America from the Road

Ed Driscoll wants to write something punishing about the 'death of middlebrow culture,' comparing the fall from Lawrence of Arabia to Easy Rider. It's true that the two films don't really compare. Lawrence is a masterpiece, something we often watched in Iraq and when preparing for Iraq -- although Lawrence was leading an insurgency, not a counterinsurgency. Still, in the high days of the Surge, we were almost doing the same thing: leading a counterinsurgency that was really an insurgency, turning the Sunni tribes against al Qaeda and its fellow travelers, because it was their pleasure.

Easy Rider is another kind of story. It has nothing to do with glory. It does have something to do with America, though. John Wayne spoke of America, and why he loved her. His reasons were simple. They had to do with what America was.

It happens that the full version of Easy Rider happens to be available online right now. You'll find a lot of harmony between what John Wayne said, and what you see in the movie. It is about Monument Valley, and the sun shining through the trees along a desert highway, about New Orleans at Mardi Gras and the good life, as it is lived in a little place, where a man draws his living from the ground.

There's something more to be said for this movie than has been said for it. It is true that it is not Lawrence of Arabia, but it never intended to be. It explores the poison of drugs, which is a topic new to the era. But there is still something about the appreciation of the place, of America as it is a place to be ridden through and enjoyed and seen. It's the place that is worth loving, worth defending, worth sacrifice.

Maybe, even after that, the hippies in the movie wouldn't have fought for it. In that way they are wrong just where Lawrence and Wayne were right.


douglas said...

Perhaps I'll have to make time to watch Easy Rider. I've had the pleasure of seeing Lawrence of Arabia twice in full Cinemascope, intermissions and all, once at the Cinerama Dome even. I love the movie. It was the first one I bought on DVD.

Grim said...

They're very different movies, as I said. They don't actually compare, but there are moments when you can see the good part of the hippie movement was aiming at. You can also see the bad parts, though: the treatment of drugs and alcohol is not romantic.

And always there is the country, and the road.