I spent the last two weeks reading 30 original screenplays and television pilots from graduating college seniors and here’s what I know –
It is a dark, dystopian world out there where pretty much NO ONE tells you the truth.
Of course, I already knew that but I’m almost three times their age. I mean, when I got out of school in the seventies I knew the world could be a crappy place but what I was equally sure about was that there was also hope.
This was because I was as sure as shit that my friends and I were going to be able to change things. At least a little. I knew this as sure I knew I was going to live alone and lonely in a huge Malibu beach house, clutching my Oscar as I fell asleep. That is if I didn’t die in my twenties of some horrible disease, a fact I was 100% convinced was a 50-50 possibility.
Well, of course I was wrong. Here I am almost more than middle-aged in a relationship of 32 years with nary an Oscar in sight, living way, way across town in a house in the Hollywood Hills.
Like many dreams, mine were fairly off but not totally unrealized. Personal life aside, I did make it to L.A. and the movie business and worked in several categories where one could conceivably get nominated for an Oscar.
Right. I know. A grown up with a dream.
This, of course, is the point. It’s not that my many wonderful students don’t have dreams. It’s that judging from the past few weeks the majority of them don’t believe their best fantasies can take hold and flourish.
And, I mean, who can blame them? Sometimes I turn on the news and can’t believe what I’m hearing and seeing. When I read the newspaper it’s even worse. And I came of age in the Nixon-Watergate era and spent the last years of my pre-teens watching Robert F. Kennedy get shot live on TV. And this was several months after that same station almost got to cover the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. live instead of merely its bloody aftermath.
Those extreme acts, combined with a seemingly endless war in Vietnam and the Ohio National Guard murdering four innocent students who happened to be walking by anti-war protestors at Kent State University, made it seem like there was nothing the elders of the American status quo wouldn’t do to hold onto their power.
The general message to the young was:
We will literally kill you in a war or at school if you get too uppity and, if you don’t believe us, just give it a try. You could easily find yourself in jail, overseas with a gun or in a morgue for doing nothing more than disagreeing with us if you’re not careful.
We didn’t realize it at the time but in truth the country did have a modicum of sanity left. As young people we innately understood we lived in an environment where freedom of speech was the norm, our federal elected representatives had just put the de-segregation of society into law and journalists were almost universally lauded by most, if not all, as the sacred last bastion of truth-tellers.
It was a world that had suddenly and almost completely gone totally off the rails but somehow we knew it was salvageable. We had gone to the moon, you could still burn the American flag in the street and not get arrested and, if all else failed, the pleasures of sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll would get you through until you entered what could only be described as the blissful golden Age of Aquarius.
I so want that for the young people that I teach who are going out into the world today and it angers me each day that they have come of age into an alternate reality of stupidity, division and denial.
No one middle-aged can imagine what it’s like to grow up in a time where you could easily and routinely be shot up in your school. In the sixties and seventies we had fire drills, not re-enactments of how to act or where to hide when a random gunman might happen to enter the building and aim a military style assault rifle to your head or the head of your friend, or younger brother or sister.
As much as most of my contemporaries might have loathed Richard Nixon, Lyndon Johnson and later, Ronald Reagan, none of us grew up hearing the president of the United States making allowances for white supremacists. Or calling the American press the enemy of the people and degrading the indisputable facts they report as fake news.
Or, more importantly, respond this way when asked in front of the White House if the U.S. is about to go to war in the Middle East:
I hope not.
Say what you will about any of those men (Note: And I’ve said plenty) when they spoke it was with a definitive thought, not with the vague possibility that at any moment something absolutely horrible can and probably will happen so we’d gosh darn better be on guard for….well, anything. And by anything he truly means ANYTHING. Just ask him, as the press often does, if you don’t believe it.
Dystopian? Dark? Sadly, I fear these young people have it exactly right and I couldn’t be more pissed off about it. We all should be.