Monday, August 10, 2015

A Cheap Vacation in Other People's Misery

"The script is by John Hughes—the man who invented the 1980s—adapted from his Lampoon short story “Vacation ’58.” That story is functionally identical to the movie, except Clark goes to jail for the attempted murder of Walt Disney and it’s set in 1958. Yet in both cases there’s the nuclear American family as doomed pioneers, bound for the West no matter how many are buried on the trail.

"Director Harold Ramis used this as an opportunity to poke fun at the American myth (going so far as to have Clark wandering through Monument Valley expecting to find a gas station) and updated the setting to 1983, when suburban America tried to start from scratch and return to Eisenhower ideals despite the social upheaval and progressive shift of the 60s and 70s. Norman Rockwell’s sentimental ideal of piling into a car for a ramshackle family adventure had a more desperate appeal, then.

"So Clark foists his own nostalgic idea of fun—a 1950s invention, when Disneyland (thinly disguised as Walley World in the film, because Disneyland never closes for repair) was new and the road trip was a conveniently packaged coming-of-age ritual—on his apathetic family. But he does it all wrong. Chase plays Clark as twitchy and glib, a pathological liar utterly devoid of empathy. Basically, he’s a high-functioning psychopath. He’s driven exclusively by pride and self-interest; the man has no moral compass. But he gets by.

"When he meets somebody who doesn’t get by—Cousin Eddie, a caricature of everybody Reaganomics wasn’t helping—Clark feigns empathy but doesn’t achieve it. Here’s Clark, in a new car, which happens to have the unfortunate luxury of being tacky, and here’s Eddie, clutching a six-pack of Coors in the middle of the day, with a rope for a belt, a daughter with no tongue, cheeseburgers with no meat, and dependent on a mean aunt’s social-security pension for even that. His wife works more than one night job. And Clark does his level best to ignore all of it. Clark is the National Lampoon‘s idea of the suburban 80s dad, and it’s scary as hell."

- Kaleb Horton, Rewatching the Original National Lampoon’s Vacation, a Postcard from Reagan’s America, Vanity Fair 

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