The Watcher Cat

The Watcher Cat

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Rest is Silence: End of An Era

It's often forgotten that the iconic '60s anthem is, in Milos Forman's 1979 telling, as well as in the original, in fact a dirge.

A dirge that sees the good-natured hippie, Claude, swept into the mincing machine of the Vietnam War, and then a dirge for all the lost, and then, only then, the outbreak of high-spirited, but ultimately serious protest we know. Shorn of this context, it becomes anodyne, even trite.

The film was released, of course, just at the time the 60s movement--the "Long Sixties" if you will--was about to expire. Hair was released on May 9, 1979; six months later, almost to the day, November 4, 1979, the Iranian Hostage Crisis began.

The Age of Reagan had begun with it.

For all its comedy, liveliness, and spirit, Hair was a dirge for itself, and its era.


We starve, look at one another, short of breath
Walking proudly in our winter coats
Wearing smells from laboratories
Facing a dying nation of moving paper fantasy
Listening for the new told lies
With supreme visions of lonely tunes
Singing our space songs on a spider web sitar
Life is around you and in you
Answer for Timothy Leary, dearie


I thought of this because we have taken a first step away from the Reagan Era status quo--the outsize importance our politics give Iran, and the seething hatred for that autocratic and theocratic regime that was inbred into so many of my generation and our elders. Vietnam was a national trauma, but it unspooled over a decade. The hostage crisis was concentrated and my 13 year old self was swept up in the emotion swirling around the hostages. My friends will be surprised to know that I, then an apolitical youth, rooted for Reagan, as did my parents, in that first election.

It was only living in the Age of Reagan that turned me into the liberal I became in my high school years, and that I remain today.

I became a dissenter from the Long Island conservatism that surrounded me, and in which I was formed, if only by opposing it.

And so I wonder what the generation will become that has been raised in the sclerotic years of the Long Age of Reagan, which, I think, is finally setting at last. We have battled against each other in a time dominated by an absolutist idealized vision of Reagan that lacks the occasional pragmatism that was the Gipper's saving grace.

It has been, I think, the Obama Presidency's burden to try to maneuver through the interstices of the now long-stale battle between orthodoxies of the Right and Left that no longer address the conditions or issues of the day--the felt necessities of the time are not summed up in the 1980s anymore. The battles between Democrats and Republicans these last years have a weirdly formulaic resonance--we know what each side will say before they say it, and it's done with so much less conviction than before. The generations of Reagan and Carter, of Clinton and McCain, have battled themselves to exhaustion. (And what of Hilary Clinton? Will she, if she ever takes the stage, fit either or neither?)

Whatever else one may say of him, Obama has, in one way, succeeded; he has modeled a role for government that does not fit the post World War II, High Cold War paradigm of Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson, nor the late Cold War "shrink it" paradigm of Reagan. We've been so caught up in the stale old kabuki drama that we haven't noticed it, but something new has been done, whether for weal or woe.

Yes, I think it's more for weal--but I would, wouldn't I, as Mandy Rice-Davies might remind me.

Whatever. The long 80s are coming to an end. On their way out, we're all winning and losing the battles that defined the era. Marriage Equality? Chalk one up for the liberals. Austerity in Europe, and only a partially Keynesian response in the US? Tie. The Right to Bear Arms sacralized? Conservatives on the board. You get the idea.

But somewhere under the ice, again, whether for weal or woe, is stirring a new Era to replace the long 80s.


Somewhere, inside something there is a rush of
Greatness, who knows what stands in front of
Our lives, I fashion my future on films in space
Silence tells me secretly

(Quotes from Let the Sunshine In (Lyrics by James Rado and Gerome Ragni and music by Galt MacDermot.)

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