Easy Rider as establishment propaganda

Newer Older

It had been 20 years since I had seen "Easy Rider", and my viewing of it recently made me question some long-held assumptions that I, and most others have had.

First, lemme say that it is still a great movie--a classic road tale and best-buddy tale, with incredible scenary and music and some of the best lines ever (all by Jack Nicholson).

Everyone seems to plug "Easy Rider" as a "counter-culture" classic; a Google search showed that High Times magazine readers voted it the top "drug movie" of all time. But the best type of propaganda is that whose surface details are directly opposite the generative, underlying message, and I am wondering if that is not true with this movie. I have no idea what Hopper, Fonda, and Southern's underlying motives or intents were, but let's re-examine the assumption that Easy Rider is anti-establishment.

A story's underlying moral imperative can be implied by its characters' narrative arches. In this case, our two anti-heroes, Wyatt and Billy, seek to buck the culture, but end up dead. Jack Nicholson's character George, is an insufferable drunk who has survived--until he hooks up with Wyatt and Billy, and then he get's killed by a machete. Cool. The anti-heroes are not doing something morally but alternatively attractive; no, they got money from selling cocaine and are using it to go to New Orleans to party. The film is sold as being "pro-drug", but wait... The drug users in the film end up dead (or as prostitutes); they spend their LSD-trip in a graveyard; and Wyatt's giggling and stumbling around is so over-the-top it borders on absurd. Wow, looks fun to me!

The commune is not portrayed very positively, to say the least.... the leader is for-all-intents polygamous... their "bath" consists of a face-full of water from a bucket, and a quick splash to their (clothed) underarms... they get to sleep with a goat in the house (wouldn't the snoring already be bad enough, you wanna add a goat?)... they get to throw seeds on top of dust--this is not inspired, this is stupid... they sing silly old folk songs that everyone hates and have to live with a mime troupe (could you imagine a worse fate!). I'm sorry, but how exactly is this attractive? And in the end, they pick on Wyatt, showing that even they are as narrow-minded as the latter attackers.

Yes, the attackers are portrayed as narrow-minded hicks... but they're also cool enough to admire the bikers' wheels, and in the end, do they get caught or punished? No...

One could say that the story line itself is secondary to the music soundtrack. In college, I heard the soundtrack long before I saw the movie, and it is a great collection of songs. But that just brings us back to movie-as-selling-products.

Establishment propaganda or not? View with open eyes...

Vivitar Ultra Wide and Slim with Kodak Elitechrome EBX 35mm ISO100 slide film cross-processed as a color negative. No other effects added. Development by Tempe Camera. Eleventh shot posted from roll. (Explore)

t4tO_, |lauravisi|, NordicHeart-OFF, and 105 other people added this photo to their favorites.

View 20 more comments

  1. sciencesque 64 months ago | reply

    Thanks for talking about this movie and for posting this photo. It blows my mind that many people have not seen this flick. Yikes! Anyways, I never really felt that the movie was particularly anti-establishment, nor have I thought of it as pro-drug. The way I see it, the movie is saying that freedom is simply not part of the human condition. Our society has many forces that aim to structure our lives, whether those forces take the form of biggoted hicks or commune hippies. The movie's protagonists try to live outside of dogma, free from the restraints imposed by other people. They want to march to the beat of their own pistons. Obviously, the movie is not optimistic about these attempts, as the ending suggests. Those who live within a structured society are rewarded, while those who try to live outside of society are punished. The movie is a poignant comment on the end of the 60's and presaged the death of the hippie dream. It is brilliant! and so is the soundtrack :)

  2. LukeOlsen 64 months ago | reply

    Really like the light leaks on this... I must say that I've never seen the flick.

  3. Your Favourite Flavour. 64 months ago | reply

    stunning shot
    on Explore :D

  4. Malage21 64 months ago | reply

    muy bonita... narrativa y original!! MJ

  5. swimmingintheether (working overtime) [deleted] 64 months ago | reply

    love the photo and the commentary

  6. arkadutta 64 months ago | reply

    nice composition and colors!

  7. telmo32 64 months ago | reply

    Points well taken..and a super shot..!!

  8. BekonTM 64 months ago | reply

    I like it!

  9. cobalt123 64 months ago | reply

    I saw the movie again a few years ago and was very surprised to see that my memory of it did not well match the reality. I will always regard it as a very important experience for me at the time it came out. In fact, I can never forget feeling punched in the stomach at the ending. If you ever get a chance to read Peter Fonda's book about sailing, I recommend it. He is an excellent writer and well worth reading. His book had passages about the movie that explain quite a bit about how it was done and how he felt about it years afterwards.

    Don't Tell Dad, a Memoir
    www.amazon.com/Dont-Tell-Dad-Peter-Fonda/dp/0786884371

    Seriously, this man is a fascinating read:
    www.esquire.com/features/what-ive-learned/peter-fonda-quo...

  10. AmsterSam - The Wicked Reflectah 64 months ago | reply

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called This Wicked World, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

    Wicked shot&analysis, cool :)

  11. fjbezos 64 months ago | reply

    Hermosa imagen.

  12. Sasha Litvintseva [deleted] 64 months ago | reply

    incredible!!!!

  13. Señor Jaime [deleted] 64 months ago | reply

    instant fave...you know the thing I have for road shots and this one evokes memories of me in the 70's...motorcycles....long hair...marihuana...did I say marihuana?? Oops!

  14. i_found_your_photo 63 months ago | reply

    I love that movie, but always thought it was more about the death of the american dream, and the fall out from the free love generation, how the '60s went wrong. The scene near the end around the fire really drives that point home.

    There is a great doco into the making of this movie, called shaking the cage, you should watch, i think its on the modern DVD version. Also on youtube starting here:

    www.youtube.com/watch?v=lIwD1wFlMn4

  15. Merkur* 63 months ago | reply


    (Congrats, you qualify for Flickr Art of Color

    photography - ...)

  16. by and by 63 months ago | reply

    maybe high times sees it differently, but this is far from being a pro-drug film. in wyatt's (fonda's) own last words, 'we blew it.'

  17. Per Haukeli 52 months ago | reply

    I love this image. And no matter how great the photo is, I reckon that a lot of the good feelings are carried over from Easy Rider. I love that movie too, of course. But for the past few years I've seen it more or less the way you see it. And this is a little scary: what gave us the ability to see it in any other way in the first place? The lure of the surface? No understanding of metaphor?

  18. vespamore photography 46 months ago | reply

    Hi, I'm an admin for a group called Film Classics, and we'd love to have this added to the group!

  19. audreyschroder 26 months ago | reply

    Thanks for sharing this! I used it here: www.vapor4life.com/blog/vapers-be-prepared with credit and a link to this page.

  20. esmoking101 5 months ago | reply

    it was amazing and very interesting the way of narration is awesome,am glad that i found such a beautiful post.
    esmoking 101

keyboard shortcuts: previous photo next photo L view in light box F favorite < scroll film strip left > scroll film strip right ? show all shortcuts