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Entertainment as the Spear-Tip of Revolution

Contemporary Americans are living in the entertainment age. That is the focus of our civilization. Entertainment is an all-powerful force that elects Presidents, and sells commercial products, even religion. Any successful revolution today must catch the crest of this wave.

Normally, entertainment is considered an escape from serious purposes. When the entertainment age began in the second and third decades of the last century, serious men had brought the world to a point of self-destruction. There were angry ideologues of various political stripes arguing with each other. There were pompous government leaders forming dangerous alliances. There was avant-garde music and art, incomprehensible to the public . The clash of European imperial powers led to a greatest blood-letting . But then the war suddenly ended. What was the next step? It was the jazz age - the “Roaring ‘20s”. People just wanted to have fun.

The major institutions of our entertainment culture were formed during this time. In 1922, only 60,000 Americans owned radio sets. By the end of the decade, there were 13.75 million sets in use. The booming motion-picture industry brought forth the first “talking film”. Jack Dempsey and Babe Ruth became celebrity athletes of unprecedented fame. New musical forms such as jazz and dance crazes such as the Charleston swept the nation. The American public toasted Lindbergh’s successful flight across the Atlantic ocean. Even after good times had ended, people’s taste for entertainment did not wane. In fact, Americans flocked to the movie theaters or listened to radio comedians as an escape from the poverty that many endured.

Popular Culture changes in each Decade

By now, we are used to fashions changing in each decade. We associate the ‘40s with the GIs sent abroad to fight a war. With them are images of Betty Grable, the pin-up girl, or Bob Hope entertaining the troops. The music of that era is associated with crooners like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra. Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio and Ted Williams continued to hit baseballs with great skill.

And then in the ‘50s we had cars with long tail fins; and drive-in restaurants where you could buy hamburgers and milk shakes and be gone in a few minutes. There was a new crop of movie stars such as Marilyn Monroe, Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean. Elvis Presley popularized a new kind of music called rock ‘n roll. Besides Major League baseball, the National Football League was starting to attract large crowds.

The ‘60s were a special time in American culture. There was an invasion of rock ‘n roll musicians from England, of all places. Black Americans were carrying out a successful protest movement against racial segregation. Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle hit record numbers of home runs while Muhammad Ali put his mark on the sport of heavyweight boxing.

Now that women had birth-control pills, the cultural mix included free love. Flower children congregated in San Francisco in the summer of ‘67. Timothy Leary enticed the young into experimenting with mind-altering drugs. Then came the Vietnam war and anti-war protests. In ‘69, there were massive music festivals at Woodstock and Altamont. The culture of young people’s freedom, whipped up to a frenzy, was starting to turn ugly.

Since then, popular entertainment has become more institutionalized. Commercial entities have tended to control this culture to a greater extent than before. The lyrical rock ‘n roll songs turned into heavy metal music. Free love graduated into hard-core pornography. Business entrepreneurs were finding ways to capture the spirit of popular culture, bottle it, and sell it back to the public.

At the same time, young Americans were eager as ever to join the ranks of those entertainers who had hit the big time. Hollywood became a mecca for film-star wannabes, hoping the catch the eye of someone who could make it happen. Singers inclined toward Country Music gravitated toward Nashville. All across the nation, young men and women were learning to play the guitar. College athletic programs were becoming a feeder for professional sports. Ambitious mothers were pushing their young daughters into modeling. To be successful in entertainment, you had to start at an early age and catch the wave of opportunity at the peak of one’s blossoming vigor or physical attractiveness in the late teen years.

In other words, entertainment is where we Americans now are. How does this relate to politics? Back up to the 1960s. Then many young people were politically oriented, mostly on the left. Some, called the “New Left”, were aligned with old-style socialists. Others went into the Civil Rights movement. Anti-war protesters were another large group; and then, environmentalists. On the right, scattered individuals continued to espouse conservative ideas.

Turning away from Politics

But there was also a subtle shift away from politics. There was the idea that you needed to change yourself before you could could constructively change the world. The acid heads and ideologues needed first to get their head on straight.
The Beattles threw cold water on the idea of “New Left” politics in a song called “Revolution”. Some unmistakable advice came in lyrics such as these:

“But if you go carryin’ pictures of chairman Mao,
You ain’t gonna make it with anyone anyhow.”

and

“If you want money for people with minds that hate,
All I can tell you, brother, is you’ll have to wait.”

