A few movie lines from about forty years ago say it all and they were both improvised ...
I’m walkin here, I’m walkin.
You talkin to me?
Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy asserts his right of way across Times Square. Dustin Hoffman is little man, the sleaze and scum of humanity but he is a man taking his place against the machine, stopping life’s traffic. He is the Chinese dissident who stood in front of the tanks in Tiananman Square. He might be a tree-hugger or an occupier holding his ground against Wall St.
Travis Bickle, the Vietnam vet is damaged goods in Taxi Driver. He practices in front of a mirror rehearsing for a confrontation with his hands and his mouth. It wasn’t in the script. De Niro had heard it somewhere. We’ve all heard and maybe said it but not the way he did. Since then those words have found there way into dozens of movies and are immediately recognizable.
Powerlessness and defiance are universals. Another way of saying, fuck you. Peter Finch shouted out the window in Network, I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore. As I recall in the movie he was mad as hell about the TV rating system which ranked his show down on the list. Paddy Chayefsky voiced his outrage that News programs became entertainment, to juice up their Neilson numbers. However the slogan spread to Everyman, mad as hell about their crushed dreams, about conformity or some inchoate spark gone out.
The other iconic phrase which struck a chord in our collective psyche was said by Marlon Brando in the Godfather. I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse. What better sums up concealed muscle, implicit power, the way Congressman are made an offer from corporate lobbyists…….. vote as you are told or you’ll be back collecting shopping carts in the parking lot.
Pop culture insinuates itself in our vocabulary as a common tongue. It is both a huge megaphone and oversized ear. We are walkin here and we’re mad as hell. At the same time we are impotent, listening close how to gain power, how to make people an offer they can’t refuse. Translate all that to politics and you have the Tea Party, Mad Hatters but not quite sure what the hell they are mad about. Any abstraction will do… government, immigrants, people of color, people who don’t need a church to live a moral life.
The most telling scene in Network occurs when Ned Beatty, chief executive of the conglomerate that owns the station, calls Peter Finch into the boardroom and explains how the world really works. He is told that he’s meddled with the primal forces of Nature, that he has howled about democracy and America and there is no such thing as democracy or an America. There is only I.B.M. and AT &T and Exxon etc… only an international system of currency. At the end of the scene Finch is heard to say, I have seen the face of God. We may be doomed but we’re still walkin and talkin.