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© 2004 The Beast


PURCHASING POWER TO THE PEOPLE!

TV or T-Shirts: Choose or Lose in NYC

By Ken Barnes


There were hundreds of cops in Penn station, huddled in groups, pushing each other, grabbing each other’s ass and collecting overtime. Beneath Madison Square Garden, you could feel the frat-boy/Gestapo vibe as the biggest, richest, most powerful frat of them all, G(amma)O(mega)P(i), was in town for the Republican National Convention, with New York’s finest is acting as their personal body guards, along with the national guard and state troopers.

This backdrop (post-9/11 New York), the heart of Yankee-dom, seemed a strange place for the convention this year, considering that the Republicans have a better chance of sweeping the Soul Train awards than winning New York’s electoral votes this November. But the Republicans have become apt at playing off irrational fears with a show of force, and shell-shocked New York is a good stage from which to sell the ‘Patriotic’ agenda to the rest of America.

This televised paramilitary farce is used to entertain the already red states and to incite the swing states to vote W. As helicopters hover and automatic weapons are seen on street corners, it is a great distraction for Americans, who already have trouble focusing on the issues without a cirque du fascism. “If I find out my tax dollars are going for this…” said an exasperated Long Islander on his way to a chain restaurant in the Chelsea (gentrifying faster than you can say Starbucks) district. “He already got the nomination. Why do they have to tie up the center…of the world for this?”

Why? Entertainment, of course. If you live in a swing state in the middle of nowhere, and you’re flipping through channels on your TV (your primary source of information), what are you going to watch?

American #1: “Hey, what’s on?”

American #2: “Uh …Universal Soldier… the Republican National Convention….”

American #1:“Yeah that Russian guy’s in that.”

American #2:“It says Jean-Claudde Van Damme stars in this…oh, Arnold Schwarzenegger will be at the convention.

American #1: Yeah he’ll probably have to kill some terrorists to get there…

American #2: “I hear the lesbian protestors won’t be wearing bras.”

American #1: “All right, We’ll flip back and forth.”

TV: “From the producers that brought you Victory in Iraq and 9/11, Bush and Cheney team up again to invade New York! Watch as they battle freedom-hating terrorists and sinning heathen protestors! Watch as they fuck up traffic, waste money and distract you from the biggest national debt in history, and the fact that you don’t have a job or health insurance!”

Twenty blocks south of Madison Square Garden is Union Square, where the protests have become the trend this weekend. The politically chic were scattered throughout the village wearing anti-Bush t-shirts, and there was even a tall blonde in a tight Che Guevera half shirt on the L. In the Square, white dudes dressed like Yasser Arafat bootlegged recordings of a drum circle, outside of which a large redheaded man hula-hooped. Anarchists and hippies mingled and the ‘End is Nigh’ guy chatted amicably with another old, bearded man.

It was a strange, fractured mixture of slogans, logos, and subgroups. T-shirts that read “If you’re not outraged you’re not informed” mingled with HMV and Banana Republic shopping bags. On the outer rim of the square were souvenir stands selling bumper stickers and such, one of which ironically read ‘Don’t worry, everything is under control, keep shopping.”

Outside the square, New York did just that, as none of the protesters approached the outer police barricades to confront Footlocker, McDonalds, HMV or any of America’s other corporate empires. By 7:30pm, the protest rally was becoming a fire sale, as the tiny souvenir stands began liquidating mass-produced beliefs and slogans. “Protest t-shirts seven dollars, you can put it on right now and I’ll give it to you for six! Show your support like a true American,” barked a vendor hawking his wares. A woman fell for this and bought a “Dissent is Patriotic” shirt. She put it over her T-shirt with Bush’s face crossed over. “…like this freedom fighter right here!” yelled the vendor.

Yeah. Fight for that freedom, you true American. As I left, giggling cops crowded around an inflatable George Bush punching bag. A homeless man approached me, drunk, with a broken arm and a long story. One of the cops put their hat on the doll. They all laughed. “I don’t have any money,” I said to the vagabond staring me down. A siren approached down 14th street, growing steadily louder.

The next morning, I waited for my train in the near-empty Penn Station, surrounded by uniforms and guns. New York 1 was broadcasting from just over my head, as Penn was about to shut down four of its six entrances. Police were to close numerous mid-town blocks, turning it into a demilitarized zone once the convention began. Bus routes were being shut down, and commuters were staying home. Apparently, the city with insomnia had also developed some phobias.



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