After 46 years, I now fully realize why Peter Boyle shot those hippies in the movie Joe.
The malleable mindset of the American Left abdicates rational persuasion for schemes of barbarism in director Ewan McGregor’s debut film, American Pastoral, an adaptation of Philip Roth’s 1997 novel about a generation that ditched its brains to follow the guttural moan of mob rule.
The defiance of reason practiced by 1960s groups such as SDS, the Weathermen and the anti-war movement – whose enmity extended across all intellectual frontiers, with anger at industrialization, mechanization and the economic comfort of straight society – has progressed to a political climate where slogans have replaced ideas and intimidation rather than reasoned argument prevails.
Calling for both a merging with nature as much as violent action, the radical hippies of the late ‘60s adopted communal living and an “if it feels good, do it” state of consciousness. Responding with clenched fists and mind-numbing chants, their sole purpose was to intimidate this country into mass acceptance of its own destruction.
Spanning decades, American Pastoral focuses on a New Jersey local sports legend, Seymour “The Swede” Levov, an average guy of Judaic lineage whose father Lou (played by Peter Riegert of Local Hero) manufactured gloves. McGregor as “Swede” emerges from World War II to marry his beauty contestant wife (Jennifer Connelly), and they have a daughter named Merry (played by Dakota Fanning as a teenager).
McGregor lets us in on one of the well-tempered secrets of ‘60s radicalism: there is no such thing as “casual” rebellion. By their very acts, these people played for keeps!
Indentured to radicalism means to be willing to forsake community, family, friends and reason for some “greater good.” Merry’s unyielding pursuit for acceptance, either to compete with a beauty queen mom or to define herself at odds with her upbringing, comes at exactly that moment in time when the Berkeley Free Speech Movement sought to impede language and ideas with a series of marches and protests that would escalate in both size and radical content during the Vietnam War. One night during the evening news, Merry catches sight of that self-immolating Buddhist monk in Saigon, which paves the way for her radicalization. Shortly thereafter she’s permitted to travel into NYC unaccompanied, which results in her falling in with a hardcore politicized group that includes Rita (Valorie Curry from TV’s The Following).
As the blossoming activist, Merry suddenly cannot shut up, her stutter squelched by Marxist recitations off pamphlets! So after a local post office is bombed, she becomes the prime suspect but is whisked underground, without a trace. Her parents are aghast! But her grandfather Lou makes a keen, seasoned observation: “These people aren’t out to make a political statement, they’d rather blow a hole in the world!”
These weren’t day-glo rock ‘n’ rollers but slo-mo warriors who’d ask potential members, “Do you masturbate?” and “Do you think of Marx while doing so?”
American Pastoral captures that shrill of expectancy that permeated 1968, on both sides of the generation gap: the youth in full anticipation of a revolution while their parents pondered when the fad would fade. But it is the Karl Marx fad, which is nothing more than a paralysis of reason, that would ultimately provide its undoing, creating an aggressively paranoid climate of some impending police state. “War for Liberation” was the next mating cry heard where every trouble and goal stemmed from the material world soundly rejected by Merry and her radical pals.
In the end, reality bites you in the ass!
Merry’s feelings cannot sustain her through the trials and tribulations of a life on the run. In her quest for acceptance, she forgot who it was that was offering the acceptance. When feelings supersede reason, there are only two results available: sacrifice yourself or sacrifice others! Every single one of us is used from the moment we crawl outta bed each day, but the key is to put your foot down and take no notice of the world or its demands on you.
“POWER TO THE PEOPLE!” they proclaimed.
I’ve always preferred, “It’s Clobbering Time!”