BIKER NEWS: Evel Knievel’s America: How the ultimate modern good ol’ boy made our dangerous appetite for the amped-up, the over-hyped and the renegade mainstream | Outlaws Bikers News

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BIKER NEWS: Evel Knievel’s America: How the ultimate modern good ol’ boy made our dangerous appetite for the amped-up, the over-hyped and the renegade mainstream

BN- The post-ironic philosophy The New Sincerity doesn’t have a clear definition, beyond being post-ironic. It also doesn’t have obvious ...

BN- The post-ironic philosophy The New Sincerity doesn’t have a clear definition, beyond being post-ironic. It also doesn’t have obvious exemplars. Those who have been called new sincerists range from Wes Anderson to Kevin Costner, from Bronies to David Foster Wallace. In a 2006 manifesto on The New Sincerity, public radio host Jesse Thorn cited another example—Evel Knievel.

“Let’s be frank. There’s no way to appreciate Evel Knievel literally. Evel is the kind of man who defies even fiction, because the reality is too over the top. Here is a man in a red-white-and-blue leather jumpsuit, driving some kind of rocket car. A man who achieved fame and fortune jumping over things. Here is a real man who feels at home as Spidey on the cover of a comic book. Simply put, Evel Knievel boggles the mind.

But by the same token, he isn’t to be taken ironically, either. The fact of the matter is that Evel is, in a word, awesome. His jumpsuit looks great. His stunts were amazing. As he once said of his own life: “I’ve had every airplane, every ship, every yacht, every racehorse, every diamond, and probably, with the exception of two or three, every woman I wanted in my lifetime. I’ve lived a better life than any king or prince or president.” And as patently ridiculous as those words are, they’re pretty much true.”

This isn’t Knievel’s only contradiction. As a stuntman, Evel Knievel was fantastic—a savvy and nearly unparalleled showman. But as a man, he was often despicable—a philandering, hard-drinking, good-old boy who reportedly forced actor George Hamilton to read a script at gunpoint, and later beat a promoter with a baseball bat over an unflattering book. Knievel’s showmanship made him a symbol of his time, and an American icon. As an icon, what Knievel represented is, in hindsight, equally as troubling as the entertainer himself.

In the last year, two documentaries have tried to make sense of Knievel’s legacy—2014’s “I Am Evel Knievel” and the new “Being Evel,” released in theaters last last month. Many of the same talking heads appear in both, but the way the two films diverge shows just how hard it is to critique our idols.

It’s no great challenge to tell the story of Knievel’s life, and it takes almost no effort to make it seem symbolic. Raised by his grandparents in Butte, Montana, Robert Craig Knievel was a hardscrabble kid who wanted something more than orphan life in Butte could offer. Interviewees in both movies say he was a con man before he was a showman. He allegedly committed crimes and cracked safes (a jail officer first called Knievel “evil”). The turn, it seems, came when he went straight, selling insurance. Knievel the insurance agent broke sales records through a combination of charm and smarts. He reportedly told the company president he would break every record on the books if he could be made vice president after. When he didn’t get his wish, Knievel quit and started selling motorcycles. This was his last regular job.

In 1965, Knievel attempted to make a bit more money by putting on a show. He would, on a motorcycle, jump an assortment of cougars and snakes. He didn’t make it. Eyewitnesses in the new documentary “Being Evel” tell of an audience running from snakes unleashed by Knievel’s motorcycle, while the man himself preened and waved.

Bob Knievel had released more than snakes.

The jumps grew bigger, the failures more injurious, and the jumpsuits more patriotic. Both movies praise the soon-to-be red, white and blue-clad Knievel as a salve on a frustrated nation’s friction burns. The obligatory footage of Vietnam and civil rights marches (one movie sets them to the tune of the more-obligatory “Season of the Witch”) plays as various friends and followers of Knievel talk about how a man jumping a Harley Davidson over fountains in Las Vegas gave America something more real than the footage of war broadcast nightly on television. Ironically, in a time when images of death were flashed into every American home like never before—images of Americans dying for an American cause—the country simultaneously focused on watching to see whether a man dressed in stars and stripes would kill himself for entertainment.

“Nobody wants to see me die,” one Knievel quote goes. “But they don’t want to miss it if I do.”

Knievel later came to represent a certain type of conservatism in early 1970s America. Though he wasn’t Southern, he was rural at a time when rural and Southern identities were fusing and the old South was being plowed over by new industry. “Knievel appeared to many observers as a relic of a dying way of life, the ‘last of the white boys,’” writes historian Bruce Schulman in his book “The Seventies.” Knievel, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Hank Williams Jr. and a handful of other entertainers modernized the imagery and swagger of the old South, while the new South sought to distance itself from good old boys and Jim Crow.

And what a good old boy Knievel was. The term was even popularized (but not invented) in Tom Wolfe’s 1965 Esquire article about another rural motorsports hero, stock car racer Junior Johnson. Like Johnson, Knievel took something that already existed and made it faster, louder, more extreme. And this, somehow, made it more American. The South may have been turning away from its old image, but others were turning away from free love and hippies. One news report says of Knievel, “He’s no ‘Easy Rider’.”

More: http://www.salon.com/2015/09/12/evel_knievels_america_how_the_ultimate_modern_good_ol_boy_made_our_dangerous_appetite_for_the_amped_up_the_over_hyped_and_the_renegade_mainstream/

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Outlaws Bikers News : BIKER NEWS: Evel Knievel’s America: How the ultimate modern good ol’ boy made our dangerous appetite for the amped-up, the over-hyped and the renegade mainstream
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