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Same As It Ever Was: War, Peace, Wall Street, and the Smothers Brothers

1:45 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

 

The Smothers Brothers dressed in Roman outfits as centurion and statesman

The Smothers Brothers. The work of the best jesters is timeless.

Firedoglake’s Elliott recently reminded me of the immortal humor of the Smothers Brothers. Though this duo was before my time, their humor resonates today in political satirists and jesters like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. From a lengthy discussion between David Bianculli, well known media critic and author of Dangerously Funny: The Uncensored Story of the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, and Fresh Air’s Terry Gross:

I think that it’s most visible right now in places like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live and Bill Maher. All of them are outside of prime time, but they’re all sort of doing elements of what the Smothers Brothers did.

Stephen Colbert tried very briefly to throw himself into the presidential race, just as Pat Paulsen had. A lot of Jon Stewart’s humor is very much what the Smothers was, and he admits that they were a very strong influence. Bill Maher says the Smothers were a very strong influence. And Saturday Night Live I sort of see as what the Smothers Brothers almost had the chance to become.

Their appeal was cross-generational:

GROSS: And that’s one of the things that makes the story so interesting. You know, it’s the second half of the ’60s. The youth culture has become the counter-culture. Youth culture has also become, a lot of it, the anti-war movement. The country is, like, divided, people are going wild, and television is reflecting somewhere between very little and none of that.

Mr. BIANCULLI: Yeah, it’s almost – there are so many parallels to today that it amazes me, in that now you think of red state, blue state, and we have this giant divide, and the parties are divided, and the whole country seems, you know, ideologically divided.

[...]

And the Smothers Brothers came on, and at a time when there was one television in the house, and everybody watched it; for the first couple of seasons, they pulled this amazing magic act and straddled the chasm of the generation gap. They had Kate Smith and Simon and Garfunkel on the same show. They had Mickey Rooney and The Who on the same show and appealed to both, you know, generations.

As Elliott said, “even my businessman dad liked the Smothers Brothers!”

Censored for years, they kept on satirizing. In the end their uncompromising political message drove them off the air, with CBS firing the duo and the rest of their comedy ensemble under pressure from the White House. Though the Brothers and the ACLU fought a successful legal battle in response, their careers were effectively over. A documentary, Smothered, tells the whole story — but only clips seem to be available online.

Who Goes to Jail?

Compare the lyrics of “Big Time Crime,” the video above, with this story from yesterday’s Democracy Now! In “Who Goes to Jail?” Amy Goodman interviews Matt Taibbi about his new book, The Divide.

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Three Tricks from The Global 1% Playbook

8:00 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Protestors in gas masks in Gezi Park

Gas Masks in Gezi: This Is What Democracy Smells Like?

Many journalists and experts have cautioned against drawing too many parallels between the Occupy Gezi movement and Occupy Wall Street, or between the Turkish uprising and the uprisings of the Arab Spring, such as the one centered around Egypt’s Tahrir Square. It’s true that Turkey exists at a pivot point between secular and religious that is unique to its history, for all the superficial resemblances that may have to The Handmaid’s Tale fantasies of America’s Christian conservatives. Each people, each culture, is unique and so are its uprisings.

Yet the Turkish people have embraced the Occupy moniker, as well as solidarity with other global movement’s like Spain’s #15M. Likewise, occupiers and activists worldwide have marched and rallied in support of the Turks. Social media technologies enable a global connection and worldwide solidarity.

And whatever the cultural differences, Monday’s attack on the Gezi Park encampment underlines how the Global One Percent use a shared playbook when they suppress those pesky outbreaks of democracy:

1. Free Speech is Filthy

Much like the empty support voiced by Democratic mayors and politicians in the first days of Occupy Wall Street, Austin Police Chief Art Acevedo infamously commented “This smells like free speech!” during an early visit to the Occupy encampment at City Hall. Months later, he was complaining to the press about the reek of urine and feces at the site. Occupiers were forced to dismantle the camp late at night, three times a week, for a power-washing that did irreparable damage to the beautiful tiles of the plaza. When it still wasn’t filthy enough, the formerly public bathrooms were permanently locked — even after occupiers cleaned them and painted over graffiti.

A similar scenario played out nationwide. By the end of the encampments, crackdowns were being justified by the “health hazard” camps posed. After police swept in and literally tore these temporary communities to shreds, mainstream media could point to footage of the piles of wreckage as evidence of how Occupy filled public spaces with tons of garbage.

It was no surprise to many of us when, as police massed outside Gezi Park last night, the announced purpose of this assembled army was merely to assist in “cleaning up” the space.

Other than “Get a Job!” the asinine comment occupiers heard shouted most often was “Take a shower!” Our rulers and their media puppets did nothing to discourage this. Modern culture is, if anything, overly neurotic about germs and body odor, so what better way to scare away support than to link free speech with filth? At least we have good company in every filthy peasant who dared to raise a pitchfork against serfdom throughout history.

