Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Babyboomer Mythology and Stephen King's It: An American Cultural Analysis

Academic journal article Americana : The Journal of American Popular Culture, 1900 to Present; Hollywood

Babyboomer Mythology and Stephen King's It: An American Cultural Analysis

Article excerpt

Every age thinks its battle the most important of all.

-Heinrich Heine 2.

When baby boomers came of age in the United States in the sixties, they brought to the elements of American culture their own peculiar twists. Casting off the hypocrisy of their elders, baby boomers attempted, through cultural and political protest, to right the wrongs their youthful visions perceived. The vanguard of this massive generation (those born between 1946 and 1950) affected a shift in values within American life, abandoning the "giving-getting" paradigm of the parental generation and adopting the "self-fulfillment" paradigm of its own (Veroff, Douvan, and Kulka; Yankelovich 9). As they grew into full adulthood, they saw their own past as one of glorious protest and rebellion, recreating the ethos of their country's revolutionary founding. But as baby boomers reached middle age and looked back, they began to view their own past not simply with nostalgic longing but in mythological terms as an origin story, and these historical fictions began to work their way into the collective representations of the nation. An elaborate codification of this mythological past is rendered in the four-hour television movie, Stephen King's IT.

As Dundes tells us: "It is the removal from reality to fantasy which allows the human spirit free rein to portray its spiritual struggles and play out its moments of anguish" (50). Origin stories locate a people in time and provide an explanation for their existence. But they are also mirrors into the culture of the people who compose them, even though those mirrors often distort reality. The distortions themselves tell us how collective representations help us to resolve or fail to resolve contradictions in our culture. As Luhrmann says: "The themes and actions of any creation myth reveal issues central to its culture" (335). Stephen King's IT brings into question the underlying motives of the boomers themselves and the connection between them and the rest of American culture, connections which they sometimes consciously deny.

After the fashion of all children, the boomers believe that they alone are privy to the presence and cause of societal evil and that they alone can see it and eliminate it. Reconciling the ideals we have been taught with the realities of life as actually experienced is the project of maturation. But this tale also purveys the vivid memories of fear and pain engendered by the unacknowledged "bad" that lurked behind the "good" in the childhood and young adult lives of boomers - the threat of nuclear war and the literal carnage of a foreign war whose two-dimensional television images were unlike anything seen before by these innocent eyes.

In the course of this narrative, the painful denials and implicit weaknesses of American culture manifest themselves, especially in regard to the seven major characters: Bill Denbrough, a boy who stutters and who is filled with guilt over the death of his little brother; Ben Hanscom, a fatherless, overweight boy living off the charity of an unkind aunt; Beverly Marsh, a motherless girl whose father is poor, alcoholic, and abusive; Eddie Kaspbrak, a fatherless, overprotected, hypochrondriacal boy with psychosomatic asthma; Richie Tozier, a "hyperactive" boy who jokes as a defense and wears glasses; Mike Hanlon, a black boy interested in and trapped by history; Stan Uris, a fiercely rational Jewish boy whose unwillingness to believe the horror that he sees because it seems irrational makes him the most vulnerable of the group.

Each of these children represents someone who has not quite realized the American dream because of some physical or social handicap. Alternately referred to as "the lucky seven" by themselves and as "the loser's club" by their enemies, these disadvantaged American "others" become the mythological substitutes for the privileged, middle class boomers who were the actual precipitators of the sixties protests and changes. …

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