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29 April 2006

Pump Up the Volume (1990)

Christian Slater (Mark / Hard Harry), Samantha Mathis (Nora)

Directed by Allan Moyle (Empire Records)

From IMDB: Mark runs a pirate radio station and causes an uproar when he speaks his mind and enthralls fellow teens.

What strange, rambling review this will be; bear with me.

I first saw this film as part of Dr. Klein's Great Ideas class in the autumn of my second year at BGSU. TK showed the film as part of our discussion about civil disobedience, which was a much better choice than his decision to show Lawnmower Man as an example of post-modernism. But I forgave him: science has demonstrated that 82% of people never understand the much more appropriately post-modern classic Blade Runner, so it was probably more fun to play MST3K with Pierce Brosnan's horror of a non-Bond role than to explain the whole "he is an android" thing to my classmates.

I remembered only two things about Pump Up the Volume from that initial viewing: the finale and THE KISS. Samantha Mathis and Christian Slater - topless, both of them - circling around each other like a mix-up of hunter and quarry, neither one pulling back and neither one making the first move. Has there ever been such a sexually-charged pre-kiss scene? They were both bare from the waist up but had not even touched each other. Palpable tension. Lots of heaving and panting. Mind you, we watched this scene in some sort of AV-rigged classroom with the lights out, so the heaving and panting was restrained and largely unacknowledged for fear of 19-yo mortification. But c'mon people! We should have been necking in one big happy mass!

An opportunity missed. For me, that would have to wait another year.

Flash forward ten-and-a-smidge years and you find me, a staring-at-30 housewife / mother of two. My husband is going to work for Philip Morris this summer to better figure out how to sell cigarettes to folks in Amer'ca. What happened? Instead of feeling intense TAKE ON THE SYSTEM vibes, I sat watching this movie and wondering how to protect my sweet little girls from the afflicting discontent I saw on screen. Granted, the kiss was just as good as I remembered, but I felt a sense of dejected, heartsick apathy wash over me. What is the point? What can be done? I was not that rebellious of a teen. Is that good or bad? Maybe my girls will fare just fine...

But luckily, that torrid mash was not the end of my thought process.

My darling Generation X, granted, was a bunch of whining sops, but at least we complained about something - 80s greed, excessive militarism, joblessness, skyrocketing divorce rates, bleak futures. Now, surveys find the current crop of high school grads ever more willing to sell out at an earlier age for the niceties of life they still experience while living at home with mommy and daddy. C'mon - you don't have to march the streets, but at least put on a flannel and moan about the day Kurt died. Just... anything!

However, in raising our kids, my overly idealized goal for their futures involves earth-shaking, radical change. Wouldn't it be fun if they participated in a G8 protest, joined the Peace Corps, went to work for Amnesty, or fought for unrestricted access to AIDS drugs in Africa? Make a difference!

(So what have I been doing, you ask? I am busy teaching my little revolutionaries hot to read and pondering the very real possibility that, in their hatred toward the world's abundant unfairness, they will - in their infinite, youthful wisdom - label me "SELL OUT" and hate the apparent apathy of my existence. I will, one day, sacrifice my pride to their painful accusations as they go forth to tackle injustice. Fair enough. A painful, gut-wrenching job well done on my part.)

Christian Slater is, in Pump Up the Volume, a teeny-bopper version of every great revolutionary leader who has ever - reluctantly - stood up for a cause. Do you think that Gandhi, Lincoln and King wanted to be killed, that Elizabeth Cady Stanton didn't want to sit home with her husband and seven kids, that Wałęsa and Madela enjoyed prison, or that Aung San Suu Kyi wouldn't appreciate the taste of freedom one day? When Mark wants to pull the plug on his pirate broadcast, Nora tells him, "You're the voice you've been waiting for." Being a revolutionary is a dirty, nasty, horrible business, (note to self: maybe I should steer the girls toward accounting), and he is reluctant to take credit for the lives he has changed or to face the repercussions should he be caught. But, because no one else has the balls, he must take that stand. Someone has to do it. In this case, it might as well be (what ever happened to?) Christian Slater.

My mood was lightened considerably with the two film's two final minutes. As Hard Harry faces one of a revolutionary's inevitable ends (the others being death or the aforementioned "SELL OUT" moniker), he encourages all of the assembled miscreants and hopefuls to take to the airwaves and make a difference. They do. But now, ten years on from my initial viewing and 16 years past this movie's release date, our quiet revolutionaries are writing and talking and bloging and linking and taking a stand here, on the internet. In 1990, it was short-wave radios and LPs. Today it is the internet and MP3s. New, more effective technology, same old crappy adversaries.

So go watch The Daily Show and even unknown muckrakers like Zefrank. Read The Daily Kos and Crooks and Liars. Go write a friggin' e-mail. Support Bono, Russ Feingold, George Clooney, and all the other A-listers who could be sitting at home, shagging and getting fat. Hard Harry, among others, would be proud.

Blogger Shadowspun said...

This is still one of my favorite movies, 16 years later (Oh, Gods, I'm getting old!). I wasn't the rebellious kid in school, either. I got in troulbe, sure, but never burned my principal in effigy. He did deserve it, though.

I never equated HHH's message to blogging, though. You're right. This is the next incarnation of the message of PUTV.

Blogger carrie_lofty said...

Thanks for stopping by. How did you chance upon my blog? I love your history bits - will stop back later!


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