Professor Cortland Rankin
2:00 PM Recitation
Response Essay One
19 February 2013
Beyond introducing never before seen graphic violence and gore to cinema, the films of the late 1960s and early 1970s were representative of a more profound form of violence found in America during that time—a clash between the traditional American culture and the American counterculture. Although this culture clash, more often than not, manifested in prejudice, as seen in moments of Easy Rider (Hopper, 1969), it is representative of the silent majority’s and counterculture’s desire to tear each other down, which is a more abstract form of violence. Easy Rider can be categorized as a left cycle film based on Robert B. Ray’s definition of left and right cycles in his piece Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema. The protagonists of the film Wyatt (Peter Fonda) and Billy (Dennis Hopper) are the characters being victimized, which counters the traditional role of the strong, masculine, infallible hero, who still exists in rightist films. Even though Wyatt, Billy, and George (Jack Nicholson) are hedonistic drug-users associated with the counter-culture because of their appearances and free-spirited natures, they are the characters the audience sympathizes with most. In addition, Easy Rider makes use of motifs of the classic Western genre, to highlight the hypocrisies of the silent majority’s ideology. All of these facets of this left cycle film align with how Ray distinguished between left and right. In Easy Rider, those who want to maintain American normalcy, as they understand it, victimize Wyatt and Billy on several accounts. For example, the two of them have to spend the night in jail for parading without a permit, which was really just an antagonizing attack on them for being different than what the police perceive “normal” to be. Again, in the restaurant they stopped in, the other people in the restaurant heckled them to such an extent that they had to leave without ordering anything. Even though neither Billy, Wyatt, nor George are members of the stereotypical counterculture, which is seen in the hippie commune in the desert, and even though they deplore that lifestyle, they are still viewed as different and from the perspective of the silent majority, everything that is different poses a threat to their own way of life. Consequently, the hegemonic culture seeks to destroy them. Robert Sklar makes the argument that “amid the conflicting determinants that make [films] what they are—including ideology, commerce, esthetics, genre, and the conventions of popular narrative—films contain, in their structures, their stories, and their tropes, important clues to the deep mental and emotional currents of a historical period” (51). That is to say what is seen in the film is actually representative of American cultures of the late 1960s, although based around fictitious characters. The negative way that Billy, Wyatt, and George are perceived emphasizes the hypocrisy of the silent majority, which as mentioned before actually exists beyond the scope of the film. Billy wears cowboy-esque garb, Wyatt is decked out in American flags, and George is wearing a football helmet and a letterman jacket—all items that are symbolic of America. The travelers embody the American ideal of complete unrestrained freedom and the desire to fulfill the Turner Thesis. According to Joe B. Lawrence, “the Turner Thesis interpreted the American westward movement as a compulsive search for untrammeled freedom, and the West embodied the ideal of rugged individualism untainted by restrictive laws or prissy social conventions” (665). Nonetheless, they are rejected by the silent majority, which ironically continues to idealize Americana, the cowboy, and freedom; yet, the silent majority enforces restrictive laws and prissy social conventions to counteract the physical embodiment of the traditional American ideals and acts as “the antithesis of the concept...
Cited: Easy Rider. Dir. Dennis Hopper. By Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Terry Southern. Prod. Peter Fonda. Perf. Dennis Hopper, Peter Fonda, and Jack Nicholson. Columbia Pictures, 1969.
Lawrence, Joe B. "The Allegory of "Easy Rider"" The English Journal 59.5 (1970): 665-66.
Ray, Robert B. “The Left and Right Cycles”. A Certain Tendency of the Hollywood Cinema. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985. 296-325.
Sklar, Robert. “When Looks Could Kill: American Cinema of the Sixties.” Cineaste, vol. 2, no. 16, pp. 50-53.
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