Friday, April 27, 2007

And the war drags on . . .

My disappointment is how we all saw how terrible Vietnam was, and yet we -- and our appointed leaders -- allowed ourselves to be drawn into the same thing. I was watching C-Span when the Democrats folded and voted in Bush's favor [to authorize military action in Iraq]. I was actually crying out, "No, don't do it!" I wenated to go into the TV, grab Hillary [Clinton], get on my knees and say, "Hillary, don't do it. I know you're a better person."

The above is Patti Smith from an interview conducted by David Fricke in the May 3 - 17, 2007 issue of Rolling Stone, the 40th anniversary issue. I have friends who used to be with Rolling Stone and a few who still are. The magazine was taken to task (righly so) here on March 25, 2006 which the friend who asked that it get a mention in the snapshot (which it did today) saw as an effort to do "an end run" around the 40th anniversary issue. If that was "an end run" (I really don't understand that term), I failed since there are no people of color interviewed and since only two women are interviewed. But it is true I do believe in the power of public shaming.

The Fortieth Anniversary issue is on sale now. It most closely resembles the 20th annivesary issue (which really wasn't the 20th anniversary but when you have a network special to promote . . .). You see some of the same people interviewed today. That's not a complaint. Jane Fonda was interviewed then (a joint-interview with Tom Hayden -- and like most of RS' joint-interviews with a man and a woman, what made it into print was largely what the man said). Her interview is one of the strongest in this issue.

Who gets invited to the table, who is allowed to speak, does matter. So it does need to be noted that 20 people were interviewed (all solo interviews) and not one is a person is a color. It needs to be noted that 20 people were interviewed and only 2 are women (Patti Smith and Fonda). If you're bothered by that, it upsets me as well.

I'm not going to excuse it (and I noted it in the snapshot). When I asked for the rundown over the phone today, I was told that a number of people have died. Hendrix, for instance. Well, Stevie Wonder's still standing, to name but one. Jesse Jackson, to name another. If it seems like I'm tossing out male names, that's because we're talking about Rolling Stone and have women really been appreciated there at any time other than during Harriet's tenure? I'm not remembering it. So the issue isn't inclusive -- not by race, not by gender.

I will note that they were looking for people they had spoken to before. (That's part of the premise of the anniversary issue and also how the magazine operates.) (And that's why I immediately tossed out the names Stevie Wonder and Jesse Jackson who were not one issue mentions but were interviewed mulitple times.) I'm not saying set the issue of inclusion aside because it's a huge issue. But even with that huge issue, Rolling Stone's done a better job in this issue of charting the realities of war and more than most of our big magazines -- big names in big media or small media. I was asked if I could give it a mention in a snapshot (and then reminded on the phone today that I had said I would). It was worth that and not a problem on my end (other than the issue of time). But I've now read the issue and think it deserves to be focused on for this entry.

Before the focus shifted to Iraq solely, Sunday night's entry focused on foreign media and Thursday night's focused on alternative media. The Thursday entry was once known as "Alternative Weekly Spotlight" or "Alternative Media Spotlight" or something similar. The truth is that once we switched to Iraq, we couldn't do that. Because alternative media just doesn't give a damn about Iraq. The weeklies are fond of their dining sections and their (White) boys' club movie slams. With few exceptions, that's all they have to offer.

Members of a certain age (including me) can remember a vibrant, active independent media scene. ("Media" refers to print unless otherwise noted. We're being "old school" tonight.) Younger members are often confused (about the independent media spoken of, the once upon a time indy media) or lament that they couldn't experience that -- an independent media that actually gave a damn about covering and weighing in on an illegal war.

You hear a lot of gas bagging about how the young people today are apathetic. They aren't. They are active. They don't get covered very often but they are out there and they are active.
They care about ending the war, they're working on that issue. Gas bags don't notice that and it's strange because the same ones who decry what gets covered and what doesn't, never seem to stop and question if the 'reality' they claim to see is reality or just a reflection of what's being covered (and not covered)?

