Joseph Cotto, 5/24/2016 [Archive]

For Today's Youth, an 1980s Film has the Answers

Editor's note: This column was originally published at Blogcritics Magazine

By Joseph Cotto

America is careening toward its next presidential election.

Primary season is all but over, and politicos can't stop talking about the problems facing our nation — as well as how they plan to fix them. Very few, if any, dare to bring up the essential reason for America's socioeconomic decline.

This reason is, more or less, a critical lack of motivation across the fruited plains. Young adults do not seem excited about getting ahead. Rather, a good number expect opportunities to be delivered them, and when the inevitable happens, set their sights lower and lower.

Is there anyone who they can look up to during a time like this? Indeed there is, but his identity might shock some and appall others.

The year was 1980, and the 'decade of me' had just morphed into the 'decade of greed'. It was during this distinct sociocultural twilight that director Paul Schrader's landmark film, "American Gigolo," hit theaters.

With a young Richard Gere in the title role, the film not only made fashion designer Giorgio Armani a household name, but raised serious interest about the unapologetically individualistic lifestyle.

Julian Kaye has it all; from a spacious modernist apartment with room service to a gorgeous Mercedes 450 SL to more women than he can handle requesting his services as an escort. He does not live destructively, explaining to an inquiring detective that he derives personal fulfillment from pleasuring clients.

On the same note, he does not live as a means to the ends of others, forcefully stating this much to a powerful, devious pimp.

Julian simply lives for himself, not expecting a single person around him to do the same. A strong financial success — until being framed for murder — he exemplifies the industrious, independent-minded innovator who turns his wistful American dream into an objective reality.

Without embracing the — for some — morally decadent and — for all of us residing outside certain Nevada counties — illegal nature of Julian's occupation, we should wonder why more people do not follow his lead in forging their own path through life.

Traveling the fiscal and social path blazed by Millennials, who acted on advice from their Baby Boomer or Generation X parents, is a plan for abject failure. Racking up six-figure debt to get a Bachelor's degree in English or feminist studies while anticipating highly-paid employment is a recipe for moving back in with mom and dad.

It is also a keen plan for shouldering more debt than they ever incurred.

Nonetheless, this is the course of action taken by all too many. They then moan that the system is unfair and support politicians who promise to subsidize their bad decisions on the backs of productive, hardworking taxpayers. What many Millennials should have done is consider the economy, evaluate their own skills, and map out a feasible career. Just doing whatever and hoping that a college degree will solve all problems is problematic in and of itself.

Almost forty years ago, Julian showed us a time-tested way to be successful; a reliable way to actualize our respective full potentials.

Now that the tradition of a steady job from age twenty to sixty with secure retirement in store is gone — unless one finds serious public sector employment — what will most downtrodden Millennials do?

Will they still pursue that fantasy of a spouse, two or more kids, and a picket fenced house in the suburbs? Or, will they wake up and pursue their own passions without worrying about fitting into the antiquated social molds of yesteryear?

These are questions that must be answered individually. One thing is certain: Expecting public officeholders, parents, preachers, or people just making a go of it to pick up the tab for the maturity-impaired is not only unfair, but unsustainable.

Indeed, we must take responsibility for our own actions, and be unafraid to break convention in meeting the goals we have set for ourselves.

That is the American way, as taught by the American Gigolo. Such a lesson should not go unheeded. Just refrain from breaking any laws while pursuing your ambitions — that did not turn out well for Julian, and I cannot imagine it would for anyone else.


Copyright 2016 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at

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