Sunday, April 27, 2008

Notes on the Weather Underground

(Pic: Emily Rems and model Velvet d'Amour)

I guess revolutionaries get old too. It’s strange to think of the Sacco and Vanzetti smoking cigars and complaining about their arthritis and mortgages; hard to imagine the Bader Meinhof bridge club; one can almost picture a retired Che Guevara cleaning his car on a suburban Sunday afternoon. Revolution is the work of the young, who angrily want the world to change, not the old who wish that it would stop changing.

Even stranger than watching the wild-eyed revolutionaries of the Weather Underground grow old in imitation of grace is seeing how antiquated their movement seems: like something your parents understood, but which now seems as quaint and bizarre as David Cassidy records or Beatles boots. Sure, I get it: they were trying to stop the Vietnam War by bombing things and, yes, that comes from an anger that I can comprehend; but expressed through a savage appetite for obliteration that makes no sense to me. It was always this way- men need friction and struggles, or else they get fat and bored. Still, even blowing up empty buildings seems unbearable to me, like getting in touch with your inner fascist. All I see is a child smashing up his playroom.

But I think this strangeness is why people of my generation find it so difficult to get riled up that Barack Obama is friendly with a member of the Weather Underground: as terrible as this might sound, it’s just not a reference we get. It’s like saying that he can’t be President because he thought the Byrds were better than the Animals. I realize how ghastly it is to compare bombings to rock bands; however, it’s unrealistic to expect every historical event to be forever relevant. Relevance is a strange thing. J.G. Ballard once noted that Hitler seems much more “contemporary” than Churchill and wondered if fascism ever ages. Perhaps more frightening is the fact that Hitler seems more contemporary than John Lennon.

And since Obama’s not of that 60s generation, I think people my age recognize something that people of the 60s generation do not: their endless “struggles” with each other, aside from being counterproductive and narcissistic, are really fucking boring. It’s like listening to Grandpa’s war stories: here we go again with the one about how the pill “liberated” middle class women to have more affairs, or how white kids decided that the Vietnam War was “evil and immoral” so long as they could be drafted, or how the Rolling Stones “changed music forever” by playing old blues songs on electric guitars, or how our parents “changed the world” so we’d better pay our respects about how great the world turned out. Turn down that Obama racket you kids- I’m trying to listen to the mellow sounds of Hillary!

I suspect that Obama found Bill Ayers’s admittedly horrific past to be simply irrelevant to his own life and politics. When he says that Ayers is some guy in his neighborhood who did some horrible things when he was a child, I think people of my generation hear what he’s saying: please, please, please shut-up about the 60s! It wasn’t the terrible cataclysm that conservatives wish it was, or the Age of Aquarius that liberals imagine it was. Nostalgia is intellectual poison. Moreover, I don't think most of us care that much about whether or not you “changed the world” because you use that as a threat to prevent us from changing anything about the rotten mess we find ourselves in. We don’t care about the Big Chill; we’re ready for the Big Thaw.


The Pagan Temple said...

I read somewhere that an up-and-coming Democratic politician in Chicago is practically obliged to hobnob with Ayers, as though he is some kind of ward boss that can make or break a candidate. The fact is , Ayers and his wife Bernarhdine Dohrn both come from privileged backgrounds, and I think most of the resentment towards them comes not so much from what they did as the fact that they got away with it and now live prosperous lives without ever having had to answer for it.

Dohrn even publicly applauded the Tate-LaBianca murders, and the Weather Underground attempted to bomb a dance for young army recruits and their dates. Three of them died when the bomb they were making for this purpose exploded prematurely.

It's understandable why people would hold anger and resentment towards them. In all honesty, Obama should distance himself from them and diss them and their past actions in no uncertain terms, without qualification. It might not do that much good, but on the other hand, it might help him consdierably. It sure couldn't hurt him in the general election.

Rufus said...

No I understand completely why people hate the Weather Underground. It's just that, for me, this election year, I'm worried more about:
1. Unilateralism,
2. Iraq
3. Iran
4. Gas Prices
5. The economy
6. Afghanistan
7. Torture
8. The Imperial Presidency
9. Climate change
10. America's lousy reputation in the world
11. The housing market
12. The crumbling school system
etc. etc. Well, you get the idea.