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            Anderson Valley Advertiser  -  Unpublished Articles

 

1994 AND ALL THAT by Clay Geerdes

           1994. There is a cluster of scarified pierce punks sitting on the sidewalk in front of the window of the Intermezzo coffee house on Telegraph Avenue talking about the history of tattoo. Shaved heads, ear and nose rings, studded tongues; ah, it's a mutilated world out there. Did I ever expect to see the day when there would be a piercing salon on the Avenue doing more business that some of the bookstores? The lot across the street where the Berkeley Inn stood from 1911-1991 is still empty but someone is buying the property for development. That translates into more yuppie stores. More places to buy things. Just what we need around here, more product outlets to glom the student parental dollar. Tuition rates have been going up and up and up at UC. Got to get rid of those poor people at the bottom and make room for the kids of the new rich. New laws against sitting on the streets and begging in the works. Got to get these homeless people out of sight. Wanna  buy some used CD's cheap? Amoeba and Rasputin's will sell them to you. Need a slice of gummy hot pizza? Blondie's and LaVal's and Kip's will sell it to you. Ah, yes, the Chinese family that now owns Kip's has a pizza oven, but you can still get a burger and fries for less than four bucks. When I was a student at Cal back in 1963, I paid 37¢ and I could rent a room at the Carleton for a buck.

       There aren't any dormitories on People's Park yet, but UC is still trying. Local artists have painted every inch of the new bathrooms and the graffiti inform the new students about social issues that are still alive in the negative nineties, the age of anarchy. I haven't seen any naked people this week, but it's been cold and rainy, a typical Bay Area winter, and naked activism is a fair weather enterprise. I don't expect the X-Plicit Players or the Topless Brigade to pass today. Actually, I don't drink my tea at the Intermezzo these days. The place is always full, for one thing, and I don't like the view for another. These bald-headed chopped up teenagers in their threadbare jeans and second-hand leather are not my idea of a pleasant view.

       "Why are there no earthquakes on Telegraph Avenue?"

       "Because there's a wing-nut holding down every corner."

       I heard this joke told by a street merchant to a cop standing by his bicycle outside Rasputin's new glass CD palace. It's all CD's in Berkeley now. Vinyl is dead, though you can still find records here and there. My friend collects the older funkier ones the way Crumb collects the 78s from the 1920's. Crumb lives in France now with his wife, Aline, and their daughter, Sophie. You can still find some of his books on a counter at the rear of Comics and Comics, but most of them are too expensive to buy. I see people reading them. No one plays much attention to the sign that tells them to limit their reading time to twenty minutes. I don't know anyone at C & C anymore. The people I used to know have moved behind the scenes, moved up in the hierarchy. The clerks are all strangers to me. People who keep up with underground comix go elsewhere, mostly to Comic Relief on University Avenue, because they still keep a stash of the back issues. C & C has the impersonal feel of a mall chain store. I can't relate to most of the new comics anyway, though I do collect some of them like Shade and Shadowman. I usually read at THE COMICS JOURNAL and get irritated because there are so many errors that go uncorrected. I read this interview with Bill Griffith some time ago and Bill was talking about COMIX BOOK being an imitation of ARCADE. COMIX BOOK not only came out in 1974, the year before ARCADE, but it had artwork by Art Spiegelman, Bill's co-editor on ARCADE. The problem with those TCJ interviews is the errors are passed along as history. I know Gary Groth just prints the interviews as they happened, but as someone who has a long history of discussing comic books and comic art with artists I know I have to verify what they tell me before printing it as fact. I've only known a couple of cartoonists I would trust as historians, the others know about their own particular interests and can't be trusted when they comment about comic art history. I feel it is the publisher's responsibility to check the facts in an interview or have someone else check them. Why? Because if there is one error, perhaps there are others, and if there are, the researcher cannot trust the publication.

       Someone asked me how I felt about some of the 'alternative" comics like YUMMY FUR, HATE, PEEPSHOW, EIGHTBALL, DIRTY PLOTTE, & SLUTBURGER, well, first of all, I call these underground comix, since I still consider "alternative" comics to be those that copped out to the censors back in the seventies and titles like HATE have stayed on the mark. I've read all of them and enjoyed them over the years. If I don't mention all of them, it's because I have to buy them these days and it goes against the grain for me to give free advertising to people who don't comp me their funnybooks. Doesn't mean I don't keep up with these comics and enjoy the stories in them, just means I have one attitude about putting out this newsletter and another about stuff I enjoy that I have to pay for. The comics mentioned get enough coverage elsewhere. I try to focus more on people who lack access to more widely distributed zines.

       I finally got around to reading all those articles in the first seven issues of BLAB! and I realized that most, maybe all, cartoonists have a very distorted view of what they are doing and who they are doing it for. They talk of reaching an audience that normally does not read comic books, in other words, an audience other than their own stereotyped notion of who the reader is--well, the only cartoonists who reach that audience are doing editorial cartoons or syndicated strips and single panels, because comic books are read by a specific audience and people outside that audience ignore them. Robert Crumb became famous because his Head Comix were distributed all over the world in underground newspapers like The East Village Other and his cartooning style was known to millions of people before he got together with Don Donahue and published the first ZAP in February of 1968. Jaxon got underground comix into the head shops through contacts he made when he was art director for the Family Dog. Don Schenker did the same thing when he was printing rock posters and postcards, got the shops to take some comic books at the same time. Underground newspapers reached a young audience for about a decade [1964-76] and during that time underground comix had an advertising medium. Some of the artists, like Rick Griffin, Victor Moscoso, and Greg Irons did posters and comic books and had the advantage of cross-promotion. People who saw Rick Griffin's Tales of the Tube in Surfer in 1972 and realized the same artist was doing rock posters for the Fillmore and album covers for the Grateful Dead were likely to take an interest when they found out he was doing stories for ZAP. Some of the publishers are now saying that underground comics peaked and began to decline when the head shop distribution fell through after a Supreme Court Decision in late 1972, but by then the Comic Store Movement was spreading around the country and if the comix had had the staying power they could have sold as well or even better through the comic stores. When the Viet Nam war came to an end, the major cause of the politically oriented underground papers ended with it and most of the papers became local ad sheets or died a quick death. The survivors became sex papers. In Berkeley, the BARB had split into two sections before its demise, the front half remaining political while the second half became THE SPECTATOR, a sheet filled with ads for hookers, nude beaches, relationships, and phone sex. The BARB died and THE SPECTATOR survived. It's still in the coin boxes around the Bay Area. Still battling with local parents from time to time because their kids have access to anything in street coin boxes. 

       Abbie Hoffman blamed Jann Wenner and ROLLING STONE for the demise of underground papers. He called Wenner the Benedict Arnold of the movement for starting the rock paper and taking all the rock ads away from the other papers.  Wenner promised the same hip audience without the radical politics and the record companies went with him. I just reread SOON TO BE A MAJOR MOTION PICTURE, Abbie Hoffman's autobiography and guess what--he didn't even mention underground comix!  I'm sure he saw and read them, but radical politicos were always above talking about such things as comic strips.  Oh, they made use of them--see the issue of RADICAL AMERIKA done by Gilbert Shelton and others, but in the biographies, the comix play no part. See Tom Hayden's REUNION and Jerry Rubin's WE ARE EVERYWHERE. Even in Charles Perry's minute by minute analysis of what happened in HAIGHT ASHBURY ignores the comix. No mention of Crumb and his wife selling ZAPS out of the baby carriage.  It's my argument that people inside the comics community take them seriously and see them as an influential force in their lives, but people outside that eclectic group take them for granted or ignore them.

       When people no longer saw underground comix in the weekly tabloids, they thought they were gone. The average person would be surprised to know there were 12 issues of ZAP. "Hey, I thought that stuff went out in the sixties with free acid and hippies and love beads." Jacob Brackman wrote the comix off as a sixties fad in PLAYBOY in 1969 when there were only five or six ZAPS. Underground comix didn't stop. The people who did them went on doing them. And when they stopped, others continued to do them. Peter Bagge is doing a lot of the same things in his autobiographical stories in NEAT STUFF and HATE that Crumb did in ZAP. I'm sure Bagge was able to succeed Crumb at WEIRDO because there was an affinity between the two cartoonists.  Think Dan Clowes wasn't affected by the pop existentialism of Crumb?

       But, hey, fuck those people who don't read comic books. I doubt that any cartoonist really draws for those people. What the hell for? They have what they want, so why bother them? And I don't see Art Spiegelman as having made any kind of a breakthrough at all with a hardback book version of MAUS. I liked his early comic book stuff a lot more than that concentration camp story that went on and on.  Art should have been given a prize for ACE HOLE because that was a tour de force.

       There is a well-developed and established comics community now and it includes people who read and love comic books. They keep the stores going, they keep over fifty companies in business, and they are willing to pony up the bucks to go to a cycle of conventions every year so they can hang out and party together. For a cartoonist to say he wants to reach an audience other than the one that normally reads comics is like him saying he wishes his mom would read and appreciate his books. It's a nice fantasy, but unlikely to happen. It's also insulting to the comics community which is where he gets his ego-boo and his income. Gary Groth told Peter Bagge the same thing in the first issue of I LIKE COMICS. Go for that reader who does not ordinarily read comics. So call it THE POPULAR CULTURE JOURNAL or THAT OTHER READER JOURNAL. But if it is about comic books, it belongs inside the comics community. That's a battle that can't be won, Gary. The people who sneer at comic art have clouded minds. The Shadow has wiped them out for good. They are missing a fantasy world the rest of us have access to, and we feel superior to them because we know it and they do not. My feeling is why bother them?

       Crumb said his father never looked at his comics. There's the crux. Comics expand the child world into adulthood. If adults could see it, get into it, a kid would have no place to hide, no place to develop a self. My mother never looked at my comic book stash. She never knew or cared whether I was reading about Little Lulu or the Blonde Phantom. I liked it that way and now that I write about comics I know I am writing to others who have had the same experience I have, not to their parents.

       Truth is that kind of talk has nothing to do with comic books. It has to do with money. Hey, if people who didn't read comic books started reading them, there would be a lot more money coming in!

       Talk about changing times. I passed a Walden bookstore this afternoon and there in the window on a revolving comic rack was the latest reprint of TALES FROM THE CRYPT right next to the latest issue of THE FLINTSTONES. This may not mean anything to the young reader, but to those of us who lived through the years of EC comics and saw them disappear from the drugstore rack in the wake of the Wertham crusade and the coming of the Comics Code Authority, seeing the Crypt Keeper meet Fred Flintstone in a junk book outlet was a flash. The horror stories are so tame compared to the filmed versions of them on cable that no one blinks an eye. I suspect Walden would sell ZAPS if they could bandage up a panel here and there.

