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July 12, 2009

Right. On.

This is a column by Chris Hedges called "The Truth Alone Will Not Set You Free":

The public is bombarded with carefully crafted images meant to confuse propaganda with ideology and knowledge with how we feel. Human rights and labor groups, investigative journalists, consumer watchdog organizations and advocacy agencies have, in the face of this manipulation, inundated the public sphere with reports and facts. But facts alone, Ewen says, make little difference. And as we search for alternative ways to communicate in a time of crisis we must also communicate in new forms...this style, one that turns the abstraction of fact into a human flesh and one that is not afraid of emotion and passion, which will permit us to counter the force of corporate propaganda...

We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty that have been blunted by the parameters of traditional journalism. The lines between artists, social activists and journalists have to be erased.

Speaking of which, here are two excellent pieces by the American News Project about the Fed's astonishing actions during the current meltdown. ANP does great work, and I commend them for taking on this subject—especially since it's covered nowhere else, including on progressive blurms.

Nevertheless, they're suffering from exactly the problem Hedges describes. To start with, what is the Fed? How does it work? Perhaps 900 people total in the U.S. could tell you. So for everyone else it's automatically like gossip about strangers—i.e., extremely boring.

And beyond that, they haven't yet let go of standard TV video style. Why can't ANP be funny? Why can't they write songs about the Fed featuring a zither and theremin? Why can't they set an effigy of Ben Bernanke on fire because they're personally angry about the Fed spending $1.3 trillion and then telling America: So you'd like to know what we bought? Well, fuck you!

Until they manage to do this, they won't be able to communicate with anyone normal.

—Jonathan Schwarz

Posted at July 12, 2009 03:47 PM

Yes. You might want to ask Jon Stewart about that.

Posted by: Dilapidus at July 12, 2009 04:59 PM

Exactly. Except the Daily Show always shies away from serious journalism or putting their cards on the table and explicitly taking a stand. What we need is people willing and able to do both.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at July 12, 2009 05:43 PM

Matt Taibbi seems to be the only one writing for a mainstream publication who approaches this subject with the anger and irreverence that it deserves.

Do you have any models Jon, that ANP could emulate?

Posted by: Cal at July 12, 2009 05:56 PM

Matt Taibbi seems to be the only one writing for a mainstream publication who approaches this subject with the anger and irreverence that it deserves.

Right, everybody else is too worried about being taken seriously.

What I have in mind would probably have to turn comedians, actors, etc. into journalists rather than the other way around. I don't think journalists have it in them. But either way, I have high hopes that I'll be getting something along these lines off the ground within the next year. We'll see.

Posted by: Jonathan Schwarz at July 12, 2009 06:49 PM

He argues that the forces of social reform, those organs that support a search for truth and self-criticism, have mistakenly shunned emotion and rhetoric because they have been used so powerfully within modern society to disseminate lies and manipulate public opinion.

I don't think the peace movement has eschewed the use of emotion and rhetoric, but I don't see how it's produced success for them, either.

I'm all for useful self-criticism, but there's an unspoken assumption in the argument that our lack of success must be due to the fact that we're doing something wrong. What if success just isn't possible under our current system? For example, if the advocates of single-payer health care did a better job of communicating with the public, more people would support single-payer. But so what? Polls show that 60-70% of Americans already support a universal government-run health-care system, and what difference does it make? Would it matter if we could boost the number to 80%? (remembering that 20% of the country is batshit insane and simply isn't persuadable, no matter how persuasive you are.)

Having said that, I do think we could do better in learning to speak in narratives, rather than in terms of isolated facts or grievances. Ask your average wingnut why we have street crime, and he'll spin you a tale about how welfare destroyed the family, loosening social controls on young people, etc. Narratives, or linked series of "facts" that lead from point A to point B, or C, or Q, are how people make sense of a complicated world, and the right wing understands this well. Can we match their narrative skills? For example: Try to put together a brief and convincing narrative explaining why we're constantly at war, or why the economy collapsed, or why so many well-educated young people today can't find jobs commensurate with their education. But remember, just as the wingnut's narrative implies a policy solution (abolish welfare) yours should do the same.

Posted by: SteveB at July 12, 2009 08:38 PM

Johnathan, The Daily Show is comedy about the news, so you shouldn't expect actual journalism. And Stewart has taken a stand in the past on certain issues, look at that Cramer interview for instance. And what do you mean by comedians becoming journalists? They have to have a bit of humor. Even Bill Hicks delievered a few laughs with the truth.

