The movie revels in the absence of anything weighty, but its carefree message resonates today
Image: Wikimedia Commons
I have never surfed—never even dreamed of surfing or had any inclination to pick up a board—and yet in this summer of our discontent I have become mesmerized by Bruce Brown's timeless documentary The Endless Summer. It is a beautifully shot film from pristine locales chronicling the worldly travels of two dashing surfer dudes in the mid 1960s. Brown's masterpiece has been airing over and over again this summer on ESPN Classic, and it seems to me like a perfect antidote to all the bad news coming out of Washington these days.
Wouldn't we all like to leave everything behind and go out in search of the perfect wave right about now? Wouldn't we like to worry about nothing more than finding the right beach with the right surf and the right water temperature? I'd bet the ranch that President Barack Obama, he of the Hawaiian birthplace, would sign on to that deal if he could. If the movie were food it would be your favorite dish at the local diner. If it were a song it would be the sort people pay to listen to in order to fall asleep. If I were a doctor, I would prescribe it to my patients.
Here's how Brown's people subsequently described what he accomplished nearly 50 years ago:
In 1964, filmmaker Bruce Brown decided to follow two surfers around the world in search of a perfect wave. On a budget of only US $50 thousand, with a 16mm camera, he captured the essence, the adventure, and the art of surfing. Hence the renowned The Endless Summer. From the waters of West Africa, through the seas of Australia, to Tahiti, two surfers from California achieved their great dream: to try the wildest waves in the world.
Here's a brief video clip from the film:
The genius of the movie is that it seeks to do no more than record an escape from the burdens of the real world. 1964 was a particularly important pivot point in American history. It was the year of the Warren Report; the year of the Gulf of Tonkin episode that led to the disastrous escalation of America's involvement in the Vietnam War; the year of Barry Goldwater and the Civil Rights Act. These momentous events were happening—shaping a generation—and yet these guys were chasing waves from here to (literally) Timbuktu without an apparent care in the world. They were tuning out in the sun and the surf long before their contemporaries began tuning out with drugs.
The Sandals performed the music for the film, and the surf rock themes are, you might say, epic. Here's the score:
The documentary was released in 1966 to surprisingly good reviews from mainstream movie critics. The timing was serendipitous. The technology of filmmaking would not have allowed the film to be made five years earlier. And five years later, in 1971, the sun and fun would have seemed far too frivolous following the race riots, Kent State, and the body bags coming home from Southeast Asia. For these reasons, The Endless Summer seems as much of a period piece as Citizen Kane or Gone With the Wind. Yes, son, there really was a time when the beaches were clear and no one bugged you to put on sunscreen.
The film indeed revels in the absence of anything weighty. There is a single remark by Brown about South Africa's apartheid—he lamely notes that the area's sharks and porpoises segregate themselves in the water. There is a sexist remark about the bathing suits of Australia's female surfers. A few locals here and there are made fun of. And that's about the extent of the film's political message. We don't know what the boys think about anything beyond what they think of the water and the waves and the size of the surf. They aren't characters so much as props.
The film's philosophical message, on the other hand, is front and center: There is art and science in most human endeavors, including the ones that ultimately matter the least to the story of our existence on Earth. The "perfect wave" doesn't exist only in the perfect world these men inhabited during their journey. And yet the surfers were as beautiful and as graceful as the beaches and waves upon which they played. They were as carefree as the fish they saw in the water or the animals they saw on land. No wonder the Beach Boys used the title for their 1974 memorable compilation album (Side 1: "Surfin' Safari," "Surfer Girl," "Catch a Wave," "The Warmth of the Sun," and "Surfin USA").
The Endless Summer, the movie, became an anthem to the world's surfing community. And it helped inspire an international boon in surfing while continues unabated to this day. "Now it's mainstream," Brown told an interviewer last year, "but in the '50s and '60s you were an outcast, you didn't want to mention it in some circles." I'm no movie buff, and I'm sure y'all will correct me if I am wrong, but I cannot name another movie that led a cultural revolution as much as this one evidently did. The Endless Summer introduced world-class surfing to the world and the world was ready and delighted to make the acquaintance.
No doubt there are young men and women in America today who, like me, have seen the old movie on ESPN and become inspired by the grace it portrays. Good for them. I won't ever make it onto a board. But, alas, those who will are likely to search in vain for the empty beaches and mellow pace the boys found, the boys exuded, when they went on their worldwide tour in 1964. Everything has changed since then—everything but the waves of course.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
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Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan on Tuesday announced the arrival of their daughter and pledged to give away 99 percent of their Facebook shares.
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We will give 99% of our Facebook shares -- currently about $45 billion -- during our lives to advance this mission. We know this is a small contribution compared to all the resources and talents of those already working on these issues. But we want to do what we can, working alongside many others.
Without the financial support that many white families can provide, minority young people have to continually make sacrifices that set them back.
The year after my father died, I graduated from grad school, got a new job, and looked forward to saving for a down payment on my first home, a dream I had always had, but found lofty. I pulled up a blank spreadsheet and made a line item called “House Fund.”