       Ron Turner sent me an invitation to his Christmas party. Last Gasp has moved to 777 Florida Street in San Francisco [94110] so jot that down. You can still get Ron's catalog for a couple of bucks and it's a good listing of underground comix and other items. Ron has stuff like YOUNG LUST 8 and John Howard's HORNY BIKER SLUTS 6. He just put out an anthology of Spain's BIG BITCH art. Spain started the biker trend in underground comics back in his ZODIAC MINDWARP. Meant to be a comic book, it was published as a tabloid back in 1967. Spain rode with a group known as the Road Vultures and he told a number of stories about them. His character Trashman evolved out of the gang and starred in a couple of issues of SUBVERT. The Big Bitch stuff will remind you all of the Women's Lib wars of the early seventies. Trina did ALL GIRL THRILLS for The Print Mint and right on the heels of this one came Spain with MEAN BITCH THRILLS. Femacho fought against macho. Crumb took on the Sisterhood in BLACK AND WHITE in 1973. That story was reprinted by Jeff Rund in his collection of Crumb called CARLOAD O' COMICS and is now in print in a recent volume of THE COMPLETE CRUMB. Spain, like Jaxon, after his underground period, drifted into historical research and did some interesting work for ARCADE and WEIRDO. Be nice to see a complete collection of Spain's work in one of those coffee table books.

       Denis Kitchen sent his latest catalog or to be more accurate a mailing service included me on an old list. I can always tell. Kitchen Sink has moved to 320 Riverside Drive, Northampton, MA 01060. Jot that down, too. Kitchen says in the editorial that he has acquired Tundra. I've heard a lot of mumbling and grumbling about this merger, but I will leave it to TCJ to print all that stuff. I suspect Kevin Eastman got tired of arguing with artists and distributors; after all, you get into comics because you like to draw and if you are successful you wind up a businessman who has little time to draw. Crumb handled it pretty well. When Don Schenker tried to suck him into the business during the early years of The Print Mint, Crumb danced aside and left the business end to others. Instead of contracting all of his work to one company, he deliberately spread it around to half a dozen companies. Well, he got burned quite often and did not make the money he might have made, but he had his time to himself and it's likely he has drawn more individual comic books that any other cartoonist alive or dead. Crumb is prolific, the Isaac Asimov of the comics. He is currently living in a small town in France, raising his daughter, Sophie.

       Rip Off Press has survived. It is currently operated as a mail order company out of Auburn, California. Send a couple of bucks to Kathe Todd for Rip Off's latest publications. POB 4686, Auburn 95604.

 
Asshole Hollow by Clay Geerdes

           Asshole Hollow was the kind of town you’d forget before you even started to remember it. A few local people lived in its only hotel an’ no one could remember the last time a tourist had checked in. A few people slowed down a bit when they passed through but most just floored it and whizzed through figuring [rightly] there was no courthouse or jail and it was unlikely the state highway patrol had anyone that far off the beaten track. A handful of entrenched oldtimes called Asshole Hollow home but no one had moved in for years. It was a place of funerals, not births. If you heard some kids screamin,’ some tourist had stopped at the Kwikmart down on the highway or someone’s TV was cranked up. For all its studied emptiness, the town had a newspaper. You’d see a copy of it here and there, but no office, because the paper was owned and published by a couple of crusty old farts out of a house several miles from the town proper. The masthead read ASSHOLE HOLLOW ADVERTISER [AHA], but there hadn’t been much advertising in the paper since the older brother bought it a decade back. At one time or another he had made enemies with all of the people and businesses who might have bought his ad space and most of the ads he still retained were trades.

       The owner was an old horse thief named Simon McGee and his enemies, of course, referred to him and Simon LeGree, particularly after he had had a good time at their expense in one of his acerbic columns. McGee saw himself as a man in the tradition of Mark Twain and Sut Lovingood. He attacked the corrupt business practices of the local corporations, schools, and churches, and he couldn’t resist stretching a good anecdote well beyond its logical limits. He let his readers talk back in a couple of pages of long, unedited letters, always putting his own rebuttals in bold type, just to let everyone know who had the last word. Now and then McGee would get the notion that his words ought to have a wider readership than the confines of the small valley in which he lived and he began to have fantasies of expanding his twelve gray pages and going on the National scene, creating a leftist alternative to USA and PEOPLE Magazine, but in those rare times when McGee left the pond to venture out into the larger world he found a good audience for his blather, but sales of AHA did not seem to increase. Bookstores around the Bay Area took ten copies and most were returned to him for partial credit if one or another of his unpaid contributors did not buy them for friends and relatives.

       McGee had one nationally distributed columnist and he never understood why his endless diatribes on local issues were of little or no interest beyond the confines of Asshole Hollow.

       The paper was bland and nondescript, twelve pages of newsprint, often badly printed off register, often streaked and smudged. McGee had no sense of graphics. There was nothing above the fold to catch the attention of a potential passing reader. Oh, there was a black and white editorial cartoon, usually having to do with a local political issue, but this was not enough to attract a readership. McGee and his brothers had no expertise at promotion. There were street fairs all over the Bay Area during the summer, but no one was there to hand out sample copies of the AHA. None were on sale in coin boxes on the street corners with other comparable papers. The McGees, basically, were content to hide out in Asshole Hollow where they could mouth off to the locals at will. They had a small readership around the country and they rarely paid for anything sent them in the mail; they had a sinecure. If any writer gave them a taste of their own cynical medicine, they dropped him. When no less than Mike Royko had the temerity to poke fun at the political sacred cow of the AHA, Royko’s column was dropped, confirming the old adage that freedom of the press belongs to the man who owns one. The shitwork, the editing and paste-up on the paper was done by the elder McGee’s wife and a couple of other people, because, gee, the Great One had enough to do trashing the local school board electees or arguing with the last few leftists over what really happened during some protest that took place five or six years ago.

 
BIG BROTHER IS NO LONGER WATCHING YOU

 Retrospective by Clay Geerdes

           During my college years I read books like George Orwell’s 1984 [published in 1948] and Aldous Huxley’s BRAVE NEW WORLD [1931] and as I graduated, endured a decade of college teaching, and hit the streets of America as a photo-journalist I saw a lot of the prophecies in those books fulfilled. The late sixties were a great period of post-adolescent paranoia for most of the world’s student population. A large majority was experimenting with psychedelic drugs and along with that came the inevitable fear that someone dancing to the Stones and the Beatles at a party at your pad was probably a nark. No conversation was complete without a lot of drug trip rap and a cop bust story. Spies were everywhere. The FBI had started COINTELPRO in the mid-fifties to watch and destabilize the Civil Rights Movement. When the Free Speech Movement [FSM] grew beyond a handful of “student dissidents” at UC in the Fall of 1964, There were spies all over the place. The FBI was around very early in the game because the higher echelon Berkeley police are often ex-FBI agents or they have taken the special training camps run by the FBI. Because of UC’s long-time relationship with the U. S. Government--UC has administered the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory since 1943--there were both Army and Navy intelligence agents on the scene collecting data. Add to these, plainclothes agents of the UCPD and the Berkeley Police Department as well as students sending reports to the CIA to supplement their income, and you’ve got a situation right out of MAD MAGAZINE. If you were a regular middle-class student toeing the line, not rocking the boat, and making no waves [good old fifties jargon here], you’d be inclined to shrug and say so what has this got to do with me? And the answer would be nothing--yet, but it was only a short little hop from the kind of military surveillance carried out on college campuses in the sixties to the kind of relentless data collecting re ordinary citizens that now goes on. In the activist sixties, we were prone to snicker when we saw an obvious undercover agent taking our picture or watching us [they never learned, wearing Navy or ‘cop’ shoes even in the hippie costumes they copied from the covers of TIME and the Saturday Evening POST--I refer you to Jerry Rubin’s DO IT! or Abbie Hoffman’s REVOLUTION FOR THE HELL OF IT.]. Hey, guys, Big Brother is watching us.

       Well, we saw Big Brother quite clearly later in the decade and he was Ronald Reagan talking about killing college students on National TV. “If it takes a bloodbath--” you remember it all. It was Reagan who was president in 1984 and he was the one we associated with the ascendance of the National Security State. It was Reagan who dropped the mask and showed the nature of American fascism at its peak. Reagan gave us televised images of armed education--state troopers and National Guard personnel all over the UC Berkeley campus, all around town. An army helicopter sprayed CS10 on the UC Terrace where students were eating, whizzed over a local elementary school and sprayed the kids on the playground then continued through the recreation area in Strawberry Canyon where mostly mothers and kids were spending the afternoon around the swimming pool there--what the hell was that all about? Intimidating the civilian population, using Berkeley as a warning to the rest of the country that they would be gassed into submission if they didn’t toe the Republican line. Army jeeps rode up and down the streets around campus spraying civilians with CS10 in May of 1969--why? Who was being protected from what? There have been student “riots” in Berkeley since 1937 and it was never necessary to use anything more than the police and fire department to calm things down. Reagan was blathering about law and order and protecting the “good” students from “militants” and “radicals,” but the good students were radicalized by Reagan’s teargas, not by any “outside agitators.” A great many had lost a lot of faith when JFK was assassinated in Dallas in November of 1963. They lost a lot more when Martin Luther King was shot down in New Orleans and when RFK was murdered in Los Angeles in 1968, it was pretty clear that democracy was over. Reagan’s invasion of Berkeley was designed to reassure his upper middle-class contingency that he could handle their rebellious kids and keep the lid on the ghettos and barrios, but it backfired as PR in the same way news coverage of the Viet Nam war did.

       That over-reaction in the spring of 1969 was brought about by a number of factors. The Civil Rights Movement of the fifties was based upon nonviolence, but this did not satisfy young blacks; “black power” was the battle cry of the sixties. In 1965, Watts burned in the biggest riot yet in the history of California. In 1967, Newark and Detroit and San Francisco experienced major riots. In the wake of the Civil Rights Movement, a number of Bay Area colleges sought racial balance by starting programs for blacks, Chicanos, and other third world peoples. Out of programs like the Hidden Talent Project at San Francisco State grew Black Studies Programs and projects. A Black Student Union was organized at State and by 1969, a major student strike took place when demands by the Black Student Union were not addressed. It was out of this strike that a coalition was formed known as the Third World Liberation Front [TWLF]. TWLF organized a sympathy strike at UC and other Bay Area colleges and it was to deal with this strike that Ronald Reagan declared a state of emergency and called out the National Guard in February of 1969. That state of emergency was still in force in May when a battle erupted over People’s Park in Berkeley which is why Reagan could use the Guard and the Army so easily. The Berkeley action was a major warning to white students not to form any coalition with the blacks or Chicanos, but it was an empty gesture because black separatism had become the rule by then. The most visual black organization around the Bay Area in 1968-69 was the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense formed by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. The BPP had declared war on the U. S. Government and members were being systematically hunted down and killed or imprisoned. The BPP has had a strong influence on the type of gang culture that has evolved in the major cities through the seventies and eighties.

