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Crispin Glover’s Gripe with Back to the Future

He felt the film offered too much corporate propaganda.

Walter Hudson


February 28, 2014 - 12:00 pm
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Back to the Future actor Crispin Glover sat down with IGN recently to talk about his experience filming the classic time-travel adventure. Glover only worked on the first film in the franchise, though his likeness and select footage from the first film was used in the second.

In his interview with IGN, posted above, Glover explained some of the creative differences which contributed to his leaving the franchise. He objected to what he called “propaganda” in the film promoting “corporate interests.” Specifically, Glover felt that the ending of the first film, portraying the McFly family as happier and notably wealthier than when it began, sent the wrong message.

The happier was fine to me. And the idea of the characters being in love, I thought was excellent. But I thought – I saw that if there was a kind of a financial reward, where the son character cheers because he has a truck in the garage – I thought that the moral aspect ends up being that money equals happiness. And I questioned that, and that was met with a lot of hostility and upset.

Glover recalls watching old movies in revival houses as a teenager in Los Angeles, films which he felt “were questioning things.” He apparently did not want to be complicit in a film which takes for granted that “money equals happiness,” a message he felt deceived moviegoers into sacrificing their interests to that of corporations.

Propaganda is essentially fooling people into believing that there’s something good for them, but it’s actually in the interests of the corporations. I mean, you can call anything propaganda. You can say what I’m saying right now is propaganda. I mean, you’re saying – it’s propagating an idea. But the kind of propaganda that I’m speaking of, that I think is very damaging, is the propaganda that is making people at large feel that what’s being put forth to them is good for their own interests. But in fact, it’s actually best for the corporate interests and it ends up hurting the people at large.

And unfortunately, I think – even though there are very positive things about Back to the Future – there’s very good story structure. There was good writing within it. My argument was, if we just take out the element of wealth as a reward – and it was only that the characters were in love, I would like the film altogether wholly.

The philosophical notion fueling Glover’s objection was that money should not matter if you pursue those things which you love.


Joseph Campbell’s identified narrative structure known as “the hero’s journey” has been used in many popular blockbuster films.

He drew upon the “hero’s journey” narrative pattern articulated by mythologist Joseph Campbell which purports that a story’s moral can be derived from its “elixir,” the prize the hero wins in the end.

Joseph Campbell is the guy who has the best message, which is “follow your bliss,” which means follow what it is that you love and money doesn’t matter.

I mean, I understand. We live in a capitalist culture. So money is a very relatable element. Who doesn’t want to make a lot of money? Obviously, it helps you do many different things, to accomplish things that you want to do.

But I think what Joseph Campbell was saying – which he’s totally right – is that, if you are doing what you love and you find it interesting, then the money doesn’t matter and money follows, because you’re doing what you want to do.

In all these comments, Glover presents a very confused notion of value and its expression in monetary form. He makes a distinction between “your bliss” and money. While he clearly understands that you need money in order to “do many different things” he seems to regard that fact as an annoyance or corruption of something pure.

Value amounts to whatever you love. Money represents that value. If you love watching old movies in revival houses, absent a gift or some arrangement in barter you will need money to do it. If you love acting in big blockbuster films like Back to the Future or Disney’s Alice in Wonderland, an investment of money will make those endeavors possible.

Glover expresses a half-truth in his objection to Back to the Future’s ending. It is true that following your bliss may prove of greater value to you than money. What you value is ultimately a subjective individual judgment. However, pursuing a value does not guarantee that you will obtain it, or that the money necessary to sustain you will come naturally.

Tens of thousands of aspiring actors waiting tables in New York and Los Angeles stand as testament to that fact. While each may find it more valuable to pursue their dream than simply make money, they cannot make money without producing something of recognizable value. If they cannot get paid to act, they will continue to need another job to sustain their life.

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This notion that you should pursue your dream, follow your bliss, or do what you love remains very popular in our culture. But it may actually deprive many people of the happiness they could otherwise find by prioritizing the making of money. Dirty Jobs’ Mike Rowe explained in a 2008 talk:

So I started to wonder what would happen if we started to challenge some of these sacred cows. “Follow your passion…” What could possibly be wrong with that?

It’s probably the worst advice I ever got. You know, follow your dreams and go broke, right? That’s all I heard growing up. I didn’t know what to do with my life. But I was told, “If you follow your passion, it’s gonna work out.”

I can give you thirty examples right now. Bob Combs, the pig farmer in Las Vegas who collects the uneaten scraps of food from the casinos and feeds them to his swine. Why? Because there’s so much protein in the stuff we don’t eat, his pigs grow at twice the normal speed, and he is one rich pig farmer. And he’s good for the environment. And he spends his days doing this incredible service. And he smells like hell. But God bless him. He’s making a great living.

You ask him, “Did you follow your passion here?”

He’d laugh at you. You know, the guy’s worth – he just got offered like sixty million dollars for this farm and turned it down outside of Vegas. He didn’t follow his passion. He stepped back and he watched where everybody was going, and he went the other way. And I hear that story over and over.

Sixty million dollars will buy you a lot of revival house film tickets. Money and happiness may not be precisely the same thing. But money and value are, and it’s the production of value (making money) which fuels our pursuit of happiness. Published author George McFly might have been inclined to agree.