2. Placate, Never Negotiate

The Democratic leaders of many cities claimed to love their Occupy encampments before using the “filth” excuse to see us evicted. Their support came during those brief moments when it seemed as if Occupy could be twisted in their favor as the Left’s answer to the Right’s Tea Party. That support soon vanished, but their initial statements helped save face, and more importantly, discourage anyone from looking too closely for the coordination behind the crackdowns — coordination now proven through FOIA requests and leaked documents.

Problems with hygiene? Regular use of public spaces is destroying the grass? Any real problem at an encampment could conceivably have been solved in a way other than by an invasion of riot police. Likewise, while leaders will voice their support for this expression of popular democracy, they’ll never take their demands seriously. No matter how many lists of demands Occupy issued, it was never enough — we were simply filthy, bored, worthless hippies.

This policy of placation goes all the way to the top. As long as your country isn’t in imminent danger of invasion by the United States or its allies, the worst thing you can expect when you inevitably crack down on your local version of the global revolution is a light finger-wagging reprimand.

From Reuters:

‘We continue to follow events in Turkey with concern, and our interest remains supporting freedom of expression and assembly, including the right to peaceful protest,’ White House spokeswoman Caitlin Hayden said in a statement.

‘We believe that Turkey’s long-term stability, security, and prosperity is best guaranteed by upholding the fundamental freedoms of expression, assembly, association, and a free and independent media. Turkey is a close friend and ally of the United States, and we expect the Turkish authorities to uphold these fundamental freedoms,’ she said.

Our leaders will have plenty of statements about the importance of Democracy to keep them warm at night while the tear gas fills the streets.

Unless of course you’re keeping our warships safe in your harbors, like the repressive regime of Bahrain; put down this playbook, because you can already do whatever you want.

3. When In Doubt, Provoke Read the rest of this entry →

#BurningMan, the Death of Paul Addis, and Radical Activism (UPDATED 11/3)

1:34 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Paul Addis, the man accused of arson at Burning Man, the massive fire arts festival, committed suicide on Saturday night.

From the Reno Gazette-Journal:

Remains of the burned Burning Man effigy.

The charred remains of the iconic Burning Man effigy after Paul Addis burned it early at the 2007 event.

Paul Addis, a longtime Burner and artist fed up with the way Burning Man was being organized, died after he jumped in front of a moving BART train at Embarcadero station on Saturday night, according to multiple Bay Area news reports. He was 42.

Addis was convicted of felony arson after setting fire to what festival-goers call “The Man” on that early Tuesday morning [in 2007].

Burning Man is an annual gathering in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada which attracts over 50,000 attendees and has spawned a worldwide subculture of smaller regional events and year-round communities. The event is based around ethics of a gift economy and radical participation, and has its roots in anarchic gatherings created by groups like the Cacophony Society and Crash Worship (whose descendants Flam Chen were profiled here last weekend).

Its central ritual is the end of week burning of a massive effigy of a human figure. Addis short-circuited this ritual in 2007 by setting fire to the icon on the event’s first night. Reports differ on the circumstances of this action, with Addis claiming warnings were given and attempts made to clear the area while other eyewitnesses tell stories of helping endangered, inebriated people away from the flames. Addis was arrested, convicted of destruction of property (a felony), and spent two years in jail.

Burning Man offers a place where some people (those who can afford it) come to explore the nature of identity, creativity and social interaction free from the constraints of mainstream capitalist culture. Yet as the event grew, this experiment in temporary community naturally adopted rules. Steven T. Jones, the San Francisco Bay Guardian reporter who has chronicled many Burning Man events, cites an accidental death in 1996 as the beginning of the end of the event’s true lawlessness.

Addis, a Cacophonist who participated in Burning Man’s early days, had infamously (but more harmlessly) pranked before by attaching a pair of testicles to the sculpture in the late ’90s. He grew bitter at the changes to his beloved community and styled himself a direct action hero who would reclaim the free spirit of the event by making good on an annually recurring rumor — that the Man would Burn early. Addis seemed to identify with larger-than-life figures like Hunter S. Thompson, who he played in a one-man show.

In his book Tribes of Burning Man, Jones describes Addis’ motivation for the costly prank:

Addis seems to believe that big gestures like torching the man can prompt people to rally for change. “In any situation, it only takes one person to make a difference. I firmly believe that.” Beyond just taking back Burning Man, Addis wanted to reclaim the country from the screwheads and war mongers, to end the Iraq War, and help “rehumanize” the returning soldiers.

As he announced grandly, “We’re taking it back, that hulking retard known as America.”

There’s no more divisive figure in the Burning Man subculture than Addis. A lengthy profile of Addis’ life and death by Whatsblem the Pro on the Burning Man commentary blog along with the heated comments that follow offers a glimpse into the kind of debate which erupts any time his name is mentioned:

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