       If you were in college during this tempestuous period when the State was determined to make good little suit and tie wearing businessmen and women of you, the chances are very good that everything you did was carefully noted and recorded by several different intelligence-gathering organizations. If you joined any organization, this was duly noted and your activities monitored. If that organization was political, surveillance was intense, particularly if the organization was considered leftist. Groups I recall seeing at tables around Sproul Plaza at UC during this time frame include Progressive Labor [PL], Young Socialist’s Alliance [YSA], Students for a Democratic Society [SDS], and the Young Communist’s League [YCL]. For details on these groups, see the memoirs of folks like Tom Hayden [REUNION]. Typically, these groups were infiltrated by intelligence agents who taped speeches and filed reports. Their files and membership lists were stolen or copied and any and all information about them was used in any way the Army, FBI, or CIA deemed useful. There was a lot of passionate discussion of socialism and communism as alternatives to capitalism during my days at UC, but I have not seen any of these organizations around for many years. I’m sure that data collected on the members has remained on file and that it had an effect on their subsequent careers. Numerous people have requested their records from agencies like the FBI and CIA under the Freedom of Information Act and you can read Hayden’s, for example, in his memoir.

       The reality of fascism was revealed to me during those few years. I watched it in action, the helicopter, the jeeps, the line of armed Guardsmen at street corners checking people’s IDs before allowing them to walk home, the yellow jumpsuited deputies from the Alameda County Tactical Force Unit [Tac Squad] with their batons and their shotguns menacing students trying to find a way through their line into English classes in Wheeler Hall, Big Brother on TV: “If it takes a bloodbath...” then it was gone. Nixon closed up the Viet Nam war after committing mass murder in Cambodia, and Berkeley quieted down. I could go to Kip’s without smelling that residual oniony smell of CS10. It was all about making money again. Behind the scenes, those who had been too visible were paying the piper [see RUN RUN RUN: THE LIVES OF ABBIE HOFFMAN by Jack Hoffman and Daniel Simon. New York: Putnam, 1994.].

       Big Brother disappeared from the TV screen, but all that surveillance did not come to an end. Computers had come into their own and along with them the ability to store larger and larger quantities of information in smaller and smaller places. As more and more companies gave in and computerized their operations, it became unnecessary for intelligence agencies to track people. It is now 1996 and people track themselves and willingly give up their privacy. How can this be? Well, you go to the grocery store and fill your basket and the cashier scans your products and you look at the digitalized total and slide your ATM card through the slot. After a moment, during which the computer verifies your identity and ensures there is enough money in your account to cover your purchases, a receipt is printed and you are on your way with your cartful of plastic bags. What have you just done? As far are you are concerned, you have just transferred money from your bank account to that of the store to pay for your groceries, but the store’s computer has not only recorded every item you bought but all the data stored in the magnetic strip on your ATM card. Anyone accessing and looking at this transaction in the office will know who you are, what date you were in the store, what time you were there, what items you bought [a profile of your eating habits, whether you are a vegetarian, a smoker, a drinker, etc.], where you live [address is correlated with economic level], how much money you have in your account, and that store manager can at will, access other information about you. Perhaps you wrote a check the last time you shopped. This will have your driver’s license number on it, maybe your social security number as well; these numbers are often printed on checks these days. With these two numbers, the manager can call a databank like TRW or Control Data and obtain just about any kind of information about you the store would like to have. If you were applying to work at the store, this would be done routinely. If you were applying for a loan, it would be done. Well, so what? Big Brother has vanished from the tv screen and become part of a microchip and the grocer knows all the intimate details of my life.

       For honest people, it seldom matters that the intimate details of their lives are now available to curious hackers or folks who work in retail outlets, but there are ways it does matter. If you’re applying for a job, for example. What if you have had a good driving record for years, but during your youth you had a few accidents, one or two even involving a little too much to drink? In the old days, you could just forget the transgressions of your youth, but today they are made part of data files which are never erased. Maybe you were arrested a few times as a teenager. Still in the computer. Smoked a little grass and did a few lines of coke years ago and have a drug bust on file. Still there. No possibility of redemption or rehabilitation. Joined a leftist college club to see what it was like or because a few friends were in it and said it was the way to go. No job with the bank or insurance company with that in the file. Since data-entry is shitwork, errors are frequent and once an error is entered it may take an act of God to get it corrected or erased. You have no way or checking or reviewing your own files. People seeking credit have been refused for no reason other than errors in their file. You paid off a loan, but the data was never entered and a record of default remained. Some years ago, you would find people willing to agree with you and argue with the stored data. You’d go in with a receipt for your final payment and say, see, here it is, all paid up, and all would be well. Today’s clerk is likely to argue with you. I’m sorry, the computer says you defaulted on the loan and I can’t do anything about it. The 1996 worker has been brainwashed to think the computer’s information is true and the system infallible.

       Big Brother may be watching. You never know these days. Few stores have visible video cameras, but many have hidden closed circuit tv surveillance. Individuals may have them. Security has been one of the major growth industries in the paranoid eighties. Some ATM machines are equipped with video.  As you push the buttons, the camera is recording your image. You might consider this invasive, or helpful, depending upon the circumstance. If someone stole your ATM card and is farming your account, you can prove it with the surveillance tape.

       If you’re like me, you may resent a lot of this consumer surveillance and hate all the junk mail it generates. You may hate computerized telemarketing calls that interrupt your dinner. You may even like to pay cash for things. If you do, be prepared for a lot of discrimination and outright animosity. Once in a blue moon, I need a fuse or something from Radio Shack so I go in and get it and lay down a dollar and the clerk starts asking me for my name and phone number and a lot of other information. I tell him I have this item and here is the money and I don’t want to give out my personal information and he goes on about not being able to complete the transaction if I won’t answer his questions. He’s a liar, of course, because I have bought things for cash in Radio Shacks and not gotten this bullshit from clerks. Why does he want my personal information? I already get the advertising in the mail because someone sold Tandy my name somewhere along the line; the guy is just doing what he’s told. I know that. But it pisses me off and deters me from buying anything from Radio Shack that I can find somewhere else. Ditto Circuit City. They want my personal data so they can sell it and make a little extra profit off a customer. I resent that. And I don’t cooperate with it. I resent the stores keeping data files on my food, dress, and other preferences, too, but I know there is little I can do about it. I know the store is going to keep a profile of my eating habits just as the bank keeps track of everywhere I go and everything I do [travel tickets, car rentals, souvenirs] and my future will be even more monitored. I foresee the day when I pass through the tollgate on Golden Gate Bridge and my car is scanned and the toll removed from my bank account. Another group of people retired from the work force. I may see the day when babies are barcoded at birth and have microchips embedded in their bodies so they can be tracked through life by a central computer.

       Whatever anyone says, there is something dehumanizing and humiliating about knowing one’s personal data is available online to anyone who casually surfs by.  I like to think my identity is mine and if I want to tell someone a story about my personal life, that’s my choice.

 

CULTURE CLASH: FROM BACH TO BROWN by Clay Geerdes

            If I want to talk about Baroque music, I have to search until I find someone who knows it and cares enough to discuss the significance of Bach’s 48 Preludes and Fugues for The Well-Tempered Clavier or why Bach considered the earliest pianos inferior [the piano dates from 1709 in Italy], but I can discuss the latest episode of MURPHY BROWN or the upcoming Batman movie with anyone. A handful of people know or care that Bach revolutionized keyboard fingering when he used his thumb--early harpsicordists played with their fingers flat, their thumbs left hanging--but everyone has something to say about the flamboyant daughter of ventriloquist Edgar Bergen and her portrayal of an arrogant, aggressive television news woman; the point is one can discuss popular culture with anyone who comes along, but a serious cultural discussion is a rare experience, one dependent upon the availability of a peer with like intellectual interests. Sounds like a good premise, but it works out differently in practice, because the average person who will pretend to know all about Batman will not pretend to know all the intimate details of Bach’s style. The fact is, the average person knows as little about popular culture as about classical music, and those who do know pop cult are seldom looked up to though their knowledge is often as eclectic as that of a Baroque scholar.

       In the past couple of decades, popular culture has infiltrated the academy and graduate students in search of a thesis or dissertation subject not yet exhausted by those who have gone before have discovered a gold mine in pulp fiction, children’s books, comic books, tv shows, movies, and popular magazines. Subjects long discussed at science fiction and comic book conventions have made the leap from fanzines and prozines into major popular magazines. There are books about cartoonists and biographies of science fiction writers on the market. There are popular culture associations on various college campuses from Bowling Green, Ohio, to San Francisco State College.

       In college I was introduced to the concept of the author as territory. In the English Department, there was a Shakespeare man and a Hemingway man and a Renaissance man, meaning a scholar who specialized in the period, not a Renaissance man in the sense of Michelangelo or Raphael; indeed, there were Melville men and Whitman men and it was natural for me to begin to think of myself as an Eliot man after a couple of years of study. For awhile I was a Faulkner man, influencing in the process a friend who in turn became a Faulkner man. In graduate school, everyone had to have his man; not woman. While we read Parker, Atherton, Alcott, et al, women writers were not taken seriously in the English Departments of the early sixties and the idea of Women’s Studies was a decade in the future; I’m sure by now there are Alcott men as well as Alcott women. I recall all of us being rather snobbish, college being the last place to admit one might not know it all. An Eliot man could lecture about his man, quoting the most esoteric lines from THE WASTE LAND, and giving detailed analyses of various poems, but one did not discuss his man with anyone but the senior Eliot man on campus, his graduate advisor; after all, one could not take the chance that someone else, a peer, might know more about the man. Somehow I naively thought this would end once I joined a faculty, but, alas, no one talks shop on an English Department faculty. What if the new Hemingway man were to know something the older Hemingway man had failed to discover? The loss of face would be just dreadful.

