Wild in the Streets

If you are a movie buff, you may be aware that Hollywood produced some incredible movies in the mid to late sixties. In 1968 alone, the studios released 2001: A Space Odyssey, Planet of the Apes, Rosemary’s Baby, The Odd Couple, Romeo and Juliet, The Shoes of the Fisherman, and Hang ‘Em High. That was also the year of With Six You Get Eggroll, Dorris Day’s last film (see The Other D-Day).

However, even if you are a movie buff, you may not be aware of another movie that came out that year entitled Wild in the Streets. Promoted as a “comedy-drama” with Hal Holbrook of Mark Twain fame, it was based on a short story by Robert Thom that appeared in Esquire magazine two years earlier.

Wild in the Streets tells the story of a young, rock singer named Max “Frost” who lives with his band, the Troopers, in a mansion in Beverly Hills. They are invited to perform at a televised campaign rally for Johnny Fergus, who is running as a Democrat for the US Senate and whose cause célèbre is lowering the voting age from 21 to 18. They perform at the rally, but then Max unexpectedly calls for lowering the voting age to 14. This ignites immediate reaction among youth across the country, who comprise more than of half the electorate and take to the streets in favor of the idea. In order to appease them and gain their support, Fergus begins working with the Troopers.

Within days, states lower the voting age and a massive youth block emerges nationwide. One of the Troopers is elected to the House of Representatives, and eventually youth take over the government by coercing and drugging members of Congress with LSD. Max gets elected President and the real fun begins as 30 becomes the mandatory retirement age. Anyone over 35 is rounded up, sent to a “re-education camp,” and permanently sedated on LSD. This includes Max’s parents as well as Fergus.

As for policy, President Frost withdraws the military from around the world and deploys them as “age police” whose job is to round up the “Old Guard.” He disbands the FBI and Secret Service, ships surplus grain for free to undeveloped nations, and pledges to create “the most truly hedonistic society the world has ever known.”

As an adolescent, I found Wild in the Streets as disturbing as With Six You Get Eggroll comforting. I don’t think I understood the absurdity of the movie and felt threatened by it even though I would have been a beneficiary of the new order it portrayed. However, as I look at the movie now as a member of the “Old Guard,” I feel even more disturbed.

I doubt the movie intended to be prescient. In fact, you might consider it an expression of anger and frustration given the volatility of that time, which included the Vietnam War, assassinations, sexual liberation, racial tensions, and urban unrest. In this sense, it was a satire showing what might happen if things continued on the same path without change. But if you don’t get the tongue-in-cheek nature of the movie, you’ll not only miss the point, you’ll end up taking things to an extreme just as the movie did. Satire will become reality.

To wit, today, there are those who want to amend the Constitution, abolish the Electoral College, add states to the union, lower the voting age still further, pack the Supreme Court, and set up detention camps for anyone refusing to comply with health policy regarding COVID. Vaccines will be mandatory. This is not just idle talk or the “hippie fascism” of Max Frost but the plans of certain legislators who would turn Wild in the Streets into a very real dystopia.

Of course, the voting age isn’t a driving issue anymore. I suspect that if Johnny Fergus were running today, his cause célèbre would be climate change and the new consciousness required to combat that, not to mention the massive economic debt that, oddly enough, will burden future generations. Not to worry. Max “Frost” and the Troopers will be right beside him, singing about the revolution and the shape of things to come.

We are just about there.

Image credits: feature and protest sign by Markus Spiske on Unsplash; movie poster by Wikipedia, which served as historical source and quotes for the post.

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2 comments

  1. Wow, Robert! I am a movie buff, and yes, recall the movies of the sixties, and those years. There surely was a lot going on; nightly bomb threats in the wee hours that required total evacuations, and a lot of hot anger in Watts and East Los Ángeles.

    I missed “Wild in the Streets.” Thinking back on those years, I felt there was an overwhelming amount of energy flowing in all directions, as well as fear, anxiety, and young people trying to make sense and find their place.

    In those times, especially in Los Ángeles, young people felt a passion to become involved in various social movements within the ghettos, as well as the search for living within communities, all kinds of communities. I recall watching weekly baptisms at a Santa Monica beach. There were groups of college students moving into apartment buildings in an attempt to build communities of Jesus, living and worshipping nightly, together.

    I’m sure I am engaging in selective memories, but some of what I witnessed was inspiring for me. As to a desire to change fundamentals, including changes in the roles of elders, what can I say? Classical musicians honor earlier times, cultural norms and practices much more than they should. One of my earliest heroes of musical compositions was Bach, who I considered quite revolutionary:)

    1. Thanks for this, Susan. You know, as I think back on American history, I don’t think there was a time when we didn’t have turmoil, at least to some degree. More recently, maybe under Ike we had relative peace and prosperity, but then there are plenty who disparage that period as bland and oppressive. The Neopolitan philosopher Giambattista Vico had a theory of history that regarded change as the natural order of things. But he thought we can still learn from the past and try to improve upon it…Bach as revolutionary. It’s true and very interesting…What is the relationship between revolutionaries and conservatives?

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