by Nile Southern & Mark Amerika
Paul Krassner, it's safe to say, has been around the block. And picked up a few hits of something or another while treading his path. Comedian, satirist, publisher of the now-notorious The Realist, Krass is a man who isn't afraid to speak about what's on his mind and with so much happening in the world today, we thought we'd tap into his email box and get some groovy dialogue going.
We were just rereading through some of the old Realists and paying close attention to some of the articles on and interviews with Lenny Bruce and it got us to thinking how biting and visionary his work really was and how today we're stuck with the likes of Seinfeld who is perhaps funny but not a stinging social satirist working in what in the 60's was called dark comedy. What do you think of this?
Comedy is like any other business. When it's mass produced, the products are interchangeable. Comedians copy from other comedians. One comedy club owner even admitted that he encourages such imitation because it gives the audience a sense of familiarity. They want to get on Evening at the Improv so they can get on David Letterman or Jay Leno so they will be discovered and get their own sitcom, and in the process their material gets homogenized, and you have a plethora of jokes about airplane food, first dates, TV commercials and other easy targets, together with automatic references, so Imelda Marcos=shoes, Teddy Kennedy=drinking, Bob Packwood=sex. Plus television shows, ancient and current, because they are shared cultural experiences.
Not to mention the perpetuation of stereotypes--gays, cabdrivers, feminists.
The taboos have changed--it's okay now to talk about masturbation along with comparing cats and dogs, Los Angeles and New York--but insights are extremely rare. There are a few who follow in the tradition of Lenny Bruce (besides myself), such as Harry Shearer, but Warner-Reprise is going to tape my show and produce a CD, so maybe I'll become the Tony Bennett of Comedy.
Meanwhile, Robert Klein and David Brenner are becoming this generation's Bob Hope and George Burns. However, it's interesting that the only ones talking about the guilt of O.J. Simpson are comedians--Richard Belzer, Leno, Letterman, Klein, Judy Tenuta, Bill Maher, Dennis Miller--while others in the media pretend they are waiting for all the evidence before they decide. What was the question?
Uhm, we forgot. But while we're on the subject, tell us point blank why the mass TV audience and the media in particular have fetishized the OJ trial. Uhm, cuz, Paul, this is beyond overkill yet it's still the numero uno story being rammed down our throats...
The OJ trial can't be rammed down your throat if your mouth ain't open. It's a great theater and it's real. It reveals the underbelly of the adversary system, which is to win regard less of guilt or innocence. It confuses pandering to a celebrity with harassing an African-American. The characters--Judge Ito, Johnnie Cochran, Marcia Clark--are all playing themselves to the hilt. The plot twists--the tight-fitting glove and the Mark Furhman tapes--are well plotted. Sure, it's easier to identify with than Bosnia, but people need comic relief from genocide, even if it comes from a double homicide. It's all relative.
So Paul, something we like to talk about at Alt-X is Avant-Pop. This term comes from the Lester Bowie album of same name and suggests that it's possible to create work that grows out of both the avant-garde writing & art scene as well as the electronic pop culture scene. Now you tell us that Warner-Reprise is happy to absorb your crazy dark schtick. This is America for you...
But Mark, the quality of co-option is not strained. Controversy has become a commodity. Warner Brothers Records just taped my standup performance for an album, and I was at my most irreverent, but--so far--editing an hour and 45 minutes down to 75 or so is still up to my judgments. In Hong Kong a controversial comic strip was canceled, but the U.S. is more tolerant. The bottom line may be sales and ratings, but I'm satisfied to find my audience without having compromised in the process.
(Nile speaking) At the place where I work, we received the 'Faxnews' from Random House: Colin Powell will be appearing NBC nightly with head-bow Tom Broker, Jay Leno, National radio spots (not NPR), and did you catch his big ring on 20/20? Barbara Walters, CNN, Larry Kingmaker, Time cover--On KGNU, a little community-based radio station here in Boulder, David Barsamian ran an interview with the Iran Contra story-breaker journalist last night, blowing mucho whistle on Powell's involvement in drugs South/guns North--Now, Ollie has a syndicated show in Colorado Springs which devotes it's Christian message to him daily....meanwhile, KGNU signal breaks up before it hits Denver. Anyways, I'm ranting. With bestselling authors like Powell, Newt, Rush, and the ever-conglomerating media production/distribution machines selling them to America, where is the voice of the 'alternative perspective' to be heard with as much groovy fanfare?
