emerging Perinatal Unconscious" and the books Apocalypse Emergency: Apocalypse? Or Earth Rebirth? and Apocalypse, or New Age? The Emerging Perinatal Unconscious–wherein I make the argument that recent events are not evidence of a downfall of civilization, as conservatives like Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan would have us believe, but are the necessary "birth pains" of a new age being born.
In Pleasantville, indeed, though everyone smiles and there is no crime or unpleasantness–which is supposed to reflect the view of reality presented in Fifties sitcoms like Father Knows Best and Leave It to Beaver–it is inherently flawed in that it is lacking in "color." Those of us who lived through the Fifties know that the lack of color is an apt metaphor for exactly the way it was at that time. It was a back-and-white world–a world that covered up its underlying nastiness and evil by repression and denial–psychological defense mechanisms that characterize the World-War-Two Generation especially.
New Mantram: "Thinking for Oneself Is Good!"
The point in the movie, which is so appealing, is that it causes us to look again at the changes in our society that have occurred because of the various "revolutions" of postmodern times–civil rights, student antiwar, women’s rights, sexual, and so on–and to stop bemoaning the "messiness" that comes with freedom. We have more choice, more freedom now than ever. And this freedom allows us the opportunity for a higher spirituality—some would say the only true spirituality—which involves the harrowing path of deciding for oneself, based upon one’s ability to intuit or "feel" the correct path, and experiencing the consequences of one’s choices, as opposed to the preordained religiosity of following a script.
Though many would argue this, one has only to look, as this movie forces us to do, back at where we started. And from that perspective, with that stultifying, hypocritical, dishonest, and phony kind of supposed "living" in mind, we can easily see the changes and progress made in individual freedom and, dare I say, genuine spirituality, and accept the uncertainty, emotional pain, apparent evil, "messiness," social and political turbulence, and all the rest that comes with it.
Continued on site, Culture War
Pt 4: The King Won’t Die – Culture War