Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Think Differently, Act Differently and Pranks!

Hey, I plan on posting about the Pandora event I went to on Monday but I have been swamped with work and obligations. Lest I forget, Tim Westergren and I may debate the whole folksonomy vs taxonomy thing all we want, but he is one of the good guys and his product is solid and can only get better. Look forward to giving you some insight into it in the next few days.

That said, last night Anita Waters and I screened Guerrilla: The Taking of Patty Hearst for the American Eccentricities film series for a handful of students, each of whom were moved by the political scenario depicted on the screen. I felt like our post screening conversation became very personal and I was touched by the sense of frsutration and desperation that many students had about apathy, in particular their own. I guess I am not that cynical since I think we live in a pretty privileged period where communication is abundant and the possibilities are many. As conservative as the US has become it has largely become that way because of smart communication in an environment of restricted resources. With electronic and digital media making the means much morer availabe than ever before I guess I get really upset with people saying that they feel like they can't have much of an impact. When I hear that I think most people are saying the equivalent of "Why can't I win the World Series with one swing"?

The short answer is, well, because you can't. Behind every World Series championship or world-changing campaign are a lot of small things. Let's continue with the baseball metaphor for a second. When I was a kid my coaches always cheered loudly for walks, singles and doubles as they knew that that was what would win a championship and wanted us to understand that, though we couldn't hit as many home runs, it didn't really matter: a run is a run and it is the TEAM that gets the most runs that wins. In short... get up to bat and take your best swing.

Apathetic behavior is deciding that it is not worth even swinging or playing the game. Great... if you don't want to play that game, play another. Just do something. Find something you love and your passion will lead you to your politics, if you have any. It doesn't matter if it is sewing, theater, swing dance, zoology, coin collecting.... your interests will make you not only more interesting, but more engaging and social, which means you will find political connections. You may or may not decide to campaign for your cause or causes, but that's your decision. Just choose something.

All of which leads me to the most important book of my undergraduate career, Pranks. This book literally changed my life. And it isn't just me. Here's an Amazon review,
A life-changing, perception-altering wonder! "Pranks!" is unlike anything I know. I discovered it by accident when I was working in a used bookstore, about 8 or 9 years ago. I was a teeneager just becoming aware of how repressed and stultifying suburbia was--and of the people over the decades who have tried to blast open our minds. Even so, I didn't quite know what to make of people like Joe Coleman, who geeked mice & blew himself up at performances (check out the photos, as well as the video "Mondo New York.") or Mal Sharpe & Jim Coyle, who tape-recorded some of the most absurd pranks ever. They walk into a pharmacy & ask the pharmacist for advice on home surgery! The pharmacist just freaks out after talking to them seriously for awhile--the whole transcript is here. Then there's Mark Pauline, with his Survival Research Laboratories (robots/machines he programs to destroy one another, often decorated with animal corpses) and the infamous Karen Finley. Of course there are the usual suspects--Tim Leary, Abbie Hoffman, Jello Biafra, plus a whole host of misfits, misanthropes, iconclasts, outcasts, and outlaws to round out this wildly in-depth work. Tons of pictures, millions of words. It really blew me wide open. I love this definition of pranks. They're exposing reality for the social construct it is, showing how easily people go along with it, how they adapt to even the most bizarre "set up" and often revealing the power structures that control our lives, and subvert them with not (only) political action, but humor, razor-sharp wit, sparkling, spiky intelligence--and a whole lot of balls.
Yeah, what he said... and, well, that is the best politics. Politics, as the addage goes, is the art of the possible. And if you cannot imagine beyond what is as the only thing possible, then you are stuck. If you believe that communication is only about social control, then, well, you have different politics than me. Why? Simply because communication has always been about creating multiple social imaginations, some of which have yet to be realized. And, well, it all started with that book, which two people decided to write with the intent of convincing that you could think differently about life in general. That's a pretty good political act if you ask me.

1 comment:

oldpunkkatie said...

I once knew a man referred to only as Billy Billboard. I spoke with him dozens of times and although he had absolutely nothing to say, he did have the most amazing hair style that I have ever seen. It was black and very cumbersome since it stuck out 2 feet from his head in all directions. Sometimes, when he walked by me, his hair would poke me in the face. Also, he wore the same outfit for two or three years. As far as anyone could tell, he spent the majority of his free time styling his hair and showing up places. Some 20 years later, my friends and I still recall Mr. Billboard fondly. Not his wit or his compassion or his taste in art, we remembered his hair. Although he didn't seem like a very useful person at the time, we can all remember that Billy did do something...he did his hair.