1968: A Guest Post by Jim Fitzmorris

Jun 1, 2008 by

“The Parisian May was an explosion of revolutionary lyricism. The Prague Spring was the explosion of post-revolutionary skepticism.”

Roger Cohen’s op-ed piece in today’s (05-29-08) New York Times uses that quote above from Milan Kundera as its central argument about the momentous events of 1968. While Cohen’s piece has more than a whiff of that toxic intoxicator better known as “nostalgia”, he prevents the pervasive creep of the maudlin by admitting his predisposition to romanticize the time, and, on the positive side, the column gives a sense of what is wrong right now. Momentous events are occurring in the form of global economic disruption and planetary warming, but no one from my generation believes they have the power to affect change. If it happens, Beijing and New Delhi will take care of that for better, worse or smog. We’ll crawl up in our tattered American Flags and watch from the sidelines while Gavin Newsom marries the cute gay couple that have given us so many laughs. I think it comes down to this fact… my generation has been taught to believe that they can’t do anything except watch from the bench. There is a hopeless despair embedded in my age group. My generation which has been taught to play small ball, “think globally but act locally”, wait its turn, hang on for dear life, and not make waves. We waited for our promotions, our economic breakthroughs, and our big chance. But they never came. Just wait a little bit longer, and it will all work out. Just wait a little bit longer, and your time will come. “You X-ers? Just wait a little bit longer, and then we, Baby Boomers all, can hand over the entire world to our precious children for whom you will be downsized to make room.”

Say what? Excuse me while I abdicate for the Silicon Valley. Oh, wait, it’s gone? Okay, I’ll split for Hollywood. It’s gone South, you say?

It’s merely a case of Michael Stipe’s insurgency beginning, and we missed it. We were taught to miss it. I blame two figures. One of whom I have always loathed, and the other used to be someone I admired. “Government is the problem” and “there is no difference between the two major parties” are the two great lies that these two men made popular, and after twenty-eight years of the two of them, my generation lives in the stench of those two statements. Ronald Reagan and Ralph Nader gave us the political world we live in today. A deep despairing cynicism about the power to affect change and spread any other gospel than the one that says mass action and political engagement only work for the powerful or as an opt-out narcotic to spread chaos and self-fulfilling prophecy into a system (Nader Raider’s anyone?).

And then some tall rangy black man walks into the arena. What the fuck? I don’t know if he’s saying anything specific, but, damn, he says it beautifully. He sounds like the song on the radio you never heard before, immediately google, and then download. Gotta listen to it again. The rest of the album cannot be this good, can it? Well, I am willing to take the chance. So, I am supporting Obama. Not because I dig his policies, after all, they are a little too conservative for my tastes, but because I think his election will set off an electric shock wave across the country that will inspire people to reengage in community service on a large scale and create bottom pressure for Obama to deliver on the promises of his presence rather than what he is offering policy wise. However, the biggest reason is that I want to see the followers of Reagan with their ears blowing steam and Nader’s kids sputtering when they feel they can’t speak out against sanity out of fear being called a racist. I have lived in the weight of Reagan’s oppressive “Morning in America” smile and Nader’s “It’s Not Funny… Nothing is Funny” scowl for too long. I lived in too many clean, well-lighted places where GPA and second majors to make sure the parents are happy are the rule not the exception. Let’s drown Grover Norquist in his bathtub; let’s extend Karl Rove’s losing streak; let’s storm into Portland and parachute drop Seattle and eat steaks at PETA headquarters while holding up pictures of LBJ.

I don’t think I am alone. I look at facebooks, livejournals, and myspaces with their constant wails of hopeful despair. People exclaim in their subject heading and entry titles phrases like “feel something big is coming,” “looking for a change,” or “need something big to happen.”

Or maybe I am just in the thrall of that other toxic intoxicator: the one where you think your own private rumblings are shared by a million strong.

In about six months, we’ll find out what revolutionary lyricism mixed with post-revolutionary skepticism looks like.

Or we won’t.

-Jim Fitzmorris, reprinted with the author’s permission.

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