Do They All Die?: “The Strawberry Statement”

dtat.jpgIt seems that the 1960s was a contentious decade, then and now. You’ve got hippie types who long for it and you’ve got uber-conservative types who think that it was the beginning of the downfall of America. But there’s this movement now that kind of brings together the revolutionary and establishment factions of the 60s: The Bobo. Bobo is short for Bourgeois Bohemian, a new type of yuppie, first coined in David Brooks’ 2000 book, Bobos in Paradise. These yuppies represent the intersection of 1960s idealism and Reaganite self-interest. Brooks thinks that Bobos are a new phenomenon as of the 90s, but there seems to be a precedent for them in the “youthpix” or youth rebellion movies of the late 1960s. These films, produced by the capitalist establishment, attempted to show youth rebellion but many say they also undermined it. Consider The Strawberry Statement (1970).

The Strawberry Statementis an adaptation of JS Kunen’s memoir of the 1968 Columbia University protests of the same name. The protagonist, Simon, decides on a whim that he wants to join the local radical student group in their illegal occupation of the university president’s office. Simon is also a member of the rowing crew, the pinnacle of university establishmentarianism. The film ends with a massive police raid on the occupied building and a pornographically violent clash between the police and the protesters, all the time singing “Give Peace a Chance.” The film exemplifies revolutionary values and establishment values all at once.

First of all, the film is completely from the youth’s perspective. It is a well-known narrative device that whoever the narrative action follows, the audience will “root for.” Hitchcock’s Psycho is an interesting example; no one wants to admit that they were rooting for the car to sink into the bog, but they were. So already the students are the more sympathetic characters and their message will be better received by the audience.

But this message is completely libidinous and incoherent. The reason that Simon occupies the president’s office to begin with is because he sees a pretty girl inside. In traditional Hollywood fashion, the film infuses its regular plot with a sub-plot, that of the formation of a heterosexual romance. While on a break with this first girl, Simon gets punched in the face at rowing practice for being a “commie liberal.” He gets back to the president’s office and everyone assumes he had an altercation with the police. He doesn’t say otherwise and he is rewarded for his heroism with oral sex in the president’s office. Furthermore, the guy who punched Simon at rowing practice decides out of nowhere that he wants to be in the movement, too. And his roommate only joins up because he heard that there were lots of girls there.

The film is full of ideological contradictions but on the whole it completely undermines the 60s student movement. The characters in this film had these ideological convictions but didn’t really seem to believe in them completely. They didn’t seem willing to be transformed by them. They seemed to like protest and revolution for its own sake. These characters thirty years after the release of this film were Bobo’s. They’re against conspicuous consumption but they’re willing to spend astronomical amounts on “necessities.” They’re employed by corporations but have these artsy hobbies. It’s beyond the scope of this space to explore the link between Brooks’ Bobos and Simon and company in The Strawberry Statement but it seems compelling indeed.


1 Comment

Filed under Do They All Die?, Movies

One response to “Do They All Die?: “The Strawberry Statement”

  1. Thanks, always good posts on your blog!

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