Sunday, October 01, 2006

Somebody tip Gramps' rocker already

Did you catch American Idol this week? Wow. When that guy sang Michael Franti & Spearhead's "Time To Go Home?" -- it was awesome. Then we checked out Ellen and there was Ben Harper explaining why he was against the war. We were watching The New Kopplettes on Nightline interviewing Medea Benjamin ("What does the peace movement want?" was the first question) and almost missed Neil Young's firey musical performance on Leno. But we caught it just in time to hear the last chorus of "Living With War." Then, later in the week, we were flipping through Vogue and just amazed at the new fashions being sold to "Young America" and how it was called "The New Peace Look." We'd barely put that down before we picked up Rolling Stone's cover story asking "When Will Teeny Boppers Who Say They're Growing Up Address the War?" They had a drawing of Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears in diapers. It was so funny. They were crying like they'd dirtied their nappies so we were joking about how their CDs must be in there. We almost missed the cover of People magazine: "Darrell Anderson Comes Home" read the headline. And over on PBS' NewsHour, there was Norman Solomon, Tom Hayden and Leslie Cagan as guests for a roundtable.

All in all, a pretty amazing week.

If it had happened. But it didn't. In September of 2005, we went to DC and asked people why they were participating in the demonstrations? Ivan (62, from Michigan) told us:

I think today is great and am thrilled with the turnout. I protested against the war on Vietnam and there it took us years to get the momentum going. What I worry about is where are the people? I don't mean the protestors, I'm really encouraged with the cross-section today. But, okay, you've got Cindy Sheehan. Great spokesperson. Ralph Nader's here and maybe he can make up for the recent past or maybe not, but he's here. The actress from Tootsie and Cape Fear, right Jessica Lange. She's here and I didn't remember her name but she really did give a great speech. I'm glad those people are here. But we need more.
And in my day, the people had others. Yes, we had Jane Fonda, Fred Gardner, Joan Baez, Tom Hayden and others front and center. But you also had people backing it up. Like Bob Dylan. I think he went to one protest with Joan Baez for civil rights. But his songs backed up what his actions didn't. Or you turned on Dick Cavett or David Frost and there was an author or singer or someone and they weren't at the protests but they'd put it on the line and they'd say, like John Phillips [Mamas and the Papas] that the war was wrong. I caught Jane Fonda on David Letterman, when her book came out. And he asked her about the war and she said she was against it and the audience just went crazy with applause and cheers. But are there younger people doing that? Is it just people my age? Maybe there are and I just don't know them. But part of the reason the movement finally did end the war is that our cultural heroes were willing to speak out. You hear a lot of that sneering "You're a celebrity, shut up" talk and that's really fearing the power if they do speak out. With Vietnam, and this isn't a full list, just names that come to mind, you had Joan Baez and Jane Fonda front and center, but you also had Phil Ochs, you had the whole Mamas & the Papas, you had John Lennon, Mia Farrow, Tim Hardin, Laura Nyro, Peter Fonda, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Joni Mitchell, Jim Morrison, Janis [Joplin], the Rolling Stones, Grace Slick and the [Jefferson] Airplane, this whole list of people. And you had people my age and younger and we weren't that different from kids today, we thought about what was in front of us. So when you have these people that you watch or listen to talking about it, it put it front and center. There were a lot of priests and a lot of Quakers and a lot of really solid activists who worked and gave their time to ending the war. But what kept it on the front page was a) real reporting with real photos and b) the fact that you couldn't escape it. You turned on the TV to escape but there was some entertainer talking about it. It was front and center. Now maybe there are people doing that today. I don't watch much TV now. Maybe if I turned on Letterman every night, I'd see some young people coming on to talk about a movie or TV show and I'd hear them speak out against the war. But I really don't get the sense that's happening.The right spent a lifetime demonizing Jane Fonda. There's a reason for that. They want to make sure no one else is tempted to use their power. They're scared of what would happen if entertainers really started throwing their weight around and making the people buying tickets or records think about this war.

That's the way it was. The way it is? In 2004, Diane Sawyer wouldn't go on the air with Natalie Portman in a John Kerry t-shirt. Forget an anti-war message, just a John Kerry t-shirt was enough to panic the woman who did her best to shame the Dixie Chicks in 2003.

Depending on the poll, 59% to 70% of Americans are against the war today but you can't tell it from your TV. You can't tell it from your popular magazines. You can't tell it from the music on the "Hot 100" stations.

