Sunday, 6 October 2013

Darkness At The Edge of America/ excerpt from 'Pop History of the Sixties'

Liberty : Grafik Farm 2013
Darkness At The Edge of America 

Is it me, or has the world just become a bit more absurd? An absurd world where well-nourished, elitist, egotistical, squabbling, overpaid US career politicians have debated the nation to a halt and thrown nearly 1 million Americans - temporarily at least - out of work.

In the magic realm of elite politics a disagreement over the present administration's healthcare legislation has triggered a sequence of events leading to closedown.

At the heart of this impasse is the Republican-led refusal to agree into law President Obama's healthcare reform as it presently stands - they want changes or its total repeal. The Democrats, for their part, have refused to alter or jettison a key piece of Barak Obama's presidency. It is a stalemate which has led to the Republican party's refusal to agree a budget.

It is the first time in 17 years that the US government has been unable to push through spending plans. The costs, financially and socially, have proved seismic.

Almost immediately, October 1, the dollar fell against other currencies, and Goldman Sachs, smoke billowing from their calculators, estimated that this very public meltdown could cost the American economy a near 1 per cent (0.9 per cent) of GDP in the present quarter.

Despite these painful consequences neither side could come to a sensible handshake, and the spat rolled on with public workers finding themselves out of work, out of pay and sent home on unpaid leave.*

Friday, October 4, more talks only resulted in one side name calling the other, and no resolution to the ongoing argument could be found.

John Boehner ( the Republican House Speaker) bitterly claimed that the Democrats 'won't negotiate', while President Obama pointedly remarked that the 'extremist wing' of a party was holding the nation to ransom.

Boehner, himself, is well aware of the damage the closedown is doing to the Republican party but, as commentators point out, he has been painted into a corner by the Tea Party wing of his party.

At the heart of the debate is Obama's Healthcare Reform Law - sometimes called 'Obamacare' - passed by the Democrats in 2010. The Republicans want the new legislation delayed or repealed and have shown themselves determined to block its passsage.

The present crisis has all the hallmarks of a runaway train heading for the edge of the cliff. In less than two weeks, October 17, the US government will find its pockets empty of cash and unable to pay its bills unless, of course the present situation can be resolved and agreement reached on legally raising the debt ceiling. While we have been here before with budget spats that have brought the governmental wing of the nation to a halt, an inability to nod the debt ceiling into a higher existence would set a very scary, global precedent.

Is America less than two weeks away from a derailment or worse, a full-on train crash?
One might imagine that the Republicans have to blink first to avoid such catastrophe but, as I write - October 5 - neither side seems willing to concede any ground.

Meanwhile, the US administration has been forced to close national parks, tourist sites, office buildings and government websites, and laid 800,000 employees off.

While elected leaders squabble like tantrum-driven children, ordinary American workers and their families ( which will take the total beyond one million American citizens) are losing sleep over where they are going to find enough money to pay impending bills. Men, women and children penalised because their elected government can't agree or compromise and protect them from hardship.

I find it hard to imagine that in the 21st century, workers are still being treated with such disdain. A highly-paid politician's bunfight has thrown them - temporarily - onto the street with no (legitimate) means to pay their bills. It is an extraordinary situation. I also find it hard to get my head around that there is no emergency provision in place for such an eventuality. So that, if highly paid, often, millionaire, politicians take umbrage and beat the living daylights out of each other with their designer handbags, ordinary government workers will nevertheless be properly looked after, their salaries and working terms and conditions protected?

Does nobody care about ordinary staff members?

Well apparently some people do, in cafe and restaurants across the US, discounts and sometimes free food is being offered to government staff no longer at work or being paid.

One restaurant owner in St Louis showed real humanity and the good sense lacking in both houses by telling reporters that his business had a good year and that he didn't mind if he lost money giving away food to government workers.

'I'm upset they're out of work just because these guys can't get along' the man told journalists.

I can't help thinking that if this had been Brazil, the Facebook generation would have been on the street by now...

*A subsequent vote agreed that those sent home on unpaid leave will receive back pay, and since the meltdown, 400,000 defence staff have been told to report for work tomorrow. All eyes now on October 17 debt ceiling...

