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Easy Rider as establishment propaganda | by kevin dooley
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Easy Rider as establishment propaganda

It had been 20 years since I had seen "Easy Rider", and my viewing of it recently made me question some long-held assumptions that I, and most others have had.


First, lemme say that it is still a great movie--a classic road tale and best-buddy tale, with incredible scenary and music and some of the best lines ever (all by Jack Nicholson).


Everyone seems to plug "Easy Rider" as a "counter-culture" classic; a Google search showed that High Times magazine readers voted it the top "drug movie" of all time. But the best type of propaganda is that whose surface details are directly opposite the generative, underlying message, and I am wondering if that is not true with this movie. I have no idea what Hopper, Fonda, and Southern's underlying motives or intents were, but let's re-examine the assumption that Easy Rider is anti-establishment.


A story's underlying moral imperative can be implied by its characters' narrative arches. In this case, our two anti-heroes, Wyatt and Billy, seek to buck the culture, but end up dead. Jack Nicholson's character George, is an insufferable drunk who has survived--until he hooks up with Wyatt and Billy, and then he get's killed by a machete. Cool. The anti-heroes are not doing something morally but alternatively attractive; no, they got money from selling cocaine and are using it to go to New Orleans to party. The film is sold as being "pro-drug", but wait... The drug users in the film end up dead (or as prostitutes); they spend their LSD-trip in a graveyard; and Wyatt's giggling and stumbling around is so over-the-top it borders on absurd. Wow, looks fun to me!


The commune is not portrayed very positively, to say the least.... the leader is for-all-intents polygamous... their "bath" consists of a face-full of water from a bucket, and a quick splash to their (clothed) underarms... they get to sleep with a goat in the house (wouldn't the snoring already be bad enough, you wanna add a goat?)... they get to throw seeds on top of dust--this is not inspired, this is stupid... they sing silly old folk songs that everyone hates and have to live with a mime troupe (could you imagine a worse fate!). I'm sorry, but how exactly is this attractive? And in the end, they pick on Wyatt, showing that even they are as narrow-minded as the latter attackers.


Yes, the attackers are portrayed as narrow-minded hicks... but they're also cool enough to admire the bikers' wheels, and in the end, do they get caught or punished? No...


One could say that the story line itself is secondary to the music soundtrack. In college, I heard the soundtrack long before I saw the movie, and it is a great collection of songs. But that just brings us back to movie-as-selling-products.


Establishment propaganda or not? View with open eyes...


Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim with Kodak Elitechrome EBX 35mm ISO100 slide film cross-processed as a color negative. No other effects added. Development by Tempe Camera. Eleventh shot posted from roll. (Explore)

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Taken on December 1, 2009