The Pursuit of Happiness

“This used to be a hell of a good country.
I can’t understand what’s gone wrong with it.”

When people of a certain age and experience begin to think about when and how America went wrong, they almost inevitably hear echoes of George Hanson’s little sermon, delivered by Jack Nicholson in Easy Rider.  An ACLU lawyer and a conceited Southern liberal out of touch with his own people, Hanson, like most smug leftists, was only feigning ignorance.  He explains to the obtuse Billy (Dennis Hopper) that ordinary Americans are afraid of freaks like him because freaks enjoy the liberty that is the American birthright.  The rest of us may say we want freedom, “but it’s real hard to be free when you are bought and sold in the marketplace.”  In other words, it is hard to be free when you are the slaves of a vast economic system.

It is difficult to believe that Dennis Hopper, much less Peter Fonda, wrote this dialogue, though their names appear in the credits above the real scriptwriter, Terry Southern.  Fonda and Hopper had the original conception for the film, but apart from passages of what Southern called “dumb-bell dialogue” improvised by the actors, Southern wrote most of the script.  Although often regarded as a cynical hipster who hung out in Paris with the founders of the Paris Review...

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