"This Used to Be a Hell of a Good Country"
A conservative lament that struck me from a conservative film, which I watched again recently — Easy Rider (1969). "I don't really have to convince you that Easy Rider is a reactionary picture, do I?" asked Bill Kauffman in Look Homeward America: In Search of Reactionary Radicals and Front-Porch Anarchist, continuing:
- I don't really have to convince you that Easy Rider is a reactionary picture, do I? The only characters that are depicted as unqualifiably virtuous are the homesteading family, living on their own acreage, raising their own food, teaching their own young... The only American Dream worth the snores is based in liberty and a community- (or family-) oriented independence, which the filmakers associate with the country's founders. Dennis Hopper (an admittedly unorthodox Kansas Reoublican) and Peter Fonda (a gun-loving libertarian) did not make a movie glorifying tripping hippies and condemning the southern gun culture; rather, as an exasperated Fonda explained, "My movie is about the lack of freedom. My heroes are not right, they're wrong. Liberty's become a whore, and we're all taking the easy ride."
I go on about what I am sure is now a ludicrously unfashionable movie because Easy Rider was groping toward a truth that might have set America free. The hippies and the small-town southerners gathered in the diner; the small farmers and the shaggy communards: they were on the same side. The side of liberty, of locally based community, of independence from the war machine, the welfare state, the bureaucratic prison whose wardens were McNamara, Rockefeller, Bundy, and the wise men and wealthy men who had never grasped Paul Goodman's point─or perhaps they had grasped it all too well, and wrestled it into submission─that "[i]t is only the anarchists who are really conservative, for they want to conserve sun and space, animal nature, primary community, experimenting inquiry."
It is only the anarchists who are really conservative.
- It is not "nihilistic" and "chaotic." Not only does this movie celebrate family values, it celebrates traditional family values. But even more than that, Easy Rider argues for the enduring strength and power of faith in God as it explicitly rejects hedonism, atheism, and nihilism. This theme is evident throughout the film from the moment the travelers leave Los Angeles to the final climatic scene.
Wyatt and Billy were given choices, opportunities to find meaning in their lives beyond that gas tank filled with money, beyond the pleasure of the brothel or the bottle, beyond the aimless wandering, meaning offered through spiritual commitment. Could there be a more conservative theme? The rancher and his family, the commune: first they were given a model of a meaningful life, then they were given an invitation to build that life. Invited to stay and join a family and find God, they refused.