[sixties-l] Surviving Survivor While Thinking Of Abbie

From: radman (resist@best.com)
Date: Wed Aug 30 2000 - 18:29:42 CUT

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    Surviving "Survivor" While Thinking Of Abbie


    By Danny Schechter

    Wonder what Mr. Survival of the Fittest, Charles Darwin, would be thinking
    as the surreality show "Survivor" moves from the realm of television into
    the arena of TV legend. CBS has cashed in already, and all l6 of the
    "survivors" of this staged sitcom-cum-adventure show that has titillated TV
    viewers all summer are making deals for commercials, endorsements and TV
    careers. Attention, world TV viewers: This money-maker will soon be
    restaged and localized by TV companies in your countries. Instant celebrity
    is, as we know, bankable. "Survivor" has been a media bonanza all around.
    A board game, reruns and more reunion shows are already in the works.
    I am thinking of another survivor game this week after seeing a new flick:
    "Steal This Movie," based on the life and times of Abbie Hoffman, a media
    star of the '60s. Abbie's "cast" back then consisted of a few thousand
    hippies and yippies trying to survive the rigors of a Chicago Park
    surrounded by a few thousand of that city's "finest" police determined to
    use their clubs to drive them out of town. Abbie had his own alliances and
    tribal councils, but in 1968 the power of the police
    "pigs" the protesters called them overwhelmed those who thought the Bill
    of Rights applied to them. Mayor Daley forced them off his island. In one
    of the great revealing slips of the age, he actually said: "The police are
    not here to combat disorder. The police are here to preserve disorder."
    Now we have Abbie making a comeback of sorts, on the silver screen in a
    film that has disappointed most of his old friends and political running
    mates. Perhaps that's a reflection of the difficulties of recreating the
    spirit, chaos and consciousness of the '60s. Ellen Willis ruminates about
    this in the New York Times: "The greatest obstacle to representing the '60s
    in more than cartoonish fashion is that it was thoroughly mythologized even
    as it was happening. Two kinds of voices dominate the present conversation
    about the '60s: those who condemn the utopianism of the time as a
    totalitarian delusion, and those who sentimentally endow it with a moral
    purity unknown to today's era of rampant materialism and cynicism about
    politics. What's missing from both accounts is the '60s as emotional
    experience: the desire to live intensely, the hope that people could have
    more than Freud's ordinary unhappiness. For my generation, the pursuit of
    happiness was not a slogan."
    A new generation is not always living their dreams and fantasies but
    experiencing them vicariously through TV vehicles like "Survivor." Abbie
    and his cohorts tried to change reality; the Tagi Tribe is out to win a
    million, not build a movement.They picked a schemer as their role model.
    Abbie the dreamer was one of mine.
    Although the movie's target is the government's vicious COINTELPRO program,
    which aimed at dividing and demoralizing the Movement, it may end up
    accomplishing what the FBI never could: making Abbie and his Chicago 7
    colleagues seem unsympathetic.
    In a flyer intended for distribution at screenings, one of Abbie's fellow
    yipsters focused on points the film didn't make: "When Abbie published
    'Steal This Book" under the name 'FREE,' he was sending a countercultural
    message to American youth to challenge an unjust system, to act as a
    citizen, not a consumer. He was about revolution, boxing with THE MAN, not
    box-office revenues." (Ironic, isn't it, that Napster probably the most
    popular site on the Internet could be called "Steal This Music"?)
    Abbie probably would have seen the humor in "Steal This Movie," a
    cartoonish characterization, a "disappointingly square" and "clumsy
    attempt," in the words of the "Hollywood Reporter." He would have laughed
    at the hypocrisy, as he often did. But we Abbie loyalists see it less as a
    joke and more as an example of how reality can be twisted, how our heroes
    and struggles can be reduced to commercial formulas what Hollywood's own
    top trade calls "manipulative filmmaking."

