YOU ASSHOLES: The 60s are over!
I'm not talking about your white-guy fros, mutton-chops and beads.
I'm not talking about your Che t-shirts or that wan, concerned,
young-Joanie-Baez look on the faces of half of your women. I'm not
even talking about skinny young potheads carrying wood puppets and
joyously dancing in druid-circles during a march to protest a bloody
I'm not harping on any of that. I could, but I won't. Because the
protests of the last week in New York were more than a silly, off-key
exercise in irrelevant chest-puffing. It was a colossal waste of
political energy by a group of people with no sense of history,
mission or tactics, a group of people so atomized and inured to
its own powerlessness that it no longer even considers seeking anything
beyond a fleeting helping of that worthless and disgusting media
currency known as play.
I don't want anyone to get the wrong
idea. I admire young people with political passion, and am enormously
heartened by the sheer numbers of people who time after time turn
out to protest this idiot president of ours. But at the same time,
I think it is time that some responsible person in the progressive
movement recognize that we have a serious problem our hands.
We are raising a group of people whose only ideas about protest and
opposition come from televised images of 40 years ago, when large
public demonstrations could shake the foundations of society. There
has been no organized effort of any kind to recognize that we now
live in a completely different era, operating according to a completely
different political dynamic. What worked then not only doesn't work
now, it doesn't even make superficial sense now.
Let's just start with a simple, seemingly inconsequential facet of
the protests: appearance. If you read the bulletins by United for
Peace and Justice ahead of the protests, you knew that the marchers
were encouraged to "show their creativity" and dress outlandishly.
The marchers complied, turning 7th Ave. into a lake of midriffs,
Billabong, bandanas and "Buck Fush" t-shirts. There were
facial studs and funny hair and man-sandals and papier-mache masks
and plenty of chicks in their skivvies all jousting to be the next
young Heather Taylor inspiring the next Jimi Hendrix to write the
next "Foxy Lady."
And the New York Post and Fox were standing on the sidelines
greedily recording all of this unbowed individuality for posterity,
understanding instinctively that each successive t-shirt and goatee
was just more fresh red meat for mean Middle America looking for
good news from the front.
Back in the 60s, dressing crazy and letting your hair down really
was a form of defiance. It was a giant, raised middle finger
to a ruling class that until that point had insisted on a kind of
suffocating, static conformity in all things—in sexual mores, in
professional ambitions, in life goals and expectations, and even
in dress and speech.
Publicly refusing to wear your hair like an Omega-house towel-boy
wasn't just a meaningless gesture then. It was an important step
in refusing later to go to war, join the corporate workforce and
commit yourself to the long, soulless life of political amnesia
and periodic consumer drama that was the inflexible expectation
of the time.
That conformist expectation still exists, and the same corporate
class still imposes it. But conformity looks a lot different now
than it did then. Outlandish dress is now for sale in a thousand
flavors, and absolutely no one is threatened by it: not your parents,
not the government, not even our most prehistoric brand of fundamentalist
Christianity. The vision of hundreds of thousands of people dressed
in every color of the rainbow and marching their diverse selves
past Madison Square Garden is, on the contrary, a great relief to
the other side—because it means that the opposition is composed
of individuals, not a Force In Concert.
In the conformist atmosphere of the late 50s and early 60s, the individual
was a threat. Like communist Russia, the system then was so weak
that it was actually threatened by a single person standing up and
saying, "This is bullshit!"
That is not the case anymore. This current American juggernaut is
the mightiest empire the world has ever seen, and it is absolutely
immune to the individual. Short of violent crime, it has assimilated
the individual's every conceivable political action into mainstream
commercial activity. It fears only one thing: organization.
That's why the one thing that would have really shaken Middle America
last week wasn't "creativity." It was something else:
uniforms. Three hundred thousand people banging bongos and dressed
like extras in an Oliver Stone movie scares no one in America. But
300,000 people in slacks and white button-down shirts, marching
mute and angry in the direction of Your Town, would have instantly
necessitated a new cabinet-level domestic security agency.
Why? Because 300,000 people who are capable of showing the unity
and discipline to dress alike are also capable of doing more than
just march. Which is important, because marching, as we have seen
in the last few years, has been rendered basically useless. Before
the war, Washington and New York saw the largest protests this country
has seen since the 60s—and this not only did not stop the war, it
didn't even motivate the opposition political party to nominate
an antiwar candidate.
There was a time when mass protests were enough to cause Johnson
to give up the Oval Office and cause Richard Nixon to spend his
nights staring out his window in panic. No more. We have a different
media now, different and more sophisticated law-enforcement techniques
and, most importantly, a different brand of protestor.
Protests can now be ignored because our media has learned how to
dismiss them, because our police know how to contain them, and because
our leaders now know that once a protest is peacefully held and
concluded, the protestors simply go home and sit on their asses
until the next protest or the next election. They are not going
to go home and bomb draft offices, take over campuses, riot in the
streets. Instead, although there are many earnest, involved political
activists among them, the majority will simply go back to their
lives, surf the net and wait for the ballot. Which to our leaders
means that, in most cases, if you allow a protest to happen… Nothing
The people who run this country are not afraid of much when it comes
to the population, but there are a few things that do worry them.
They are afraid we will stop working, afraid we will stop buying,
and afraid we will break things. Interruption of commerce and any
rattling of the cage of profit—that is where this system is vulnerable.
That means boycotts and strikes at the very least, and these things
require vision, discipline and organization.
The 60s were an historical anomaly. It was an era when political
power could also be an acid party, a felicitous situation in which
fun also happened to be a threat. We still listen
to that old fun on the radio, we buy it reconstituted in clothing
stores, we watch it in countless movies and documentaries. Society
has kept the "fun" alive, or at least a dubious facsimile
But no one anywhere is teaching us about how to be a threat. That
is something we have to learn all over again for ourselves, from
scratch, with new rules. The 60s are gone. The Republican Convention
isn't the only party that's over.