With this issue, Rolling Stone gets more in touch with its roots than it has in years. And for those who flip in vain through one issue of, for instance, The Nation after another for coverage of Iraq would do well to check out this issue. The apathy being detected isn't in the youth today, it is in the media -- big and small.

They're just there to try and make the people free,
But the way that they're doing it, it don't seem like that to me.
Just more blood-letting and misery and tears
That this poor country's known for the last twenty years,
And the war drags on.

-- words and lyrics by Mick Softly (available on Donovan's Fairytale)

Last Sunday, the American military fatality count in Iraq, since the start of the illegal war, stood at 3323 (ICCC). Tonight? 3334. Now those merry pranksters at the Council for Foreign Relations might spin that to "Only 12 more!" but the reality is 12 more US service members died in an illegal war that never should have begun and that grown ups should have ended a long time ago.

But we don't have grown ups in independent media. We have people who think independent media is a social club. They hire their friends (centrists even) to write (bad) pieces about everything under the sun. But they can't make time for Iraq. The illegal war is in its fifth year. What do they have to show for it? A lot of silly little fluff that could have been churned out by the DNC on 'soft' issues and a lot of silence on the illegal war.

That's all they have to show for it. Iraq is not the (intended) theme of the 40th anniversary issue of Rolling Stone but, flipping through the magazine, you'll find more attention paid to it in the 20 interviews than you've found in five consecutive issues of The Nation. Pick any five you want after the 2004 election.

Rolling Stone's interviewing Jane Fonda, Patti Smith, Jackson Browne, Mick Jagger, Jack Nicholson, Neil Young, Martin Scorsese, Keith Richards, Ringo Star, Norman Mailer, Michael Moore, Bob Weir, Bob Dylan, Tom Wolfe (ugh), George McGovern, Stewart Brand, Steven Spielberg and Jimmy Carter. Not everyone weighs in. Some apparently weren't programmed before delivering their robotic bits -- that will be gold-mined by the ones who see them as heroes and do so by failing to note that heroes speak out against an illegal war -- one hero in particular, has avoided doing so and, as we noted in 2006 at The Third Estate Sunday Review, the general consensus is that's because the person doesn't care about "Arabs" -- read his nonsense -- his long nonsense -- and you'll realize why so many suspect that is the reason for the eternal silence as he sidesteps direct questions, refuses to address Iraq and demonstrates that some heroes are not heroic. Their (aging) White male fan base will still rush to prop them up but the reality is they haven't done a damn thing worth noting in years.

Even with those types included, you still have people who can speak about the world around them. From page, 123, Michael Moore's interview, Moore states:

First of all, we've raised a generation of people who are much more aware of what's going on. During Vietnam, we couldn't get rid of the draft. Now they can't even think about bringing it back. They've had a relative quiet on campuses while they've conducted their dirty war in Iraq, because no one's being forced to go there. They need a draft conduct this war, but they can't do it. That is a testimony to the young people of today.
I do not have a cynical attitude, like many of my fellow baby boomers, about the young people of today; they understand what's going on. The Sixties get romanticized a lot to this generation -- it was all love and Woodstock -- but those of us who were young then know it wasn't that way. If there was a protest in town, it wasn't the majority of students attending, it was a small group of students getting things started.

With another take on the issue of draft, Neil Young from page 138:

America doesn't know it's in a war. Nobody is asked to sacrifice, except for the soldiers who volunteered. The Bush administration would rather shed American lives -- have weary, battle-worn soldiers making mistakes and getting shot -- than lose the lection because they had a draft. But as soon as they have a draft, you'll see everything change immediately. It would be like night and day. Those students are ready to rock. But nobody's pushed the button.

For the record, the protests today are further along than they were during Vietnam. Today, the numbers are larger sooner and actually started before the illegal war did. As someone who's visited campuses and spoken with students (which, despite what some think, includes listening), what I've seen was concerned and active students who waited and waited for leadership to emerge. I don't mean from the peace movement. I mean from the media. That's why politically active students have turned on The Nation. They've waited and waited for leadership on the issue of the war to come from the 'leading' magazine of the left and it hasn't. As they waited, they began creating their own groups (without big money backers who wanted to turn them into get-out-the-vote orgs) and the rumbles are out there and it's going to get a lot louder.

