On the 40th Anniversary of “We Blew It”

This post was written by John White on Fri, 10 Jul 2009 07:29:04 +0000
Posted Under: mental health day

(This doesn’t explain much about hiring a writer, but it’s good blogging hygiene to post off-topic every now and again.)

Focused on nothing but the fortune stashed in the gas tank of his motorcycle and the brass ring of retirement in Florida, Dennis Hopper’s “Billy” character in the 1969 classic Easy Rider crows, “Wow, man, we really did it! We did it! We got what everybody wants, man, and we pulled it off!”

Billy’s biker pal, Wyatt (Peter Fonda), focused on the intolerance and violence  they’ve endured on their cross-country pursuit of freedom, counters tacitly, “We blew it.”

Billy, incredulous, wants to know what he means. Wyatt repeats, “We blew it. G’night, Billy.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of several milestones: the Apollo 11 moonshot, Woodstock, the Altamont concert, the height of campus unrest, a half-million US troops in Vietnam, a half-million demonstrators for peace in DC.

Somehow, these revolutionary events were meant to free us – or free somebody – from something:  communism, capitalism, war, social stagnation, bigotry. Did the revolutions get us closer to that freedom, or did we blow it?

The revolutions didn’t play out as we’d anticipated because it took longer than overnight for everything to sink in. The Beatles broke up. We remembered how to use colleges for education instead of social change. We started worrying about oil and inflation. And did we really think that social order was on track for radical change with Richard Nixon in the White House?

Consider Pete Townsend’s 1971 lament, as he observed the gap between the revolutionary effort and the change that hadn’t happened: “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” This revolution didn’t work; see you at the next one.

Still, if the revolutions were two steps forward, the 1970s were only one step backward. A lot of the progress stayed in place; it just doesn’t look the way the revolutionaries in the 1960s through it would look. The green movement, the Internet, the role of technology in leveling the imbalance between rich and poor countries, and the greater awareness of climate change and global warming are hints that it has taken a long time for all of this to sink in, but the result is a series of smaller revolutions, not the complete overthrow of old-think.

Fonda is less sanguine, sticking to his conviction that we blew it. “Look out the window today,” he muses in a 2009 interview. “The air is bad, everything has gone further south; it’s all gone to hell in a handbasket. We all had this idea you get rich and you’re free. And that’s wrong.”

Billy and Wyatt may have blown it, but the revolutions still worked.

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