       There were subjects worth writing about and others considered unworthy. One had to be careful. All kinds of unwritten rules were in play. A mis-step and goodbye to a readership or a teaching assistantship, critical steps in the academic job market; one had to have the right names on a résumé or kiss it all goodbye. Being an older brother and having a big mouth, I clashed with a number of my professors along the way, costly clashes. Fortunately, I was able to get along with others who helped my career. At the time, Edward Albee, who went on to become a successful Broadway playwright, had only written a couple of plays, THE ZOO STORY, THE AMERICAN DREAM, and THE DEATH OF BESSIE SMITH, but I was fascinated with the sharpness of his dialogue and the meticulous way he autopsied the bloated carcasses of a number of sacred American cows so I proposed a paper on Albee’s work for a seminar in Modern Drama. My idea was rejected. Albee wasn’t worth writing about. My Prof had spoken. And God’s word was final. Of course, I thought he was full of shit and Albee’s subsequent career bore me out, but it was about power, not dramatic literature. My displeasure cost me a job later on. Why? Because I had talked back instead of bowing down to Greater Wisdom.

       I think of this today when it has become all right not only to propose a dissertation on subjects as diverse as Wonder Woman and The Mythic Relationship between Rugby and Contemporary American Football, but to publish such works in quarterlies once reserved for literary figures only. Somewhere along the way, someone got the idea that teaching the form is most important; the content can be anything. It is just as valid to write about the life and work of Carl Barks, the man who created Uncle Scrooge McDuck, as it is to add to the secondary literature about William Faulkner or Ernest Hemingway. In other words, it is no longer all that unusual to learn that a professor like Arthur Berger at San Francisco State College wrote his thesis on LI’L ABNER: A Study in American Satire [University of Mississippi Press, 1994], where such a dissertation would have been impossible at UC Berkeley in the early sixties when Mark Schorer was finishing his tome on SINCLAIR LEWIS.

       One of the nice differences between the entrenched literary bureaucracies and the pop cult writers is the relative freedom of the latter in contrast to the enslavement of the former. When I studied with James Hart at UC in 1964, he controlled the AMERICAN LITERATURE Quarterly. He liked an article I wrote about something I can’t remember and said it was right for AL but he had a five year backlog. I think he filed the paper, but by the time it was up for consideration, I had graduated and was teaching and had forgotten all about it. This doesn’t happen with pop cult articles. There are a lot of publications and the material appears in print while it is relatively fresh. Think about what this means--young scholars have to wait for years in order to see their rehashes of Faulknerian water symbolism in print! It’s not really publish or perish as the cliché goes because a lot of writers have already perished long before their carefully coiffed prose is published.

       Major battles ensue in both fields because some scholars are careful while others are careless. My attitude is if it is worth writing about it is worth writing about correctly, checking the facts, maintaining the history, refusing to distort or misinterpret for momentary effect; I don’t care if I am writing about the hanged man symbol in Eliot’s WASTE LAND or the date of the first Little Lulu panel in the Saturday Evening POST. Carelessness bothers me and I see a lot of it in pop cult writing. I enjoy reading a book when I feel I can trust the writer’s accuracy and it makes no difference whether that is Robinson’s biography of Chaplin or Sullivan’s translation of Petronius’ SATYRICON.

 

GAP by Clay Geerdes

           Well, there isn’t any generation gap. There never has been. There is a carefully designed market gap promoted every second by corporate greed. If your kids like the same music you like, Big Rap CDs, Inc., isn’t going to make any megaprofits. Got to sell discord, conflict, rebellion. The first big push in this direction took place in the fifties with the 45 rpms. Mom and Dad were still playing their 78s. Remember all that? Suddenly there were 45’s and the kids wanted those little plastic turntables in order to play them, well, there was the beginning of the market gap. I remember it all clearly. One day we were all sitting around the living room watching the same stuff on TV, Lawrence Welk, Guy Lombardo at New Year’s, Kay Kyser, Ed Sullivan, Horace Heidt, then all of a sudden my sister and her buddies were listening to Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, Gene Vincent, and Buddy Holly on her little 45 rpm player and we were hearing shocking stories on the news about ministers who were proclaiming rock and roll the devil’s music, evangelists shaking their fingers at the quivering pews as they threatened the end of it all if rock was not suppressed immediately! And Jerry Lee Lewis a good southern Baptist boy with a church background! Tsk! Tsk!

       Suddenly, there was a generation gap. Teenagers were in rebellion. Mom was sure her boys were sneaking out at night and doing it with girls in the back seats of old Fords and Chevvies [never Caddies, because, after all, the rich had their own ways]. Young boys were drinking, smoking, drag-racing their hot rods, hanging out at drive-in theaters. My God! Archie comics had lied to us. Teenagers didn’t wear nerdy beanies and hang around soda fountains; they wore black leather jackets like Brando in THE WILD ONE and they drank brewskis and chased pussy! Hoohah! Shrinks made a lot of bucks during this period. Remember being sent to a counselor? Having a little trouble at home, son? What seems to be bothering you? Well, to be honest, Doc, my dad’s afraid I’m going to pile up my car in a drag race and leave him to raise a cripple and mom’s afraid I’m going to get laid and get the wrong girl pregnant; actually, they’re both afraid I might live the kind of life I want to live instead of the kind of life they have decided I ought to live. But you’re only 16, son. How do you know what kind of life you want to live? Well, maybe I don’t know, but I just want the right to make my own mistakes. After all, they made theirs, didn’t they? Son, you’re not using, er, ah, DRUGS, are you? Of course not, sir. In this town? You haven’t got anything good for sale, have you? Heh! Heh! Little suburban humor there, doc.

       Teenage rebellion is such bullshit. A handful of kids buy into it every generation and we all know who they are because they buy all the crap that makes them stand out. In the nineties, they’ve got the $50-75 veggie-dyed hair and sculptured spikes and the right clothes supplied by mall chain stores, all of it paid for by their parents. To be a real rebel, you get the hell out, stop living off the family, make your own living, be your own person, but today’s cosmetic rebel is a superficial character designed by the advertising departments of beer, tobacco, and garment companies, nothing independent there.  The idea is to look bad, to present an image of fear, to make adults tremble when they see you coming toward them. The real fear is inside this young exhibitionist. How does he look? Are his spikes stiff? Not sagging and falling over? No pizza dribble on the front of his studded leather jacket? Earring in the right ear or nostril? No gob of pink bubble gum stuck to his shoe? “Spare change for beer or pizza?” Here is a kid with a $50 hairdo and several hundred dollars worth of leather clothes on his back sitting on a garbage can on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley and he is trying to cadge change from adults.

       For a short while, these plastic rebels can insulate themselves and live in their fantasy world; as long as dad is willing to foot the bills, but presenting a negative image to the adult world is costly and eventually the bill has to be paid. I always enjoy the political rap that comes from this group. Many consider themselves anarchists and anticapitalists and they will go on about the corruption of the capitalists but where is their living coming from? if your dad works for a corporation and he is paying for your pierced and punctured lifestyle, you’re locked into capitalism, pal, and all your talk about anarchy is just dust in the wind. If you’re living off an SSI scam and talking about revolution, you’re just a second-hand capitalist.

       One of the fascinating things about capitalism is that the product is all. Bottom line is everything. There is no morality, no code of ethics, no meaning but the stock quote and the dividend. If the fashion mongers thought they could mass market piercing and veggie dye jobs, you can bet there would be a piercing parlor in every suburban mall from Ukiah to Tuscaloosa and seniors would be sitting in the donut shop discussing whether to get the right or left nostril pierced. You have to laugh at the incredible power these people have. Look at the image they sold the suburban teen. He stands on the bus stop wearing a baseball cap on backwards, baggy pants with the crotch between his knees, oversized, and way overpriced tennis shoes with the laces carefully left untied. Mr. Cool has no idea how pathetic, absurd, and ridiculous he looks. A true fashion disaster. And you know the designers are sitting around their layout tables in New York and Paris thinking up something worse to do to the poor schmucks next season.

       Ah, well, I don’t have to go to the malls that often. And there are a lot of normal kids around who still wear regular pants and use a baseball cap to keep the sun from burning their foreheads. Oh, oh, a car has just pulled up alongside me, bass pounding away, hate lyrics blasting in my window. I roll up my window and wait for the light to change. The message is clear. It’s FUCK YOU, OLD MAN! The cacophony of the young challenging the euphony and harmony of the old [oh, pardon me, that old fashioned out of it Chopin Nocturne I was enjoying on the tape deck]. I relax when the mobile boom box has moved on. To me rap is doggeril to a synthesized beat, not music.

       Was I ever into rebellion? Well, I smoked for a little while when I was about 15, but I decided it was a stupid habit and quit. I took a drink of whiskey once and hated it. Always wondered why my grandfather thought it was such great stuff. Never liked beer. I had to work when I was a boy so I could never fool around with weird fashions. I had to wear a shirt and tie to work in a grocery store. I came into conflict with my mother over some things, usually my girlfriends, but we could talk about things when I was a teen. My father died when I was 14. I have no doubt we would have had our differences of opinion, but I think we would have reached a compromise and remained in touch.

       Teenagers are encouraged by advertising to buy into certain images and these are often frightening to their parents. After all, what do the parents want for their kids? What are they afraid of? Mainly, they worry that their kids will drink too much and get into accidents, that they will become addicted to drugs, that they will be careless having sex and contract AIDS or any of the many STDs that are currently epidemic in our country, and--they are right. A teenage whacked on beer doesn’t think about getting out a condom, he just goes for it. The driving stats are deadly and most of the accidents are related to alcohol, mainly beer. What’s the cost? A dead child? A quadriplegic child? Lawsuits that bankrupt the family? A child sent to prison? Every adult has heard it all many times. The child who knows when to quit. It won’t happen to me. It wasn’t my fault. My foot slipped off the brake. Somebody pushed me. She said she was on the pill. It’s always a parent who has to deal with the full impact of teenage excess, not the beer companies, not the corporations that push up their profits annually by catering to the most dangerous impulses of youth.

 

Image 4/9/94 by Clay Geerdes

           I have become an anachronism in my own town.

