Re: [sixties-l] more .. generations (and Abbie Hoffman)

From: Marty Jezer (
Date: Wed Jun 07 2000 - 02:52:48 CUT

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    Tom, that was more than two bits. A lot of interesting stuff in there, but
    I'll focus on just the media here. Abbie Hoffman was probably the first
    radical to try and understand the media as something the movement could
    learn from. Lacking money for advertisements and public relations, we had
    to find ways to break into the news, and had to learn to manipulate it so
    that the message that came across in our allotted 30-seconds was the
    message we wanted to convey. At his best, Abbie used it brilliantly. At his

    Abbie was a salesman, famous at Brandeis where he went to college as the
    sandwich man who went through the dorms (pure salesman energy, someone who
    knew him then said) selling sandwiches door to door. He wanted to sell the
    movement and to young people. He would have loved what the Adbusters are
    doing today.

    He railed at those who blamed the media distortions for our problems. He
    used to say we spend too much time criticizing the media when we should be
    trying to figure out how to use it.

    Don't know where this fits in to your thread, but it is a late night
    thought. Tomorrow I'll be quiet -- Laker-Pacer game.

    At 05:23 PM 6/6/2000 -0400, you wrote:
    >Interesting thread here. I appreciate the several responses. At times, it
    >still seems we get caught in a false generation metaphor, when in fact (I
    >re-argue) it is never a "generation" that acts in any manner, but a subset.
    >We're really talking about activists. The problem in talking about
    >generations is that has been the insidious way that 60s-bashers have
    >stigmatized the 60s as "self-indulgent narcissists" "sell-out Yuppies,"
    etc. by
    >pointing to these traits observable in today's 40-55-year-olds (or whatever
    >the 'correct' ages are). It's really a case of propaganda, citing behaviors
    >that become manifest in the media culture, asserting that these represent "the
    >Sixties," and then blaming them for today's ills (in the process, obscuring
    >the propagandists' own connection to those ills alleged and otherwise (decline
    >of the family, incivility, drug 'crisis,' sexual promiscuity & AIDS, Vietnam
    >'syndrome,' etc....
    >What really counts, it seems to me are the experiential factors that influence
    >people's outlooks & behavior when they "come of age" (and, of course,
    >afterwards!) and people come of age at different times. Some of the posts
    >what I think are highly relevant events & environments that tended to
    shape the
    >expectations, degree of alienation, etc. of activists differently. I quite
    >agree that the post-WWII ideological blanket ('good war') coupled with
    >anticommunism created a common predisposition among many (including myself) to
    >imagine the best for American foreign policy --until, that is, I began to hear
    >& learn about Vietnam as it forced its way into public consciousness. Some,
    >privy to independent media, radical upbringings, etc. were predisposed to
    >see US
    >foreign policy (and then Vietnam) in a (largely) negative light from the
    >So, events were crucially important --in the 60s. Exposure to civil rights
    >activism had, I think, a huge impact on those who were active in the early to
    >mid-60s. I don't sense that impact in those who joined the "2nd wave" (e.g.,
    >runaways) of the counterculture as 15-16-year-olds in 1967.
    >One (additional) reason I'm interested in this is because my research on
    >media-movement interaction in the 60s is moving towards a theory of how the
    >media's coverage helped to shape & distort the trajectory of the Movement(s)
    >--along, of course, with the horror of the war, govt. repression, etc.-- and
    >these basic media traits [I would list 3: ideological boundaries for media
    >content, emphasis on story,drama,photo,symbol,'bite,' etc. for
    >audience-capture, and a mkt-driven tendency to reach out to any "free spaces"
    >(independent thought, personal subjectivity, etc.) & absorb them on mkt-terms
    >(cf. Tom Frank, Mark Crispin Miller's work).] are what shapes & distorts our
    >politics today.
    >Another way of putting this is that, according to the mainstream media
    >culture's "Sixties" the only continuity to today is a generational one. I see