                        The View From Under 30

    For another generation's view, I sent a stolen copy of "Steal This Movie"
    to my 23-year-old daughter Sarah, now working in Hollywood, who met Abbie
    and wrote a high-school term paper about him. Here's part of her take:
    "When I heard that someone was making a movie out of his life, I was
    excited. I looked forward to seeing my hero on screen rather than the
    pathetic, compromised men usually heroicized in American film. The cast
    looked great, the title, also great. Unfortunately the film is not. When I
    screened a copy of "Steal This Movie'" I realized that what was stolen was
    Abbie. What was lost was Abbie. What was missing was Abbie. For those
    unfamiliar with Abbie's amazing life, the film is incomprehensible. For
    those who are familiar, it is a waste of time. Without insight or
    explanation, this film is all surface. But not even a complete surface,
    just various extreme close-ups of small areas, so that no whole is visible.
    No meaning discerned. No conclusions reached. The '60s become a camping
    trip, Abbie a "crazy" scout leader. "Steal This Movie" has stolen Abbie,
    stolen his life, his experiences and most of all, most sadly of all, his
    life's meaning. His meaning to me, his meaning to his friends, his family
    and his meaning to the world."
    I guess she didn't like it either!

                        Delving Into Meaning
    Sarah speaks of meaning, an idea that is missing in much commercial media.
    If true, that means viewers, readers and listeners like us have to find it
    in our lives and work. Abbie himself meant a lot to the people who learned
    from him and loved him. He was often called a media manipulator (Ellen
    Willis uses the more accurate term "media artist" in her Times essay), but
    when I asked him about that, he'd laugh. "How many networks do I own? I
    wish I did."
    At the same time, he had a genius for understanding the zeitgeist of the
    minute and getting it into the media. Whether it was getting arrested for
    wearing an American flag shirt (Did you notice how many flags were worn at
    both political conventions this year?) or staging political theater, he
    understood the power of media and the importance of getting a bigger
    megaphone for his political views.
    Ironically, back in 1977 when I met and interviewed him, when he was still
    underground, he was working on a book called "Soon To Be a Major Motion
    Picture." My interview, reprinted in a new e-book collection called "News
    Dissector," closes with thoughts of someone who, in the end, couldn't
    survive a manic depressive condition, but whose spirit survives nonetheless:
    "There's a money-back guarantee on this book," Abbie said. "If people are
    not completely satisfied, they're to see me personally, and I'll give them
    their twelve bucks back. Now you remember I promised never to tell a
    lie? You know what happens when I tell a lie? My nose gets bigger. Okay,
    I'll read you the ending of the book. It's a serious book. I'm aiming for a
    "There is absolutely no greater high than challenging the power structure
    as a nobody, giving it your all, and winning. I think I've learned the
    lesson twice now, in two different lives. The essence of successful
    revolution, be it for an individual, a community of individuals, or a
    nation, depends on accepting that challenge. Revolution is not something
    fixed in ideology, nor is it something fashioned to a particular decade. It
    is a perpetual process imbedded in the human spirit. When all today's
    'isms' have become yesterday's ancient philosophies, there'll still be
    reactionaries, there'll still be revolutionaries. No amount of
    rationalization can avoid the moment of choice each of us brings to our
    situation here on the planet.
    "I still believe in the fundamental injustice of the profit system and do
    not accept the proposition there will be rich and poor for all eternity.
    "So, this is the end then. Well, I've had some good times. I've had some
    bad. I took some lumps, I scored some points. Halfway through life at
    forty-three, I still say, go for broke. No government, no FBI, no judge, no
    jailer is ever going to make me say uncle. Now, as then, let the game
    continue. Bet my stake on Freedom's call. I'll play these cards with no
    regrets. Signed, Abbie Hoffman, Underground, U.S.A., Autumn of the seventies.
    "That's it. That's it. I've got to go."
    Me too. But not without lamenting that the contrived fun and games of
    "Survivor" is what captures the national imagination these days, not the
    example and ideas of an Abbie Hoffman. At the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, he
    was asked on the stand where he lived. His response:
    "Woodstock Nation, a country that lives in the imagination of a
    generation." Its hope: peace and love, and to transform a dead culture and
    a country at war. How will this generation answer the question? An island
    off Borneo, where the credo is "outwit, outplay, outlast?" Its fantasy: win
    a million bucks and a Pontiac and drive off into the sunset?

    - Danny Schechter (danny@mediachannel.org) is the executive editor of
    MediaChannel, and the author of "Falun Gong's Challenge to China" (Akashic
    Books, 2000).

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