       Yesterday, I saw a 15-year-old girl sitting outside Rasputin’s glass record store on Durant. She was begging for money. She had little silver rings in her eyebrows, nose, ears, and probably other parts of her body that were not visible. How can I relate to a generation of kids that views mutilation as a rite of passage? There is a piercing parlor on Telegraph and when I pass, people with shaved heads in leather clothing glance at me as they gossip about the number of piercings and tattoos they have. “..And she had shaved all of her eyebrow hair off and there were beautiful Celtic symbols tattooed over each of her eyes. It was truly cosmic.” One woman wore rhinestone studs in her tongue! I heard one guy ask another why he was wearing a cap and the reason was his spikes got wet the day before and he hadn’t had time to wash and reset them. Guys talking hair! Hair used to be girl talk. The Rolling Stones did several shows here recently and I can imagine the reaction of Mick Jagger and his band of old hippies as they looked down across those shiny bald heads and sang about Sweet Sister Cocaine. The piercing fad presents some perilous problems. What happens when the style shifts? I can see these people spackling up the craters in their faces in preparation for a date. They’ll be like sailors I knew who had their girl friends’ names tattooed on their arms in Hong Kong; most got Dear John letters before their tour was over and wound up covering up the names with roses.

       When I was 14, I had just lost my father to a crippling disease and I was working nights in a supper club to help out with family expenses. I had no time to worry about my image and no money to spend on anything unnecessary to survival. It was 1949, a few years past the Second World War. The teenager had been invented, but the marketeers had just begun to develop products aimed at him. Call it the era of the as-yet-unaccessorised teenager. I heard a lot about juvenile delinquency, the catchphrase of the time, thanks to Frederic Wertham and other psychology hustlers who made their money scaring parents on the lecture circuit. Bobby-soxers, hired by clever press agents, mobbed Frank Sinatra at his concerts, but there were no groupies yet. There was no music aimed at me, the new teenager, not in 1949. Jerry Lee Lewis was playing piano in church and Buddy Holly was practicing his guitar in a garage in Texas and Elvis was listening to Bessie Smith on some race record in Tennessee, but their effect on me and my generation was several years in the future; Frank Sinatra aimed at the women, mothers and daughters; if there were any male bobby-soxers, I never saw or heard about them in Lincoln, Nebraska.

       I was completely unaware of image at 15. I wore whatever I had to wear and in the cold weather I was glad to have a warm coat and an aviator cap to cover my ears. My feet were always cold and they would have been colder had I been wearing the kind of sneakers I wear in California now. The stores where I got the few clothes I could afford had no special departments. No Teen or Junior Miss areas. There were working clothes and dress clothes and the distinction between white and blue collar was absolute. I didn’t work in an office in 1949 so I had no need for dress clothes. I had a white shirt and a tie or two and a sport coat. That was it. For awhile, it was cool to wear a sport shirt with the collar outside the coat, but it wasn’t until Elvis made his big splash in the mid-fifties that guys I knew started to notice style. Elvis had young men growing their hair out and parting it in back in what was known as a DA or Duck’s Ass. Some of the guys wore pompadours while the in girls backcombed their hair into beehives.  People who kept up with style were those most influenced by the movies.  College guys wore slacks, cardigan sweaters, and carried pipes in their jacket pockets whether they smoked or not. That was middle-class to me. I was a blue collar kid. When my Dad dressed up, which was rare and usually on Sunday, he wore slacks, a white shirt, and a leather jacket. He might wear a tie and a hat, but he didn’t keep them on long if he did. I remember him around the house on Sunday with his sleeves rolled up and his collar open. The tie was tossed somewhere.

       At 16, I wore slacks and a leather jacket on dates in the fall, a sport shirt and slacks in the summer. I never thought of the way I looked as an image. In New York, I would have been called a greaser, but I never heard that term in 1949. Never heard biker until I saw THE WILD ONE in 1953. By the time of the musical GREASE years later, all of the images of my period had been sorted out and stereotyped, but they were not that clear cut at the time, certainly not at my high school. I was aware of class differences, because I knew there were people who had money for nice cars and clothes and I knew I didn’t have any money, but I never thought of the class distinction in terms of image. My leather jacket had nothing to do with rebellion either. That idea came from THE WILD ONE and THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE [Evan Hunter, 1955]. I wore the jacket because that’s all I had to wear, and I only wore it when the weather was cold; in the summer I wore a sport shirt all day and a sport coat if I went out on a date in the evening. I might wear a t-shirt around the house, but not if I was going downtown to hang out. In my group, you weren’t completely dressed without an outer shirt. T-shirts were all white. No ads or other graphic images. Even today I dislike wearing hype t-shirts. Why should I be a walking ad for some company and pay for the privilege?

       I didn’t really have to rebel. The idea was not promoted to me every minute by movies, videotapes, and a daily diet of MTV as it is to the pierced generation of 1995. I wanted to get a job and make some money and get a car and maybe get married and have a family one day, but I didn’t see this as a pattern my parents would have opposed. I never liked drinking and getting drunk was never my idea of a good time. I didn’t buy the hype of the liquor companies and the breweries. I needed no fake ID card and becoming 21 never meant the right to drink legally to me as it did to many of my peers. I tried smoking for a little while, not to rebel, because my mother never opposed it, but out of curiosity. I quit it when I decided it was not something I wanted to spend time and money on.

       What did I have to rebel against anyway? My mother was working hard to keep our family together, to pay off the debts my Dad left at his death, to keep us in our house; she certainly wasn’t trying to keep me from growing up and being whoever I was destined to be. She advised and encouraged me as best she could. What I see around me in the 1990s are teenagers who have always had everything they wanted, young people who are bored with plenty, sensation seekers whose motives have been shaped and warped by corporate corruption. I know the fifty dollar hair-cuts and vegetable dye-jobs I see around me in the mall, the piercings and jewelry, the leather clothes, the pre-bleached and shredded jeans, are all paid for by well-to-do parents, not by the labor of the teenagers affecting these canned images. These young people are not ignorant. Many can give elaborate political rationales for their intellectual ennui, for their post-Punk existentialist posture, but these no future raps do not negate the fact that the teens, who hang out on the street trying to look more down and out than the disenfranchised poor, are not contributing anything positive to their community; au contraire, they are contributing to an overall image of a culture in decline.

       Since teenagers became a target market in the postwar forties, they have been manipulated. It is not enough to sell one image, because sales must continue, not end, in a growth economy. Once hippie had been exhausted, something new had to be invented, processed, produced, and sold. Long hair resulted in the decline of the old style barber shop. In 1949, there was one haircut. I wore my hair in a fuzz cut or a crew cut. Charley Deeter cut it all off and took my two bits every other week. That was it. Who wanted to bother with hair? Many women waste half their life putting it up and taking it down, combing it, brushing it, trimming it, worrying about loose ends, ironing it, marcelling it, curling it, and for what? For an image. I hated it all when I was a teenager. I wanted some sex, at least some necking and petting, but when I found my date had one of those idiot hairdos I knew the litany for the evening. “Don’t mess up my hair.  Be careful of my hair.” Ah, those poor women. I have to assume they didn’t know, that they were brainwashed. I hated the smell of the gunk they sprayed on their heads and when I got that stuff on me I couldn’t wait to get home and wash it off. I couldn’t even hold hands with a woman like Faith because she was always touching her hairdo and getting that shit on her hands. A sweaty hand was bad enough, but to grab hold of a sticky palm was total yuck.

       If I was a teenager now I’d be confronted with a bald headed date with studs in her tongue. Kissing would be a hazard to my health. I can see guys getting home from dates with bloody lips and tongues just from a little necking. I heard a woman explaining on a talk show that the studs in her tongue made giving head more erotic. What? What? There’s a thought that’ll shrivel a lot of weenies.

       The marketing of teenagers got into full swing in the late fifties when the shopping malls opened. The same corporations bought into all regional malls and they brought their product lines with them. Regional differences were destined to become nostalgia as America homogenized. Sociologists like Vance Packard and David Riesman studied the changes and wrote books about them, but what happened was not too difficult to understand. Wartime rationing made people hungry for products. Factories shifted from weaponry to Barbie dolls. Newly affluent workers bought cheap suburban houses on tracts cut from farms, and malls were built nearby so people no longer had to drive into the city to shop. The inner cities were deserted and left to rot. I saw this happen in Lincoln. When the Gateway shopping center opened with acres of free parking, downtown O Street, the main drag, was doomed. Businesses began to fail there and within twenty years  the department stores and businesses I had grown up with were gone, most of them replaced by immigrant stores, discount outlets. To try to revive the inner city, a mall was built downtown, but Centrum, as it was known, was a failure and most of the shops were soon closed or replaced by others that would close after a short lease. People shopped at Gateway or they drove to the larger mall near Omaha some sixty miles away.

       The constituency of the population has shifted radically and the melting pot concept continues to function, particularly in the schools. Teachers in the inner city schools began to realize that their classes were polyglot and multi-cultural, that they might have as many as a dozen languages and cultures represented in a single class. Few were trained to deal with the situation, particularly with the discipline problem that resulted. Tension between blacks and whites was familiar and an uneasy truce had been reached after the Civil Rights Movement of the mid-fifties and the Black Liberation Movement of the late sixties so a teacher with an integrated black and white class knew the games that were in progress, but what about the teacher who had to deal with the hatred between Laotian teenagers and Vietnamese students? As more and more Asian immigrants entered the school system after the end of the Viet Nam war in 1973, teachers were faced with new and more complex sociograms. A Frontline documentary in October of 1994 revealed that integrated Berkeley High School was not as integrated as everyone thought, that the students had dealt with the problem of multi-cultural conflict by segregating themselves outside the classroom. Gangs were discussed briefly on this biased program, but gangs have been routine in America and many other countries for years. OLIVER TWIST was about a gang of kids organized to survive in the streets by stealing. But in the 1990s the concept of teenage gangs is used as an advertising ploy to alienate parents and their children for the express purpose of selling more products. California gangs, for example, use colors and they often adopt colors associated with baseball or football teams, hence they buy the sports gear. It is no accident that the sports outlets on American malls do billions of dollars worth of business each year. What are sports fans, after all, but a giant gang beating the drum for their team? Television News plays a major role in the maintenance of gang images, ensuring that those images will stimulate fear in the minds of all the chairboys and chairgirls in their laz-e-boys consuming sugar and salt product by the ton. Gang equals violence equals drugs equals drive-by shootings or assaults or burglaries equals the rich controlling the vulgate via televised fear images. A group of teenagers on a street corner in L. A. Raiders jackets is a dangerous gang, but a group of women in business suits in front of a Montgomery Street delicatessen is not considered a dangerous gang of feminists. Rebellion makes money. It is not in the interest of corporate America to promote cooperation and communication between the generations. It if was, we would see fewer hate films and a lot less sado-masochistic violence on MTV.

