Posts Tagged ‘Tom Wolfe’

Those were the days my friends . . .

October 26, 2012

On Monday night, watching the NLCS’s final playoff game with the sound turned down so that we could hear the Presidential debate was one of those epiphany moments that life serves up occasionally.

The World’s Laziest Journalist is suffering from a case of Propaganda Gridlock.  We know that the fate of the free world rides on the outcome of the rapidly approaching American Presidential Election but lately TV is outrageously infantile and radio seems to be a tsunami of political propaganda, but the saturation point has been reached, so we have been desperately searching for better quality diversions and entertainment as a change of pace to get away from the relentless onslaught of “important” news.

The prospect of watching the Presidential debate in the hopes of being given a possible column topic seemed very unlikely.  Both candidates have their script and will stick to their main talking points very rigidly.

The last time we were interested in baseball’s annual pennant race, Gene Woodling, Hank Bauer, and Allie Reynolds were providing depth for a team that featured a boy wonder batting star in the outfield.

Watching the playoff game while pondering the question “who will win this year’s World Series,” we were reminded of the title of a 1971 movie:  “They Might Be Giants.”

In an introduction to a book titled “The New Journalism,” Tom Wolfe informed readers of the 1973 copyrighted anthology that one of the branches of literature that preceded the era of writer involvement was “The Literary Gentleman with a seat in the grandstand.”

The calm, cool, detached observer seems like such a quaint old fashioned idea now that the golden age of propaganda in America has arrived.

One prominent political pundit in Germany proclaimed:  “It (propaganda) must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”  He also warned politicians to never concede any point:  “As soon as our own propaganda admits so much as a glimmer of right on the other side, the foundation for doubt in our own right has been laid.”

Does that sound like an accurate assessment of the “dialogue” surrounding this year’s Presidential election?   To any columnist who thinks that sounds like an accurate description of the quality of debate in the current American political arena, the task facing political pundits is not to provide eloquent journalism but to offer some sensational cheerleading support.

The Literary Gentleman with a seat in the grandstands has become completely irrelevant in the contemporary American Political scene and, in many cases, even in the realm of sports reporters.

The fans are becoming quite ferocious in their blind enthusiasm.  If you doubt this, would you be afraid to attend a World Series Game wearing a T-shirt sold by a non-participating team?  Heck, even wearing a T-shirt that was obviously intended to proclaim neutrality (such as a West Coast Eagles T-shirt) would probably draw some animosity from some enthusiastic supporters of the home team.

“New Journalism” quickly became known as “Gonzo Journalism” and San Francisco was the place where Rolling Stone magazine raised it from being a fad to the level of being a strong and vibrant branch of the news reporting industry.

In the Introduction to the 1973 anthology (on page 27) Wolfe noted:  “But the all time free lance writer’s Brass Stud award went that year to an obscure California journalist named Hunter Thompson who ‘ran’ with the Hell’s Angels for eighteen months – as a reporter and not a member.”

Inadvertently Hunter Thompson also pioneered the possibility that Gonzo Journalism can be used as a disguise for the old fashioned “convenient excuse for having a good time” tradition relished by writers seeking ways for getting their enjoyment of living subsidized by gullible accounting departments at various news media organizations and publications.

Over the years, the World’s Laziest Journalist, who has covered the Oscars™, the Emmys, the Grammies, been a passenger in a B-17 G, the Goodyear blimp, and given his autograph to Paul Newman, may have adopted a rather cavalier attitude about mixing fun and job performance.  (Isn’t that a rather common personality trait among folks with Irish heritage?)

Hence the challenge of post election column topics is beginning to take on all the ominous potential for becoming an identity crisis.

If Mitt Romney becomes President of the United States will it be worth the time and effort of someone, who has provided content for liberal (or progressive or “lefty”) websites since before George W. Bush was named President by the U. S. Supreme Court, to continue the efforts to tell Americans:  “Wake up!”?  That will be hard work and not much fun.

If, on the other hand, the President is reelected, he will be lucky to get a Democratic majority in Congress and if he doesn’t the Republicans will continue their “sit down strike” level of job performance and prolong the political gridlock.

If the President is reelected and gets a Democratic majority in Congress, is it very realistic to think that he will get some new ideas by reading the World’s Laziest Journalist’s columns?  Ridiculing politicians is easy but after doing it for a number of years, the fun quotient evaporates completely.

On Wednesday, October 24, 2012, the World’s Laziest Journalist reconnoitered the outside of AT&T Park just before Game One of the World Series was scheduled to begin.  That was a good photo op and fun to see.

We intended to go back the next day for more, but on Thursday October 26, 2012, Occupy Oakland scheduled a protest and march at Frank Ogawa Plaza to mark the one year anniversary of a mêlée that had made headlines when it occurred.  We felt duty bound to go check it out rather than hang out at AT&T Park.

It became obvious to this columnist that the unlimited supply of energy and enthusiasm that was accessible approximately 38 years ago, when the opportunity to attend the Oscar™ was offered, is no longer available to sustain a long wait and a long walk to cover protesters in the fall of 2012 at an event which ultimately did not make big headlines.

A new generation of firebrands will have ample opportunity to criticize the winner of the November election, but more and more it is becoming obvious that is a young man’s game and it may be time to throttle back and let the political chips fall where they may.

The few reviews of Tom Wolfe’s new novel, Back to Blood, we’ve seen have sounded rather dismissive in tones hinting that one of the founding fathers of Gonzo Journalism has lost his magic touch.

When a high school and college classmate was recovering from some wounds received in the Tet Offensive, we found that he would get very annoyed if we prefaced any comments on contemporary culture with:  “Back in 1968 . . . .”  He would address me in the same way that my family used and say:  “Goddamn it, Robbie, it is 1968.  Knock that shit off!”  As we used to say back in the Sixties:  “Nostalgia isn’t what it used to be.”

The New Journalism is celebrating the start of the second half of its first century and that perhaps is a signal that, if nothing else, it is time for some new stars in journalism to be anointed and for some new labels to be coined.

On Wednesday October 24, in the San Francisco Chronicle’s World Series Preview section Scott Ostler wrote (on page E-6):  “I’m a reporter.  I’m not here to root.”

Now the disk jockey will play The Who’s “My Generation,” the Stones “Mother’s Little Helper,” and Credence Clearwater Revival’s “Someday Never Comes.”  We have to go dig out our Nikon F and relive some past glories.  Have a groovy week.

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