Posted by: Jenny at July 12, 2009 09:29 PM

Eduardo Galeano

E. G.: I will return to the Colombian coast, and I will tell you that there, the worst insult is amargao (a bitter person). Nothing worse can be said to you. And not without reason, because at the end of the day, there is nothing in the world that doesn't deserve to be laughed at. If the literature of denunciation is not, at the same time, a literature of celebration, it distances itself from life as lived and puts its readers to sleep. Its readers are supposed to burn with indignation, but they are nodding off instead. It often happens that the literature that claims to speak to the people only speaks to those who are already persuaded. Without taking any risks, it seems more like masturbation than the act of love, even though according to what I have been told the act of love is better, because one gets to know people. Contradiction moves history, and the literature that truly stimulates the energy of social change helps us to find the secret suns that every night conceals, that human feat of laughing in the face of all evidence. The Judeo-Christian heritage, which so praises pain, does not help much. If I remember correctly, in the entire Bible not a single laugh is heard. The world is a vale of tears, the ones who suffer the most are the chosen ones who ascend to Heaven.

Posted by: Bruce F at July 12, 2009 09:33 PM

What I have in mind would probably have to turn comedians, actors, etc. into journalists rather than the other way around. I don't think journalists have it in them.

Do comedians, actors, etc. have it in them? Comedians and actors tend to become comedians and actors in the first place out of a desire to avoid reality. (At least in my own experience.) The trouble with looking facts straight in the face and taking a stand is that it tends to suck the funny right out of the air. At which point, a comedian just becomes another journalist.

I have no doubt that a few might have it in them to be bravely truthful while keeping that playful sparkle. At least for a while. More likely among those who haven't had any taste of mainstream success yet. Same thing goes for journalists, though.

Posted by: Quin at July 13, 2009 12:21 AM

It's a nice thought, but it's insufficient, at best. Tom Lehrer sange some of the funniest songs evah, but did it make any difference? I doubt it. He was preaching to the choir.

They didn't drag Robespierre to the guillotine or throw McCarthy and, later, Nixon to the sharks because they were inspired by stand-up comics. They did it because those clowns finally went too fucking far for even their erstwhile supporters to take it anymore.

Invariably, that's where it ends. And that's where this will end. But it will take a much longer time, because this time around people elected a very smooth operator, instead of an obvious nutter like McCain. So the process will be that much more painful.

Posted by: NomadUK at July 13, 2009 03:52 AM

For example, it doesn't get a lot funnier than this, but I don't think it's going to keep the Tories from winning next time around.

Posted by: NomadUK at July 13, 2009 07:33 AM

Well I dont know what the answer is as to how to get more people involved, active and radical but I think a re-birth of the labor movement is essential...if the population was more organized and involved in day to day struggles for better pay and work conditions etc, then I think we could have significant progress made...when was the last time there was a general strike in the US? I dont know...but if we were at the point where we could essentially shut down the economy with a massive general strike then we would be getting somewhere...I mean the fact that the government has handed out trillions to Wall ST. while the great majority sinks further into oblivion with out riots taking place is remarkable...The US is sort of an apolitical society...this is not by accident...there has been a dedicated effort by the business community for the situation to be like it is going to take the same dedication and effort to change it.

I know the history of unions is not without criticism, to say the least, but I think they need to be reborn along the lines of the IWW for real change to happen...-Tony

Posted by: tony at July 13, 2009 08:37 AM

I don't know, Nomad, Monty Python single-handedly prevented England from fallling back into the clutches of druidism.

As for Jon's question, "Why can't they write songs about the Fed featuring a zither," I ask myself that all the time. I usually think it's because of the extreme shortage of talented zither players, but then I imagine a greater conspiracy afoot, something to do not only with silenced zitherers but also malevolent greedy rat bastards who, by definition, are unshameable. They spread shame on their toast and eat it for breakfast.

Your intentions, I know, are the best (and so are Chris Hedges), but I'm afraid you're illustrating the tale of the hammer and the nail. Cinch that borscht-belt around their necks a little tighter, and let them spend the night with Don Rickles: That'll make the rat bastards open up to fun and kindness. Right.

You care about the Fed? Why not explicitly support Ron Paul's grass-roots movement to demand an audit? As Glenn Greenwald has asked, what person in their right mind would oppose such a thing? I know, it's embarrassing to support anything Ron Paul supports. But go ahead, embarrass yourself. Don't be so worried about taking yourself seriously.

Posted by: Oarwell at July 13, 2009 08:55 AM

The US is sort of an apolitical society...this is not by accident...there has been a dedicated effort by the business community for the situation to be like it is

Jon-a-than! Jon-a-than! Jon-a-than! Jon-a-than! Jon-a-than! Jon-a-than!