    >it entirely differently. The continuity with today is the
    >contradiction between a capitalist system and its structural supports and
    >ideology on the one hand, and a truly democratic, universally empowering
    >(envisioned) society on the other. Same 'enemy' only in some ways more so.
    >So, I'd argue for three phases in the 60s era --one running from the early
    >civil rights awakening (Montgomery...) through 1963 (maybe stopping with JFK
    >assassination) [characterized by upbeat idealism, a pervasive belief in the
    >system's responsiveness & democratization, etc.[, a second phase mostly
    >concentrated in 1964 & 1965 [characterized by the beginnings of a
    >criticism-of-the-system, a more radical outlook, but sustained by a sense of
    >the movement's momentum itself (this latter carries on into the later 1960s to
    >a degree), and then a "late 60s" era from around 1966-7 through the end of the
    >Vietnam War [characterized by growing alienation from the system caused most
    >prominently by the war, along with a shifting sense of efficacy --the
    >beginnings of feeling that the movement wasn't going to bring about the full,
    >imagined democracy of the early 60s, that the 'only solutions' were to pull
    >from engagement with the system (either to counterculture communal living, to
    >the new 'personal politics of feminism, or local politics of
    >ecology/neighborhod) or to 'tear it down' (or at least 'do whatever it takes'
    >to end the war.
    >Lots of oversimplification in there, but one key, I think is all that took
    >place in 64-66: first riots, black power slogan, Malcolm's autobiography, war
    >on poverty hype & pull-back of CAP, ERAP & community organizing, Free Speech
    >Movement & its aftermath on many campuses, escalation of Vietnam war, media
    >discovery of "youth," beginnings of Haight & other countercultural
    >communities, rock music ('Dylan goes electric'), etc. In these years, the
    >media began to focus in on the generational phenomenon (mkt-driven), began to
    >"feed back" to the public images of the generation, which in subsequent years
    >have a major impact on behaviors of younger & younger cohorts, many of whom
    >arguably weren't terribly politicized (except maybe for their alienation from
    >the violence /the war).
    >We could talk about alot of details, of course. But this kind of framework
    >leads me to wonder re. Don's sentence: "Much of what happened occured because
    >of friendships and group affinities rather than because people believed in any
    >particular politics" WHEN his frame of reference was? Friendships and group
    >affinities were important parts of the politics I experienced, but they tended
    >to come from the politics, not the other way around. Lots of friendships that
    >I knew or saw suffered a great deal of strain because of the politics. So
    >this comment in Don's post caught my attention. It sounds more "late-60s
    >coming of age" to me....
    >I think the personal perspectives, like Gretchen's, are highly interesting &
    >ought to be shared against this kind of thread/discussion. In my own case,
    >in late August, '45, I wasn't really a "boomer" in the technical sense,
    kind of
    >the 'cusp.' Which only helps me view the generational explanation with a great
    >deal of skepticism, I guess. But, if we reverse the typical
    >fare, and focus on the shaping impact of events, I think we gain a great deal
    >more insight into history and the forces that shape it (and today's
    >than we do by focusing on this generation or that generation. Across our
    >various age differences, if we talk about what has shaped our outlook (and
    >behaviors), I think we come to a much better understanding of each other, and
    >of today's world.
    >Just my 2 bits,
    >Department of Political Science
    >Maginnes Hall #9
    >Lehigh University
    >Bethlehem, PA 18015
    >phone: (610) 758-3345
    >fax: (610) 758-6554

    Marty Jezer  *  22 Prospect St. *  Brattleboro, VT 05301 * p/f  802 257-5644 

    Author: Stuttering: A Life Bound Up in Words (Basic Books) Abbie Hoffman: American Rebel (Rutgers University Press) The Dark Ages: Life in the USA, 1945-1960 (South End Press) Rachel Carson [American Women of Achievement Series] (Chelsea House) Check out my web page: To subscribe to my Friday commentary, simply request to be put on my mailing list. It's free!

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