The man who "gave us our freedom" Jack Nicholson said as a tribute. He combined beauty and sensitivity and embodied the tough generous personality that exuded sexuality. He could thumb his nose at the film industry, disparage acting, and he tried to change the world and failed, failed even to save his own family from tragedy. Like many of our heros his flaws hounded and plagued him--his codependency, having to drag hismother out of bars, his rage at his father. The soaring beautfy of his talent could not keep him from his human weakness and his doubt of his worthiness. He meticulously deconstructed the myths about himself to the horror of fans and a scandalized America.
You have to know what it was like in the 50's to understand what he meant to us. To grow up in that era where everything was as it should be and no questions were asked. We lived in a wonderful world and ahead there was only clear skies and smooth sailing aside from a little problem with communism. Only a child asked the questions. I born in a county where "coloreds" weren't allowed after sundown. When we moved to the small county slightly south, my mother told me we would see colored people--this was enticment. Of course it was a huge disappointment. They looked like people with suntans. But still you asked, "Why do the colored people live on the other side of the railroad tracks by themselves." "They want it that way." "But why do they want it that way?" Or why did one of the downtown bums drink hydrocloric acid to kill himself. He was supposed to enjoy being funny to the downtown humorists. Even one of the banker's sons killed himself. Why did they do that? They weren't right in the head. What's not right in the head? It's when you ask too many questions, think too much, don't know any better, don't know when you have it good. Be quiet now and or I'll give you something to think about.
A child peeked and poked into the crevices and the dark places and got hands slapped, got riduculed and if she persisted, got a blast of anger and told to mind her own business, do her homework, wash the dishes, go outside, don't ask stupid questions, humiliated.
So in "The Wild Ones" when they suddenly came, that motocycle gang, they were living out everybody's unconscious. It was what we had glimsped in the dark cracks suddenly riding down the rode at us. Our shadow at last comes to meet us and for me, for many, it was a great relief to see at last the anger reflected back, to see the bad boys act crazy and nasty and sullen and dangerous--all the things we had to hide in ourselves and had seen hidden behind the placid surface of the 50's.
What are you rebelling against?
What'da ya got?
He was the ultimate bad boy who never ever became predictable, who continued to rub our noses in our desire for a hero. He played with his fame. He used it as an opportunity to be outrageously honest in interviews and to show us the hypocracy we pretended wasn't there. He showed us our shadow, the denied part of ourselves, that part which must be owned before we can ever grow up. As a nation, we are still struggling with this, holding on to our adolescent fantasies.