Camp Brando: where little loners can be contenders
PORTLAND, ORE. — "Hey Joey!" I yelled to a neighbor boy. "What's up? I thought you were at summer camp."
"It closed," Joey replied. "The man in charge said it's because of somebody named Brando."
Other kids along the street confirmed the news, so I drove to the camp and talked to the director.
"It's true," he said as we walked among the deserted cabins. "When I heard that Marlon Brando had passed away, I realized it was time to make a serious change here, so I shut everything down temporarily. Children these days are growing up with no understanding of how youth culture developed during the past 50 years. Most of them seem to believe that breaking rules and making fun of adults is some sort of entitlement."
"Does that mean," I asked, "you're planning to reopen this place as one of those military-style boot camps that instills respect for authority?"
"No way," said the director. "I don't mind if kids choose to be surly and alienated. But they need to know the cultural context that facilitated public acceptance of such behavior. Nobody cared about the hopes and fears of brooding loners until Brando and James Dean came along and made us feel sympathetic and then fascinated by the inner turmoil of their on-screen characters. Suddenly it was cool to be a restless young rebel."
"So," I cut in, "you're going to create a sort of Brando Camp, where kids can get real experience with the myriad nuances of youthful rebellion?"
"Exactly," he said. "If they're going to pursue it as a life goal, fine. I just want to give them enough background to make an informed decision."
He pointed toward an open field. "A motorcycle track will go there," he said. "Those machines are an iconic element in the evolution of the modern antihero. If Brando jumped off the screen in 'The Wild One' and had a rumble with Peter Fonda in 'Easy Rider,' who would've won?"
"Good question," I agreed. "You could write a thesis on it."
"They will," he said. "The literary component will be called Kerouac Day. Each camper will type nonstop for six straight hours, and the entire output will consist of a single continuous sentence. Later, in the drama workshop, they'll revise the material into one-act stage presentations."
"Sounds like a rigorous schedule," I said.
"It's all about motivation," the director replied. "Earlier generations had plenty of cultural forces to resist. In the 1950s it was bland societal conformity. In the 60s, Vietnam and the civil rights movement came along. But around the late 70s, youth culture started going stale. A lot of kids now are just watching the Bravo channel and phoning in their angst."
"Here's something to consider," I said. "Instead of a summer camp, how about a cultural theme park? An alienated-youth version of Colonial Williamsburg."
"You make it sound like ancient history," he said.
"Well," I said, "when was the last time you heard a kid say, 'Never trust anyone over 30?' "
He stared at me, nodded slowly, and said, "It seems like a very long time ago."