In many popular narratives of the period, it was the Baby Boomers (born 1943-1960) who “ruined” the movies. Here’s the pretentious film snob summary of the death of Hollywood’s alleged second Golden Age, as popularized by Peter Biskind. The seventies were filled with bold, dark art and transgressive intellectualism. Then the greedy Baby Boomers – like Steven Spielberg and George Lucas – made “Jaws,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” and “E.T.” All of a sudden Hollywood did not want to make serious, grown-up pictures. Now it was the age of blockbusters so simple that 3-year-olds can summarize them.
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It was the 1980s when Boomer Blockbuster filmmaking would arrive in the event pictures of Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson. We see this tendency further in the films of arch-Boomers Ron Howard and Brian Grazer. For a definition of Boomer cinema just look at the output of their company Imagine Entertainment. These aren’t the New Wave-influenced pictures of Roger L. Simon’s generation.
It was the Boomers who also gave us our most strident and simpleminded cinematic leftists: Spike Lee, Oliver Stone, and Michael Moore. Think about these three careers. Over the past 30 years have any of them shifted an inch in their political thinking? Of course not and neither have most Boomers who are still arguing over sex, race, and the Vietnam War as though it were still 1975.
If I speak with some hostility about the Boomers’ failings and excesses it’s partially because that’s my nature as a Millennial/Gen Yer. According to William Strauss and Neil Howe’s books each generation acts as a check on the excesses of its parent generation. As young adults in the ’60s and ’70s the Baby Boomers declared war on the cultural institutions of their GI Generation parents. The GIs (born 1900-1924) are what Howe and Strauss describe as a “civic” generation; they were driven toward creating social harmony. The Boomers (an “idealist” generation) were a check on that, fomenting greater individualism in the 1970s and culture wars in the 1990s. That our electoral maps are so split today is their fault. When the Civic GI President Ronald Reagan won in 1984 it was almost a solid red map. My generation – also a Civic generation – is a reaction against Baby Boomer extremes and will seek to create greater social harmony. This will become much more apparent as the younger Gen Yers in junior high and high school now start to make waves in 10 years.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet (born 1957) has been emblematic of the divisive Boomer paradigm for his whole career. His plays and films are famous for the “Mamet style” of short bursts of memorable dialogue and the mainstreaming of casual profanity.
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And so in his book detailing his rightward shift away from a “Brain-Dead” Hollywood leftist, The Secret Knowledge: On the Dismantling of American Culture, the reader finds this same mindset applied to the political essay. The need to divide the world into clear cut categories of Liberalism and Conservatism pervades the text. Mamet even capitalizes them to Emphasize the Great Importance of the Political War between Boomer Liberalism and Boomer Conservatism. Gone is Simon’s sense of skepticism in Turning Right at Hollywood and Vine.
The Secret Knowledge is a collection of 39 short essays. Mamet has crafted an experience like the signature Boomer film “Forrest Gump.” Life is like a box of chocolates – and devouring the delicious morsels of Mamet’s book is an addictive treat, filled with surprises. Who cares if it’s just a political sugar rush? Most conservatives are familiar with the bibliography Mamet cribs his ideas from: Sowell, Hayek, VDH, Friedman, etc. Thus they won’t learn anything life-changing but will still enjoy the thrill of Mr. Mamet’s Wild Ride. And if that sentiment doesn’t summarize the Boomer cinema of Lucas-Spielberg-Bruckheimer-Moore-Stone then what does?
The endowment of the Baby Boomer Hollywood Apostates is the call to fight, the drive to confront with big special effects, and the need to divide ourselves from the intolerable. This makes for satisfying blockbuster popcorn films and effective (James Carville-Karl Rove style) political warfare. While there is plenty to critique in the failings of the Boomer presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush credit must be given: the Boomer political strategists were masters. Too bad they wasted their brains on winning the electoral fights while ignoring (and sometimes exacerbating) the more vital policy fights.
In Part 4 of the Hollywood Revolt, we’ll see how the Gen X leader Andrew Breitbart is reinventing this confrontational spirit – what he calls Righteous Indignation — and redirecting it in a more pragmatic, effective way than the Boomers ever could.