Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage

Woodstock 99: Peace, Love, and Rage

I feel like this film's marketing, and its last act, tried to tie the "white male rage" at Woodstock 99 to Trump, Proud Boys, etc. It's a bit overdetermined, especially because the film also shows how quickly cultures and attitudes can shift: it's five years between Cobain's death and Limp Bizkit's performance, and things are night and day. But it's 21 years since Limp Bizkit and January 6 and things are....exactly the same? I don't really buy it.

This film is more generous when it suggests that the explosion of rage and property damage was a culmination of the '90s own turn into a kind inchoate nihilism, for which "Break Stuff" served as an anthem, both literal and figurative. You want a "generation defining moment"? This is it. Of course: the extent to which this is really "generation defining" is itself debatable. Ozzfest '99--with more aggro music but better infrastructure--went off without a hitch, bracketing the usual brutish behaviour and latent misogyny that was taken-for-granted of the culture. Phish was pulling off massive, multi-day festivals for hundreds of thousands, where good vibes abounded.

Like Altamont, Woodstock 99 is always spoken of as being super-significant because it signals an epochal shift (here, a millennial turnover) by mere virtue of timing. It's like that Simpsons joke: "Some say the '60s died the day we sold the van: December 31, 1969." Understanding it as a reaction to boomer hegemony (itself signalled by the hand-me-down nostalgia around the original Woodstock) is very sharp, if undermined by the fact that a lot of the violence wasn't just aimed at property or ideas, but at people.

I think this doc was great--and chilling--for tracing how and why a bunch of bad energies collided here, and how the festival served as a nexus of various cultural forces. But in terms of offering any sort of cause/effect analytic, I think it can only fail, or be beholden to recycled media narratives. Because such an analytic fails.

john liked this review