Posted by: NomadUK at July 13, 2009 09:02 AM

All these crippled "movements" will get nowhere as long as they continue to exemplify the common problems of all "liberal" and "progressive" advocacy perspectives:

1) condescension

2) tribalistic hatred of the "other"

3) political correctness and/or liberal white guilt

4) "accepted reality" background that refuses to question certain (if not most) aspects of Democrat, liberal or progressive politics

5) a belief that all this requires is a sort of Kum-Bah-Yah chanting over and over and over of the advocated position while counter-productively continuing the foregoing 4 flaws

6) a refusal to question capitalism

7) a refusal to question the legitimacy of the Federal Government

8) a refusal to question the legality of the Federal Reserve Bank

Schwarz's comment that it would be good to have non-journalists take up journalism... starting to aim correctly!

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at July 13, 2009 12:09 PM

Wait a minute, what's our goal here? A complete dismantling of the system and the begining of a new equal socialist/anarchist utopia? Or a movement that forces Obama to make more radical decisions?

Posted by: Jenny at July 13, 2009 01:59 PM

Whichever it is, Jenny, I think the key for activists speaking to the non-choir is to be a bit less worried about being considered Serious and Respectable.

Be willing to cross the unspoken lines, tell the truth, and do it with as much story-telling and humor as you can pull off.

On the other hand, humor is not everyone's gift; it's not mine. And expressing disagreements diplomatically can help them be heard -- bitter mockery and the burning anger of a thousand suns are best turned on the real culprits, not allies with whom one has strategic or tactical disagreements.

Posted by: Nell at July 13, 2009 03:05 PM

Jenny, you're in an unbelievable fantasy if you think Obama will listen to anyone who isn't on his list of Top Donors for his campaign.

You can keep imagining it just takes a little more work, or whatever incrementalism you follow these days under the banner of "progressive" or "liberal" thought. I don't mind. It's your life. It's your freedom you're giving away by believing in Obama.

I mean, why in Hell should you follow reality, when you can comfortably believe that Obama is a great man who just needs a little more nudging?

Posted by: Juan Seis-Olla at July 13, 2009 06:34 PM

That's why I was asking what our goal was here. What's your goal, Juan? Do you think we'll get another october revolution going within a year?

Posted by: Jenny at July 13, 2009 07:18 PM

Juan's goal is to make fun of everybody.

Posted by: Carl at July 13, 2009 07:27 PM

I have a goal. My goal is to talk YOU into representing YOURSELF before Congress. That is to say YOU as in an individual sense as opposed to an organization. WE can ALL agree to work together though.

Posted by: Mike Meyer at July 13, 2009 08:29 PM

Thanks for putting these up, most people have no clue just how badly we've all just been f**ked by these people.


Posted by: Jay Randall at July 14, 2009 12:41 AM

Mr Schwarz, many thanks for the videos and the link to Mr Hedges's excellent article.
Rep Grayson mentioned, may be someone forgot to give him a list of questions not to ask! I believe, we need MORE elected officials like him( and Sen Franken) with a sense of humour but who can deal with serious situations in a tough manner and we should support them. I DO believe, there are elected officials who are individuals of great integrity and want to serve the country and they need all the help they can get.

We will have to descend into the world of the forgotten, to write, photograph, paint, sing, act, blog, video and film with anger and honesty

imho, this kind of journalism revolution has already started ( is an example ) with cartoons, videos, blogs, poetry etc, not only in our country but in the International arena and it is important as we are all so connected. And traditional journalism also can help in determing the direction our society takes, not only by providing facts but also suggesting actions.

Below are rather long but excellent articles by long time activists.

Here is one call. Will there be a response?
July 14, 2009 By Danny Schechter

Re-Imagining and Recovering Revolutionary Socialism
July 13, 2009 By Paul Street

Posted by: Rupa Shah at July 14, 2009 12:15 PM

I was going to post the Street article....It is another in long series of his always excellent articles....If you aren't reading Paul Street you should.-Tony

Posted by: tony at July 15, 2009 09:27 AM

Nevertheless, they're suffering from exactly the problem Hedges describes. To start with, what is the Fed? How does it work? Perhaps 900 people total in the U.S. could tell you. So for everyone else it's automatically like gossip about strangers—i.e., extremely boring.

I know it's late to comment on this one, but I think this is a really, really important point, more important probably then presenting the news with more anger or art or anything like that.

My civics education was as abominable as everybody else's. I only have a vague idea of how the country works. So if you say "The Fed did X, Y and Z" then my first question is "What the fuck is a Fed, anyway?" it's just this mysterious organization that has something to do with money, somehow.

"He said, she said" reporting is really reporting that omits relevant background detail. If you fill your news articles with arcane jargon and present everything as just one man's opinion, people will figure that the relevant issues are just too complicated for them to understand. Because if they're presented the way the news media always presents them, they are too complicated to understand.

Present every news piece the way you would for a French teenager, or anybody with no knowledge of American governance and little patience for it, and the populace will get really angry really quickly.

Posted by: Christopher at July 17, 2009 12:21 AM