John Lennon was a generous and free-spirited man, but he was not about to use his influence to deliver young people into the hands of hateful, sectarian political groups. His kind of people wished to promote and experience love. Grooving to Beattles music, this ‘60s generation was on a voyage of self-discovery, followed, in many cases, by therapy. Change yourself before you change the world. In place of Vladimir Lenin, John Lennon became a hero of this culture. Instead of Karl Marx, there was Groucho Marx and his zany brothers. The tide was running out on old ideologues who took themselves too seriously. People just wanted to have fun.

Conservatives take power

This takes us to the present. In the ‘80s, an entertainer-turned-politician named Ronald Reagan seized the moment of opportunity for political conservatives. The liberals were in therapy. They were grooving on rock ‘n roll music. Corporate operatives exploited the various new ways of gaining political influence.

Most notably, popular attention had shifted towards television. As more people watched television for longer periods of time, dependency on this entertainment device increased. The commercials also became more expensive. Political candidates needed exposure on television to gather the critical mass of votes needed to be elected. Television news was not giving the required exposure away for free. To raise the money for commercials, politicians had aggressively to seek campaign donations. The more significant donations came from well-heeled groups. Voila! Corporate and other wealthy donors had the politicians where they wanted them to be.

Ronald Reagan was a personable man - a good “communicator”, it was said - capitalizing on a long career as an actor and corporate spokesman. His firmly anti-communist mission bore fruit in the dismantling of the Soviet empire. The satellite nations of eastern Europe bolted from the Soviet bloc shortly after his term of office had ended; and not long after that, the Soviet Union itself was dissolved. President Reagan had accomplished what no one thought possible: victory in the Cold War.

This conservative President also initiated tax cuts for the rich. His administration developed and promoted policies of free trade. When the Democrats under Clinton embraced those same policies, large amounts of corporate money started to flow toward them. Both parties could meet the campaign challenge of raising money for the expensive television commercials.Both became corporate parties, patrons of special-interest groups.

When the Cold War ended, the need for a large military establishment would seem to have ended as well. The world’s lone superpower faced no enemies of comparable power. Then the first president Bush took the nation to war against Iraq when Saddam Hussein invaded Iraq. The second president Bush, egged on by a shadowy group of “neo-cons”, again waged war in Iraq.
The initial victory was easily won, but not the peace. Four years after the invasion, more Americans have been killed in the occupation of Iraq than in the deadly attacks that took place on September 11, 2001. Many more have been wounded.

Additionally, the nation is struggling with huge budget deficits brought on by the war, Reaganesque tax cuts, and runaway Republican spending. Its trade accounts are completely out of balance. Many are calling George W. Bush the worst President in U.S. history.

Jolted back to reality

Back in the ‘60s, young Americans took to the streets to protest the Vietnam war. The present war is worse. In the case of Vietnam, the U.S. government could plausibly claim to be aiding an ally that was attacked by a neighboring country. With Iraq, the same government launched a unilateral attack on a nation not at war with any nation. Some say the motive was to seize Iraq’s oil. Others say Israel’s security interests drew the United States into the fight. In either case, the policies of the current Bush administration violate our national values and traditions. The warmongering politicians responsible for that decision have suffered no personal loss. Some may have profited from the situation.

In contrast with the ‘60s, today’s “volunteer army’, comprised largely of Army Reserve and National Guard units, is recruited disproportionately from poor people, from racial minorities, and from immigrants. Their pay is minimal, their terms of duty are endlessly renewed and extended, and their post-service medical care is vastly inadequate. The majority of the people are not affected. That may help to explain why more people are not out on the streets protesting this war. The shameless, incompetent treatment of our combat troops, not to mention the Iraqi people, is a blemish on our national honor that may take many years to repair.

If John Lennon were alive today, it would be interesting to ask him if he still thought that his followers should not become involved in political causes. It’s not a matter of them, but of the President, Vice President, and other political leaders “getting their heads on straight”. Mass passivity in the face of official arrogance will get Americans nowhere. But what can they do?

If people take to the streets and journalists fail to report it, the impact of their protest effort is lost. The road to political power runs through television and other media of communication. But since only the wealthy can communicate through the commercial media, some other way must be found.

Entertainers have political power

The title of this article indicates that entertainment is the “spear tip” of revolution today. There has been a substantial merger of entertainment and politics. In its initial phase, big-name entertainers gain political influence. Someone like Bono or Barbara Streisand commands attention in the media. He or she can express political opinions that are widely heard and which carry weight. It became a major controversy when the Dixie Chicks made a disparaging remark about President Bush.

Taking it to the next level, well-known entertainers such as Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger themselves run for office. Even lacking money or a political organization behind them, they stand a good chance of getting elected. The public already knows them and considers them a “refreshing” change. Celebrity politicians are not a fluke. They have a natural advantage in a system of politics that works primarily through the media.

