By Doug Cummings
Arizona Daily Wildcat January 18, 1996
"David Letterman is far more dangerous to values than I am. He doesn't have values; he makes fun of values. For Letterman, everything is an object of ridicule - it almost doesn't matter who is on his show. There is no discussion of issues or values, just constant, remorseless, ridicule of everything and anything. To the extent that kind of show sets the tenor of discourse I think we have a real problem." - Oliver Stone, "The David Letterman Disease," New Perspectives Quarterly, Spring 1995.
The preceding quote has been recently floating around the Internet, and it's quite ironic, considering Stone, arguably Hollywood's most historically irresponsible and attention-hungry filmmaker, would whine about the lack of values in the media. The director of such movies as "Born on the Fourth of July," "JFK," "Natural Born Killers," and, most recently, "Nixon," Stone has thrived on media controversy in the hopes of painting himself as an "uncompromising artist" bent on injecting America with a dose of reality.
But Stone's films are generally sensationalistic dramas filled with emotionally-charged rhetoric (the final courtroom scene in "JFK" plays like a performance of Shakespeare's Most Loved Quotations), and he throws such values as historical accuracy and pol itical decisiveness to the wayside in the hopes that audiences will lose themselves in Hollywood storytelling.
"Late Night with David Letterman," on the other hand, has long since captured it's predominantly 20-something audience with it's wacky, irreverent humor and prepondance for self-depreciating antics. Throwing food at cameras and promoting audience interact ion in a party-like, messy atmosphere, Letterman pokes fun at the talk show aura of media respectability. But how many of life's answers can really be provided in a communicative environment interrupted every three minutes by men selling new-improved dete rgents?
Letterman's show doesn't try to promote intellectual challenges, but despite Oliver Stone's accusations, his program is not valueless. His audience, today's 20-something generation, whether they're called Baby Busters, or Thirteeners, or Generation Xers, promote a return to personal relevance in American institutions that fly in the face of traditional Boomer idealism and moral rhetoric.
Stone's comments are indicative of a growing rift in generational relations between Baby Boomers (born '43 to '60) and Baby Busters (born '61 to '81). Boomers, who grew up in a '50s America obsessed with outward growth and institution-building, combine th eir anti-establishment sentiments with a prepondance for internal priorities. Boomers laud their academic inclination and idealistic drive, criticizing the Busters' lack of similar priorities. The current media attack on Busters, using the term "Generatio n X" to depict under-educated, big-spending slackers, is largely Boomer-led. Oliver Stone, at 50, is joining the media bandwagon and simply projecting the internal ideals of his generation on a younger generation with more pressing problems.
Busters grew up in the '70s, a decade noted for its negative attitude toward children in horror films, political corruption, a divorce epidemic, and the proliferation of low wage, no skill, fast-food jobs. As a result, Busters have become self-sufficient, wheeling-and-dealing negotiators with a desire to simply make ends meet with a dark future looming over them. They want to simplify the institutions around them, calm the pious rhetoric that is thrown about them, and approach life with a strong pragmatic sense. "What you see is what you get" is their motto, and slick productions with refined idealism only seem superficial and unrealistic. Alternative rock and the "grunge" aesthetic are direct responses to an elder generation that seems spoon-fed, ineffec tual and prettified.
Oliver Stone, a quintessential Boomer, needs to reevaluate his attitude. It's not that Letterman, or the Buster audience he appeals to, "lacks values" or "ridicules values," they simply value a resistance to orderly structure and ineffectual idealism. Let terman may fail to "set the proper tenor for discourse," but at least he doesn't misrepresent history and play the part of a self-righteous media figure too wrapped up in himself to realize how out-of-touch he really is. Today's 20-somethings are challeng ing America to drop the veneer of intellectual polish and communicate their disillusionment in a clumsy, personal way.
For those interested in generational issues in relation to Baby Busters, check out Neil Strauss and Bill Howe's excellent book 13th Gen.