Turn Down the BS | Letters | Chicago Reader

Turn Down the BS 

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To the editors:

Because I'm such an admirer of Jonathan Rosenbaum, having seen Pump Up the Volume, I'm shocked that he could describe it as "a clarion call for freedom and collective action that is both hopeful and energizing" and implore the world, "Don't miss it" [Reader's Guide to the Silver Screen, section two, August 31].

At age twenty-eight, I don't think I'm too old to remember the bitter pills of adolescence, but a decade of critical distance has led me to conclude two things: (1) everyone feels that way at the time, and (2) if you play your cards right, with age comes wisdom.

It's the second of these which Pump Up the Volume assails head on. Let's assume for a moment that the film's oft-repeated sentiment that the world is a stagnating cesspool is true. The question, of course, becomes what do we do about it? The film's answer--frenetic action in whatever direction, as long as it screws things up--is dangerous if, for no other reason, than the fact that no matter how much the cesspool stinks, it can always get a hell of a lot worse and the road there is paved with wrong, unthoughtful action.

Of course, in pleading its case, the film doesn't fight fairly. The school is run by a couple of bumbling fascists, one of whom looks like Vince Lombardi's evil and stupid twin. Christian Slater's parents remind one of Emilio Estevez's brain-dead parents in Repo Man. Even more despicable is the film's cheap attempt at political correctness by coyly hinting at a plot by the school's administrators to rid the school of black and hispanic students who are faring poorly on standardized tests.

To the rescue in all of this, surprise, is the voice of youth. It's to our teenagers that we are to look exclusively for the world's courage, moral strength, good conviction, and wisdom. As such, the film's true antecedents are not investigations into the rage and pain of youth such as Rebel Without a Cause, but a long line of smart kids vs. dumb adults works whose ranks include the likes of Dead Poets Society, Porky's, and Doogie Howser, M.D.

At least the Tribune's High School Movie Panel liked it, or does that prove my point? Sure there are problems in the world and sure adolescence is a time of acute pain, but is the answer really abandoning adolescents to their own unguided and unchecked devices rather than encouraging them to seek out the good, the wise, and the beautiful?

Oh, by the way, this high school D.J. plays Leonard Cohen. I suppose he keeps those Leonard Cohen albums between his Laura Nyro and Peggy Lee albums. What more proof do we need that this is not the voice of today's American Youth but the calculated product of some very adult minds?

Call me old, but for my money, I'll take Rock 'n' Roll High School where the Ramones gleefully ran around Vince Lombardi High, sang beat on the brat with a baseball bat, and blew the place up, releasing all sorts of pent up angst and frustration, and had the good sense not to cloak it as politics or art.

David Vlcek

S. Keeler

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