Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Biker Movies-symbols of our times?

The Wild One, Easy Rider, Wild Hogs - biker movies of three distinct generations, allegorical narratives and symbols of the cultural history of America over the last 60 years.  Oh how we have changed!

After WWII veterans, banded together by the misfortune of war, sought each other's brotherhood, and motorcycle riding was a perfect vehicle for fulfilling that need.  Like-minded men, who gathered to ride and share their stories of horrors witnessed by them in a war that killed millions of people, found kinship in riding military motorcycle relics as a way of leaving behind nightmares and seeking new adventures on the highways and byways of a newly expanding America, but with not as near the risk as what they had just come through in the ravages of war.

In 1947 a group  of these men who were members of the American Motorcycle Association gathered on a 4th of July weekend on their motorcycles in Hollister, California for some fun and carousing, only to be vilified in the news media for creating a reported riot and chaos in the streets of the peaceful little town.  The movie the Wild One tried to memorialize those events.  Marlon Brando and Lee Marvin starred in the 1953 movie.  Facts show that most of what was alleged to have happened there in that little town on that summer weekend was pure fiction.  But the movie, even banned in England, became the symbol of the new breed of rebel, the biker.  Henceforth, the connection between the motorcycle and the badass became synonymous.

The Easy Rider movie of the late 1960's became the iconic counter-culture image of the clash between the burgeoning cultural revolution which espoused an anti-establishment individual freedom mantra, exemplified by two free-wheeling hippie bikers, from the establishment and the insurmountable firewall of the ultra-patriotic traditionally conservative America.  It does not end well for the carefree bikers.

But what the movie does accurately reflect is the model of the new generation of rebel bikers, made up of war-scarred Vietnam Veterans, who had been castigated by anti-war movements within their own homeland, driving many of those veterans to seek those again of like-mind while saddled on an iron horse, a continuing symbol of rebellion.

The Wild Hogs movie of a few years ago, albeit intentionally comedic, is also an allegorical representation of "modern man."  In this movie men are represented as sensitive sorts, much feminized compared to the men of the eras of the prior two movies.  The men in Wild Hogs share their feelings, cry, and act childish.  And while the men in the Wild One and Easy Rider lived to ride as an expression of freedom and rebellion, the new generation of bikers, while still craving the feel for freedom, have been so feminized that they no longer act upon their dreams, succumbing instead to the mundanity of the modern life.  Daring to slap a penned bull on the rear end has become the symbol of bravado for modern man who has become politically correct and benign, sensitive, and emasculated.  Of course, with the "evolution of man" the rules for manhood have become quite ambiguous, and men struggle to find their identity amidst the mixed messages of our times.   

Fortunately, for a few brave that remain (and the new crop of war-hardened soldiers returning home) the desire for Freedom and brotherhood still remain the themes that connect this new generation to past generations of bikers, but the movies reflect a changing time.  I wonder what the next generation of bikers will be like.