(excerpt from) Pop History Of The Sixties

Street Fighting Man (detail) : Makeshift 2013
 I'll Take You On A Re-evolution.
But, if America's moral Mafioso thought the fifties were a time of burgeoning sexual perversion and communist infiltration, then they were not anticipating the sixties, swinging London (with all the connotations that conjures up), Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, flower power, free-love, the summer of love, The Beatles and the British invasion.
The 1960's (especially from the mid-sixties onward) would feel, for many, as if someone suddenly flicked a switch and a new, alternative, psychedelic world of cultural and sexual experimentation had appeared. 
A world of great, potential and Itchycoo Park flower-power rhyming beauty edged with sinister imaginary monsters and mind-bending experiences.
It was a time when new ways of thinking, feeling and perceiving manifested themselves in the esoteric and often hedonistic behaviour of the young. Yes, there was, as always, moral panic, but rather than the 'revolution' many thought had arrived, it was more like shifting gears, changing speed and trying to turn the steering wheel of life and head in a different direction.
A re-evolution, if you like, because rather than the total overthrow of traditional institutions or what Marx called 'superstructures', this was a damp squibb as far as revolutions, velvet or otherwise, go. The sixties would soon be incorporated into capitalism's big handbag and guided tamely toward the seventies.
There were signs, however, that, as Bob Dylan later coined in his own sweet, quaint and jaggedy way, the times they 'were' a changing.
Many young people began to dress differently. They began to wear, sometimes outrageously, flamboyant and brightly coloured clothes, sporting strange, intricate, psychedelic patterns and designs. They became human rainbows with fur collars and youthful spontaneous flags marching up and down the High Street of towns across the UK and USA wearing wide-bottomed jeans. 
Did we really confuse genders as boys began to dress in colourful, outlandish garb, much to the chagrin of their parents, the 'morally good' - whoever they were -, the righteous ( whoever they were) and the establishment.
In an age when homosexuality was still illegal, men started to wear their hair long in, what many considered a 'feminine style', while girl's locked into new fashion statements as the hemline on their skirts rose above the knee. In truth, it was a frivolous stab at being different, at distancing themselves from austere greyness of their parents, to being, or trying to be not like their parents. It was a time when fashion rode the wave of a new and 'happening' scene on both sides of the pond. 
But the 'revolution', like most revolutions, was being quickly incorporated into the commercial ways of the world, capitalism, as it would later do with punk, was eating into the new ocean of pop music and the fashions which were grown.
"Mary Quant" Yvonne Connickie wrote in her book Fashions Of A Decade, "Was also closely involved with the sixties revolution in shopping habits. From the mid-decade on, Europe and North America began to fill up with boutiques - small clothing shops aimed at the teenage customer and depending on a rapid turnover of stock. Shopping for clothes became fun."
According to Connickie, Mary Quant herself said running her business (Quant's Bazaar chain of clothes shops) was like continually organising a cocktail party. Rampant consumerism lining Mary's pockets rather than revolution, while she partied.
"It is given to a fortunate few" Connickie concludes, "To be born at the right time, in the right place, with the right talents. In recent fashion there are three : Chanel, Dior and Mary Quant."
In the sixties, the young also smoked pot, and dabbled in drugs, held love-ins, spoke uninhibitedly about free love, protested and generally rabbited on about peace and love and experience as well as the universe and other places. Pop music, arguably, reach a kind of drug-induced zenith from which it has never really recovered. It ate itself?
That's not to say that a great deal of pop music, even in this - arguably - the most innovative and experimental era of its rampant existence, was not manufactured and hooked onto coining money out of the disciples of new sound and beats. But that is the capitalist way, subsume, incorporate and entangle in money making enterprises and always outrun the vanguard of change.
Unsuspecting moral traditionalists, who had baulked at the new wave of music taking young people by storm in the 1950's, and who had warned about the dangers of Presley and Haley and the light touch rock and rollers of the time, were about to be subjected to the music of, what they considered to be, Beelzebub.
At Her 'Satanic' Majesty's Request there was The Rolling Stones, The Doors, The Kinks, Janis Joplin, The Animals, Jimi Hendrix and Gerry and the Pacemakers. Gerry Marsden's backing group sounding more like a band with heart ailments than a dangerous, out of control group of anarchists, anti-Christs or revolutionaries.
The fifties had pushed open the door to a new sunrise, a post-war freedom that was encapsulated in music, fashion and all the cultural memes of the time which accidently or otherwise seemed to come together in the sixties.
Here was a whole movement of people, albeit and apparently, quite randomly organised and at times chaotic, who were, like naughty children, pushing at the boundaries of what some considered to be 'good taste' and 'morality' in society.
America's hippies and students were questioning what their nation was doing in Vietnam, but there was also a deeper philosophy that questioned the whole political and economic apparatus. Who says this is the way things should be is a pretty standard slogan of youth - soon beaten out of them by the education system and what are considered to be the established political, social and economic 'norms' of the time.
But, as we know, and as Pierre Bourdieu has explored in his idea of habitus, given a family and a mortgage and a football (soccer) team to follow every week most people soon acquiesce, and as long as they can manage to afford the odd holiday and the kids are doing okay at school they tend to accept their lot. As the real time minutia of life, of homes, family, television, rock concerts and favourite football (soccer) teams kick in, people tend to move from the macro to the micro. The how to feed the kids, how do we keep a roof over our heads, how can we afford to book a holiday, what's on television tonight reality that most people are or become preoccupied with.
Politics are for someone else and economics, well that's just double boring, lets crash some brain cells and watch Big Brother!  

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