May 6, 2015
‘Burrough prefers dynamite and sex’: A review of ‘Days of Rage’
Burrough is a serial exaggerator. He claims that the saga of Joanne Chesimard, aka Assata Shakur, “was a singular moment in underground history, the first time the press was obliged to introduce and attempt to explain a black revolutionary—and an attractive woman at that—to a mainstream audience.” Really? What happened to Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael and H. Rap Brown and Huey P. Newton and Eldridge Cleaver, all of whom had earlier transfixed the white national media with their angry rhetoric, all of whom seemed to raise the specter of Nat Turner? And what, one is obliged to ask, was Angela Davis, chopped liver? He calls the Patty Hearst kidnapping “after Watergate, probably the greatest media event of the 1970s.” Bigger than the 1978 People’s Temple cyanide “revolutionary suicides” of more than 900 acolytes (and the murder of U.S. Congressman Leo Ryan) at the behest of the Reverend Jim Jones, bigger than the assassinations of Harvey Milk and San Francisco’s Mayor George Moscone at the hands of Dan White, a disgruntled former supervisor? Bigger than the partial meltdown in 1979 of Three-Mile Island’s nuclear reactor?
Although I don’t understand AmCon‘s beef about this bit, which they find particularly egregious:
She was, he writes, “a genius” at public relations and “Under Stender’s guidance, George Jackson emerged as the living symbol of everything the Bay Area Left yearned for: strong, black, prideful, masculine, and undeniably sexual.”
Haven’t they ever heard this?
And I can’t agree with this entirely:
The truth of the matter, as Burrough well knows, was that the actual threat to the public posed by these American Narodniks was miniscule; the reality was that most of the wounds were self-inflicted. The violence that occurred, born of desperate delusions and accompanied by ideological fevers, was committed by renegades who were drawn to a world that placed a premium on secrecy and duplicitous behavior. The public was indifferent. Most of the left was appalled. All in all, it’s a sad story whose tragic and misbegotten essence was understood and denounced at the time.
Denounced by some, but explain, to cite just one example, Leonard Bernstein’s famous “radical chic” cocktail party, immortalized by Tom Wolfe.
Many of us who were children at the time were tainted (and are haunted) by the seemingly ever-present threat of kidnappings, bombings and hijackings. If this is the fault of the television news and the entertainment industry rather than the events themselves, so be it, but an 8-year-old can’t be expected to discern such a thing, surely?
I guess the author of this review, Steve Wasserman — “editor at large for Yale University Press and former editor of the Los Angeles Times Book Review,” and who, by way of credentials “lived in Berkeley from 1963 until 1977” — is made of stronger stuff. I’m jealous.
Yes, this is helpful:
Robert Scheer, former editor of the muckraking radical magazine Ramparts, nailed it when he condemned
“movements that aim to create zombies in the name of establishing some social utopia … . What the crazies do have in common is their distortion of ideas, and indeed history, in order to leave themselves at the center of our attention. They have a contempt for ordinary life, for the right and ability of individuals to make rational decisions. They become humorless, fanatical ‘saviors’ of our souls.”
There was at the heart of these “apocalyptic revolutionaries” a hoary notion that revolved around the idea of authenticity: an end to estrangement and the construction of community were constant refrains. The injection of moral passion, with the concomitant suggestion that direct action and the willingness to embrace violent means is the best barometer by which commitment is measured and authenticity confirmed, proved a disaster, as dangerous as it was naïve. These ideas embodied a terrible logic: only by ever grander gestures could the veil of apathy be pierced in an America whose citizens’ political sensibilities had been dulled by the narcotic of consumerism and the relative prosperity derived from being beneficiaries of an imperial behemoth. Politics thus became a form of Gestalt, a species of social psychoanalysis. Its aim was not merely revolution but catharsis.
And ya know, I have to wonder again:
Ramparts: Was it all bad?