The mistake that is made, my opinion, is expecting young people to initiate while also failing to include them in leadership (a mistake in every movement -- and the peace movement is already on that and already addressing that). Behavior is modeled. You see someone else speak out and it creates a space where you can as well. (The counterpoint is that when a magazine like The Nation ignores the issue of Iraq it sends the message that you're powerless and there's nothing you can do so get focused on the next election cycle!) Michael Moore talks about what he observed and it was a small group of people and actions springing from that (he offers a protest over cafeteria food as an example of how it wasn't just one thing). That's very true and you've seen students (well, you may not have, big and small media hasn't been too interested) stepping up their actions. When that happens, the movement grows and they've raised the bar.

But to expect high school students and college students to take action without any real modeling is just denying what happened in the "60s." There was a large history of activism that predated the protests against the war. Students today have had to not just grab a baton and carry it for the next lap but start the race themselves. Invent the race themselves. They've given up on leadership coming from The Nation (for good reason). They've noticed that the so-called StudentNation is nothing but electioneering and that "students" aren't running that laughable page. If they're lucky, the links to student writing is updated and that comes not from their picks which they know -- many tried to submit only to learn that despite the request for submissions there was no link you clicked on -- despite the phoney claim -- that allowed you to submit a suggestion.

It's laughable and its insulting and as one student in Colorado said this week, "How stupid do they think we are? You can't call it StudentNation and not let students lead." No, you can't. You can't put the same crowd (non-students by many, many years) in charge of StudentNation and "distract" (a student in Arizona) them with your phoney pieces about elections and think they're going to be "tricked" into thinking, "This is by us and for us!" It's not. It's one more con game and it's actually increased student hostility towards the magazine -- and who would have thought that was possible?

They're headed to LA now. The Nation. That was pointed out by a student in Michigan who got an e-mail on it and noted that it wasn't about meeting anyone, it was about selling books. Students know they're not being listened to, they know that StudentNation is not just a joke but a sham. And it comes back to the "How stupid do they think we are?" question. A student this week (I can't remember the state right now, sorry) cited Naomi Klein's work (No Logo and one essay) to make a strong case for The Nation being as out of it as any corporation that thinks they can slap something on and trick people. It's a sham and it's a con job -- a belated and desperate attempt to woo the very people they've turned off. It's not working.

And you'd have to be a real idiot to think it would. They'd already insulted students with the big lie that students were apathetic. They'd made a big to do over giving an award to a student essay whose thurst was "My generation just doesn't care!" (Those suck ups always please their elders.) And now they think they can offer a dumbed down version of their magazine, by the same people that do the magazine itself, call it "StudentNation" and have students rushing to read it? The problem was never that the rag's writing was on too high a level for students to grasp (please), the problem was always the attitudes towards students, the silence on Iraq and the refusal to lead. Offering The Nation: Junior Division doesn't lessen the hostility to the rag. (It does increase the chance that we'll do a parody of it at The Third Estate Sunday Review because I've heard non-stop complaints about it all week, regardless of what campus I was on.)

He's easily the worst president in American history. I don't think that's exaggeration at all. Nobody has put us into such a god-awful mess as this one. Nobody. I read the other day that the interest on the national debt is $750,000 a day -- just on interest. You and I are paying that. Before we get up in the morning, we've got another huge increase in the debt on our backs.

