Wild in the Streets (1968)

There’s something hilarious to me, a dipshit Millennial, about the fact that Baby Boomers have been the generational enemy #1 for over a half-century and counting.  Currently, they’re losing an online culture war against the youths, who complain that the elder generation is gobbling up a majority share of the nation’s wages & structural power while Millennials and Zoomers struggle to make do on a monthly basis – let alone accumulate savings or property.  Even when the Boomers were the youth, though, the were already a major target for wide cultural scorn.  As pot-smoking, Civil Rights-demanding teenagers, Boomers terrified their Nixonite parents, especially since the hippie-sympathetic youth comprised 52% of the US population.  Bitter about being drafted to die in the Vietnam War as literal teenagers while not being afforded full rights as citizens, Boomers successfully lobbied to have the legal voting age lowered to 18 years-old, a display of generational political power you rarely see in any demographic below the age of 60 anymore.  It freaked adults out, so much so that schlocky movie studios like AIP could make an easy buck producing teenage-Boomer scare films about youth culture gone wild.

Wild in the Streets is at least cheeky about late-60s Conservatives’ anxieties over their activist children’s impending right to vote (passed two years after the film’s release).  It presents that political shift as a slippery-slope doomsday scenario, wherein the youth of America unite to lower the age to hold office while they’re at it, then elect their favorite long-haired hippie rock star as the youngest US President in history.  The hip new President has no real political platform beyond pushing this youth culture movement as far as it will go – forcing all workers to retire at 30, forcing them to macrodose LSD at the age of 35, and turning the White House into a hippie squat for all his groovy friends.  It’s a satirical mockery of Conservative adults’ fears of teenage-Boomers’ collective political power, but it’s also aimed at those same adults’ aesthetic tastes (notably narrated as if it were a gravely serious documentary about a series of murders).  The film dabbles in the same brand of “How do you do fellow kids?” satire as Beyond the Valley of the Dolls: so tragically unhip that it’s somehow incredibly cool.  It’s a youth culture headlinesploitation piece made by embarrassingly square adults desperate to be seen as “with it” enough to draw teenagers to the box office but freaked out enough by those teenagers to also appeal to their parents.

It kinda worked.  Wild in the Streets was hastily shot in two short weeks and relied heavily on Vietnam protest & rock concert crowd footage to bolster its production values.  It made millions off a meager budget, earning a few high-profile raves in publications like The New York Times, and even landing an Oscar nomination for Best Film Editing (which it lost to Bullitt).  The rapid-fire, collage-style editing is the closest the film ever comes to being interesting in its craft, but since it’s such a cheap knockoff of Russ Meyer’s superior, unawarded style it’s okay that it inevitably lost out.  Besides likely inspiring the title of a Circle Jerks album, I’m not sure the film has had much cultural impact long-term.  The most I can recommend for its relevancy to contemporary audiences is the familiar imagery of teenage activists “storming the Capitol” to demand Congress lower the minimum age to hold public office to 14.  It’s not the most important political issue activists could have stormed the Capitol to advocate for in the late-1960s, considering the mostly white faces in the crowd and the much more urgent racial exploitation issues of the time.  Still, it’s not nearly as idiotic as the reasoning behind attempted coup we saw on TV a year ago, and the imagery is strikingly similar.

Given Wild in the Streets‘s immediate financial success as a quick cash-in headlinesploitation picture, I’d say it’s high time for another tasteless satire in which Boomers are the generational enemy #1.  The closest modern example I can think of where they’re cast as the terrifying Other is Don’t Breathe, but that’s just one Boomer alone in a house against a group of teens.  Imagine a modern update to Wild in the Streets where Boomers vote en masse (and they are the only demographic who vote en masse anyway) to strip all other generations of their political power, locking up youngsters in “Safe Space” camps as punishment for not pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps and wasting all of government hand-out money on smart phones & avocado toast, or whatever.  The truth about generational culture wars is that they’re a bullshit distraction from the racial & class divides that are actually rotting this country’s core, but that doesn’t mean we can’t get some fun novelty movies out of the tension.  Wild in the Streets is a hoot, but it’s wildly out of date, and could use a geriatric spiritual sequel.

-Brandon Ledet

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