One of the few littered plastic bags I encountered during a recent walk in the CD.
  • CM
  • One of the few littered plastic bags I encountered during a recent walk in the CD.

Let's recall that famous scene in the really bad movie American Beauty: Ricky, a young man with creepy habits, shows Jane, a young woman with a close friend who is the object of her father's fantasies, a cheap video he made of a plastic bag dancing in the wind with leaves. The moment of the bag is supposed to be haunting, hint at the vibrant nothingness at the core of the cosmic, and capture the transient essence of Jane's beauty, which Ricky also films.
Ricky to Jane: "Do you want to see the most beautiful thing I ever filmed? It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing. And there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it, right? And this bag was just... dancing with me ..."
A walk around Brooklyn during a recent windy twilight made it clear to me that there is nothing original, let alone magical, about the scene that "resonates so much with audiences." Indeed, the numerous plastic bags that blew over my head, or circled the branches of winter-denuded trees, or swirled in the yards of apartment complexes were often more amazing, more animated, and more ghostly than the one Ricky shows Jane. One even followed me for several blocks with that aching attitude of a lost puppy.

If Jane had taken a walk through Brooklyn or other parts of that city, and was later shown Ricky's footage, she would have yawned at it all and seen no poetic redemption to his creepy voyeurism. His is a second-rate bag dance. Clever dancing bags are all over NYC—a consequence of that city's shocking backwardness when it comes to practices concerning garbage. Over here in Seattle, we are passing laws that ban the trashing of food and ban plastic bags altogether. Over there, they are still in the dark ages of waste management.