       Today’s teenager is conditioned by television to feel that he ought to hate his family, that he can only be himself by rebelling against his family and he can only rebel effectively by buying all the symbols of rebellion available to him on the mall. Well-to-do teens rebel by dressing down. They wear jeans with the knees or the ass a little ragged. They want everyone to know they are down and out just like everybody else. One would never see a Latino from the barrio dressed that way. He wants everyone to think he has money and taste. He wears the dark pants and the white shirt and the gold chains and maybe a gold ring and some shined shoes.

       Style setting is a power trip for teens. The leaders get off dictating fashion. The head cheerleader wears something and the rest of the squad falls into line. When my sister was a cheerleader at Northeast High School in Lincoln in 1958, she and her circle of friends decided to wear Bermuda shorts and socks that came almost to the knee. When they started wearing this costume around school, lo and behold, so did all the younger girls who wanted people to think they were hip and in fashion. Around the time my sister and her gang adopted Elvis Presley with his wine-colored suits and greasy hair, they decided it was cool to wear men’s dress shirts like sweaters and pretty soon there were girls all over Lincoln in their Dad’s shirts, some with the sleeves cuffed at the wrist, others at the elbow and higher. Many people ran away to Haight-Ashbury in the mid-sixties to escape the dictatorship of high school fashion trendies and create their own styles. Madison Avenue, home of American ad hype, went insane during that period because none of the fashion spies could put a finger on a specific style that could be ripped off and sold back to the vulgate. They certainly tried with those hip hugger flare pants and body shirts, but about the only thing that came out of all the sixties hoopla for the fashion industry was the discovery that jeans were a gold mine. Why you could put rhinestones on the jacket and studs on the pants and sell them in boutiques in Manhattan or Beverly Hills for hundreds of dollars! Levi-Strauss climbed way up the old Fortune Magazine ladder because hippies had began to customize jeans.

       So today I live in the weird period of the conservative conformist teenager as a tattooed, pierced-up, bald-headed rebel, a chilled out dude who holds reality at bay with a monotonous synthesizer beat guaranteed to protect him from any exposure to actual music, an arrogant, impolite, foul-mouthed imitator of a screen actor imitating Brando from THE WILD ONE.

       In the early eighties and probably before, it was chic for women to have small tattoos near their erogenous zones. The late Greg Irons, an underground cartoonist friend of mine, spent many evening hours coloring in a rose or a butterfly on the buns of a biker’s woman friend. I knew a lot of women who had these micro tattoos. I recall little butterflies near patches of pubic hair, often shaved to form a valentine. I saw them on fingers, near or on breasts, on shoulders, thighs, hips, just about everywhere.  Some people get addicted to tattoo. I think they dig the needle as much as the art. Piercing, tattooing, head-shaving, hair-coloring, hair-wrapping, have all been adopted by one or the other group of teenagers hanging around the local malls and, who knows, it may have to do with the casting of clean-cut straight arrow types as heroes on tv cop shows. I know of several teenagers who have said they didn’t want to look anything like Macgiver or the latest James Bond clone on FORTUNE HUNTER. Jamaican culture has become an influence in Berkeley and more than a few young black and white teenagers are sporting dreadlocks and saying Mon instead of Man. Rasta musicians play reggae locally and sell their instruments and styles on Telegraph Avenue. For awhile skinheadedness was associated with neo-Nazism or the White Aryan Brotherhood, but the baldies around Berkeley are fashion rebels more than politicos. One of them has FUCK tattooed on one side of his head, a good spot since he can grow out his hair and only he will know it is there.

 

Image by Clay Geerdes

       The inner cities became associated with crime and danger and older people avoided them. My Aunt lived in Long Beach, California. When I first went there in 1955 as a sailor on liberty, it was an active town with a lot of things going on. There was a crowded amusement park known as The Pike where thousands of people went on the rides, played the carnival games, or sunned themselves on the beach. Up on Ocean, there were hotels and restaurants. I walked up and down the streets and felt like I was at home. The names, Woolworth’s, Kresge’s, many others, were all familiar to me. But by 1983 when I went there to see my aunt, downtown Long Beach was gone. The Pike had been replaced by expensive retirement condominiums, and the downtown streets were empty and dangerous. Ocean was deserted. I stood alone and looked out to sea where a couple of offshore oil drilling rigs were disguised as islands, complete with camouflage vegetation. I had to laugh when I first saw those islands, because I knew that area well from my Navy years and I knew there were no real islands there. Through my binoculars I could see the pumps going up and down, a familiar sight in that part of California. In 1942 when we were there for a visit with my aunt, there was an oil pump everywhere you looked, because everyone was trying to strike oil and get rich. Picture our old black ‘37 Hudson rolling up a two lane road with nothing but oil pumps and a few billboards. All drained dry by now I am sure. Drained dry and covered up with concrete. In 1983, my aunt told me she was afraid to go downtown and never went there anymore. Like Lincoln, downtown Long Beach had been deserted by the whites as more and more people moved to the suburbs, to Anaheim and La Habra, and the inner city had filled with immigrants from Thailand, Viet Nam, Cambodia, and Mexico.

          The tattoo was part of a rite of passage when I was in the Navy, but its popularity had waned over the years and I felt no compulsion to get one. No one on my ship had a pierced ear, let alone anything else. I think those who conformed to the tattoo mystique were in the minority. John Rupert, a big guy who pumped iron all the time, had a great physique, and we joked with John about his depilated look; the guy had almost no body hair and we knew he must sneak into the head late at night to pull a hair the moment he noticed that little bugger peeking out of its follicle cell. John was a bright-eyed cherry. He had never dipped the light fantastic. He finally got his initiation from a teenager he picked up at an Oakland movie on liberty one night while we were in dry dock there for repairs, and Johnny couldn’t just come back and tell everyone the juicy details like anyone else would have done; he had to bring a trophy to show us. He stole the girl’s panties and was showing them around the engine room when one of the guys on cold iron watch asked him how old the girl was. He should have been cool and said she was at least twenty, but not our Johnny. He put his foot in it and told the truth. She was fourteen. Jailbait! It took him a long time to live that down, but Johnny had other surprises up his sleeve. When we hit Hong Kong on our Pacific run that year, he went on the beach one night and came back with his chest all bandaged up. More than a little drunk, he passed out in his bunk and it wasn’t until a few years later that the boiler room crew saw his new chest. John had spent several hours in a tattoo parlor in Chinatown getting a giant American eagle colored on his chest. The eagle was hovering above a Navy ship that was sinking into John’s pectorals! A month or so later while we were on R and R [rest and relaxation] in Subic Bay in the Philippine Islands, I come out of the shower and am drying off when I see Carlson walk past. He had a pair of ruby red lips tattooed on the left cheek of his ass. I thought he had been grimacing a bit when he sat down in the galley to eat. Most of the older sailors had tattoos on their arms, faded out roses or hula dancers, but Rupert and Carlson were the only guys in my division that got them during my tour of duty.

 

TURN OFF, TUNE OUT, DROP IN by Clay Geerdes

            Spy Magazine tells me that LSD is back. Did it ever leave? Talking to someone who is on acid is like swimming in a vat of rainbow jello. Far out, man, like, you're rilly groovy, man, I mean like you're a beautiful dude, like. I was at a party in Fresno back in 1967 and saw a guy spend the entire evening staring at the D on a Decca record. Boy, was his consciousness expanded. It was Drugspeak everywhere in those days. No matter where you went, you heard people talking about their trips and trips other people were taking, how mescalin did this and psilocybin that and it was all very tedious and boring, particularly to someone like me who was not into drugs and could have cared less. No one knew anything about MK-ULTRA1 then. If you had said that the CIA was conducting an experiment in mind control and using the Eloi around Haight-Ashbury as guinea pigs you would have been written off as a conspiracy theorist. LSD was just the latest high to most people, but many were messianic about it. There were brand names to separate the best from the worst and everyone knew the difference between bad street acid and primo Owsley, even non-druggies like me. The Purple Haze that fell in Jimi Hendrix' brain was LSD, so were the pills that made you larger or smaller in the song White Rabbit sung by Grace Slick and the sunshine that came softly through Donovan Leitch's window. Drug music was ubiquitous and it was often performed by the stoned for the stoned. Interns showed up at parties with amyl nitrate capsules and told the gaping guests that breaking one and inhaling at the moment of orgasm was the ultimate high. Drug lore was present in hundreds of magazines and underground newspapers.

       LSD was made illegal in October of 1966 and within a couple of months the hippy dealers were gone from Haight Ashbury and the mafia dealers were busy killing anyone who was left. Seventeen murders. Street paranoia. Drug profits had financed a lot of hip boutiques and marginal businesses then as now and the acid-rich bought upscale homes in Marin County and spent their days leisurely discussing megadeals on their boats or in the fern bars along Bridgeway in Sausalito. A lot of these neo-rich segued from psychedelics into serious coke habits and private sanitariums and drug rehab clinics entered boom times as you can read about in the writings of Bret Easton-Ellis and Carrie Fisher or the biographies of John Phillips and David Crosby.  Acid, alas, did not film well, and movies like Peter Fonda's The Trip, heavily hyped, were bombs. Easy Rider, now cultic, is a basic bore, though the music is nice. Today's computer generated imagery like the  melting steel villain in Terminator II are more psychedelic; so is MTV with its high speed cuts, multiple-images, and spontaneous collagerie.

       As for Timothy Leary, the high priest of acid, the guru, the pied piper of LSD, he left a legacy of anger and disappointment.2 Kids ran away to follow him and their parents hated his guts. Leary told people to turn on, tune in, and drop out, to stop playing social games, to create a better society, but the uneducated kids who heard him never created anything of value. They dropped out and spent their time stoned. They became worshippers of rock bands and spent hours stringing beads or drawing chalk pictures on the sidewalks while the police state grew up around them. Haight-Ashbury became a psychedelic ghetto, a kind of grandiose mental institution a la Ken Kesey's Cuckoo's Nest3 where any and all kinds of aberrant behavior were not only accepted but encouraged. The media used this pool of psychosis to terrify a conservative public of rejected parents into voting for law and order fascists like Nixon, Reagan, and Bush. Television effectively brainwashed the elderly into hating their own children since to the straight media beatniks, hippies, black militants, dropouts, etc., were all negatives the way punks, spikers, and skinheads are now.  4

       So, gee, LSD is back! Why not? It was effective in defusing the revolutionary energy of the young in the sixties and will probably be just as effective this time around. Kids will be dropping acid and watching DESERT STORM II this summer as a new crop of fascists are voted into office to protect scared parents from the ravages of their Easter egg headed, nose-ring wearing kids. Kids who have no folk singing prophets to light their way. Few would believe that decrepit and pathetic figure mumbling his way through a recent gig on David Letterman's 10th Anniversary Special was worshipped as a hippy Messiah in the sixties. Remember that old chestnut about those who fail to learn from history being destined to repeat it? Well, in an electronic environment, history repeats itself continuously, so here's your gold watch and the shackles for your chain and may the ghost of electricity howl in the bones of your face.     