That same week I got a call from my mom—she was struggling to pay off my dad’s funeral expenses. I looked at my “House Fund” and sighed. Then I deleted it and typed the words “Funeral Fund” instead.
My father’s passing was unexpected. And so was the financial burden that came with it.
For many Millennials of color, these sorts of trade-offs aren’t an anomaly. During key times in their lives when they should be building assets, they’re spending money on basic necessities and often helping out family. Their financial future is a rocky one, and much of it comes down to how much—or how little—assistance they receive.
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Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
Scores of highly qualified students are failing to secure spots at the Golden State’s public universities.
Monday was the deadline to apply for a coveted spot as a University of California student. For certain UC hopefuls, that deadline marked the culmination of years of sleep deprivation and SAT prep, writing-center visits, new extracurriculars, and one last frenzied Thanksgiving break.
But a majority of this year’s UC applicants won’t be admitted. That’s true for both in- and out-of-state students; even some of the brightest and most qualified of the bunch won’t make the cut. The UC system famously ranks among the Ivies and other elite colleges when it comes to selectivity. California’s 1960 Master Plan for Higher Education built exclusivity into the university’s brand, guaranteeing tuition-free admission to the top 12.5 percent of California’s public high-school graduates. Today, even as California’s high-school population grows in size and in ability, the plan’s enrollment thresholds remain fixed in place. The Campaign for College Opportunity, a nonprofit that advocates for access to higher education for all Californians, released a report on Monday suggesting the state is far from providing every in-state student a chance to pursue such education. And according to Michele Siqueiros, the CCO’s president, that means “students need to be virtually perfect to get a spot at the University of California.”
Critics of the HIV-prevention pill say it's not as good as safe sex. That's a false comparison, and a dangerous one.
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That night, I sat on the sofa in my friend’s high-rise apartment in downtown Miami, peering down at the grainy, sodium-vapor-lit sprawl. I related the story of an older friend who’d tried to console me by saying HIV-positive people stay healthy. His words, while well-intentioned, only served to amplify the generational difference between us: Gay Millennials, when they think of HIV, think more about dating than about death. On my way over, I’d seen couples walking together and thought about how I’d likely never have that—so many people I might have coupled with, all lost opportunities now.
For men in America with access to health care, HIV isn’t usually fatal. But it’s stigmatizing, expensive, and permanent.
Welfare reform has driven many low-income parents to depend more heavily on family and friends for food, childcare, and cash.
Pity the married working mom, who barely has time to do the dishes or go for a run at night, much less spend a nice evening playing Boggle with her husband and kids.
But if married working parents arestruggling with time management these days, imagine the struggles of low-income single parents. Single-parent households (which by and large are headed by women) have more than tripled as a share of American householdssince 1960. Now, 35 percent of children live in single-parent households.
But while the numbers are growing, the amount of help available to single mothers is not. Ever since the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Law (generally referred to as welfare reform) placed time limits and work requirements on benefits in an effort to get welfare recipients back into the workforce, single-parent families have had a harder time receiving government benefits. Some states have made it more difficult for low-income single-parent families to get other types of assistance too, such as imposingwork requirements and other barriers for food stamps. According to a recentNew York Times column, between 1983 and 2004, government benefits dropped by more than a third for the lowest-income single-parent families.
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This strong commitment to meritocratic ideals can lead to suspicion of efforts that aim to support particular demographic groups. For example, initiatives designed to recruit or provide development opportunities to under-represented groups often come under attack as “reverse discrimination.” Some companies even justify not having diversity policies by highlighting their commitment to meritocracy. If a company evaluates people on their skills, abilities, and merit, without consideration of their gender, race, sexuality etc., and managers are objective in their assessments then there is no need for diversity policies, the thinking goes.
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It’s fairly easy to see how well a movie does financially: Box Office Mojo is an open and available breakdown of Hollywood profits by movies that makes for fascinating reading. It’s not as easy for books. The closest approximation for Box Office Mojo in the literary world isNielsen BookScan, asemi-accurate database available to authors, viaAmazon, and libraries, media types, and publishers, via subscription. If a lay consumer wants to find out whether a particular novel has sold 10,000 copies or only 150, there is no reliable way to do so.
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Despite all the attention focused these days on the fortunes of the “1 percent,” debates over inequality still tend to ignore one of its most politically destabilizing and economically destructive forms. This is the growing, and historically unprecedented, economic divide that has emerged in recent decades among the different regions of the United States.
Until the early 1980s, a long-running feature of American history was the gradual convergence of income across regions. The trend goes back to at least the 1840s, but grew particularly strong during the middle decades of the 20th century. This was, in part, a result of the South catching up with the North in its economic development. As late as 1940, per-capita income in Mississippi, for example, was still less than one-quarter that of Connecticut. Over the next 40 years, Mississippians saw their incomes rise much faster than did residents of Connecticut, until by 1980 the gap in income had shrunk to 58 percent.