That's George McGovern from page 116 of his interview. Martin Scorsese, in reply to "Today, you notice politicians always saying, 'We need to go foward.'" (page 100) states, "Forward to where? Over a cliff." He discusses the "eternal war" ("This isn't even a declared war, it's the eternal war"). As he talks about that and other topics, you may be reminded of the line Jackson Browne drew (in the 80s) between Scorsese (Scorsese believes) and another director who is merely popular. (Shhh, no names.) And you can find Jackson addressing real issues in the magazine as well. He talks about the illegal war, the need for art to cover the world around it, name checks Holly Near (which should remind readers that no female singer-songwriter is interviewed -- not Near, not Carly Simon, not Joni Mitchell . . .) and notes:

I'm trying to figure out the ending of this song I've written about the war. Somewhere in the middle I ask the question: Who is the enemy? And it's got this simple phrase: "Whatever you believe the necessary course to be/Depends on who you trust to identify the enemy/Who beats the drums of war/Even before the peace is lost/Who are the profits for?/ And who are those that pay the costs/When a country takes the low ground to war?"
By the end of the song, you know who I think it is. I mean, right away, you know who I think it is: "Who make their fortune out of fighting terror?/ Who knows how many people have died in error?" These things are going to be shouted at you.
The truth is, the people who disagree with me will have turned that off as soon as I go there. I'm just going to get as much of it out as I can before they do, and if they do happen to hear it, they might be with me at the end. It's really a good question. Who is the enemy?

Let me list credits (I'm looking at the time and it's past time to start the morning entries). Jann S. Wenner interviews Bob Dylan; Tom Brokaw interviews Jimmy Carter; Anthony DeCurits interviews Jane Fonda, Jackson Browne, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney; David Fricke interviews Patti Smith, Neil Young and Bob Weir; Peter Travers interviews Martin Scorsese and Steven Spielberg; David Wild interviews Jack Nicholson; Eric Bates interviews Michael Moore and Bill Moyers; Douglas Brinkley interviews George McGovern; Jeff Goodell interviews Stewart Brand; Gerri Hirshey interviews Mick Jagger; Kurt Loder interviews Keith Richards and Mark Binelli interviews Norman Mailer and Tom Wolfe.

Not everyone can address Iraq (some, pointedly, cannot -- and that isn't because they weren't asked). But in a 40th anniversary issue, the magazine's done more on Iraq than The Nation has in five consecutive issues. Now there are politicians interviewed -- McGovern and Carter -- but they aren't the only ones bringing up the issue. Nor was Iraq intended to be a theme of the issue. So what happened?

Rolling Stone turned 40 and the thing to do was to note that milestone. (That's not a slam.) To do so, they spoke to people (largely male -- all White) and they printed what was on their minds. (Again, some people have nothing to say on Iraq. Read the issue to know who those sad sacks are but -- warning -- a few man crushes may die for some. And note, there's much more discussion in the issue than what is being quoted in this entry.)

So what really happened?

Rolling Stone, which hasn't been alternative in years, presented the sort of conversations that alternative media could and should be doing. These are the sort of conversations you expected in independent/alternative media during the Vietnam era. Whether it was a politician or writer, an actress or singer, what have you, if they were profiled, you expected to hear about something other than the latest product, you expected something other than the insta-profile (Nora Ephron, in the early 70s, lampooned that crap journalism). And those who were silent back then? Their silence was noted. You knew who was on your side and who wasn't. (And you knew who traveled the squishy middle to cash in.)

Go out and get a copy and, long term Rolling Stone readers will be reminded of the magazine's glorious past. Younger readers who can't figure out how the alternative weeklies came into being in the first place, why anyone would bother to pick them up to begin with, will get a good sense of the power independent media once had.

We'll go out with Jane Fonda speaking with Anthony DeCurtis about the current political climate:

The analogy of an alcoholic is good: I think we've hit bottom. That's a time when, if you still have an intact heart and soul and mind, you can begin to recover. And I do feel that we're heading into a time of recovery as a nation. I think it was reflected in the [2006] elections. I think it's reflected in the hopes that some of the current candidates bring. And young people are hopeful.
I just saw the Dixie Chicks documentary, Shut Up & Sing, and that reinforced my understanding that there is a segment of our people who are so stuck in a toxic mind-set that there's just nothing that can be done. But they're not in the majority.

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