Crispin Glover’s Gripe with Back to the Future

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.

starwars 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.

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.