Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Our time is up

Yesterday T. asked me if I knew the movie Zabriskie Point. Of course I did. I was seventeen when the movie came out. I remember everything that happened when I was seventeen and sober. I remembered the scene of two young lovers rolling around in Death Valley and a grim-faced Rod Taylor squinting into the sun. Taylor had that magnificent cleft chin. There was music by Pink Floyd and The Dead and a John Fahey tune as I recall. T. asked if I could recollect the ending. I said I'd forgotten it. He said it was his favorite representation of the end of consumerist culture -- an extended sequence of things exploding and going up in flames. "Everything gets blown up -- a house, appliances, cars, all kinds of stuff. It's fantastic."

T. is more than a generation behind me. The movie came up in conversation because he was researching a piece of art -- a photograph of part of a sculpture entitled "Frozen Civilization" by the French artist Arman. Essentially it's a mass of compacted trash encased in a large rectangular plexiglass prism. We're thinking it might make a nice book cover, suggesting, as it does, that garbage has an undeniable aesthetic dimension, especially when contained and put on display. Hence the connection to the destruction of everyday manufactured items in the movie. Watching bits and pieces of blown up trash floating through the desert air in slow motion is not unlike freezing that same trash in a sculpture. (I won't mention the book in question.)

Our brief exchange about Zabriskie Point gnawed at me. I envied T., thinking how once I too watched the film and inwardly celebrated the destruction of Rod Taylor's desert home and all the shite it contained. It felt good to see all that plastic and metal and prefab furniture, those obsolescent appliances and shiny appurtenances of vanity blown to smithereens. It felt right. It seemed as though my buddies and I were onto something, that a wholesale rejection of the acquisitiveness and wastefulness of our parent's generation would lead us to live simpler, more meaningful lives. Funny. We had high hopes back in 1970.

Exalting the irrational took too much work. Being authentic all the time was effin exhausting. You'd get a sunburnt ass rolling around the desert if you stayed out there too long. Now we visit the desert for few days, circle the Burning Man, get a little dose of home-made ecstasy, then go back to our cities to make money. How did I become so fat and cynical?

I look at T. and think, maybe he and his peers have a chance. Maybe after they burn down the house they won't replace it with the same damn thing, only bigger and uglier, the way we did. Maybe they'll get used to the stripped-down life they've been forced to confront because of my generation's piggishness. Maybe they'll see all this garbage for what it is.

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