 

Merit by Clay Geerdes

            I love all this talk among the rich about merit. If you’re a poor working stiff, you have to merit getting into a good school; if you’re rich, everything is taken for granted. You’ll get into the best school, have the best apartment, drive the best car, have your own expense accounts. Because you merit them? Hell, no. Does anyone think for two seconds that Forbes merited the 400 million he inherited from his daddy? Anyone think he merits being in the White House? Truth is, the majority of the assholes who now control the wealth in the world inherited their position. They didn’t earn any of that money and any guy who has worked an eight-hour day topping trees or fixing gas lines or plumbing merits a hell of a lot more than these pampered kids who got it all for nothing. Last July, the UC Board of Regents voted to end the affirmative action policy that has been functioning on the nine UC campuses since the mid-sixties. Why? Why did Pete Wilson suddenly decide to ax the policy and use Regent Ward Connerly as his front man to kill a policy that has been working quite well? Why did the two of them think using the Board of Regents in this manner wouldn’t be considering political interference with the academy? Why did they assume the black, Latino, and Asian communities would not view it as blatant racism? Well, Wilson watched George Bush slide into the White House using racist television advertising [you all remember Willie Horton, I’m sure] and I’m sure he figured what worked for Bush would work for him, but, thankfully, it didn’t, and we are to be spared the spectacle of watching Wilson campaign all summer. This hypocrite, who lobbied his own Regents to vote against affirmative action, has tried a number of times to get the children of his friends into UC, because affirmative action is all right as long as the rich are involved; we know who the vote is aimed at excluding from higher education just as we know the phony civil rights initiative that will appear on November’s ballot is blatant racism.

       Affirmative action did not help the poor. Make no mistake here. The policy only gave a chance to a handful of third world folks who had managed to squeeze into the lower middle class. It made a difference, but only a symbolic one. The idea of merit is completely bogus and should be called out for what it is. You have to have access in the first place or merit means nothing. If you don’t get a chance to take the test, who knows whether you might score well on it? Most third world people are working class people and workers in general do not have access. Their children are tracked in high school without even knowing it. Most of what goes on in those schools ignores their cultural background and is totally irrelevant to their lives. India, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, are ignored in preference for the intellectual products of European culture.  We saw a strong reaction against this type of brainwashing in the sixties. It was partially stimulated by the Civil Rights Movement.

 

Panthers by Clay Geerdes

 Review Melvin Van Peebles film about the Black Panther Party.

          The Black Panther was an image of strength adopted by a community that was de facto powerless. After King was murdered for his pacifism, young blacks began to demand some black power. The BPP Party was founded by Stokely Carmichael in 1966; the branch that got the most attention was the Oakland branch founded by Huey P. Newton and Bobby Seale.

          Explain that the good accomplished by the BPP was not negated by the negative media image promulgated by COINTELPRO, that the image presented by the party was important in the development of hope and pride in the young of the community. BPP was something very different within the Black Community than it appeared to be to the white world. Media floated “Black militant” as a buzz word to scare white people. The American military was never referred to as a bunch of white militants out to force the rest of the world to keep in line with American corporate thought. Any student who protested was referred to as a “militant student,” particularly those who belonged to SDS of PL. Since blacks and students were considered too stupid to come up with any platform of their own, they were always accused of carrying out an agenda devised and designed by “outside agitators.”

           Cf Goines data on the FSM students. 825. How many were students. How many were outside agitators because the University had suspended them?

          Is a nonmilitant student really a student at all? If you don’t reject the propaganda and learn how things really work in the country you intend to live and work in, your chances for success and survival are fairly low.

 

Porn PC by Clay Geerdes

           Several cartoonists were given the space to react to PC in the January 17th issue of THE NATION, an Eastern political hype sheet.  Among them was Mort "Beetle Bailey" Walker who has given in to feminist criticism of late. His General has been accused of sexism for ogling his secretary. My inclination would have been to have the General wearing a pair of horse blinders when his secretary passed through the office or to say "Fuck you!" as Crumb did in one of his more poignant strips, but Walker has toned down his strip. What I found of most interest in his short commentary, however, was this statement: "I am chairman of the group that is building the International Museum of Cartoon Art in Boca Raton, Florida, and we are worried about exhibiting these underground comics. They are mostly pornographic and may not be fit for a family museum [48]."

           Pornography in underground comix? Surely you jest, Mort. Did I miss something? When I think of pornography, I think of Ms. Magazine which capitalizes on the subject all the time. See the current issue.  Pornography is designed to get you up and off and the best of it does just that. What happens when you read the stories done by Crumb in underground comix [and you know Walker is not talking about GOOGIEWAUMER here] is you either laugh at the absurdity of his personal fantasies or you are disgusted by his blatant nastiness; in either case, you neither get up or off, hence it doesn't quality as pornographic.  I always wondered why someone didn't just come out with it, call it like it is. MODERN PORNOGRAPHIC FUNNIES. Comics about doing it. Why euphemize?  These days, those who want porn know where to find it and they don't go to the comic book store. They go to a porn theater or they rent an X-rated video. 

       Meanwhile, back in Boca Raton [which translates as Rat's Mouth], underground comic art is being censored because Mort Walker can't tell it from pornography [of which there is plenty in Florida above and below the counter]. Doesn't seem to bother museum curators in New York. I've heard Dana Crumb sold her YUM YUM BOOK art to a collector who is now offering it for sale for only $300,000. 

       I don't follow Walker's logic anyway. One doesn't think of an art museum as a place for family outings, at least, I don't. Why not a separate room for adult material? The whole thing is such a joke. Can it be that Mort has never watched a Madonna concert or seen MTV.  Has he never looked inside an issue of SHADE or SPAWN or [-choke!] THE CHILDREN'S CRUSADE? Does he not know that all things previously underground have long been assimilated into overground comics for sale to anyone with a large allowance? 

           I just read an article about political correctness in the comic strips, all about the way people write in to protest the gags of Mort Walker and other cartoonists. Well, so what? Underground comix were never politically correct and none of the real comix ever will be. How can anyone be honest and maintain political correctness? Paul Krassner, editor of THE REALIST, just finished a tour promoting his autobiography. He did an hour and a half show at Ashkenaz in Berkeley on November 7th and I was there to hear him start off with a routine about political correctness. Like many stand-up comedians, Krassner's humor is often self-directed. He gets a lot of mileage out of his experiences as a satirist among the hippies and yippies of yesterday. I see the whole PC trip as hypocrisy in action. What is it, after all, but image maintenance? When Jesse Jackson made a reference to Hymietown a few years back, he was saying what he really thought. Trying to cover it up later by saying what he really meant was didn't fool anyone anymore than government references to lethal weapons as peacekeepers. There was a brief period in the sixties and early seventies when underground newspapers told people what was happening and called the corporate propaganda what it was, promo for the capitalist product, but reality did not survive that period and we no longer have a viable underground press as an antidote to megamedia lies.

       How can a cartoonist be true to his vision and be politically correct? When Lynn Johnson dealt with gay teenagers in her strip, she found herself cancelled from a lot of papers and she got a lot of mail. Mort Walker has the general flirting with his secretary and a couple of women walk out on his presentation at the San Diego Comic Convention. I find these absurd reactions. Mainly because comic characters are not real. They are figments of a cartoonist's imagination and it doesn't matter whether they look like dressed-up mice or costumed superheroes and heroines, they are still fantasy, not reality. What difference does it make if Brenda Starr is a woman when she does the same thing a male reporter would do? Her female biology is not dealt with in the strip. There are people who would argue that Brenda Starr is PC because it is done by a woman artist. I don't buy that. There are a lot of memorable women characters in the world of comics and most of them were created by male artists. Why was Wonder Woman accepted as an authentic character and put on the cover of the second issue of Ms. Magazine in 1972 when WW was invented by William Moulton Marsten as a female version of Superman? Lois Lane, who--surprise!--had her own title for nearly 20 years from 1958 to the mid-seventies, was a far more interesting and complex character than Wonder Woman. I wasn't surprised to see that Lois survived the Salkind series of mega-Superman films in the eighties to get top billing in the new Lois and Clark TV series. A lot more can be made out of a writer like Lois than a collection of gimmicks like Wonder Woman.

       I've never been convinced that there was a concentrated conscious effort made to keep women out of the comics business. Seems to me that the women who really wanted to get in, and had the talent and skills necessary, got in. I'm thinking of Grace Drayton, Tarpé Mills, Marie Severin, Gladys Parker, Marge Henderson Beull, and countless others. When underground comix began, most of them were done by men, but women got in when they wanted to. Those who were willing to follow the pattern and do their own books went as far with them as most of the men. It was not a business in which cartoonists were destined to become wealthy. The only way I know one can make a lot of money with cartoons is to have a widely syndicated strip.      

       I'm a little more than bugged with the whole PC trip. I think things were a lot healthier when cartoonists kicked out the jams and drew anything they felt like drawing, let it all hang out. Fuck the taboos. All fantasies out in the open where they can be dealt with. When Crumb was criticized by feminists, he created Devil Girl and had Mr. Natural do all kinds of violent and gross things to her, a plausible reaction; after all, in underground comix, if you weren't violating all the taboos and resisting any kind of repression you weren't living up to the Code, which for many was to reverse all the tenets of the Comics Code Authority of 1954.

       PC is the new taboo.

       I wondered how long the Indians would sit still for all that nonsense in Barrie's PETER PAN. A middle school in Southampton, New York, cancelled its production of PETER PAN because administrators decided the musical's portrayal of Indians was offensive to members of the Shinnecock tribe, whose reservation is on the town's border and whose children make up 9 % of the district's students. The kids are now rehearsing THE WIZARD OF OZ. Munchkins, take notice. A monarchial matriarchy ruled by Princess Ozma, Oz has its own PC problems.

                               STEREOTYPED ARABS IN DISNEY'S ALLADIN

           The following passage is quoted from Jack Shaheen's "Shattering Stereotypes: Media Images of Arabs," a lecture given at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Jan. 26, 1993.  For further information about Professor Shaheen's forthcoming book, THE COMIC BOOK ARAB, send an SASE to David Barsamian, 2129 Mapleton, Boulder, CO 80304.  A tape of the lecture is available.

