UPDATE: Thanks to Ed Driscoll for picking up on this, and fleshing it out, using (among other things) observations by Peter Wood, author of a cultural history of American anger:
“The scene became famous as a showpiece for Nicholson, who is himself famous for his bursts of destructive anger, but it has also become a cultural touchstone.
For some, it is ‘the best waitress scene ever,’ a memorable putdown of annoying waitresses. Nearly a thousand websites cast it in such approving terms.
But when people brought it up in conversations with me about anger, the sentiment was the reverse. One woman told me that her sympathies were entirely with the waitress, who is humiliated while just trying to do her job.
A male film critic mentioned the scene as the point where American movies began to celebrate gratuitous anger.“
As Wood concludes, Five Easy Pieces “gives us an early version of anger as an egotistic performance of the liberated individual displaying his superiority to the dumb conformists who are aggravating props in his drama.”
Everyone’s asking: what was Chick-Fil-A server-harasser Adam Smith thinking?
Could this be the answer?
Nicholson’s Bobby was a counter-culture hero even though the film itself isn’t blatantly “political.”
After all, what could be less political, the film’s creators must have reasoned, than a chicken sandwich…