The horse traders

Culture | Ditching Daddy & other cultural buzz

Issue: "Against all odds," May 30, 1998

Big-sky scenery but big-city morals
Hillary Clinton meets the Marlboro Man. That's the tone of Robert Redford's latest, which he drags out for nearly three hours. He plays The Horse Whisperer (Touchstone; rated PG-13 for a disturbing accident scene), a Montana rancher with a special ability to talk to the equine species. When a Manhattan magazine editor's little girl gets into a nasty accident with a horse, mummy (Kristin Scott Thomas) and daughter dump daddy and head west with the horse to Montana. Once the pair heads west, the tone of the movie goes from gloom to bright. In the war of New York vs. America, Producer-director Redford sides with America. His Middle American hero is a straight-shootin' guy who loves his super-wholesome home and his land and likes his life. "Don't you ever miss the rest of the world?" mummy asks. "What's there to miss?" he replies. So the Whisperer nurses the horse to health and gives back to the two women the will to live. So far this is a great paleoconservative fable: An honest all-American guy who works with his hands teaches the facts of life to two lemmings from the concrete canyon. Trouble is, this movie takes a bad left turn. Hillary falls in love with Marlboro Man and wants to leave her hubby back East. So the Redford character hems and haws. Mummy's gotta make up her mind-and the last half of this movie turns into One Life to Live. It turns out she never loved daddy anyway, so the only reason she should go back to him is out of obligation to her family. The moral ambiguity is downright irritating. The ending is messy. There's a gorgeous setting here. Mr. Redford gushes with love for his adopted home state and makes a great Whisperer, but the story is nuts. Here's a movie that wants to show the beauty of today's American West, but left its heart in Greenwich Village. Rebellion as an ad campaign
Don't ad lines like "Break away from the everyday," "Join the Dodge rebellion," or "Escape the machine" make you think corporations have been taken over by Marxist guerrillas? Doesn't a Coca Cola ad that says, "This is not an ad for Coke. We repeat, this is not an ad for Coke," make you think corporate offices are being forcibly occupied by the lunatic fringe of the avant garde art world? Welcome to the pseudo-rebellious world of not 1998, but 1968, as chronicled by Tom Frank in The Conquest of Cool (University of Chicago Press). Mr. Frank analyzes how Madison Avenue switched utopias overnight. Out went the dreams of suburbia and "See the USA in your Chevrolet." In came rock,rebellion, and the Uncola. Why? Because people spend money to escape the pressures of a still-conformist professional world. Rad ads are a useful lie. "Efficiency may remain the values of daytime," Frank writes, "but by night we rejoin the nonstop carnival of our consuming lives." Once Avis said, "We try harder," and Volkswagen sold the Beetle as a nonconformist alternative to big American cars, the dam was broken. Ads raced to become avant garde and self-referential. Then, as now, the twentysomethings represented a vast well of cash to be drilled by aggressive marketing. If Michael Jackson doesn't sell, get Michael Jordan. Or the girls of Lilith Fair. Mr. Frank attacks the idea that big business is traditional, rigid, and totalitarian. Hip and square feed off one another. Instead, the '60s taught corporations to latch onto the changes in youth cultures. If old companies don't, new ones will. Thus was born Nike, Starbucks, and Versace. To Mr. Frank, corporate cool is what the Marxists call a false consciousness. That's his big problem. As a leftist, he's stuck in a quandary: How can you dissent if the capitalists put your posters on MTV?

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