FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Sixties’ Most Unforgiving Film

 

Of all the movies to represent the Sixties in the U.S., the John G. Avildsen-directed Joe has got to be the most unforgiving. For those unfamiliar with the plot, it goes like this. Joe, a loudmouthed working man played by Peter Boyle meets Bill Thompson, a Madison Avenue Brooks Brothers-suited executive, in one of the many neighborhood bars that Manhattan features. Thompson goes to the bar to calm his rattled nerves; nerves rattled because he has just killed his daughter’s junkie boyfriend in a fit of rage. As the beer glasses empty, it becomes clear to Joe (who has been railing against the counterculture, anti war protestors and blacks while Thompson quietly drinks) that Thompson has done something Joe only talks about. Thompson has actually killed a hippie. From this moment, an alliance as seemingly unlikely as it is unholy is formed. The story unfolds, with Joe and Thompson entering into each other’s lives-lives separated by class, but (as it becomes increasingly obvious) not by politics.

The final scene is bloody, emotionally explosive, and apocalyptic. This is when Joe and Thompson enter the rural hippie commune where Thompson’s daughter lives firing their weaponry. Their killing spree ends only when Thompson does the unthinkable: he murders his daughter in cold blood. Underneath his 300 dollar suit lies a heart as murderous as that of a Nazi storm trooper.

Besides being the most unforgiving of all the Sixties movies, Joe also serves as a metaphor for the political and cultural reality of that period’s wake. If Joe represents an American working class driven to bigotry and hatred due to their fear of the changes wrought by the Sixties movements, than Thompson just as surely represents the establishment culture that felt as under siege as Joe and his compatriots must have felt, albeit for somewhat different reasons. Of course, Joe feared the changes because he felt he would be left behind, while Thompson opposed them because he feared a loss of status and income. When placed in the larger societal context, the uneasy friendship between the two men in the film easily becomes the political strategy devised by the GOP in 1968 that married the Republican elitist leadership with poor and working class whites-a strategy that has helped the GOP win almost every national election in the US since then. The suited executive has cynically manipulated the working class individual’s fears of change (change driven by the economics from which the executive profits) towards reaction, bigotry and, ultimately, murder.

In today’s Washington, Donald Rumsfeld, with his urbanity and degrees, is the resurrected ghost of Bill Thompson who, when he has to, can cater to the Joes who make up much of the current US military’s front lines. Just like the executive Bill Thompson (as in William Thompson advertising agency) felt his class interests were being threatened by the upheavals of the Sixties and needed a working class Joe to bring out his murderous rage at those threats, so does Rumsfeld channel his murderous rage from and through those working class men and women under his command.

Although he has not actually pulled the trigger, he might as well have. After all, it was Rumsfeld who not only rejected intelligence that told his department that war against Iraq was unnecessary and foolish, but who also lied about that intelligence to the US public and the men and women who are risking their lives in this war. So, for all practical purposes, Rumsfeld loaded the gun and pulled the trigger. He didn’t kill his daughter, either, but he certainly has killed lots of other people’s children.

But what about the working class bigot who operates out of fear? Does s/he support Rumsfeld’s (and company’s) mass murder? Or has he learned to fear the class Rumsfeld represents more than the new and unknown as represented by the counterculture/antiwar movement in the film and the Muslim/Arab world today? Is s/he still willing to sacrifice her/his child at the altar of war-war that only enriches the god of mammon? Will the alliance made in the barroom of racism and capital continue to win out over the US working individual’s actual interests or will a more natural alliance made up of working individuals of all skin tones finally coalesce and take the country back from the reactionaries who have run it for decades?

Stay tuned for the sequel.

RON JACOBS is author of The Way the Wind Blew: a history of the Weather Underground.

He can be reached at: rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu

 

More articles by:

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

August 15, 2018
Jason Hirthler
Russiagate and the Men with Glass Eyes
Paul Street
Omaorosa’s Book Tour vs. Forty More Murdered Yemeni Children
Charles Pierson
Is Bankruptcy in Your Future?
George Ochenski
The Absolute Futility of ‘Global Dominance’ in the 21st Century
Gary Olson
Are We Governed by Secondary Psychopaths
Fred Guerin
On News, Fake News and Donald Trump
Arshad Khan
A Rip Van Winkle President Sleeps as Proof of Man’s Hand in Climate Change Multiplies and Disasters Strike
P. Sainath
The Unsung Heroism of Hausabai
Georgina Downs
Landmark Glyphosate Cancer Ruling Sets a Precedent for All Those Affected by Crop Poisons
Rev. William Alberts
United We Kneel, Divided We Stand
Chris Gilbert
How to Reactivate Chavismo
Kim C. Domenico
A Coffeehouse Hallucination: The Anti-American Dream Dream
August 14, 2018
Daniel Falcone
On Taking on the Mobilized Capitalist Class in Elections: an Interview With Noam Chomsky
Karl Grossman
Turning Space Into a War Zone
Jonah Raskin
“Fuck Wine Grapes, Fuck Wines”: the Coming Napafication of the World
Manuel García, Jr.
Climate Change Bites Big Business
Alberto Zuppi - Cesar Chelala
Argentina at a Crossroads
Chris Wright
On “Bullshit Jobs”
Rosita A. Sweetman
Dear Jorge: On the Pope’s Visit to Ireland
Binoy Kampmark
Authoritarian Revocations: Australia, Terrorism and Citizenship
Sara Johnson
The Incredible Benefits of Sagebrush and Juniper in the West
Martin Billheimer
White & Red Aunts, Capital Gains and Anarchy
Walter Clemens
Enough Already! Donald J. Trump Resignation Speech
August 13, 2018
Michael Colby
Migrant Injustice: Ben & Jerry’s Farmworker Exploitation
John Davis
California: Waging War on Wildfire
Alex Strauss
Chasing Shadows: Socialism Won’t Go Away Because It is Capitalism’s Antithesis 
Kathy Kelly
U.S. is Complicit in Child Slaughter in Yemen
Fran Shor
The Distemper of White Spite
Chad Hanson
We Know How to Protect Homes From Wildfires. Logging Isn’t the Way to Do It
Faisal Khan
Nawaz Sharif: Has Pakistan’s Houdini Finally Met his End?
Binoy Kampmark
Trump Versus Journalism: the Travails of Fourth Estate
Wim Laven
Honestly Looking at Family Values
Fred Gardner
Exploiting Styron’s Ghost
Dean Baker
Fact-Checking the Fact-Checker on Medicare-for-All
Weekend Edition
August 10, 2018
Friday - Sunday
David Price
Militarizing Space: Starship Troopers, Same As It Ever Was
Andrew Levine
No Attack on Iran, Yet
Melvin Goodman
The CIA’s Double Standard Revisited
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: The Grifter’s Lament
Aidan O'Brien
In Italy, There are 12,000 American Soldiers and 500,000 African Refugees: Connect the Dots 
Robert Fantina
Pity the Democrats and Republicans
Ishmael Reed
Am I More Nordic Than Members of the Alt Right?
Kristine Mattis
Dying of Consumption While Guzzling Snake Oil: a Realist’s Perspective on the Environmental Crisis
James Munson
The Upside of Defeat
Brian Cloughley
Pentagon Spending Funds the Politicians
Pavel Kozhevnikov
Cold War in the Sauna: Notes From a Russian American
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail