50 Years Later, Here Are 3 Big Ways the Summer of Love Is Still with Us

CULTURE
The ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through American culture.

Members of Jefferson Airplane performing at the KFRC Fantasy Fair and Magic Mountain Music Festival in Marin County, California, United States in June, 1967
Photo Credit: Bryan Costales ©2009 Bryan Costales, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0-Bcx.Org: http://www.bcx.org/photos/events/concerts/ffair/?file=KFRCFantasyFair19670603_7464SBCX.jpg, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0; Jefferson Airplane, Marin County, CA, 1967

Born of the simple intention to unite people in the name of connection and love, an event on the polo fields of Golden Gate Park half a century ago sparked a cultural paradigm shift unrivaled in the U.S. since World War II. But this time it was the antithesis to war that would reshape America: the Summer of Love.

The impetus for that fateful summer was called the Human Be-In, in a nod to the peaceful sit-ins waged by university students in the preceding years against racial segregation. In the years surrounding the Summer of Love, the frigid prospect of nuclear war loomed, minorities and women were rising up against myriad oppressions and the government was cracking down on mind-altering substances like LSD and cannabis. The Summer of Love and its values of free expression, love, peace, activism, and psychedelic exploration of consciousness were the backlash.

The early acid-rock sounds of Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Big Brother and the Holding Co. and others mixed with the words of boundary-pushing poets and psychedelic pioneers to gather 75,000 or so young people in the park. They spilled out into the five-block radius of the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood with fresh smells, sounds and ideals that came to shape the era’s iconography.

Bill McCarthy, founder of the Unity Foundation, co-produced a 50-year anniversary celebration of the Be-In in San Francisco this week.

“It’s important that we celebrate the past, celebrate the victories, triumphs and challenges of the past, but at the same time look at what’s happening today,” he said. “We’re saying yes, in 1967 this all happened, so let’s rededicate ourselves to that. But let’s also see what’s happening today that can build community, build empathy with people all over the world that are struggling.”

He said given the current political climate, with Trump’s impending inauguration and all that’s bound to come with it, there is more reason than ever to “activate ourselves.” He said when you take the “long view” from 1967 to now, it’s obvious that we’re moving forward.

“The values we treasure and movements we created are still stronger than they ever have been,” he said. “When there’s darkness in the world, the thing that feeds darkness is fear. The last thing we should do right now is be fearful.”

Fifty years since the Be-In, as the digital age re-molds the economy, values and skylines of San Francisco and beyond, the ideals of the Human Be-In remain woven through our culture in ways we rarely pause to acknowledge. From the sounds of activism to the shape of companies to that box of free stuff out on the corner, many hippie dreams are alive and well in 2017.

Annie Oak, founder of the Women’s Visionary Congress, a nonprofit dedicated to exploring altered states of consciousness, says the prevalence of psychedelics in the 1960s and ’70s is directly related to the ideas put forth by young people at the time.

“These substances allowed people to think way outside the box and also question social systems,” she said. “The hippies here really put forward a liberal political consciousness and humanist values that impacted society.”

Here are three modern cultural shifts that have their roots in the psychedelic Summer of Love.

1. Collectivism, from communal living to open-source software. 

Annie Oak says communal living, which is everywhere now, was born in the Summer of Love. So, she says, are collectivist projects like the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, which is still in operation, offering medical treatment free of charge.

“These ideas of collectivism really launched larger ideas like the open-source software movement and creative commerce,” she notes. “These are ideas that are commonplace now.”

Michael Gosney has produced Digital Be-Ins over the years at Be-In anniversaries to pay homage to the initial Be-In of ’67 and to look to the future. He was involved in early desktop publishing and digital media in San Francisco in the late ’80s. It was the dawn of personal computers, and his magazine was covering early Macintosh creativity. He describes the publication as a “nexus of artists and tech people coming together.”

Between ’85 and ’92 he observed that psychedelics—which made their debut in modern culture during the Summer of Love—heavily influenced the creation of digital media. He says the software programmers who worked on digital music, animation, photography and video were influenced by psychedelics.

“I noticed the preponderance of psychedelic influence in the programming community with the engineers that were inventing these new tools,” he said. “Psychedelic influence was extremely powerful, and really that’s how people were seeing the vision of digital networks and so forth. It very much came out of the influence of psychedelics.”

2. Activism and alternative media.

The mainstream newspapers in 1967 were not about to promote the Be-In event. An underground, independent zine called the Oracle, produced for free in Haight-Ashbury, was the first to cover what would become the catalyst for the hippie days and cultural revolution.

“The Oracle was the first to write about the Be-In, so it helped launch the alternative press,” Annie Oak of WVC says. “And there were also underground radio stations that helped promote the events, so the whole alternative media movement really was moved along by the Be-In and the Summer of Love.”

Oak notes that the environmental movement was also taking place in Haight-Ashbury at the time. The local community organized in the ’60s against a proposed freeway project that would run through the panhandle portion of Golden Gate park, connecting Golden Gate Bridge with the Peninsula. The community organized in protest on the same polo grounds where the initial Be-In took place, and their uprising eventually killed the freeway project. This was in 1964, but Oak says the power of community organizing was a key motif of the ’67 Be-In and its cultural imprints.

“The freeway was one of the important predecessors of the Be-In activism and gathering that took place also in the polo grounds three years later, and the later protests against the war,” she said. “Timothy Leary kind of set the tone with his famous phrase, turn on, tune in, drop out, which kind of set the tone for the Be-In. But what really happened here is people kind of turned on to activism, and then took over. They took over big sections of our culture and changed it in positive ways.”

Oak notes the irony that because of the proposed freeway project, which would have displaced many residents, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood harbored lower-income residents like students and minorities. As the years passed following the Summer of Love, the neighborhood became an iconic tourist destination. Today, as wealthy techies have been drawn to the city for its iconic allure, lower-income residents are priced out.

“Haight-Ashbury sort of personified the transition between the beat generation—the poets and jazz hipsters that were embracing a lot of the black jazz culture—and the hippies, who then kind of came into what was then a black neighborhood,” Oak says. “And, to some degree, later that movement ironically gentrified the neighborhood, and a lot of the black community then left. It was a very complex form of gentrification, and that gentrification is still happening.”

Bill McCarthy of Unity Foundation said in planning the Be-In anniversary this year he had a conversation with author and historian Dennis McNally about how the mainstream media of the time co-opted the Summer of Love.

“[McNally] was saying… the media created the hippie and created this—how we should look at the culture, and that was part of the downfall,” McCarthy said. “And to that I said, well, Dennis, the beautiful thing now is we can create our own media. We’re not saddled by ABC, NBC, CBS, whatever anymore. We have our own media vehicles.”

3. Cannabis legalization and psychedelic science are influencing mainstream medicine.

Two years prior to the Summer of Love, the psychedelic beloved by many young people who associated LSD with spiritual enlightenment and creative expression was criminalized, like cannabis before it. Retaliating against the Summer of Love and the progressive concepts it launched, President Richard Nixon waged the racist, violent (and ultimately failed) war on drugs that vilified psychedelics and cannabis in the public eye for decades.

Cannabis and most psychedelics remain federally illegal to this day, though the pendulum is starting to swing back. Eight U.S. states have legalized weed for adult use, and this decade the first U.S. government-approved human trials assessing psychedelics in tandem with psychotherapy treatment are showing overwhelmingly positive results. Most of the studies are sponsored by the Multidisciplinary Association for Psychedelic Studies (MAPS), a nonprofit group founded by Rick Doblin in 1986.

Doblin said the Summer of Love set society on a path toward important cultural shifts.

“Since the iconic Summer of Love, 50 years ago, marijuana has gone from being a heavily demonized drug used by rebellious youth to a medicine, with one of the largest growing demographics being elderly people,” he said. “Psychedelics now are being investigated as tools used in scientific research for therapeutic uses, a catalyst of spirituality, art and creativity, acceptance of death and we are now facing their legitimization and acceptance as medical tools.”

In addition, MAPS is conducting studies of MDMA’s potential to help treat post-traumatic stress disorder, researching the use of ibogaine for opiate addiction and “implementing ayahuasca research for PTSD and broadening psychedelic harm reduction outreach for more widespread acceptance into our culture,” Doblin said. Similar to the path of cannabis in culture, he predicts psychedelics will first be accepted medicinally, then for their broadened spiritual and cultural uses.

“One day people will take for granted that psychedelics are legal, are highly prized, and help people make positive contributions to society,” he said.

April M. Short is a yoga teacher and writer who previously worked as AlterNet’s drugs and health editor. She currently works part-time for AlterNet, and freelances for a number of publications nationwide. 

http://www.alternet.org/culture/50-years-later-here-are-3-big-ways-summer-love-still-us?akid=15118.265072.82O0Sv&rd=1&src=newsletter1070698&t=14

Can’t bear to watch the Inauguration? Check out these political dystopian films instead

Art imitates life:

The dark and cynical “A Face in the Crowd” won’t make you feel better about politics, but at least it’s fiction

Art imitates life: Can't bear to watch the Inauguration? Check out these political dystopian films instead
“A Face in the Crowd” (Credit: Warner Bros.)

During inauguration weekend, the Anthology Film Archives in New York City is featuring a timely, cogent (and bitter) film series entitled “Inauguration of the Displeasure Dome: Coping with the Election.”

Jed Rapfogel, who co-programmed the film with his colleagues, said that the series came together quickly, “It was something we did out of necessity. When Trump won, we had to mark that weekend. The films reflect the sense that a dystopic, alternate reality has come to pass.”

There are numerous films that could have been screened, but the selection of “A Face in the Crowd,” “It Happened Here,” and “Punishment Park,” as well as Robert Kramer’s “Ice,” Stan Brakhage shorts, and other titles provides AFA the opportunity to present “radical, progressive, politically-engaged films” that reflect on the current political climate.

“A Face in the Crowd,” Rapfogel noted, “came first to mind because of how its hero, Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith), is a celebrity and a demagogue who rises to political power. It is relevant in so many ways.”

He continued, “‘Face’ as well as the other films in the series are going to look different now, coming at a time when we don’t have that benefit of thinking of it as dystopic. The perspective has changed, and these films are all interesting and useful in some way: How do we deal with this situation?”

For those not able to get to Anthology Film Archives, the titles reviewed below are available on DVD and/or online. Folks not wanting to watch Trump’s inauguration are urged to check out these essential classics instead.

“A Face in the Crowd”

Elia Kazan’s electrifying 1957 film, written by Budd Schulberg (who adapted his own story), is about a “gentleman loafer” (hobo) named Lonesome Rhodes (Andy Griffith, in his debut) who becomes a media sensation when his grassroots wisdom connects with the common people. He can say anything to sway the listeners of his radio and TV shows — and he sure does. Marcia Jeffries (Patricia Neal) is a radio host who discovers Lonesome in an Arkansas jail. She follows him from local radio to a TV gig in Memphis and ultimately a national program in New York. Lonesome raises ad revenues and gets high ratings because he is able to guide the masses with a strong hand. However, marketer Macey (Paul McGrath) is fearful of Lonesome using TV to persuade the general public and calls the media sensation “a risk, uncooperative and unpredictable.” [Sound familiar?]

It is no surprise that Lonesome doesn’t care who he walks over as his success grows. He wants love, not respect, and soon finds work as a political consultant for a right-wing presidential candidate. TV writer Mel Miller (Walter Matthau) sees through Lonesome, observing, “He’s got the courage of his ignorance,” a fact that Lonesome proves when he sounds off in a hotel room to Marcia, “This whole country’s just like my flock of sheep! . . . Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers . . . I own ’em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid that I am, so I gotta think for ’em . . . I’m gonna be the power behind the president . . .” Marcia’s expression can only be described as terrified at hearing his abuse of the public confidence.

“A Face in the Crowd” is dark and cynical, and the acting is as superb as the script. When Mel says at the end of the film, “We got wise to him, that’s our strength” it is a rallying cry for those who can’t endorse a Trumpian world.

“It Happened Here”

This remarkable film, made in 1965 by Kevin Brownlow and Andrew Mollo, eerily feels like a documentary, it seems so real. The filmmakers came up with the idea — a “fantasy” imagining a Nazi-occupied Britain in 1944 — when they were teenagers, eventually shooting it eight years later on film stock donated by Stanley Kubrick.

The film’s heroine is Pauline (Pauline Murray), an Irish nurse who is evacuated from the British countryside and sent to London where Nazi propaganda posters line the Thames. She decides to join the Party to be helpful by working as a nurse, only to be told by a clerk, “We don’t accept your decisions. You accept ours.” While Pauline observes that the Party has a “faintly military flavor,” National Socialism offers a new way of life, one that is “backed by the people of Britain” to outlaw Bolshevism, establish a corporate state, help solve the “Jewish problem,” and conquer unemployment with a labor front. A highly disturbing sequence in the film — one that was censored by the studio — involves Pauline participating in a discussion that claims “Jews are parasites” and they will be sent to Madagascar.

As Pauline slowly awakens to the perils of the Party, “It Happened Here” gets more intense and more alarming. A pivotal scene has Pauline meeting her friend Dr. Richard Fletcher (Sebastian Shaw), who berates her for being a Party member. She admits to being ignorant, stating, “I know as much about politics as a lamppost.” Pauline’s innocence and her desire for “law and order” contrast with Richard and his wife’s struggle for freedom, which include harboring a partisan in their apartment. Pauline may believe that resistance is futile, and she calls Richard’s activism out as a response to his guilt for doing nothing before then.

Yet Richard chides Pauline in the film’s most quotable (and prescient) line, “The appalling thing about fascism is that you’ve got to use fascist methods to get rid of it.”

The last act of “It Happened Here” gets even more frightening as it presents a funeral that looks like a Klan rally, and an extended sequence set in a medical hospital that is revealed to be performing “cleansing” operations.

The fantasy of “It Happened Here” is scarily Trumpian; this forceful drama will still cause viewers to bristle more than 50 years after it was made.

“Punishment Park”

This is Peter Watkins’ gripping (and grim) 1971 pseudo-documentary film in which the McCarran Act is invoked. The Act — which was enacted in 1950 over President Truman’s veto, and in force until the early 1970s — enables the president to declare an “internal security emergency” and “apprehend and detain persons who may cause sabotage.” In the film, groups of subversives — draft-dodgers, conscientious objectors, black militants, feminists and the like — have been apprehended and detained. They are sentenced at a tribunal where they are given two options: years in a federal penitentiary or days in “Punishment Park.”

However, Punishment Park may be worse than jail. As one fatalistic female prisoner states quite bluntly, “It’s win or die.” The park is a section of the Bear Mountain National Park in Southern California, where the criminals must walk 53 miles in the 90+ degree desert without water for three days to a designated location marked by an American flag. They must also evade capture by the police and national guardsman on call to keep the prisoners in line. If the prisoners fail to complete the course, they must serve out their sentence in federal prison, unless they die (or are killed) first.

A documentary film crew (lead by Watkins) follows the prisoners’ efforts, and also captures scenes of the law enforcement officers conducting target practice as well as the heated exchanges at the various tribunals.

In the intense, exciting courtroom scenes, non-professional actors improvise their roles as defendants. They complain about being detained for months without knowing why, are denied a “jury of their peers,” and are argumentative and combative in ways that will make every liberal viewer proud. They testify against the violence in society, the repressiveness of the government, and the immorality of war (the film makes connections to the Vietnam War and Nixon). They champion ideas of freedom, uphold moral values, and emphasize the importance of thinking for themselves. These “disruptive outbursts” are the most stirring in the film.

Watkins shrewdly intercuts the three storylines for maximum impact. A defendant’s tribunal speech about violence is juxtaposed with the military’s gun lessons, and scenes of brutality experienced by the prisoners who are running for their lives. The film may feel almost too on the nose with its messaging, but “Punishment Park” was a timely response to Kent State, the Chicago 10 Conspiracy Trial and other real-life events. That said, when a radio announcer recounts a senator resigning his position because “he refused to participate in dismantling basic freedoms and repressive legislation” (e.g., immigration reforms, stop-and-frisk measures, etc.), it’s eerily prescient of contemporary politics. How is that for art imitating life?

Gary M. Kramer is a writer and film critic based in Philadelphia. Follow him on Twitter.

Bad times make great art?

 Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

The claim that good art comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking

Bad times make great art. Worlds of light and shadow: The reproduction of liberalism in Weimar Germany

Fritz Lang’s “Metropolis” (1927) (Credit: Kino International)

On election night a murmur started just as the last gasp faded, “Well at least we can expect some great art.” At first the sentiment was a fatalistic one-off, a brave face, a shy hope that something good would come from the dark days forecast for the Trump presidency. It didn’t take long for the statement to acquire a predictive tone, eventually a waft of desperation was detectable and, ultimately, shrill fiat.

The art of protest is provocative, no question. It’s often brave, usually fierce, sometimes compelling and occasionally inspirational. But is the appeal of the books, films, poetry, painting, television and sculpture produced in response to tyranny, oligarchic pomposity or a fetishistic prioritization of the bottom line universal or simply reactive? How durable is the art birthed from protest? The following essay is the second in a series for Salon exploring the question Do bad times really inspire great art?

On Nov. 6 of this year, just two days before the presidential election, aging American punks Green Day took the stage at the MTV Europe Music Awards to perform their 2004, Bush II-era modern pop-punk staple, “American Idiot.”

Singer Billie Joe Armstrong snarled in the vague direction of then-presidential hopeful, now president-elect Donald J. Trump, asking the audience of largely Dutch citizens possessing close to zero influence on the American political conversation, “Can you hear the sound of hysteria? The subliminal mind-Trump America.”

Apart from the lyrics not making a lot of sense, it also had no effect whatsoever on the outcome of the election. However well-meaning, Armstrong and Co. would have been just as effective by writing “DO NOT VOTE FOR DONALD TRUMP” on a piece of paper, cramming it in a bottle, and chucking it into the ocean, or by whispering “Trump is bad” into a hole.

The clear lesson: punk is dead. And not only that, but it’s been poisoned, drowned, hanged, beaten, stabbed, killed, re-killed and killed again, like some slobbering Rasputin-ish zombie. So when people claim, desperately, that Trump’s America will somehow lead to a resurgence in angry, politically charged guitar music, it’s all I can do to keep my eyes from rolling out of my head.

* * *

To claim that good art — that is: stuff of considerable aesthetic merit, which is maybe even socially advantageous — comes from hard times is the height of delusionally entitled thinking, as if mass deportations and radicalized violence are all in the service of a piece of music. Of course, even the idea of what qualifies as “good times” must be qualified. Given that Trump won the election, it stands to reason that for a majority of Americans (or at least for a majority of electoral college representatives) the prospect of a Trump presidency is a beneficial thing, which will usher in a new epoch of prosperity and big-league American greatness.

There may be truth, or at least the ring of truth, in the idea that objects of artistic value can be produced under the pressure of hardship. While it may be true that an artist like, say, the late Leonard Cohen was able to mine the fathomless quarries of heartache and longing for his music and poetry, it is also true that Cohen was blessed with socio-economic privilege, both in the form of family inheritances and grants from a liberal Canadian government that supported (and continues to support, in various respects) art and artists. His heart may have been hard, but the times weren’t.

At the cultural level, good art tends to emerge from good times. It’s not even about having a well-managed social welfare state (though that, of course, helps). Rather, it seems to be a matter of liberal attitudes reproducing themselves in certain contexts, leading to greater degrees of freedom and greater gains in artistic production and sophistication.

So forget Green Day for a second. Take, as an example, the Weimar Republic of Germany’s interwar period. It was a short-lived heyday of liberalism and representative democracy, flourishing smack between two periods of staunch authoritarianism: bookended by the post-unification German Empire on one side, and Nazi Germany on the other. It was in this context that some of the twentieth century’s most compelling art was created.

* * *

It’s tricky to even think about Weimar Germany without being ensnared by the sickly succour of cliché. You know: leggy chorus girls high-kicking in all-night cabarets, gays and lesbians fraternizing freely, women in short hair lighting cigarettes while the zippy strains of jaunty jazz wafts hither and yon on in a smoky hall — a populace caught in full thrall of freedom. Fritz Lang’s 1922 film “Dr. Mabuse, The Gambler,” the opening titles of which describe it as “A Picture of the Times,” depicts Berlin’s underworld as equally rococo in its bourgeois elegance, and chaotically debased. As the proprietor of an illegal casino puts it, summing up the free-spirited ethos of the era, “Everything that pleases is allowed.”
Emerging from the horror of the First World War, and the 1918 November Revolution that saw the imperial government sacked, the nation’s consciousness was in a state of jumble and disarray. But it was an exciting  jumble, full of possibility. The philosopher Ernst Block compared Weimar Germany to Periclean Athens of the fifth century BCE: a time of cultural thriving, sovereign self-governance, and increased social and political equality. Germany became a hub for intellectualism, nurturing physicists like Einstein and the critical theorists of the Frankfurt School. Art indulged experimentalism and the avant-garde, united less by common aesthetic tendencies and more by shared socialist values. It was era of Otto Dix, Bertolt Brecht, the Bauhaus group, Arnold Schoenberg and a new, expressionist tendency in cinema.

Robert Weine’s 1919 film “The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari” embodied the spirit of this new age. It told the story of a small community preyed upon by the maniacal carnival barker Dr. Caligari (Werner Krauss), whose newest attraction is a spooky-looking sleepwalker named Cesare (the great German actor Conrad Veidt). By cover of darkness, Caligari controls Cesare, using him to commit a string of violent crimes. With its highly stylized sets, and comments on the brutality of authority, the film presented a whole alternative vision of the world. Both stylistically and thematically, “Caligari” imagined the splintering of the postwar German psyche, presenting a sense that reality itself had been destabilizing, and was reconstituting itself in jagged lines and oblique curlicues. The movie’s lasting influence is inestimable.

In his landmark work of cultural analysis, “From Caligari to Hitler: A Psychological History of the German Film,” film critic Siegfried Kracauer described the “collapse of the old hierarchy of values and conventions” in Weimar-era Germany. “For a brief while,” Kracauer writes, “the German mind had a unique opportunity to overcome hereditary habits and reorganize itself completely. It enjoyed freedom of choice, and the air was full of doctrines trying to captivate it, to lure it into a regrouping of inner attitudes.”

Certainly, German cinema of the era often explicitly figures authoritarian characters attempting to seduce the public: from Weine’s madman Dr. Caligari, to Lang’s huckster Dr. Mabuse. For the reforming national consciousness, authority served as a kind of siren song, luring the public out of the rowdy cabarets and nightclubs and back on the straight and narrow. By the early 1930s, attitudes seemed to be shifting. In Fritz Lang’s classic thriller “M,” from 1931, police sniff out a serial killer in part by trying to determine a psychosexual basis for his crimes. It was at once a strike against the unfettered sexual libertinism of the Berlin cabarets, and a sinister intimation of Nazism, which was notoriously marked by its pseudoscientific quackery about the biological basis of criminality and depravity. The hallmarks of Weimar — its authoritarian disenthrallment, its slackening attitudes toward sexual repression, its intoxicating cosmopolitanism — were curdling.

* * *

Weimar poses a number of compelling questions around the subject of historical and cultural Golden Ages. Such rigidly compartmentalized, epochal thinking leads inevitably to collapse. How, after all, can a “Golden Age” be defined without presuming its emergence from, and collapse back into, periods of relative darkness and doom? It recalls Karl Marx’s thinking on historical stages, outlined in volume one of “Capital,” and the idea that each historical period carries within it the seeds of its successor. And it is force, according to Marx, that serves as “the midwife of every old society pregnant with a new one.”

In the case of Weimar, the sense of expanded liberty was undercut in several respects. While the upper and middle classes grew in prosperity, the working poor were afflicted by hyperinflation, and by and large unaffected by new gains made in left-wing modernist painting, cabaret culture and avant-garde cinema. Sexual libertinism bred syphilis outbreaks. Old-stock Germans balked at the moral and aesthetic degeneracy of the new art movements. For such people, Weimar was regarded less like Periclean Athens and more like the ancient African port of Carthage: fit to be sacked, razed, and have its earth salted so that no memory of it could possibly proliferate.

It speaks to a certain historical tendency. To revise Marx, it’s not just that a given society is pregnant with the next one, but that it’s pregnant with resentments and reactions. With Weimar, expanded cultural and political liberalism emerged as a reaction to the authoritarianism of imperial Germany, with the even fiercer authoritarianism and violence of Hitler’s regime emerging as a response to that. Stereotypes of left-leaning artists cavorting in cabarets found their negative image, their doppelgänger, in nationalist thugs roving the streets.

This is not to say that it wasn’t a period of growth and advancement, artistically and otherwise. Rather, it’s a historical reminder that even periods that usher in all manner of artistic and cultural headway need to be relentlessly qualified. It’s not that good times don’t make for good art. It’s that, really, there’s never been such a thing as a distinctly, determinedly, wholly unequivocally “good time.” Even the most shimmering epochs exist in contradiction, conflict and often out-and-out hypocrisy. Like the backdrop of “Caligari,” ours has always been a world of light and shadow. Something to keep in mind as the world stumbles into what’s shaping up to be a new Periclean Golden Age of American Idiocy.

John Semley lives and works in Toronto. He is a books columnist at the Globe & Mail newspaper and the author of “This Is A Book About The Kids In The Hall” (ECW Press).

Plan an Inaugurexit That’s Just Right for You

Posted on Jan 13, 2017

By Chris Storm

  Soon-to-be-President Donald Trump. (Rainier Ehrhardt / AP)

If you sat out Election Day by not voting or by voting for a third-party candidate, there is nothing here for you. You’ve made your bed; enjoy lying in it and watching wall-to-wall inauguration coverage.

But if you are still hoarse from making get-out-the-vote calls or your feet still have the blisters you got while door-knocking during the campaign, or if you need to watch the news with your new friend the airsick bag, read on for some things you can do to push back on Inauguration Day.

To avoid permanent retina damage from the sight of 30-foot gold letters spelling out “TRUMP” on the Capitol dome, you have three options: You can protect yourself from it, cleanse yourself of it or correct your world in the wake of it—like a skin care ad for sudden-onset inauguritis.

Protect

• Unplug. This is the prime directive: Cut off all media, news and social connections. The last thing you want is to see old friends start to rationalize this with the maybe-it-won’t-be-so-bad-after-all Band-Aid. Inauguration coverage is going to be omnipresent. Whatever you are used to watching will be preempted and soaked with so much bunting and B.S. it will send you back to the airsick bag. So pull the plug on all your devices, or at least disconnect the news sources and alerts on your phone.

• Divert. Do something that occupies you. If you have hobbies or skills, go at them for as long as they distract you, then switch to an alternative below. Knitting can suck up hours, for example. Can you paper-mache a festive cover for your TV screen? It will come in handy for the State of the Union too! The inaugural will be endless, followed by ball coverage, so plan your diversions accordingly.

• Venture out. Make a list of the museums and cultural institutions you have not been to or checked out in a while. Hit them all. Then stop for a wonderful dinner at a place without a TV before taking in a concert, play or film. Wind up the evening with a nightcap. Just don’t head home until after the 11 o’clock news.

• Venture out plus. Why not get on a plane, fly away from media centers and rust-belt states and land at a calming retreat? The inauguration is on a Friday, so you could make it a long warm-weekend escape. Hawaii is now an all-blue state, beaches and mai tais included. If that’s too pricey, jump in your car and drive somewhere out of Wi-Fi range.

• Hunker. Hook up a hose over your bedroom window to simulate rain, lower the shades and repeat your new rainy-day mantra—“must finish book”—over and over. Do not get out of the bed unless it’s for a food delivery or bathroom break. Do not answer the phone unless the call is from a pal who is also inaugurexiting.

• Escape. Queue up some visual favorites, but think through the content. “Judgment at Nuremberg” is a great film but will make you think about Agent Orange, our about-to-be president, in a comparative way. Pull it out of rotation. Obviously, pull “The Manchurian Candidate” (either version) as well. All presidential biography films—yank. And be wary of classics like “Born Yesterday.” I recently watched it but started seeing orange hair on Broderick Crawford and hallucinating Judy Holiday with a Russian accent. Whoa! Way too close for comfort.

• Sustain yourself. Stock up on snacks and a box of wine. Don’t drink the good stuff on this mission; boxes tend to contain more, and it’s going to be a long day—and evening. So pack enough mood enhancers to make sure you don’t awaken to see Agent Orange dancing with Ivanka at the Scott Baio ball, the Ted Nugent Ball or the Alt-Right Ball ‘n Burn.

• Work. If you must go in and someone brings up the inauguration, treat it like a sporting event you want to see later. “Oh for God’s sake, don’t spoil it for me” (swallow the little throw-up that surges up in your mouth.) You should know which co-workers to avoid. If you must leave your cube, keep eyes forward or down.

CLEANSE

There’s no way to change what happened now. If you’re thinking you can Harry-Potter it away, you will just magnify the appendix-rupture-like pain you feel. Try these tips instead.

• Couldn’t your social calendar use a good scrubbing? Cleanse it on Inaugurexit Day—a gift that will pay you back all year long!

• Invited to attend a fundraising event where the recipient group is leaving you with a bitter Orange taste? Bet you forgot your uncle’s upcoming operation—he needs you for a few days. These social-event outs will challenge your imagination with excuses that are fun to create and embellish.

• A good primal scream is very cleansing. As soon as they finish the swearing-in, I want you to go to your window and open it, and scream as loud as you can, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take it anymore!” Repeat as necessary.

CORRECT

Or as rock legend Warren Zevon wrote, “Send Lawyers, Guns and Money.” Because truly, the shit has hit the fan. We have to play hardball. That means organizing and backing effective organizations that are already lawyered up, because the action is going to be in the courts. Use your safe-and-sane Inaugurexit day to review these organizations. There will be plenty of efforts you can engage in locally, but manage your cash for the big wins.

Indivisible: A group of congressional staffers has created a how-to guide based on the success tea partiers and others had in disrupting Congress’ and Obama’s agenda. Plan during the inauguration and dive in the next day. Make your group part of something bigger and more effective.

Common Cause: Ever wonder why, as our country becomes more diverse, our Congress doesn’t? That’s because in many states, congressional districts have been configured to spit out same-party candidates forever. The contorted district shapes look like the alien alphabet in the movie “Arrival.” Rigged? More like preordained. This solution will be under the other side’s radar, because it is longer-term and because their leader believes “gerrymander” is the kid in “Leave it to Beaver.” Fortunately, Common Cause is a successful, lawyered-up organization that is already on the gerrymandering case. Follow up with them online and start folding up those airsick bags.

ThinkProgress has started its own Trump Investigative Fund. To fight against fake news, which clearly got us to this point, regularly funding them or Mother Jones and others of their ilk will ensure that the pressure stays on. You’ll feel much better knowing you are shining a flashlight on the little orange cockroaches, exposing lies, financial conflicts and Twitter hypocrisies.

Credo: This is a long-distance provider that donates a percentage of your payments to progressive and charitable organizations you help select. Account setup is easy, and any additional financial donation is always in your control as you help patch the forthcoming congressional shredding of the social safety net.

• The Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council: The environment has a large orange target and a harsh way of doing its own “correcting” (bye, bye humans). These two groups have lawyered up and won big victories, so consider signing up and saving the planet.

CharityWatch Top Rated: These guys dive deep to let you know how efficiently a charity will use your donation to fund the programs you want to support. CharityWatch exposes nonprofit abuses and advocates for your interests as a donor.

Resolve to donate to whatever organization fits best with your priorities. You can try to avoid what’s happened, you can shake it off and keep going, but most importantly, fight it.

If none of these tips work for you, you can always volunteer to live fact-check Trump’s inauguration speech. Shouldn’t be too tough. How many lies can you fit into 140 characters?

Chris Storm is a writer who works in marketing in suburban Philadelphia.

Truthdig

Carrie Fisher and the Star Wars phenomenon

By David Walsh
29 December 2016

The death of actress Carrie Fisher on Tuesday at the relatively young age of 60, several days after suffering a heart attack aboard a flight from London to Los Angeles, has evoked expressions of grief from her many fans. The sadness over Fisher’s passing is compounded by the sudden death, just one day later, of her 84-year-old mother, the well-known actress Debbie Reynolds.

Carrie FIsher

Carrie Fisher achieved success not only as an actress but also as a writer and humorist. She was an appealing figure and personality. The daughter of actress Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, Fisher grew up in the entertainment business. When she was born in Beverly Hills in 1956, her mother was one of the biggest stars in Hollywood. Reynolds also had a successful recording career.

Carrie Fisher bore the numerous scars of this upbringing and this milieu, characterized by intense insecurity, instability and self-involvement. It is easy to scoff at the difficulties of someone who grows up in this affluent world, but the list of children of film, television and music stars who have done themselves in, one way or another, is tragically long. Fisher did not suffer that fate, but she certainly suffered. Her struggles with drugs and emotional problems are well-known.

At the age of 19, Fisher landed a leading role in the first Star Wars film (directed by George Lucas), as Princess Leia. She played the same role in two other films in the first series, and showed up again in one of the many sequels, Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in 2015. She also appeared in several dozen other films, mostly in smaller parts.

Fisher also wrote several books, the best known of which is Postcards from the Edge (1987), a thinly and comically disguised portrait of her mother and herself. The novel was made into a mediocre film (1990) directed by Mike Nichols, with Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Reportedly, Fisher made a living in the 1990s as a “script doctor,” repairing or improving other people’s screenplays.

More recently, she adapted her memoir, Wishful Drinking (2008), into a one-woman show, which had some success in theaters in 2009-10. It was made into a television documentary and released by HBO in September 2011.

Fisher specialized, in her writings, in bringing out the surreal aspects of life as the child of “celebrities,” and then as a celebrity herself. There is a certain self-mocking and self-deprecating charm to her work. She could capture the desperation and absurdity of the pursuit of stardom, of those hoping “to get out of the anonymous frying pan and into the Hollywood fire”—and enumerate its tremendous psychic costs.

Fisher became an amused, skeptical observer of Hollywood, but not its mortal enemy. In another, more radicalized era perhaps, her insight and anger might have carried her much further to the left. As it was, in the stagnant 1980s and 90s, she didn’t travel terribly far. One has the sense that the overall social and artistic conditions never permitted Fisher to look with sufficiently objective and critical eyes at the milieu in which she grew up. She always remained tied to it by numerous strings.

In this age of celebrity worship, it comes as no surprise that the media coverage of Fisher’s death is out of all proportion to her actual achievements. No disrespect is intended here. But an honest evaluation of her career and talent could not avoid the conclusion that Fisher was not a major figure in the history of American cinema. Nevertheless, substantial portions of the national news have been devoted to her passing. In death, we discover, that she is an “icon,” a “legend,” and so forth. One suspects that Fisher herself would have laughed at this sort of media blather.

A.O. Scott, the New York Times film critic, enthused (in “Carrie Fisher, a Princess, a Rebel and a Brave Comic Voice”) that Fisher “entered popular culture as a princess in peril and endures as something much more complicated and interesting. Many things, really: a rebel commander; a witty internal critic of the celebrity machine; a teller of comic tales, true and embellished; an inspiring and cautionary avatar of excess and resilience; an emblem of the honesty we crave (and so rarely receive) from beloved purveyors of make-believe.” This is over the top, unnecessarily and substantially so.

The claims for Fisher are only partly inspired by her career, less than the individual writers and eulogizers may think. Much of the over-praise and flattery has to do with the Star Wars franchise itself and its enduring impact. The various commentators are pumping up this “legend” of a franchise as a means of elevating and legitimizing the last several decades of American filmmaking, without question the weakest decades in its history.

Whatever the intentions of George Lucas and others, and they may have been relatively innocent and light-hearted to begin with, there is no question but that Star Wars helped mark the transition in cinema terms to a period of banalization and decay.

The Oxford History of World Cinema explains: “The Hollywood film industry entered a new age in June 1975, with the release of Steven Spielberg’s Jaws. Two years later, George Lucas’s Star Wars spectacularly confirmed that a single film could earn its studio hundreds of millions of dollars in profits, and convert a poor year into a triumph. The place of movies within the Hollywood production system changed: increasingly the focus was on high-cost, potentially highly lucrative ‘special attractions.’”

Walter Metz, in the Cambridge Companion to Modern American Culture, argues that “ Star Wars fundamentally changed Hollywood filmmaking at the aesthetic and narrative level but, in terms of the industry, merely returned the business toward the production of big-budget, mass audience blockbusters.”

Critic Robin Wood, discussing the “Lucas-Spielberg Syndrome,” notes that what was “worrying” about the phenomenon was the “enormous importance our society has conferred upon the [Star Wars] films.” The old serials made in the 1940s, which Star Wars was supposedly inspired by, had a “minor and marginal” role in the culture, Wood pointed out, and thus “they posed no threat to the co-existence of challenging, disturbing or genuinely distinguished Hollywood movies, which they often accompanied in their lowly capacity. Today it is becoming difficult for films that are not like Star Wars … to get made.”

This process is far more advanced today. Of course, the filmmakers were not responsible for the growing social indifference and turn to the right by substantial sections of the middle class. They merely reflected and carried forward the process. But there is no reason to mythologize Fisher’s Princess Leia, much less the Star Wars series as a whole.

 

For people with mental illness Carrie Fisher was a queen

I have nothing to say on Fisher’s performance as Leia. Leia I know only as a pop culture icon, a Halloween costume; two plaited doughnuts and a Friends episode. I know she means a lot to a lot of people, however. I know kids who grew up in the 70s adored her; I know fans paid thousands for cosplays and meet-and-greets and that the instalment of the franchise in cinemas now has her digitised presence. Tributes from her fellow cast and crew members have poured forth.

But Leia wasn’t the Fisher I held close. The first time I encountered her, the big brown eyes and the flared nostrils and that husk’n’cackle, was in 2006, watching The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive. Stephen Fry visits a manic Fisher at home. I didn’t recognise her but I recognised the mania. Who was this woman? Immediately I fell down a YouTube rabbit hole of interviews and performances. Hour passed. My eyes went wet with laughing, then dried with tiredness, and the black outside turned grey and flat. I crawled into bed and felt somehow changed. Somehow, and it might sound trite but who cares – she’d say it as it was – less alone.

Carrie Fisher
 Carrie Fisher in 1980. Photograph: Express/Getty Images

Fisher always spoke about addiction and mental illness straight up: “I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that. I am still surviving it, but bring it on.” Fisher was saying these things years before the rest of us; before celebrity as advocacy; before think pieces; before people were awarded with actual awards for it (she has an hilarious bit on being named Bipolar Woman of the Year).

We saw her at her best but she showed us the workings out too.

Her creative writing about mental illness was brilliant. There aren’t many people who can write it well; who can peel back the truth of it and get to the rawness and somehow make it soft, or at least, make it not as raw, touchable; but she did.

Often Fisher made it funny too, which is an even greater gift. Her 2008 memoir Wishful Drinking – what a title, what cover artwork – is a great example (“No matter how I go, I want it reported that I drowned in moonlight, strangled by my own bra”). Her 1987 semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, detailed time in rehab. Her second memoir, the Princess Diarist, revealed her affair with Harrison Ford, writing of her feelings for him (“at least five, sometimes as many as seven”).

I read an interview this week in which the British prime minister, Theresa May – stay with me – said she had “never had a female role model”. Bizarre. I’ve lost three of mine this year alone: Victoria Wood, Caroline Aherne and now Carrie Fisher. Because Fisher was a female role model for me. She pushed back last year against insidious sexism (“stop debating whether I aged well”). She was a woman with mental illness who refused to be painted as an hysteric, a histrionic; sexist archetypes beloved by the early psychoanalyst set. She was successful not because of a gold bikini or because of famous parents but because of smarts and talent and, yes, beauty, and wit and determination and kindness.

She crackled with life on this planet, in this galaxy. One of the things she would say to reassure those with mental illness was: “you can lead a normal life, whatever that is”. Hers was an extraordinary one.

https://www.theguardian.com/culture/commentisfree/2016/dec/28/carrie-fisher-bipolar-dies-mental-illness-princess-leia

Farewell, Carrie Fisher

…a woman whose words were a force for good in the universe

Princess Leia made her a symbol, but Fisher’s writing and unapologetic wit made her real in a way no film could

Farewell, Carrie Fisher, a woman whose words were a force for good in the universe
Carrie Fisher(Credit: Getty/Alberto E. Rodriguez)

Carrie Fisher is my icon. Literally. My Twitter account features graphic artist Leka’s rendering of Princess Leia with a David Bowie lightning bolt across her face, arms crossed and fixed heat gaze staring out at the world above the words “Rebel Rebel.”  To me, it represented a handy cross between two of my great loves, the Star Man and “Star Wars,” and more specifically, its princess who ruined me for all Disney princesses by teaching me that true rulers master their own destiny by saving themselves.

But it’s also meant to be a shout of creative defiance in a world increasingly set on squelching artistic rebellion, an idea linked more to the actress herself than to the character for which she’s beloved. The Imperial Senator from Alderaan may have exposed the world to Carrie Fisher, but her extraordinary writing, represented in novels such as “Surrender the Pink” and “Postcards from the Edge,” and memoirs, including “Wishful Drinking” and her latest, “The Princess Diarist,” revealed a saber-sharp wit and fearless sense of humor no one but the woman herself could accurately script.

“If my life wasn’t funny it would just be true,” she famously wrote, “and that would be unacceptable.”

Although Fisher starred in a number of films — her debut was 1975’s “Shampoo,” and she also appeared in “The Blues Brothers,” “Hannah and Her Sisters” and “When Harry Met Sally” — and went on to ply her writing talents as a script doctor, Fisher is most closely associated with the image of Leia Organa in 1977’s “Star Wars.” She was 19 when she took on the role of a woman we met as a princess. Nearly four decades later, she was still playing Leia, only now as a general of the rebellion in “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”

Where Leia Organa provided the visible pattern for girls who didn’t buy into the idea of waiting for a man’s rescue and validation, Fisher herself inspired writers to be unafraid of digging into the parts of us that ache, to give words and laughter to the universal truths that pain and circumstance can reveal. Writing her way through her life’s darker scenes, including periods marked by heartbreak, addiction and mental illness, made Fisher exist in a fundamentally raw and genuine way that no onscreen role could capture.

“If you have a life like mine, then these experiences eventually accumulate until you become known as ‘a survivor.’ This is a term that I loathe,” she wrote in 2008’s “Wishful Drinking,” which she transformed into a one-woman show and an HBO documentary.

“But the thing is,” she added, “that when you are a survivor, which fine, I reluctantly agree that I am — and who over 40 isn’t? — when you are a survivor, in order to be a really good one, you have to keep getting in trouble to show off your gift.”

The news of Fisher’s death at the age of 60 has shaken people on a number fronts as we take stock of the deep chomps this horrible, Satanic sociopath of a year has taken out of our lives. The loss of Fisher feels as profoundly personal as it does universal, an ugly bookend to a year marked by gigantic lights snuffing out, beginning with the death of David Bowie last January.

Bowie’s passing marked the close of a meticulously chronicled story that had countless chapters, parts and guises, one whose resonance would be felt and honored long after its creator’s departure. The artist knew he was in the last stages of succumbing to cancer, though. He carefully planned his farewell statement to the world in the form of “Blackstar,” his final album.

Fisher’s death represents the fragility of expectation.  The actress and author was known for her brash outspokenness, emphasizing the healing power humor and cleverness have over personal tragedy. And she departed suddenly, at the end of what should have been an ordinary flight home from London, where, according to Variety, she had been filming episodes of the Amazon/Channel 4 comedy “Catastrophe.”

Last week, while sailing through the clouds, she suffered a massive heart attack and spent several days on life support before dying on Tuesday morning.

From all appearances, including her final televised visit to “The Graham Norton Show” recorded while she was in Britain, Fisher seemed well and ready to get in a lot more trouble. Her appearances in upcoming “Star Wars” chapters Episode VIII and Episode IX were a given; her demise reminds us not to take anything for granted,

Until this terrible week, she even had a starring role on our short list of 2016’s joys, providing salve for a flaming sphincter of a 365-day span by confirming the fantasy so many nerd girls and boys had hoped for over the years. “Did they?” we wondered, and she let us know that yes, they did.

The actors who played Princess Leia and Han Solo (that would be Harrison Ford, for those of us living under a rock) enjoyed a torrid affair in 1976. Ford was married at the time, but bygones! The story created such delight at a time when so many of us wanted to celebrate something, anything, that very few “tsk-tsked” the revelation. Thank you for that, Carrie.

Fisher’s acceptance of Leia’s pop culture resiliency and that role’s impact on her life and career decades after her work in “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back” and “Return of the Jedi” was not merely an act of submission. In embracing Leia, Fisher also acknowledged her and her character’s role as a figure of feminist empowerment, an impact that shapes the “Star Wars” universe even now.

Had Fisher not given such an indelible performance as Leia (even before and after that awful “Return of the Jedi” gold bikini so popular on the convention cosplay circuit) we would not have gotten Daisy Ridley’s Rey as the inheritor to the Jedi line. Nor would we have Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as the central hero of this season’s box office smash “Rogue One.”

The other side of that coin is that Leia’s enduring popularity forced to Fisher to turn into all the skids she encountered along the way. Between her parentage, her famously tumultuous marriage with Paul Simon, her  battles with substance abuse and her challenges living with bipolar disorder, Fisher’s life was well-chronicled by tabloids.

One might argue that she would have had to contend with paparazzi and prying even if she had never been associated with “Star Wars.” Fisher was born into a specific part that ensured her years would not be marked by privacy and quiet; she was the daughter of actress and performer Debbie Reynolds and singer Eddie Fisher, who died in 2010. Fisher described the duo in “Wishful Drinking” as “the Brad Pitt and the Jennifer Aniston of the last ‘50s, only slightly moreso — because they actually managed to procreate.”

“You’re not allowed to grow up with parents who are famous and then get into one of the biggest movies of all time and run around with famous people — it’s resented after a while,” Fisher observed in a 1983 Rolling Stone interview. “And I would always try to emphasize something really wrong with me, so that people wouldn’t be put off. There are a lot of epiphanies before you get to the satori, you know. And once it was proposed to me that it was all right to be like I am, I finally quit apologizing for it.”

For what? the interviewer, Carol Caldwell, asked. “For being something different. For being strong. Strength is a style. But this happens in acting a lot. If you pretend something over and over, sometimes it comes true.”

Fisher is survived by her brother, Todd Fisher, her mother and her daughter, actress Billie Lourd. Her legacy of strength, her incredible intellect, her emphasis on laughing in the face of despair and her rebelliousness survive her as well. All of that blends into our portrait of her as a heroine, both in a world that devastated by her departure, and the one that exists only in our imagination.