Friday, September 12, 2014

Snapping Whips at Whipper Snappers

Clint Eastwood really looks like crap these days.
I recently watched a documentary on the rise of the “teenage” demographic on Netflix (called Teenage,  what do you know), which, while being a lot less fun and wild than its chosen subject matter, was informative on how the rise of youth culture came about in the United States.  Hell yes, it touched on the young generation during the depression. We like to think that Gen X and Millennials’ rejection of a lot of Boomer-turned-yuppie promises (get a college education, and you’ll get a good-paying job, among other things)might be new, but it’s not.  Beginning with the sad reaping of World War I in nearly a generation lost to brutal conflict and disease – the old sent the young off the war, essentially, to do their dirty work, to die – youth have been mistrusting the elders for quite some time now.  Nearly a century, in fact.   We should think of something to celebrate 100 years of “teenagers.”  It will - nay, SHOULD - probably be forced, patronizing and so super lame. I’ll get back to you.

I hear the kids love to "jitterbug."
When Bonnie and Clyde sing “What was always good enough for you,” it’s that same rejection of the elder generation’s ideals.  I love that moment in the musical, not just because I get to trudge around like one of the downtrodden masses, the suckers, but because it’s really a great summation of what youth culture is all about, doing it differently.  Living differently, charting a new course.  Why shouldn’t they be mistrustful of institutions?  Trust in banks, trust in the church, trust in the law – it all turned out to be a crock for them.  They don’t really trust anyone except the gang and each other.  Can we all agree that in musicals and movies, there's no evil, misguidedness or outrage like institutionalized evil, misguidedness or outrage?  (See the corrupt Beadle and the Judge from Sweeney Todd or the hopelessly lost Javert from Les Miserables). Heck, there's even a running theme of generational disconnect running through the fluffy Bye Bye Birdie.
I watched it.  It's still entertaining.  I promise.
 There’s really nothing more vital to being human, being American, being a critical thinker than questioning authority.  To be honest, it’s something the young often do far better than their elders.  In the very next scene, we see Clyde call out some of this BS.  When you try to do right, you often get screwed over or played for a fool anyway.  He’s more infuriated for the folks in the bank than even they are – yes, maybe because there’s no money for him to steal, but he’s calling out another level of thievery – corporate and institutional thievery, a type for which there really isn’t any justice.  What he’s doing is kind of small potatoes in comparison.  Not right, not just, but honestly dishonest. I appreciate the way both he and Bonnie are drawn.  We don’t have to root for them (you do, you know you do) – especially as killers – but we can see their desperation and determination and admire them for that.  I’d say the coldest fish in this show character-wise might be some of the law enforcement, including pretty much everyone Kent plays (sorry, Kent), most notably the hard-nosed Hamer. 
You couple their somewhat righteous indignation (“tell ‘em, Clyde”) and their thirst for fame, and you have the same heady blend the kids were high on in the rock n’ roll 1950s and the hippie and civil rights-era 60s. If Bonnie can’t have fame, she can have infamy and still get autographs. Who says this generation is the most self-indulgent and navel-gazing yet?  There’s always been plenty of that. 

You guys.  This was totally the autofill Google gave me.  Google, you judgmental bitch!
I’m excited to see how these scenes will come together, with Bonnie and Clyde as the colorful and lively Oz to our beaten-down Kansas.  After all, short as their lives were, they were both very much alive while they lived.  In our own American folklore, we've always been fascinated by the James Deans, the ones who live fast, die young and leave a good looking corpse.  And sadly, it completes their story for them to have flamed out like they did.  Who wants to read a memoir by an elderly, impotent and reformed Clyde or a chastened, tired old Bonnie?  They didn't have to die...but for their legend, sadly, they needed to.  I think that's why we begin and end on their end, but in between we get a bumpy ride - thanks to Bonnie and Clyde.