“This is just like Easy Rider, except now it’s our turn.” The journey of Lost in America (dir. Albert Brooks, 1985) is frequently justified by the lead characters as an act of societal rebellion not far removed from the events of the Dennis Hopper’s counterculture classic. A husband and wife decide to spurn the chains of corporate capitalism and live amongst the American empire in a Winnebago, material world be damned (except for the top of the line mobile home, counter television, and microwave that effortlessly produces grilled cheeses with a perfect “browning element”)! But, being a satire written and directed by Albert Brooks, our protagonists aren’t destined to end up where they expect to be. Over the course of Lost in America, anxiety-related hijinks ensue and Brooks puts to rest that the counterculture generation did anything but sell out.
David (Albert Brooks) and Linda (Julie Hagerty) begin their journey of autonomy not through any real sense of interior discovery, but because of David’s entitlement centered around a promotion he thinks he is justified to (“I must get what I deserve!”) and Linda’s dissatisfaction with her current life (“Nothing’s changed. I’m not. David’s not. We’ve just stopped.”) These are the primary traits that Brooks ascribes to these characters and, by proxy, to the entire yuppie, post-counterculture generation of working adults. They are also the traits that doom their trip. Linda loses all of the couple’s financial security in a wild Vegas night just to feel something and David’s entitlement allows him to repeatedly make an ass of himself amongst almost everyone he meets.
Brooks also takes these traits further and ties them to lack of identity. He posits that the people of this generation have lost most of who they actually are and that they tie themselves to pop-culture totems that they misread in order to fit comfortably with their life decisions. In the case of Lost in America, that totem is Easy Rider (dir. Dennis Hopper, 1969). In America, David and Linda constantly describe their journey as their Easy Rider, a boomer hippie touchstone that presented the freedom of people enveloped by the counterculture and distant from the pressures of corporatism. But, David and Linda are only living the superficial outline that Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper’s characters live in the film. Their journey is explicitly tied to capital, corporate culture, and modernity because of the amount of money they use to bankroll their journey and the comfort they refuse to give up through the purchase of their Winnebago.
In Brooks’s mind, the perversion of the ideas of Easy Rider also implies the perversion of the ideas of the counterculture movement. Sixteen years after release, Brooks believes that the freedom presented in Easy Rider is already impossible given the collective culture of the 80’s. Tellingly, Brooks doesn’t just dump this on the shoulders of his protagonists. In a memorable scene at the end of the second act, David and Linda get pulled over by a motorcycle cop. They eventually get out of the ticket by empathizing with the cop’s love of Easy Rider, a film he loves because the hippies “get blown away at the end”.
This collective cultural miscalculation intrinsically ties into the traits ascribed to the yuppie generation to create heightened satire of mid-adulthood of the boomer generation. The constant throwaway lines about Easy Rider don’t just conjure up a justification for the character’s actions, it also represents a touchstone on what 80’s adults believed when they were different people. Lost in America is a perfect satire because it doesn’t touch on multiple subjects afflicting yuppies, but it ties them all into one big affliction: the loss of ideals and freedom in the face of corporatism.