The Grassroots Approach

But this is not a revolution. Revolutions erupt from below, not from on top. Celebrity entertainers are creatures of big media, the same types of people who act as gatekeepers to keep “the little guy” from interfering with the political process. While celebrity involvement in politics may be helpful, it cannot be the decisive move. That move will have to come from the people. More specifically, it will have to come from the small-time entertainers who mingle with and are part of the people. The spear tip of revolution will be comprised of them.

Let’s put it another way. The essence of effective politics is good communication. Entertainment is a vehicle for communication. Entertainers are able to attract audiences by communicating with them in a certain way. Admittedly, their message is often unserious. Professional joke-tellers may lack political credibility. (Don’t tell that to Al Franken, though.) But the first condition has been met: These people are communicating directly with the public. At their level, television need not be involved.

If there are, as it is suggested, thousands or even millions of people around the country who aspire to be successful entertainers, artists, and musicians, then there is a sufficient base for a political movement. Some may see a need for involvement in political affairs and find Gold Party’s program to be personally acceptable. How can this class be politically mobilized? How can they, or enough of them, get on the same page so that their voice can be heard? The first step is to invite them. Gold Party is inviting them.

The Entertainer/Artist as Political Communicator

The movement envisioned in Gold Party’s scheme of political action will be built around small-scale communication which relatively unknown entertainers (artists or musicians) can deliver. It will be a partnership in which the entertainer provides a well-crafted message and the party provides an appreciative audience. Thus, the entertainer’s message need not be mere “entertainment” - providing a certain aesthetic experience or making people laugh - but would be a message with serious content. Would this work? Johann Sebastian Bach wrote music to glorify God. That serious purpose did not detract from the beauty his music was able to convey. Quite the opposite.

The present situation poses a particular challenge. It is the challenge of technology. Good communication in this age requires that the communicator to take into account the various means by which one can communicate. There are performances in front of a live audience, of course. There are performances on television or on the radio; but the small-time entertainer is often excluded from such media.

That leaves a variety of other ways to communicate: We have cable-access television. We have Pod casts. We have streaming online. We have messages designed for cell phones. We have low-watt radio broadcasting. We have video, sound, and text messages on the Internet . We have sites such as MySpace and YouTube that give individuals free access to communicate any way they wish. Each of these media has its own audience. The audiences individually may be smaller than what network television has assembled, but they add up.

In this day and age, good expression requires that the message fit the medium. Besides providing intelligent and well-crafted content, the creative artist needs to know how the media can be used. In a world of ever-changing technology, such artists will need to be on or ahead of the curve. The first to exploit the potential of a new communication device will be making as much a contribution as the one who masterfully expresses ideas. And so the creative challenge is multiple: to have something important to say and say it well, to find a suitable communication vehicle for the message, and to cultivate audiences that can be reached in the various ways by attuning political messages to contemporary interests and lifestyles.

Fitting Creativity into a Political Context

Gold Party brings to the creative equation the element of purpose. This purpose elicits disciplined expression. It brings imaginative works into a context of activity that people can understand. The “audience” - Gold Party members or potential members - will be drawn to the expression partly because it aids the party’s advancement and partly because the expression itself exhibits excellent qualities. The two go hand in hand. Good creative expression helps the party to grow. Party growth, in turn, enhances both the audience and reputation of the artist who has contributed to that process. Art thus becomes focused on an actual ongoing event which may have historical significance. It would be useful to compile an history of the artistic expressions that sparked this civilizational changing.

Another aspect of Gold Party is that it awards “points” to members who make distinct contributions to its cause. Those points translate into voting strength within the party. Members with a large number of points have disproportionate influence in choosing party-endorsed candidates and determining its program of action. Entertainers, artists, and musicians who create successful messages on behalf of the party would receive many points. Since the party cannot afford to pay money for creative work, this reward would have to suffice. If the party takes control of the government, then the points might translate into something more widely accepted. Even if it fails, the entertainer-artist will benefit from the public exposure gained in the process. An artist’s fame can hitch to that wagon.

So Gold Party is looking for people who can write and produce good music. It is looking for talented visual artists. It is looking for people who can create new kinds of music videos. It is looking for makers of documentaries. It is looking for stand-up comedians. It is looking for politically inspired poets and, of course, for stem-winding political orators. As previously said, it is also looking for people who know today’s emerging technologies of communication and who can, therefore, fit their own or another person’s creative expression into a new kind of public space.

It may be that Gold Party will be an alliance between “the old guys”, who are well educated and into political causes, and the “young guys”, those tech-savvy Americans who understand the various new ways of communicating. For sure, we cannot run this movement from an office with only a mimeograph machine.


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