The ’60s Brand of Protesting Doesn’t Work Anymore
I’ve said this sort of thing before many times. Matt Taibbi’s said it. David Cross does an entire bit about it. But no matter how often it’s repeated, there are still those out there on the left who live in their own little epistemic bubble and don’t seem to get something: the 60s are over and continuing to protest like it’s 1967 will get you absolutely nowhere in the year 2013. Yes, it’ll grab you a little attention, but ultimately not the kind you want. It’s an ineffective model of activism in the new millennium and the predisposition to fall back on it needs to be shelved once and for all.
Yesterday, in a scene as predictable as it was pointless, members of Code Pink crashed the confirmation hearing of CIA chief nominee John Brennan. They stood up with their posters emblazoned with pithy cracks like “Don’t Drone Me, Bro!” waved hands that they’d painted pink, and shouted at the top of their lungs about how Brennan was a murderer and how they stood for mothers who’d lost loved ones overseas in America’s drone campaign against Al Qaeda. One of them even brandished some kind of puppet or doll that I guess was supposed to be a baby. They did this over and over again until Diane Feinstein had to finally clear the room, eventually allowing many back in but exiling the Code Pink people to the arms of waiting reporters outside, where at least this time, as far as I know, they did their histrionic interviews without the assistance of the giant papier-mâché effigy of Brennan they brought to the White House last month.
I made it clear yesterday that while I acknowledge the dangers of a continued drone war overseas and certainly see how the issue of collateral damage on the ground and secret kill lists here at home could prompt some serious discussion, I personally don’t have it in me to get so worked up over any of it that I feel the need to take to the streets. That said, this is America and there isn’t a thing wrong with voicing your opinion on the subject of how the U.S. has been prosecuting the so-called “war on terror.” The thing is, if it infuriates you and you feel the need to work toward changing it or stopping it altogether, you’re going to want a plan for making your views heard in a way that’s potent and that has some hope of accomplishing what you set out to.
In the late 1960s, the way to do that was by making a lot of very loud noise and turning almost every protest into a Kabuki theater-style spectacle. This worked because we were living in a time when the masses were actually terrified of individuality; it was considered a serious threat to the established order, one that had already begun to upend that order, and so any expression of it not only got attention, it got results.
But the rules have changed over the years. Now not only is individualism and public outrage not shocking or dangerous, it’s an almost comical anachronism. As I’ve said before, there is no individualism these days. Nothing truly audacious can stand in our culture, not when our culture has become so monstrously adept at assimilating all forms of rebellion until they become completely meaningless and utterly impotent. Prepackaged, homogenized non-conformity is as close as your local Hot Topic. Agitation is fashion. Defiance is a slogan. Insurrection is product placement. The revolution is not only televised, it can be DVRed and enjoyed at your convenience.
When the Code Pink troops stand up and shout down a confirmation hearing before the guy at the center of it really even has a chance to start speaking — Brennan was just thanking his wife when the hell started being raised — and produce puppets and pink hands in the process they’re not only creating a cacophonous mess, they’re providing endless fodder for the idiots at Fox News, who get to smirk patronizingly and present it as red meat to their audience of bitter old people. It’s left-wing agitators just being left-wing agitators — and what’s more, it barely even gets the point at hand across. Yeah, you made a statement, but who cares if no one can figure out the details of what that statement is besides your not wanting to be “droned, bro?” You made news, but to what end?
By the way, there’s an irony to the fact that the Tea Party right employed the very same kinds of tactics a couple of years back, unwittingly adopting the ridiculous protest model of its enemy, right down to the silly costumes, unfunny “comic” signs and unfocused rage. These antics gave their political adversaries the same kind of thrill up their spines that the right gets from watching those kooky, moonbat lefties ranting about injustice while wearing robot suits. (As David Cross says, “Another silver robot for peace!”) There are so many new outlets and models for effective protest these days — the kind of thing that can capture attention without thoroughly alienating those whose views you want to change and making yourselves look like easily dismissible clowns in the process — that there’s no excuse for not availing yourself of them and choosing instead to stubbornly trudge on with the worn-out Boomer playbook.
If you believe the new technology of killer drones and the potential judicial overreach in using them are a fact of American life in the year 2013 that you simply can’t tolerate, you might want to stop looking back to a time before either of those things existed to find a way to fight back against them.