We bring that up because it was time for another lecture from the rocking chair this week. Not yet forty, Michael Socolow was still feeling a bit like Gramps last week and forgetting anything he may have learned growing up (including the power of TV -- which he should have grasped despite being born the year after Cronkite's "But it is increasingly clear to this reporter that the only rational way out then will be to negotiate, not as victors, but as an honorable people who lived up to their pledge to defend democracy, and did the best they could" Vietnam broadcast), he needed to trot out the Kids-today-ecch bit. It's tired, it's boring, it's not true. But damned if it didn't get him linked by Common Dreams. (See "War Protests: Ardent Elders, Unaware Youth.") Gramps, you trotted out a tired speech. Doesn't reflect reality, but, hey, it paid a bill, right?

(For C.I.'s take click here and here.)

If Socolow hadn't been so bound and determined to play Gramps, maybe he could have talked to his own father who should have been able to tell him some of the many differences between what got covered during Vietnam and what gets covered today.

It's not just the coffins returning to Dover that are hidden. The activism against the war is hidden. That's on the news (or what passes for it), that's on the entertainment programs. Rolling Stone which one covered the peace movement now makes do with a New York Press reject who's busy setting himself up as the next P.J. O'Rourke. (Though we can't remember O'Rourke using the 'journalistic' term "dipshit" in the pages of Rolling Stone. Possibly the 'terminology' is why the gutter dweller writes "The Low Post"?) When the Hawks have landed at Rolling Stone, maybe all would-be Gramps need to do a reality self-check?

And maybe, instead of whining from their desks about what "Youth Today" are doing, they might actually do a little work before writing their pieces? (We will note that Socolow, unlike the reject, was not a "nerd" throughout school and college. Why he feels the need to write like one now is anyone's guess?)

The "sixties" (which they didn't witness) were a time of exploration and upheaval. The alternative press came alive. Not as some sort of Moony-wanna-be press that reject wrote for, but as an honest attempt at being alternative. That exploration had more to do with demography (population size) than anything else. For the babyboom a term would be coined ("teenagers") and they soaked up the media attention's then (and still do). As Jim Morrison sang, "We got the numbers."

Today, media has consolidated. The only "youth culture" that dominates is a heavily marketed one. (Justy and Britty would have been gone long ago were that not the case. Never before have those with so little dominated the airwaves for so long. We're surprised Bully Boy hasn't put one of them on the FCC already.) It hands "messages" from on high about what to buy, what to fear.

It does not provide models for activism. It does not provide stories of activism. Surveying this non-reflective coverage (imposed from above), the Gramps set wants to diss the "kids." The alternative media isn't any better. We'll give three examples. The Nation (finally) takes a look at campus activism and they do so by interviewing centrist kids fronted by foundations. Our next examples revolve around the immigration rights movement. You may remember the reality of how that happened, California students taking the lead. But Democracy Now! gave us big media (Belo) in an over long interview (where he managed to slam the kids) and The Progressive decided somebody had to cover this youth movement and who better than a Gramps?

The feminist movement from the early days of the second wave got demands that young feminist take part in the decision making process. And that movement responded to it. It's awfully strange that so-called alternative media can't give the "youth" of today a voice. (But then feminism was far more inclusive in the "sixties" than the anti-war movement tended to be at the top. Toad still bears the battle scars from his attempts to "man" the gates and protect the "citadel.") Inclusion sends a message and so does exclusion and alternative media might need to grasp the fact that, for the most part, those under thirty are not being invited to the table.

Along with sending a message of non-inclusion, it's also true that a movement without coverage grows slowly. But despite the tsk-tsking from rocking chairs, students are a part of the peace movement and their numbers are increasing.

Last week's Gramps wanted to tell you about how "the youth" didn't participate in sit-in actions last week. Using C.I.'s phone lists, we contacted "youth" activists in this area (something Gramps didn't do) and they stated there was no effort at reaching out to them, that they learned of it after the fact. Want bodies there for your demonstration? Go beyond the people you know. The fact that students active against the war didn't even know about the activities goes to several issues (including media coverage) but it doesn't go to apathy and, possibly, if Gramps hadn't wanted to shine it on about the good old days (that he didn't participate in due to his age), he might have looked for reality.

Ignore the Grumpy Gramps, let Franti and Spearhead put you wise (from "Yell Fire!"):

A revolution never come with a warning
A revolution never sends you an omen

[Note: C.I.'s phone lists are not for sale nor are they going to be shared. We're noting that because of some of the e-mails we get here and because Ty's expecting a lot of e-mails asking, "How can I get a copy?" You can't. (A) No one knows you from Adam. (B) You could be the government. (C) Those lists were built up the hard way, going city to city. In a period of e-activism, it may be hard to grasp -- the political parties largely don't -- but face to face is still the best way to build a movement.]
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported License.
Poll1 { display:none; }