First, my own question: Is there any way I can get a transcript or tape of that radio interview about Colin Powell's involvement in drug/gun-running? I'd love to publish it in The Realist. Now, as to the voice of the alternative perspective, there are syndicated radio shows--Jim Hightower out of Austin, Jerry Brown out of Oakland. There are magazines--The Nation, Mother Jones. There are zines galore. They're even getting their own distributors. There are astute socio-political comedians--Randy Credico, Emily Levine. And the World Wide Web--I recall Barbara Walters saying that now there can never be a secret war. Of course the genocide (oops, I mean ethnic cleansing) in Bosnia was not exactly clandestine, but it didn't result in any effective action quite as immediate as the world-wide awareness of that horror. Meanwhile, while Disney cohabits with ABC and Time-Warner seduces Ted Turner, could it be that Jane Fonda was never really deradicalized and will now be in a position to influence international culture? You know, that fantastic journey, from aerobics to pillow talk.
Can you imagine a digital Abbie Hoffman--a media activist political-trickster getting the same sort of blitz'd & prolonged coverage'? Abbie could dazzle and entertain, so in today's terms he could bring an audience to advertisers, which is (also) what Powell, Newt, Rush and violent local news are doing. Abbie was reforming his own local community under a disguised identity before he died. Does the Internet and mass electronic communication offer the same community/tribal development opportunities? Not if they are regulated and totally commercialized, right? Are not these 'bandwidth' areas the power-z ones we ought to be looking at seizing/reforming by any means necessary, especially legal means?
I had a vision of Abbie Hoffman coaching Dr. Kevorkian: "Listen, Jack, what you gotta do is go to court with your head and hands sticking out through a pillory, like from Puritan times. It'll be a great image. I guarantee it'll be on all the network news. A fuckin' visual soundbite. And then you can say something about this whole vendetta against you being right out of the Middle Ages. Okay, let's smoke a joint."
Continuing along these lines, Paul, it seems popular media is currently only able to deal with delivering 'information' in dateline-narrative fashion, and that Lenny, Abbie, McLuhan and other 'probers' & 'agitators'; those who are stirring more the nature of Reality itself--revealing power structures/basic hypocrisies/total-field ironies--evade mass-media's attention, for mass media is not able to regurgitate their bits, because these satirists/agit-proppers allude to a story unwinding in real-time.
Mass-culture, on the other hand, and the exploding segment of the Western population who swims in this electronic/tabloid sea of media and is well-versed in the intricacies of 'representation' and 'spin', can easily handle the simultaneous plot-lines, amazing angles, and 'good information' like that provided by irreverent social scientists such as yourself. I know you're ready, and you're even taping! Is the market really shaping up for The Realists to put their own 'Big Sig' out on the block? When it all hits the fan, we'll just 'broadcast' from a black-box strapped to a public phonebooth, eh?
Holy shitski, such interesting questions. In my recent "game of mind tennis" with Tim Leary, he updated Marshal McLuhan: "The modem is the message." There has already been activist behavior on the Internet. It cannot be controlled. Healthy subversion by way of electronic magic--the wave of the future, which starts right now. No, right now. No, right now. No, right now. No, right now. No, right now. No, right now. No, right now....
Anyway, amidst all the greed and inhumanity, I feel a sense of optimism. I know in my life I have changed, as have others, and instead of trying to change the world totally all at once, I think people have to change themselves and then work their way out in ever-widening concentric circles.
In the process, the law of supply and demand will organically infiltrate that consciousness into the mass media. Everything is rapidly accelerating, and whereas it once took 10-20 years for information to rise from the underground it now makes that trip at the speed of light. And let them try to regurgitate our imagination. There's always more where that came from.
As Jerry Rubin once said, "They can't co-opt us--we want everything!"
Admittedly, I'm being a Pollyanna. Actually, there'll be religious groups fighting holy wars, there'll be race wars between the militia and the gangs, the holes in the ozone layer will be filled with toxic waste. All I know is that one by one, the things that I never thought would happen in my lifetime have been happening--the Berlin Wall crumbling, nicotine and caffeine being revealed as addictive drugs, the danger of high heels being acknowledged, the\par wastefulness of land by cemeteries.
What it boils down to is, I have faith in evolution.
Finally, any words on the recently deceased William Kunstler, champion of civil liberties and projects like Alt-X?
As for Bill Kunstler, I can now reveal what I didn't say in my autobiography. During the Chicago Conspiracy Trial, while I was ingesting 300 micrograms of LSD before testifying (which I did publish), at that same lunch, Kunstler was sharing a chunk of hashish with Abbie and Jerry. A week after Kunstler's death, I was scheduled to perform at a benefit. While waiting at the back of the hall to go on, the emcee called for a moment of silence for him. After 45 seconds I surrendered to an impulse and said in a deep, gravely voice, "I object!" Later, on stage, I confessed that it was me, but that I was being channeled by Kunstler.