UNDER THE PAVEMENT, THE MAN.  -  Tuesday August 18th, 2009

The final destruction in Antonioni’s 1969 Zabriskie Point

Even when the bourgeois Chelsea Marina mob set cars alight they return the next day to sweep the streets and right the burnt out husks. The protagonists of Ballard’s Millennium People are the solid middle classes: doctors, lawyers, ad men, pilots. Their revolution, or more correctly their revolt, is orderly and well behaved. They are intellectually concerned with the symbolism of their act, but eager to avoid actually hurting anyone.

Ballard, who is arguably the most imaginative writer of the last 50 years, was nonetheless firmly rooted in reality – Will Self noted, “Other writers describe; Ballard anticipates.” So it says a lot about contemporary society that Ballard chose to describe revolution and reform in our own time as being limited by the self-imposed social order of the middle class. It was perhaps the most he could hope for…

So what happened? What happened to the riots, the demonstrations, the manifestations of the 60’s and 70’s? What happened to the spirit of ’68, or the civil rights movements? Were they real, did people feel that way, or is it only fabricated nostalgia? How did it all get so bad that the best hope for social reform became a fictional tale about a moderate and localised Chelsea hiccup?

My generation had anti-war marches too; I took part in them. A million Australians (1/20th of the country) walked across the Sydney Harbour Bridge. In London, New York, Paris and other global capitals people (I hesitate to say the people) had similar responses. Their effect was less than negligible, and no further evidence of the fact that democracy has failed us is necessary.

My teenage years neatly coincided with the Decade of Terror. The culture of fear, the untrustworthiness of the government, the duplicity, the unbridled economic growth, all came together to produce in this teenager an intense sense of outrage. Not a moral outrage, and not directed at any agent in particular, but at society as a whole. Typique.

Over time the outrage cooled to become disappointment, as I realised that it was my parent’s generation that had conscientiously crafted the world of helicopter parents and bubble-wrapped children. The dissidents that smoked dope to Pink Floyd got jobs, made money, had families, gentrified. They donned the shoulder-pad suits of the 80’s and became the Man.

I don’t want you to think this blog is deteriorating into a series of sporadic film reviews, nor that it is touting some idealist line. As I said in my first post: ‘I am not interested in architecture as an activity of object-making. I am completely fascinated by architecture as a legitimate tool of social change.’

In this case, it is the architecture of the film Zebraskie Point. The Breathless of its time, it recounts the futile struggle of youth against social processes that are beyond their influence. Whether you view it as a trip down memory lane or as an access into a bygone era, the film does well to capture something of the eclectic spirit of the late 60’s.

The conclusion to the film is probably the most beautiful sequence of celuloid I have ever seen. Sometimes, when the frustration with other people becomes too much, we all secretly dream of mass-destruction, of wiping the slate clean and starting again…

  1. Alix. says:

    How gender-biased ….. " They donned the shoulder-pad suits of the 80’s and became the Man." – or WOMAN!

  2. Jack Self says:

    I meant "the Man" as in "stick it to…", which for me is not at all a positive thing – don't even get me started on the Man – upholder of the Glass Ceiling, champion of the Old Boys, life-long member of the White Guy's Only Club.

    That said, you have got a good point about the shoulder pads – my mum had a great work suit: dark red velvet with gold laced lapels. Ah, they don't make them like that anymore.

  3. Alix. says:

    Mine was fuschia pink …

    I know the Man was negative, but there are plenty of women who qualify. It's near impossible not to play the Man's game if you want to succeed in his world ~ it was in the 80's for sure.