“You are all a “génération perdue.”
Ernest Hemingway, in his book The Sun Also Rises, referred to his age collectively (by way of Gertrude Stein) as the “lost generation.” They had come of age during World War I and seemed adrift and directionless. I have thought for years that this moniker can also describe my age group, particularly when it comes to the arts.
We are a sedentary breed to say the least. Where as the Vietnam War inspired all sorts of artists, the wars and political upheavals of the last decade and a half, for the most part, seem to have made little impact on the art we make. In fact, a person could argue that the only way art interprets life these days is through offering a funhouse-mirror version of it. Beyoncé Knowles goes Black Panther sheik at the Super Bowl while performing with one of the least offensive bands of all-time (Coldplay), and it still somehow offends people. The bar for outrage is extremely low, yet actual outrageous things go unnoticed.
Recently however, I have noticed a few commenters here and there pointing out the upside-down nature of the Presidential race this year, along with the reemergence of protest movements, and linking it to an upset populace. This populace, in the mind of said commentators, might just start making angry, outsider art again. Now this column is not about politics, so I will leave my opinions on that at the door, but I have to slightly disagree with this conceit. Allow me to explain.
Outsider art, in and of itself, is always a thing. It’s just that its popularity ebbs and flows with the mood of the times. This would of course tend to favor upheaval as being a major indicator of when outsider art would be able to punch through into the mainstream, but in the corporate structure that we currently live in I don’t know if an outsider movement is even possible at this point. The medium that I deal with on this site is primarily film, so let’s use it as the example.
In the 1970s the studio system was crumbling and the brats from film school overtook the industry. This was a very loose collective centered around Los Angeles and New York, featuring, among others, luminaries such as Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas. The film school brats would spend the majority of the 1970s changing the way films were made, for better and worse, and inadvertently ushering in the blockbuster mentality that still pervades the film world of today. Spielberg and Lucas saw the film industry remade in their image throughout the 80s, while other filmmakers had more varied fortunes.
Then in the late 1980s throughout the late 90s, the independent film movement took hold, as much in response to the Reagan/Thatcher administrations as it was to the state of film. Buoyed by the early successes of Stephen Soderbergh and David Lynch, and emboldened by the break-out star status of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez, Hollywood started looking at smaller studios like Miramax and New Line for fresh material. This went on for a few years until most all of the indie studios had been bought up by the majors.
In the new millennium, for various reasons, it seems to be harder for a “movement” to catch on. All artistic mediums battle each other for attention these days. Although technology has made it easier to produce a movie, or an album, or a book, keeping someone’s attention is that much harder. More and more newer filmmakers, who 20 years ago would have been vying to have an artistic career like Martin Scorsese, are settling for big-budget studio films just so they can have a career. There is no way Christopher Nolan would have ever been able to make Inception or Interstellar if he hadn’t made his hugely successful Batman trilogy. Does anyone think Kenneth Branagh would have even thought about directing a Thor movie twenty years ago?
So with the fracturing of independent film, the over-abundance of sequels, prequels, reboots, superhero franchises, and the general apathy of the public at large, there doesn’t seem to be much room for a true outsider movement. Film festivals these days are littered with pseudo-highbrow and pseudo-lowbrow films in equal measure. The wannabe David O. Russells and Harmony Korines seem to have united to make independent film into a blathering, useless version of it’s former self. But alas, I remain optimistic. My favorite line from “Guerrilla Radio“ by Rage Against the Machine (everyone’s favorite corporate hating corporate rock band) is, “It has to start somewhere, it has to start sometime. What better place than here, what better time than now?” It’s a rhetorical question really.
Until next time…