12 July 2006

"Comment: Nattering Nabobs"

If you've not already read it, I highly recommend David Remnick's exquisitely blistering criticism in The New Yorker of BushCo's ongoing attack on the free press. As you know, I think the mainstream media has been largely supine in the face of political deception and incompetence. However, the administration has been denigrating and bullying the press pretty much relentlessly. Remnick's comment appears in the July 10 & 17 edition which arrived by mail here in the periphery yesterday. It has been posted on-line since July 3rd. I obviously need a blog staff to hunt such things down for me!

P.S.: Although I've not yet read it, this same ssue also contains a promising essay by Seymour Hirsch -"Last Stand: The Military's Dissent on Iran Policy".


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the recommendation - I enjoyed reading the piece.
In light of this essay and other of your posts, I have some comments/questions - though I fear I may venture into the the land of cliche and pop psychology (apologies in advance). Your posts and recommendations led me to wonder, where is the public in all this? We can criticize the media for not covering the war adequately and we can deplore the attempts of the administration to control and intimidate the press. But what of us; can the public "find itself", does "it" need extensive reporting and visual images to understand and react to issues/atrocities regarding the war being waged in "its" name? What does it take to establish a collective voice of dissent?

There does not seem to me to be a clamoring for information about the war. I wonder if the lack of media coverage of the war and its effects is not somewhat convenient for the public. It makes it easier to avoid dealing with the consequences of collective actions. It allows us to overlook our lack of questioning and attention to what was happening in the build up to the war perhaps. As individuals, it is often tempting, and easier, to divert attention away from the consequences of our actions, to avoid seeking and offering explanations. All the more so if those consequences are not part of our daily lives. Why would the same not hold for "the public"?

Though I am not sure how effective it will be, Canadian musician Neil Young is trying to bring public attention to the issues of the war with his new album "Living With War". A project he reputedly undertook because no one else was doing it - no one seemed concerned. The music is perhaps not his best, but Young should be admired for trying to energize public attention. He and his buddies and long time musical collaborators Americans David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Brit Graham Nash (an avid photographer) are also bringing attention to the war and the actions of the Bush administration with their "Freedom of Speech 06" tour; the tour features new, as well as many of their legendary, protest songs.

Whether music, like photography is a way to attract public and media attention to these issues I am unsure - in some respects we may all be, as KT Tunstall says in a recently reissued tune "feeling our way through the dark". As you mentioned in a previous post - there are signs of hope...and on that note, I believe, there's place where love grows wild...

13 July, 2006 10:07  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

Your opening question is an important one and is central to thinking about democracy. So, for example, the debate between Walter Lippmann and John Dewey revolves around precisely your question. Lippmann thinks that nothing - including the media, education, etc. - can contribute to creating a public; Dewey thinks that such factors are crucial to creating one. I think both are correct that the public does not exist per se but only insofar as it (in your words) finds itself. That will not happen spontaneously but only through channels created by organizations and institutions. So I agree with Dewey that this is why is is crucial that (scientific - social scientific - journalistic) inquiry enters into political debate. I agree too when he insists that this is a matter of art and imagination as much as conveying “information.” That is in large measure what prompts my own interest in photography. Ironically, it is Lippmann not Dewey who shows greater appreciation of photography even though he sees it mostly as an instrument of propaganda - as a tool of deception and self-deception. Perhaps that makes contact with your analogy between individuals and collectives? I think the possibilities are broader than that and hope before long to show how that is the case.

So what about popular music? Can Neil Young (with or without CS&N) or, say, Springsteen call attention to political events or policies or trends in ways that make any real, enduring difference? What about lesser known artists - I think about jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas who put out an album a couple years back entitled “Strange Liberation” (a phrase taken from a 1968 anti-war speech by ML King Jr.) or the World Saxophone Quartet who have a new release entitled “Political Blues” or (switching categories) Buddy Miller including surprising numbers like Dylan’s “With God on Our Side” or his own “100 million Little Bombs” (an anti-landmine tune) on his alt-country albums? In any of those instances how would we know if there’d been any effect on an audience or individual listener? Perhaps someone should chart the sales of the recent Dixie Chicks release against public opinion numbers re: the war? Having done that how would we get at causation? I doubt musical experiments and efforts like the ones you mention can hurt (except by confirming right-wing suspicions re: popular music!), but I don’t know what “positive” effects they might have. It may be that they are diffuse and occur only over time - here I would suggest a book by Rebecca Solnit Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities. Solnit is a terrific political analysit and commentator on photography too.

13 July, 2006 16:13  

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