Peter Biskind’s 1999 page-turner Easy Riders, Raging Bulls: How the Sex Drugs and Rock-n-Roll Generation Saved Hollywood told the story of the irritable junkies and self-styled outlaws who revived the movie business in the 1970s. In Biskind’s telling, egomaniacs like Jack Nicholson and Dennis Hopper bravely defied the officious waitresses and nurses and meter maids who stood in for the bourgeois forces trying to clip their manly wings.
These types became models for the rule-breaking heroes of movies for decades. I think of McBain on “The Simpsons.” “McBain, here we do this by the book,” says his nerd manager, holding up a manual. McBain shoots a bullet through it. “Bye, book.” He’s the soul of wordplay and muscular rebellion.
But the movies, and the world, have had enough of rogue cops and solipsistic founders. They have have lost their luster amid too much abuse, fraud, and daft libertarian ideology. A new version of Biskind’s book for the 20s might be called Mandarins and Bureaucrats. The heroes in several new movies are clerks, whistleblowers, accountants, auditors, and sub-sub-librarians who finally say, “I’d prefer not to [let you stay out of jail]” to people like Adam Neumann of WeWork, Elizabeth Holmes of Theranos, and maybe even McBain.
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