Amsterdam (August 19, 1995) ---
Amsterdam has an international reputation as being one of the most openminded and tolerant communities in the world. During the Nazi occupation of World War II, the people of Amsterdam were known for their courageous efforts at forming a viable resistance movement that helped create escape routes for Jews, army deserters and others being hounded by the German nationalists. They also hid many Jewish people in their attics or cellars or snuck them outside the city limits so they could hide inside barns at remote farm locations. We all know the story of Anne Frank due to the survival of her written diary. There were countless others who weren't composing personal narratives at the time of their hiding but who were nonetheless the recipients of these selfless gestures offered by individuals who were risking their own lives by assisting the persecuted.
Today, we in America usually associate Amsterdam's unmatched tolerance with the sweet smell of dope coming out of the many coffeeshops and clubs that dot the city's landscape or, if not that, then the shopping mall of sex that goes by the name The Red-Light District. We are truly amazed that this sort of openmindedness is possible. It confuses us beyond belief because we have been taught from our conservative, pseudo-moralistic leaders and the monopolistic media networks that broadcast their messages, that sex and drugs are a big no-no and that the sixties were a terrible mistake. "Just say no," rally the conservative thinkers who are too busy trying to figure out how to make their next fat buck to focus their sights on something like the post-political pleasures of stoned-out, artful cumming. "Do as I say," they tell us, "if you know what's good for you."
And if you don't do as they say, they will remind you that they have written into law mandatory minimum sentences that will crush any inclination you may have to derange your senses. Raising self-awareness and/or experiencing optimum creative joissance via sensual experimentation is considered a crime by the ruling elite because all play and no work make Capitalism a dull boy. The dull boys, gobbling up all the available media outlets in the 70s and 80s, are now converging more than ever in the 90s. Just take a look at the recent mergers of companies like Disney and the American Broadcasting Network (ABC).
ABC's ultimate Sunday morning dull-boy, the ultra-prudish George Will (where there's a Will there's usually an intellectual whey), was once again given the final word on the back page of Newsweek's recent special-focus on the sudden death of Grateful Dead artist Jerry Garcia. Will unscrupulously used the death of Garcia to once again rail against the Sixties (which must have made him feel like a complete nerd, perhaps "inadequate") and the idea of "doing your own thing." It's getting rather interesting now to see the conservative propaganda-machine crank out its latest brainwash-cycles by neutering the language of "revolution" and turning the idea of "doing your own thing" into another big no-no while simultaneously issuing forth the idea of "doing their thing" for the good of the country. It should be totally obvious by now that what they're interested in "doing" has nothing to do with the good of the country but is strictly about doing what's good for big business.
Meanwhile, business is booming in Amsterdam. So is tolerance. So is biking. Biking around the seemingly endless network of ubiquitous bike lanes, one senses that by creating a more tolerant Amsterdam-styled community that opens itself up to a plurality of lifestyles, this whole idea of rebellion takes on a different meaning than here in the suburban wastelands of America. As our country feverishly looks for scapegoats to blame for our economic insecurity and futuristic uncertainty, the hot-button issues that appear to be emerging for the next Presidential election are immigration, affirmative action and crime. Who among the hoards of egotistical maniacs running for the top-dog position will speak of the social effects of automation, the nanosecond flight of capital and the overdetermined propaganda of intolerance?
So, okay, you can smoke dope in America too. But you have to hide it, the way you had to hide yourself behind phony bookcases in Amsterdam back in the Forties, and if the fundamentalist Gestapo catches you in the act, you're dead meat. All the more reason to do it, according to a growing number of disaffected yet fairly well-off suburban kids scattered across the dead-end streets of America who, dressed in clothes that are five sizes too large so as to play down their potential sexiness, are mad as hell yet too cynical to do anything creative about it.
And what is sexiness? Sexiness is a function of the body, the body that fashions itself as sexy and willing to engage itself with the world in a sexy manner. It is the ultimate portrayal of a politically-correct "stance" in that it allows the body to function as itself instead of as an automaton dressed in the latest propaganda ware/wear. Having traveled throughout most of America this past Spring, I couldn't help but notice the widespread circulation of neo-Beat, no-future, disenfranchised, ever-rebellious youth who are passively absorbing the pseudo-angst of the ultra-marketed Beavis & Butthead "aura" --- and that much of what passes itself off as "American culture" today is the direct result of there being a mediamatic crusade to end the systemic derangement of the senses. It's hard to figure out what to do with ourselves. So we rebel. Not in order to highlight our sexiness, like Rimbaud or Henry Miller, but in order to give up our sexiness which, once we give it up, we feel cheapened by, and, perhaps, lacking an alternative, latch on to the culture of intolerance. Or if not that, then why not cheapen ourselves further and do what so many TV evangelists do, that is, commit sins against ourselves and check out the local prostitutes.
Yes, here in America, like almost everywhere else in the world, we can get a prostitute to relieve us of our inability to deal with whatever sexiness there might be conspiring inside our bodies. We don't even have to go all the way to the Red-Light District in Amsterdam for that kind of action. Why do the tourista-whorista number in A'dam when you can go to the Tenderloin District in San Francisco for pretty much the same thing? But, in these instances, what are you really paying for? Sex? The freedom to do your own thing? The chance to rebel?
In Amsterdam, being sexy is not politically-incorrect, it's a way of life. Like biking. Hardly anyone who bikes around wears lycra. Instead, they wear clothes that accentuate their beauty as tolerant individuals who use the two-wheeler as a function of "doing their own thing," not as a capitally-driven fashion statement. And yet fashion and function somehow come together in A'dam and create a unique window onto a world whose attitude is sexy and whose deliberate nonchalance makes it easy to be oneself without even trying.
Where I live in Boulder, we have a Bike-To-Work day once a year. It's considered a very progressive program for a super-tolerant community. But it's really a joke. We are a car culture to the bones. In fact, cars are what many people perceive as being sexy. "What kind of car does he drive," I overhear the highschool girl ask her friend in the shopping mall. Meanwhile, here in Amsterdam, they just bike everywhere, everyday. Three-year-olds, eighty year olds. There was even one woman who had a wheelchair attached to the front of her bike so that she could help transport her handicapped relative. It was eye-catching.
TVs and automobiles are what make America, the whore-nation, take its licks so as to keep on ticking. Time is the material that drives us to work, constitutes our play, and regulates our thinking for us. We play down our sexiness while playing up our power and in the meantime there's all of this anger and frustration simmering underneath the surface like a wicked volcano ready to erupt. But the volcano is an empty metaphor, a ruse. It's inactive. The so-called rumblings are absolutely mediated by the powers that be. And now that the Internet is well on its way to becoming the next colonized terrain for white-hot info-capitalism, one wonders if maybe "interactive" isn't really code for "passive-inactive" (click here for more infomercials).
Doing your own thing? Not on your life.