Saturday, 12 May 2012

Billy Jack and the 9th grader within



It's the time of year, and I think you will agree, that television sucks.
We're in the in-between time when all the good prime time shows are ending and the schlocky reality-based shows are rearing their ugly bikinis.
The boss called it; 57 channels and nothing on.
Especially in the summertime.
Even on HBO, there's little to watch aside from the excellent Nurse Jackie; even the summer vampires of Bon Temps haven't re-surfaced yet.
Last night, I was bored and a little numb from outdoor cocktails.
You know the zone, "Hey, I got an idea!"
And so I decided to introduce my son Stefan to Billy Jack.
If movies were songs, then Billy Jack would have been the anthem of my generation. Billy Jack was a our call to action, to rise up and fight injustice everywhere. Made for only $800,000, Billy Jack went on to make a whopping $65 million buckaroos. Not a bad haul for the Seventies.
In the movie, Billy, a half-breed American Indian and Viet Nam vet, returns to his desert home and swiftly becomes a mysterious, self-styled protector of Mustang horses, hippies and people of color.
He is, in two words, totally awesome.
Or he was.
To 14-year-olds of my generation.
Like most movies of its vintage and budget, Billy Jack hardly stands the test of time.
The acting is lame, the fashion is absurd, the music is completely inappropriate.
One Tin Soldier rides away...What is that?
It is full of gratuitous violence, both physical and sexual, and much of it is embarrassing and ridiculous.
(Although, the part where Billy Jack gets bitten over and over by a rattlesnake is still scary and totally awesome.)
But it's still worth watching again, if for no other reason than to reconnect ourselves to our 9th graders within.
Billy Jack is one of those movies that has the ability to transport us back to a time, when all the cool kids wore bell bottoms and fringe suede jackets -- oh how I wanted one of those jackets -- and reminds us of what cynical assholes we have all become.
It wasn't that long ago when people of color were barred from nearly everything because they didn't fit into whitie's cultural norm. It should be required watching for every Grade Niner. Billy Jack would make even the whimpiest nerd want to take up martial arts and kick the shit out of the school bullies.
Those were hard fought battles won with blood and tears in a time when segregation and discrimination was the norm. It reminds us today that intolerance is still alive and well; the focus has just shifted to immigrants, nerds and gay people.
I must have seen Billy Jack ten times back in the 9th grade. It got me whipped up, and it made me want to do something to change the world, to make it better. Somewhere along the line, I traded my idealism for red wine, 600 thread-count Egyptian sheets and flat screen televisions.
I admit it, watching Billy Jack made me feel slightly ashamed of myself.
So if you haven't seen it, rent it, and watch it with your kids.
You'll be glad you did.
By the way, I came across the picture of Tom Laughlin (Billy) and his wife and costar Delores Taylor. They are still railing against the establishment and war and stuff  while in their 70s, which is totally awesome.

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