Walter Hudson advocates for individual rights, serving on the board of the Republican Liberty Caucus of Minnesota, and as president of the Minority Liberty Alliance. He hosts a daily podcast entitled Fightin Words, proudly hosted on Twin Cities Newstalk Podcast Network. Walter is a city council member in Albertville, MN. Follow his work via Twitter and Facebook.

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All Comments   (11)
All Comments   (11)
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What in the name of all things relevant known to man is an actor discussing moral issues in a comedy (!) film made 30 years ago? It is a comedy and a very good one too. What does he gain by fretting over a 30-second portion of a film? In the film "When Harry Met Sally" did Meg Ryan get all bent out of shape doing that funny restaurant scene calling it 'immoral'? It is a comedy. You are not supposed to delve into philosophical issues in a comedy.
50 weeks ago
50 weeks ago Link To Comment
"if you are doing what you love and you find it interesting, then the money doesn’t matter and money follows, because you’re doing what you want to do."

Isn't that what George McFly was doing? He was living his dream of writing science fiction and making a good living at it. Isn't that exactly what Glover is talking about?
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
Well Glover isn't the sharpest tack in the box, is he? His main objection seems to be that the father and mother buy their son a truck with the money that his father makes as a successful author. The glorious final scene where Marty sees his father a successful and confident man is given the final touch when Marty sees his very own car. The American car is a symbol of all that is great about the American dream: Travel, freedom, exploration, new beginnings. Take the car out of the scene and it wouldn't be the same.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
And there are things that one can learn and become a better person - no matter what the job - discipline, hard work, working with other people in a civil manner, taking pride in a job well done, learning how to see what you do as providing a service to others - things that will shape one's soul for the better. Whereas one could do great damage to one's self by doing whatever it takes to follow one's bliss - financial recklessness, certain immoral acts (the casting couch comes to mind), destroying others to get exactly what you want...
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Only in the twisted worldview of the actuary are money and value the same thing. Express in dollars the value that a man has for his son when he rushes into the burning building for him. How much gold can you get for the first place trophy (no intrinsic value implied) in an amateur sports competition that you trained for months to earn? How much money would you trade for another conversation with that beloved friend or relative who has since died - or to keep the memory of last one you had?

Neither does money fuel the pursuit of happiness. At most it makes some avenues of pursuit possible, but you can pursue happiness - and achieve it! - regardless of your current state.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You're presenting a false dichotomy. While many values exist which money cannot buy, money remains an expression of value. No priceless values which money cannot buy can be created or sustained without the values money represents. Where does the first place trophy come from? Who made it? How about the food you ate to prepare for the competition? Your rent or mortgage? The roads you drove or walked to get there. There's some distance between acknowledging what money cannot do and demeaning money as some kind of corrupting force. Money stands in for those values which sustain and enhance our lives. To hate it is to despise ourselves.
51 weeks ago
51 weeks ago Link To Comment
He didn't, you did:

"Value amounts to whatever you love. Money represents that value."
49 weeks ago
49 weeks ago Link To Comment
Money can't buy happiness, but sometimes lacking it can become a big obstacle. What if your son needs an expensive medical operation? Or your loved one is half a country away and would need you there right now, but you can't afford the plane ticket? It can be a lot easier to be happy if you don't need to stress about your finances.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
We're talking about fiction vs. real life, and that's Glover's problem. In real life we know lottery winners who frittered away their sudden Victorian inheritance. That happened because of their value system. Their's lives suddenly became more expansive but their values stayed the same. In truth it does not take much money to live an expansive life, at least in America. It takes values.

That's why money is wasted on the rich. Do you think Mick Jagger and George Soros would ever solo hike the Inca Trail? They don't have the value system to do that, or even crave it.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
That family is not happy at the end of the film because they are wealthy, but because they are functional. The distance between their former dysfunction is greater then their marginally greater wealth, since they live in the same home.

Jane Eyre is more corrupt in Glover's eyes, since she literally is only able to pursue her love without the institution of marriage when she inherits money. Without either money or marriage, she originally left Rochester because she risked being thrown aside as had Rochester's former lover, and having her perhaps future child taken from her, as had Rochester's former lover.

Eyre returns to Rochester because she has money, thinking marriage is still unavailable to her because she is unaware of the death of Rochester's mad wife.

Sudden wealth is at the end of many Victorian dramas. The idea is that the good guys are already happy - they're the GOOD guys, secure in their moral and proper value system. It is the lack of money that makes their lives less expansive.

Back to the Future is actually contrary to what Glover suggests: it is one of the few films where what is changed is the atmosphere of a worthy value system. In that way it is like A Wonderful Life, but which also has a more timely introduction of money than Back to the Future, where it is a little frosting on the cake, not a plot point. The noble hobo is still a hobo, and that is how a lot of dramas begin: nobility minus money or plus disenfranchisement. At the end it is nobility plus money or franchise, which are often the same.

The lonely alien John Carter not only gets a princess, but wealth, respect, and a title. If he met a maid, what happens? In the 4th book
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Indeed, the happiness, confidence, and following of the bliss is what leads to the acquisition of the money the family ends up with. Not the reverse.
52 weeks ago
52 weeks ago Link To Comment
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