None-ce Upon a Time in Hollywood
My husband recently found a big stack of 60s-era copies of Life Magazine at work. The interesting thing about them is how many of the people featured in the pages of Life are the same people the media still talks about today. He’s been regaling me with tales of the people Life Magazine breathlessly gushed over before we were even born. Mia Farrow. Barbra Streisand. Marilyn Monroe. The Kennedys. We shake our heads in amazement at how often the exact same people are being breathlessly gushed over today.
So that brings me to Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which as I’m sure you know is Quentin Tarantino’s latest movie. From what I’ve read it’s a sort of reimagining of the Manson Murders and it sounds extremely boring. I love Tarantino, even though I know it’s uncool right now to admit to loving Tarantino, and despite that I negative-want to see this movie.
I’m sick of nostalgia. In fact, I think I have nostalgia for things that are not nostalgia. Things that are new, or even old things that just haven’t been done to death already. I’d rather hear about things that happened pretty much anytime than in the 60s. “The 60s” (or what we think of the 60s as having been, since there was a lot of stuff that happened in the 60s that we never discuss, and a lot of what people think of as “the 60s” actually happened in the 50s or 70s) have been stripmined, like down to the core. Then the stuff they originally made from that day-glo ore has been melted down and reprocessed about 48 times. The 60s are Peter Max-ed out. There is no there there any more. Unless you worship the Kennedys (and I seriously doubt many people born after 1960 do) this steady stream of 60s nostalgia is both ridiculous (the Kennedys did a lot of problematic stuff, people) and deathly dull.
I am of course using “the Kennedys” as generic stand-ins for lots of other 60s themes/individuals. Insert your fave 60s theme-or-individual here. My point is, we KNOW STUFF about these people, stuff that isn’t flattering, stuff that is not worthy of worship, or even a few moments of my interest, and thus it’s mighty hard for me to set aside the whole pesky “Roman Polanski raped a 13 year old” thing to watch Once Upon A Time In Hollywood whilst delighting in the wonder of the good old days.
When looking back on pop culture people often forget that the trajectory of all culture is laid upon a foundation of technological advance. The fascination we had with celebrity in 1967 could not have happened in 1897 or 1907 or even 1927 because the technology simply did not exist to create the phenomenon. It was just starting to become possible by 1937, but then there was a war and people had bigger fish to fry for a while until the dust settled. Celebrity culture only became possible due to technological advances creating modes of communication that enabled us to quickly share news and information over vast distances, coupled with that natural human tendency to gawk at the rich and famous, coupled again with the luxury of enough free time to both advance technology and gawk.
The Internet has given us even greater ability to share news and information quickly over vast distances than we had in the past. And yet for some reason, despite decades of turbulent water flowing under the American bridge, who is the media still pushing down our throats? The Kennedys. The space program. The affairs of Hollywood in 1969.
Here’s a novel concept, guys – how about something from THIS MILLENNIA?
There is a guy right now who has 98 million followers on YouTube by the name of PewDiePie. Just to put this in perspective for you, 34 million people voted for JFK. PewDiePie has 3 times as many people interested in watching him do whatever it is a person named PewDiePie does, as voted for JFK. And yet if I turn on my TV, I would bet you ten dollars there’s some Kennedy-related programming on some channel, pretty much any hour of the day or night. Quentin Tarantino isn’t telling “The PewDiePie Story”, he’s trotting out Hollywood in the 60s just like he trotted out a WWII story before (a well that’s also run dry IMO). By all rights there should be documentaries and biopics about PewDiePie out the ying yang because he’s basically the most successful person on the freaking planet right now. He looked at a brand new format, a cutting edge technology, mastered it, and rode it to mindboggling success. PewDiePie is this generation’s Henry Ford and no one even knows about him because everyone in the media is still jacking off to the exploits of people who were really not that interesting to start off with.
That’s right, I said not that interesting. The Kennedys were basically the Kardashians of the 60s. Famous for a better reason, maybe, but never deserving of the status of American royalty that was bestowed upon them. Because America HAS NO ROYALTY. That’s kind of the thing about America is there aren’t meant to be dynasties and nobles and shit. America is meant to be the kind of place someone who isn’t even FROM America, like PewDiePie, can come in and succeed at something and then be celebrated not because of who their family was, but because they did something better than anyone else did, even if it’s something you maybe think is entirely stupid like YouTube videos.*
Because in the end, I suspect that is what is really happening here. We all have the “love your silverbacked master” gene firmly implanted within us; we want to discuss what the big important boss monkeys are doing over the banana cooler. Being pathologically interested in the happenings of those we’ve been told are our betters, our superiors, probably helped keep us all alive while we were waddling around the savannah trying to learn to walk on our hind legs. But we’re talking ad nauseam about people who died decades ago while ignoring the accomplishments and hijinks of people who are living right now. It’s weird.
For a brief shining moment, a kind of Camelot you might want to call it if you’re into that sort of thing, there was adequate technology to allow popular fascinations to spread like contagion, in a society where people were mostly polite, the media worked for The Man even more so than it does today, and callout culture hadn’t been invented yet. It was allegedly a golden time some people remember fondly, all Elvis and the Beatles and Mickey Mantle; everything was wonderful and we didn’t know how big of screwups or a-holes or both virtually every celeb turns out to be in the end. But it was like a span of 10 years, maybe 15, tops. And that kind of innocence can’t exist any more, if it ever really did.
Because people are NOT polite nowadays. We take too much delight in knowing everyone’s dirty little secrets and we are all members of the press in our own small way. You can’t talk about the Kennedys without thinking of Chappaquiddick and wondering what really happened to Marilyn Monroe. You can’t go see a movie about the Manson Murders without thinking “yeah but later on in a NON-alternate timeline, Sharon Tate’s husband Roman Polanski raped a 13 year old girl”. And if you didn’t know about those things already there are a million Woodwards and Bernsteins online who are dying to tell you all about it.
Our innocence is lost whether we like it or not.
And yet they go right on making movies and documentaries and writing books about the same old cultural icons. Despite their foibles, their failings, their feet of clay; despite how fricking boring it is to the rest of us. I suppose that’s what you get when you have a generation that’s bigger than all the other ones. First Baby Boomers were the target audience, then they were the ones pulling all the strings, so it was their interests and their fascinations that the rest of us were expected to be interested by and fascinated with.
But my dudes, the 60’s were like decades ago or something. The Manson Murders are older than I am. Just because you were a kid in 1969, Quentin Tarantino, and were blissfully happy in Camelot, it doesn’t mean all the rest of us have to maintain the world like it’s a museum piece for you in perpetuity. I am pretty flipping old and I don’t remember the 60s because I wasn’t born yet. Please, I’m begging you, no more nostalgia. Give me novelty or give me death.
Hell, I don’t even need novelty, I would just like to hear about anything that happened since oh, I don’t know, John Belushi’s death, maybe?
Even nostalgia for my own childhood (which I, as a Gen Xer, by my very nature, lack) would be preferable to nostalgia for someone else’s. If PewDiePieis a bridge too far, if he’s too scary and foreign, hey, how about you send a team of cultural miners wearing headlamps down the rope into the 1980s? I promise some interesting stuff happened back then, and NO, a Madonna biopic is not really what I had in mind.
As far as I’m concerned, the only good Kennedy is a Dead Kennedy.
*Remember, my Boomer friends, the grownups once thought comic books and baseball cards were entirely stupid too.