So this weekend I saw Julie Taymore’s newest film Across the Universe. A movie musical love story set to works by The Beatles taking place in the late 1960s in the U S. The history of the ’60s in the US, while somewhat romanticized by nostalgia of a time that, despite the social strife, was a time when people actually fought for what they believed in, is truly one of great upheaval and unrest. The film depicts both the political and racial tensions in the nation. It pulls in allegorically many major events of the time: race riots (one character flees from Detroit, most likely the 1967 riots that was one of worst in US history), and both peaceful demonstrations and the eventual violent turn by the anti-war movement. The title choice, Across the Universe, is an interesting one I think. The repeated line of the chorus, after the mantra that is the title of this post, is “Nothing’s gonna change my world,” I believe has a lot to say about the history of the 60s political movement, and in extension, our current society.
Now, “Across the Universe” was written by John Lennon in 1968, just as the anti-war movement was starting to reach its heights. But as the song is used in the movie (and is juxtaposed with “Helter Skelter”), during a climatic protest scene in which our male lead, trying to reach his more radicalized girlfriend through the crowd, the line “Nothing’s gonna change my world” drifts up between lines of “Helter Skelter,” and we understand Taymore’s choice of title, the line is a prophetic comment on the anti-war movement. The solemn tone of the song is the funeral of American revolutionary spirit that died when the 60s anti-war movement would eventually failed amidst increasing government policing and incidents like the Kent State Shootings. The violent turn taken by some groups, like the Weather Underground linked above, also led to a disillusion by many who saw a betrayal of the peace and love spirit of the 60s, incidents like this at UW-Madison led to the collapse of what had been growing support among more of the general public for the movement.
In the end, nothing did change our world. Despite and unpopular war, one of which had a dubious beginning to American escalation, it was only the collapse of the American defense that led to the pull out from Viet Nam. The anti-war movement achieved nothing except the death of the spirit of public protest of governmental policies. The American Imperial agenda that had been growing since the end of World War II, and especially the growth of the military-industrial complex (as used by Dwight D. Eisenhower in his farewell speech when leaving office), had successfully entrenched itself into America’s political landscape and has grown stronger with ever subsequent American led invasion, American backed coup or insurrection in other nations, from Korea right down to our current scrap in Iraq. The failure of the 60s anti-war movement has made it harder to organize large scale efforts against the Iraq War here in the United States, though worldwide the movement is quite large.
In the end, many people feel like the beast is too large to take down. It would take a widespread change in political culture to get rid of the of the ‘military-industrial complex.’ It’s hard to pinpoint where the beginnings of America‘s imperial ambition began, some say the War of 1812, while others point to the Spanish-American War. There is no doubt that post World War II though, America had become addicted to the heroin that is being a World Superpower, and even though that in today’s society military power does not equal true power, America is still looking for a military fix to prop up its status. Through out the last fifty years, it has been the constant military readiness that has fueled America‘s economic rise, and now those corporations see the danger in today’s world where wars are fought not by men in the field, but by bankers and accountants, and stock brokers. Money has always equaled power, but now they’ve just cut out the middle man of the military.
You say you want a revolution? Well you know, we all want to change the world. I don’t have any answers, and there are so many things wrong with the way our government works. Politicians are bought and sold by lobbyists, though it’s all “campaign contributions.” Right. We can’t get health care reform because the HMOs buy off enough congressmen to block it. “Stay the course” has kept us in Iraq, along with American pride, never give up, never surrender. Smart businessmen know when to cut their losses and dump a losing stock, or in the case of Time Warner, AOL. But as Bush’s early business career attest to, he went from one failed company to another, though somehow always ended up with a high position at the company his was sold too. Savvy.
So I’ve seemed to have strayed from the initial topic of Julie Taymore’s latest film, or have I? I do believe that many of these things were the intended overtones of the film. Commentary on our current situation and the parallels between Viet Nam and Iraq are a dime a dozen today, but I believe the true subtle genius of Taymore’s story and title choice is showing us just how much the failure of the anti-war movement against the government has had a sustained impact on our culture. The movement was truly on the verge of open revolution at times, but was stopped before it got that far (though the fact that some did take up arms as it was faltering shows the dedication of a few towards that end).
Now, I must tread carefully, or else Homeland Security might be beating down my door, I do not support violent revolution. That is only the last act of desperation after peaceful, political options have all been exhausted. Though that is just the trajectory that the 60s took: after the peaceful demonstrations had failed, after many instances of government violence towards its citizenry, those left, and most radicalized, took up arms, and the rest is history. The movement withered upon the Tree of Liberty, showing sometimes that it cannot be refreshed by the blood of riots and tyrants. Political insurgency is such a tricky thing, because to one side it is freedom fighting, to the other it is terrorism. Your view depends on which side of the looking glass you are on, for what were the American revolutionaries but terrorist against the British crown?