#ReGeneration isn’t really a documentary, but a visual essay concerned with nothing less than addressing nearly everything that’s presently wrong with the United States; this film wants to change the world, and that ambition and earnestness is initially quite appealing, even moving. And had #ReGeneration been content with one or two or even maybe three subjects, it may have managed to stick the landing, but the film is ultimately scattershot, naïve, and a little exhausting.
Filmmaker Phillip Montgomery’s most compelling assertion, which is objectively inarguable, is that Generations X and Y are largely so apathetic, narcissistic, and overwhelmingly consumed with the attainment of meaningless baubles because of the evolution of mass media. With particular emphasis on Generation Y, the cultural landscape has quickly evolved so as to allow contemporary teens the ability to consume half-dozen forms of media (iPod, laptop, cellphone, TV, etc.) at once in an illusion of multitasking that’s really just a sonic assault that keeps one’s mind perpetually skimming the surface like a stone expertly thrown across a lake. The Matrix is no longer a metaphor, but a reality: Corporations are distracting us with the Kardashians’ sex lives while they wage whatever war they please and increasingly reduce the working class’s standards of pay and comfort.
#ReGeneration eventually draws some conclusions that are more surprising than the fear of media gobbling us up, and the film is on stronger ground when addressing another factor in the present cynical hopelessness of the last few generations of Americans. Montgomery argues, startlingly, that naiveté is partially productive to social reform, as it allows citizens to invest themselves into causes that could bring about change. Generations X and Y congratulate themselves for their savvy distrust of their corrupt government and use that faux world-weariness as an excuse to mentally check out while buying the goods that eventually come to benefit said corrupt government.
No argument, but I wish Montgomery had gone farther, just as I wish he’d explored with greater depth the most insidious contradiction that American culture sells its citizens: promoting every American’s right to self-actualization while quietly encouraging many of them—with high loan rates, movies, and TV—to accept thankless jobs in a corporate Somewhere that often leaves them too exhausted from work and family to finish a sitcom in the evening, much less protest the national government’s response to Katrina or the corporate bailouts a few years ago.
Montgomery has another device that’s potentially meant (cleverly) as satire, but the intentions aren’t quite clear. #ReGeneration is partially editing in a series of rapid-fire cuts of various reality shows and advertisements that’s meant to simulate the process of watching everything and nothing at once, but this kind of montage is never fully allowed to emerge as an ironic expression of what’s basically mass-marketed ADD because Montgomery has several other conceits and themes to also only partially work his way through.
Montgomery has assembled an impressive collection of journalists, thinkers, and all-around malcontents that includes Noam Chomsky, Amy Goodman, Deepa Kumar, and Talib Kweli, and he intercuts footage of their sentiments with interviews with Dustin and Nicole Artwohl, a couple with a child and another on the way who are clearly meant to symbolize the average American family struggling with time management and debt. There’s also footage of a few enterprising high school students in Minnesota, who are meant, one assumes, as a sampling of the current generation struggling to find themselves among the varying social bombardments they face daily. And I haven’t even gotten to the interviews with a successful band or the justified protests against the myths that are often taught as American history. And, to theoretically tie all of this together, there’s also narration by Ryan Gosling.
#ReGeneration explores issues that people must face, if for nothing else than as a potential way of finding their own happiness and self-definition in the ad-littered wasteland that characterizes too much of the United States. But the film is ironically as undeveloped and busy as the sensational media it criticizes, and it’s too sentimental and fevered to acknowledge, with more than a passing word or two, that the instant connectivity of everyone to everyone else also represents a measure of hope. There’s a new revolution, and it’s the Niche Revolution. People can more readily find people who share their unusual interests these days, and they can exchange music and films and stories that might’ve otherwise been clouded out by American Idol. And, from this niche encouragement, citizens can make and share their own art, or unite with one another in protest as some clearly have. Yes, manipulative banality dominates pop culture, but there are alternatives, and these alternative passions could, who knows, one day merge and become something greater than the sum of their parts, perhaps another mass-cultural revolution. #ReGeneration acknowledges the matrix, but it denies the existence of a very real and potentially nurturing Zion.