The hippie rallying cry 'Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out!' neatly sums up the program of American youth. Not a little of the beauty of the slogan lies in the fact that it is sure to be misunderstood by most of the people who have crashed the thirty-year barrier to adult respectability. One feels, in fact, that he is betraying the youth of the land when he tries to interpret the slogan to the Other World—but since The Cresset is read largely by persons who have given up pretending that they are members of the Swinging Generation, perhaps, the Swingers will never know they've been "explained." I, for one, am prepared to disavow authorship of this column if word should seep out to the Youthful Hoard. (Some deception in these matters is important; what fun would it be to be a youth who knew, or even thought, that he was understood by his elders?)
The thing so many adults fail to realize, in their precipitous outrage when confronted with "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out!" is that the phrase is marvelously ambiguous. As such, it admits of easy application to remarkably diverse situations. Like the companion-piece "Do Your Thing!" little is offered by way of specification of what is to be tuned in to, how one is to turn on, from what one is to drop out; can anyone imagine a less restrictive injunction than "Do Your Thing!"? To be sure, some few, overpublicized members of the Now Generation seem to agree on a way to get all this done: via drugs. That scene is a thing unto itself, and scarcely requires additional comment over that which is adequately supplied in popular magazines. It is enough here to note that discussions of the subject generally are more hortatory than analytic; distinctions among drugs and other vehicles of psychic modification are not well-made, and even when made are not remembered, due to the sensationalistic intent of the coverage. The effect of the coverage is remarkable to behold: one imagines the next Great American Crusade will be waged against Marijuana and LSD instead of Aggression and Communism .... with neat cadres of freshly-scrubbed, virile Young Men calling in air-strikes on Citadels of filthy, lecherous, hairy Hippies.
The glorious ambiguity of "Tune In, Turn On, Drop Out!" and "Do Your Thing!" can perhaps be appreciated by noting the striking similarities and sharp differences in the two films which, more than any others, have lately called forth an overwhelming response from the Now Generation. They are The Graduate and Bonnie and Clyde. In each of these films, the heroes tune in, turn on, drop out, and thereby do their thing. But their bags are very, very different.
Bonnie and Clyde are in rebellion against diverse forces: the Great Depression, the deadness of a small town, a class structure in which they have no hope for advancement via "normal" channels, and crushing anonymity. Benjamin and Elaine, the youthful protagonists of The Graduate, are in rebellion too, but their foes are precisely the opposite: the Age of Affluence, facilities for the satisfaction of any hedonic urge, friends and family only too eager to catapult their juniors into higher social strata, and public acceptance for reasons which do not touch their souls. The Barrow Gang robbed and killed to do their thing; Benjamin and Elaine opted for the high morality of love and marriage in a context that had cheapened these ideals beyond endurance. The marble slab which brought each story to a close—for Bonnie and Clyde, in the morgue; for Ben and Elaine, in the chancel—was a fitting consummation for each pair of lives that attained it. What matter that Bonnie and Clyde died in the strangle-hold of the long arm of society, while Ben and Elaine broke the arm and set themselves free? It is the struggle that counts.
Or so some say. American youth can at least fully respond to the sight of the struggle. Whether they will make that struggle is another matter; but better to have fought to live the life of your choice, even if you lost, than never to have fought at all. That, precisely that, causes the youth to tolerate far more than their sagacious elders. Affirming is a necessary condition for living; that the Other World insists it is not a sufficient condition for living well is not so important to note, youth thinks, especially since their elders have so often failed to demonstrate what is a sufficient condition for the good life. The necessary condition is something youth knows, and can try to satisfy from moment to moment. Perhaps, in a lifetime of such moments, a sufficient condition will have been satisfied as well.
Ben and Elaine made it through the muck. But where did Bonnie and Clyde go wrong? Perhaps, as Clyde suggested, they should have lived in a different state from the one in which they pulled their jobs. Maybe that was the answer. Maybe.
Of the nominees in each category, I think Academy Awards should go to the following:
Best Picture: Bonnie and Clyde
Best Director: Mike Nichols, The Graduate
Best Actor: Rod Steiger, In the Heat of the Night
Best Actress: Faye Dunaway, Bonnie and Clyde
Best Supporting Actor: Gene Hackman, Bonnie and Clyde
Best Supporting Actress: Estelle Parsons, Bonnie and Clyde