A couple of weeks ago I came across a video of Phillipa Fallon reciting a beatnik poem in the movie High School Confidential. The first time I watched it, I was mostly struck by the actress that was reciting the poem. The second time I watched it, I was struck by the content of the poem. Before I watched it the third time, I found a transcript of the poem and I read it while the video played. I realized during the third viewing that this idea of dread for the future is not new by any means. However, the similarities each stanza has to the current times and issues at hand cannot be ignored. Here we are sixty-three years after this movie was made, and we are still struggling with the futility of what life has seemingly amounted to and how society ignores it, the imminence of global collapse and climate change, and the ultimate turn to hedonism that we make as a result. I have for years now sympathized with the existentialism and absurdist movements of the post world war 50s and 60s, but having lived my whole life in times of relative peace, I always felt like a caviler saying how much I relate to the feelings of that time.
The truth is that we don’t have to stop recognizing what we have in common with the past. Maybe now is the time to try ‘opposites day’ on the whole way we live and see what that does. Maybe we should examine the past and directly change what we are doing similar to it. I believe a fatal flaw of the generations before was using their sentiment of the past as some standard for the future. My grandmother would smack my face and say “Act like a lady!”, “shut your uncouth mouth!” or most infamously, “WELL I NEVER….”. She held me to the standards that her mother and grandmother held her to, and the standards she held my mother to. My mother rebelled against her strict, slated parenting, so she gave up on her and moved on to me. I was to act as she was told to act so I would get a husband as she did, and have children as she did, and live a life as she did. It was basically her life’s mission. But when do we stop expecting the generations that follow to live as we do? Will it ever be normal to use antipodal parenting to bring about a new tomorrow that isn’t a drag?
I don’t think there is a magic formula that can be used in parenting so that your children will turn out as perfect people: not jaded, optimistic and well, happy. I do think that we can live in a way that our children don’t eventually write poetry (satirical or not) about us having “button-down brains”. We can definitely think about the hand-me-down complexes and taints we have that our parents thought weren’t broken and question if our children can do without them. I also know that my future daughter can do without the severe insecurity that I have as a result of my grandmother’s stringency.
If you are curious about the video, here it is, transcribed below:
My old man was a bread stasher all his life. He never got fat.
He wound up with a used car, a seventeen-inch screen, and arthritis.
Tomorrow is a drag, man, tomorrow is a king-size bust.
They cried, “Put down pot. Don’t think a lot.” For what?
Time, how much and what to do with it.
Sleep, man, and you might wake up diggin’ the whole human race,
Givin’ itself three days to get out.
Tomorrow is a drag, pops, the future is a flake.
I had a canary who couldn’t sing.
I had a cat that let me share my pad with her.
I bought a dog that killed the cat that ate the canary.
What is truth?
I had an uncle with an ivy-league car.
He had life with a belt in the back.
He had a button-down brain.
Wind up a belt in the mouth and a button-down lip.
He coughed blood on this earth.
Now there’s a race for space.
We can cough blood on the moon soon.
Tomorrow is Dragsville, cats. Tomorrow is a king-size drag.
Hula fast shorts, swing with a gassy chick,-Mel Welles, High School Drag for “High School Confidential”, 1958
Turn on to a thousand joys, smile on what happened,
Then check what’s gonna happen, you’ll miss what’s happening.
Turn your eyes inside and dig the vacuum.