They’re not there

My hopes that I’m Not There would present insights into the thinking process of Millennials were somewhat disappointed when I saw who remained in the theater as the lights came up and the final Dylan songs carried right through to the last credits. Behind me, 4 bearded professorial types stretched and chuckled about the inside jokes of this 60’s counterculture mind dump. And beside me, a woman with long rebellious hair who I could easily imagine looking like Joan Baez 35 years ago sat, lost in thought and swaying to an obscure Dylan song while her husband muscled his way into a wheel chair and waited quietly for her to complete her revelry. To my right, my daughter and the only person in the theater with the right demographic, said simply, “I was lost. I only knew 3 Dylan songs.”

I’m Not There is as brilliant as they say. Certainly not satisfying as a character arc or even a plot piece… but as a fresh way of envisioning Dylan’s rich music, it was full of surprises, allegories, and ironic insights into our narcissistic pop culture. My favorite line was when Cate Blanchett as Jude Quinn, the only Dylan alter ego in the movie that looked and sounded Dylanesque, retorted as s/he denied any profundity in the message: “I’m just a storyteller.”

If I could only be “just a storyteller”… oh, well.

As I reflect this morning on Todd Haynes’ movie about that era and its impact on the present, I see similar insights into the silliness of media and its replacement of reality for people. Like Blanchett’s Jude, who was taunted as Judas by her fans, I see the Millennial generation both embracing something new/better and rejecting something old/better. But unlike the various Dylan personalities, the Millennials I rear and work with seem much less impressed with themselves than Dylan was. It’s the self-consciousness without as much selfishness; it’s the narcissism without the mawkish self-love.

I doubt if I’m Not There will click with many Millennials. They’ll dig the visual style but they won’t relate to Dylan’s cynical drunkenness with his own mystique. For today’s youth, the silliness of media is old hat, an obvious fact… but the corruption of all established institutions is not being bought. Motherhood and fatherhood are still revered; schools are respected; governments are served if not blindly; and tolerance of the unusual does not equate with the demonization of the usual.

The movie, and its probable anachronistic feeling for Millennials, also helps me articulate something I’ve often observed on college campuses: Boomer professors booming (in their beards) about a Revolution that never ended … being met with incredulous smiles by a generation that wasn’t buying their discontent. The boomers are there with Dylan, but today’s younger generation is not there.


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