There seems to be this never-ending debate on what can be considered American, and what would be considered a patriotic act. Can killing a man the John Wayne way be considered American, or dying for your country the Easy Rider way be considered American? Of course it is only American until it is no longer a dominant ideology and that is what Easy Rider strives for. It strives to show the many faults in the dominant ideology of American nationality, the ideology that was once held so sacred in the classical Western.
With that in mind, Easy Rider can be considered a counter-Western for many reasons. Mainly, Westerns take pride in what they have accomplished and the obstacles they have overcome. Their approach is usually outward. There is never really any self-criticism. Easy Rider opposes that approach. It is inward. It is as much about the individual as it is about society. It is personal. It criticizes the “self-serving hypocrisy” (BFI, 40) that America seems to have built it’s nation on. It shows that it is not actually the land of the free, it is controlled and materialistic and therefore not liberated at all. We see this with Wyatt’s attempt in freeing himself from the materialistic concept that is time; he takes off his watch and throws it away on the side of the road.
Materialism is the classic tale of the American psycho. What can the average American man be driven to madness for, or even death, in the case of Easy Rider, when it is not for materialism? As Bill says in the end of the film, “You go for the big money, then you’re free,” they use America’s weapon for freedom but before you know it their weapon buys you a seat in their house where the never-ending journey to the American dream is. The money in the tank of Wyatt’s chopper with the American flag on it represents America, the land that promises liberation but instead offers the feeling of endless anticipation and those who are ‘different’ are obstacles in the way. This money is what distracts them; it is what forces them to keep on moving so they can stay in close reach for that ambivalent American dream. Something that clearly becomes symbolic of instant gratification, which means there is never really satisfaction, there will always be a search for more.
From this, we can see how the film is political. It shows the repressed among the dominant. Unlike Westerns where the repressed is depicted as rightfully inferior, Easy Rider talks about fear within the repressed, justified fear because as we see the good guy never wins. Money always conquers. George Hanson is that man who does not fight with his appearance but fights with his words for the freedom of speech and individuality. His acceptance of those unlike him is what killed him. He understood that fear in America was a fear of that which is not controlled by the American man. With that, there is a realization in the film that some people’s ideals directly clash with the reality that is America, ideals that are harmless but somehow threatening. Some may argue that the travelling shots are unnecessarily long and lack information. I disagree. Easy Rider does not have to be literal and direct like a classical Western. These travelling shots are what freedom feels like and looks like, it exemplifies just the simplicity and harmlessness of what freedom is to those two.