 

RAGGED DICK by Clay Geerdes

 “The Sexual Revolution…a world of sexual incompetents encountering each other under disco circumstances, now, can’t you do songs about that?

 -Frank Zappa

       RAGGED DICK was one of the novels of that famous pederast Horatio Alger, Jr.,[1]  but today’s plastic surgeons have given new meaning to the term as they perform in-office penile extension surgery on guys who want to make a better impression on their brothers in the shower at the Y or The Club. Yes, businessmen are sporting bigger dicks these days as their wives pump up their sagging tits with silicone injections and implants, but at what cost? Cancer has killed off a lot of the cosmetically-deceived women whose implants leaked into their tissues and it looks like the male MBA’s of the nineties want to play catch-up with their hapless mates. The ads for this surgery run in the business section of the paper along with display ads for the new topless clubs that cater to guys in the lower echelon of management. [In these clubs, playmate clones come out in business drag and remove their suits and ties until they get down to the big boobs and aerobically smooth buns peculiar to male stroke books like PLAYBOY and HUSTLER. While you could get in and out of the topless clubs in San Francisco’s North Beach in the sixties for less than $20, these new fantasy sex parlors will relieve you of a hundred or more.]

       So you want to have your dick lengthened? Thickened? You can have it done in about an hour and a half in a plastic surgeon’s office, but a few of the risks include: nerve damage, impaired sensation, impotence, decreased penile stability during intercourse, a lowered angle of erection, unwanted protrusions of skin in the pubic area, unsightly scars, infection, gangrene and loss of tissue. Says Claudia Morain in an article in the San Francisco CHRONICLE: “In the thickening procedure, the surgeon uses liposuction to harvest fat from the patient’s inner thigh, pubic area or hips. An ounce or two of processed fat is then injected with a four-inch needle down the length of the penile shaft. Patients are warned that the fat will be absorbed by the body over time, and that repeat injections may be needed within a year. Hazards include release of a fat globule, or embolus, into the bloodstream during liposuction. When an embolus lodges in the heart or brain, heart attack or stroke ensues. If the surgeon injects too much fat into the penis, the blood vessels that nourish the skin of the penis can be choked off, causing tissue death. Finally, the penis can end up lumpy, lopsided, bulbous or with the texture of a cobblestone street…most surgeons use limited anesthesia and perform the operations in their offices [CHRONICLE, 10/3/94, p. E-7].”

       That ought to take your mind off politics for a moment or two.

       Make an appointment now. Why should women suffer alone? Join the Equal Misery for Men Movement. Just think of this as a Public Service Announcement.

 

Sewell Smith by Clay Geerdes

           Was proud of being able to wear his Boy Scout uniform in his mid-seventies. Was cheap and egocentric and had driven nearly all of his friends away. Gave a boy a broken watch as a present and sold his mother a watercolor at a price she couldn’t really afford instead of being generous and giving it to her. Had prices on his paintings which hung all over his living room, making it look like a cheap gallery. Spent a lot of his time working on his autobiography, but had no talent for writing or story-telling. Went to a writer’s group where the others were as egocentric as he was, all of them trying to write their life stories and daydreaming of having them published. The blind leading the blind, those people. Reading about themselves to each other, then pretending to listen when someone else was reading. Smith wanted me to edit his book and to figure my pay by the hour just like he figured the errands and the running around. I was there all the time in those days, not just an hour here and there. For taking care of him and doing some of the editing, he was going to take something off the rent for the room each month. The rent was $75 and I was available to him all month which meant he expected me to work for pennies an hour. Still had his fantasy about having a Japanese houseboy and finally hired Ikishi, a guy who spoke little English. I watched this bozo “garden” and I knew he was no more of a gardener than I was, but it wasn’t my problem. Smith bitched about his laziness, about how this or that wasn’t done. The old man was an epileptic and he had a seizure one night. He was writhing around on his bed and he bit his lip and blood sprayed all over the place. I called 911, because I didn’t know what else to do, then I held him in check so he didn’t hurt himself. The medics came and took him to Richmond Kaiser. In a little while, he called me and I went over to get him in his yellow Saab. He was upset because I didn’t call his doctor instead of 911, but I hadn’t remembered and would probably have called 911 anyway, knowing doctors. He was pissed about the ambulance bill which was $119. So what? That was like a dime to him. His house was worth $750,000 or more. He didn’t have any money worries. His children came around every two or three weeks to keep an eye on their inheritance, but I never saw any kind of affection between them. They stayed briefly and got the hell away from him. They didn’t like him anymore than anyone else did.

       I tried to be a friend to him, but his cheapness pissed me off. I just got irritated when he nickled and dimed me. I told him I was there all the time, not just a hour now and then. When I went out and got the food and cooked our dinner, he always went over the receipts to make sure I didn’t rip off his change. If we ate out somewhere, I always paid my share. He didn’t have a trace of generosity in his make-up. I couldn’t fake it. I read over his bullshit biography and told him what I thought. Sure, I could rewrite it and make a book out of it, polish up his lies. He didn’t have it. I knew that from being around him for a couple of days. He was a mean-spirited little shit, selfish to the bone, out to get everything for himself and give nothing. His book never told a trace of the truth about his life. It made him look like pathetic fool. And this was a man who had achieved a certain reputation in architecture. There were buildings and houses around the Bay Area that showed his art and creativity. He wasn’t a bad painter. Artistically, he was all right, but the person hadn’t developed at all. When I came to stay there, he had one last friend who came up to hang out and visit with him. I watched him alienate the guy. No one was left. I didn’t keep my mouth shut. I confronted him with his behavior, asked him why he was doing it, why he was driving everyone out of his life, what he expected to gain from his selfishness? While he was exploiting my intelligence and labor, his attitude was that I was out to exploit him. I got to know him very well. I knew he was probably gay, but never came out of the closet. He went out with women now and then, but nothing lasted very long because they could read him as well as I could. I don’t think he tried to make contact with anyone. He never came on to me. I think he had been masturbating when his seizure came on. His fantasy of having a houseboy probably had sexual connotations, but I never saw him come on to Ikishi.

       I was the only person who was honest with him. I read his manuscript and told him he wasn’t being honest about his life, that he was just making up a nice story about a great guy who was one-dimensional. The kinds of things he wanted to say about himself might have flown if said by someone else, a biographer, but coming from him they sounded like pure self-aggrandizement and alienated the reader--this reader, for sure. And I have written my share of puff pieces for actors and artists.

       I might have acted differently if I had felt more secure in my own life at the time, but I was in a period of transition. I had no money to speak of and I had just moved out of my Indian Rock place where I had felt at home for seven years so I was feeling displaced and in no mood to deal with a pampered little “boy scout.” When we came to the parting of the ways after a few months, I told Smith I was leaving his room just like I found it and I would be back to get my cleaning deposit and I wanted the check ready for me and no bullshit. He was the kind of guy who would burn me on a cleaning deposit. I knew him well by them and I told him not to fuck with me or he would be damned sorry. After I was moved, I stopped in and he handed me the check and I took it and walked out. Later on, he sent me a letter apologizing for his behavior and saying he regretted no longer having me in his life. I guess. There was no one left to tell him anything but self-serving lies after I left. Just the yes, people, including his parasitic children.

 

THE TERRIBLE TEENS by Clay Geerdes

 And then puberty arrived, like a curtain coming down. I grew breasts: discrete objects that weren’t there before, bodies on top of my body. They came like strangers and I was supposed to welcome them as part of myself even though I’d lived all 13 years of my life without them. One started first, and I remember examining myself in the mirror and worrying.

 --Susan Moon

 The Girl I couldn’t Be.

 San Francisco CHRONICLE, January 1, 1995, p. 10.

 

       You see in the movies and on television not the real teen, but the teen the establishment projects, the way they want the teen to see him or herself, the bad girl, the lost boy, the teen vampire, the emotionless prisoner of violence, the bitter, angry lonely alienated reckless character who just wants to be himself, to be seen for what he is and not as a projection of his father or mother. He doesn't think adults understand him and when they do he is rather upset, because his persona is built on the idea that he is different from them and that makes it impossible for them to understand him. He likes being a mystery; indeed, he often does irrational things simply to confound his parents and keep them on their toes. He knows what the rules are and inside he knows why they are, but the very fact that they exist is a call to action, a threat to his love of unrepressed anarchy.

       The teenager always wants to be older. This robs him or her of this period of life. A teen watches the ads and is conned into wanting the symbols associated with older people. He wants to do all those unhealthy things that are associated with adulthood. When John Savage switches places with his father, Judge Reinhold in VICE VERSA, he is shown drinking martinis. Well, the father is still the father even though he has been imprisoned suddenly in his son's body, but what the teen audience sees is a fantasy fulfilled. Teens are in limbo. Awkward, shy, the boys' voices changing, the girls starting to menstruate.  Told what to do by adults at every turn, they have none of the perks or what they perceive to be the perks of adulthood. They suffer the hormonal horror and are powerless to take action. They find very soon that all children are illegitimate. Who wouldn't want to be an instant grown-up like Savage in VICE-VERSA or Tom Hanks in BIG? This is the major lure of adventure and comic book fiction. It allows a kid to be a vicarious grown-up, to open all those locked doors, to speed through the streets and drink with the grown-ups, not to mention getting the satisfaction of killing off those evil parents. Fairy tales about evil stepmothers and insensitive cruel fathers are projections of teenage frustration. In the original Grimm version of SNOW WHITE, it was the girl's mother who sent her into the forest to be killed, not her stepmother.  Time is endless to the teens, yet it is trivial, too. Everything is always out there in the future. Teens have no concept of mortality. That only comes when friends begin to die. That's the basic difference between those who went to Viet Nam in the sixties and saw their friends die and the others who stayed home to sit around the college commons spouting intellectual theories. Sex and death are major movie themes that appeal to teenagers because most don't experience either. And even when friends die, teens feel it is something that happens to others, not to them. Joseph Wambaugh's THE BLOODING, 1989, tells the story of the murders of two 15-year-old girls in a small English village. In response to the rape-murders, a blacksmith started a self-defense class for girls. While older women willingly attended, teen girls were reluctant. "The likely victims still refused to believe it could happen to them (160-61)." Cinematic violence has taken the place of sex. Teens can watch all the slaughter they want, but no sex. They can watch Jason stick his knife in a young girl--FRIDAY THE 13TH became a series in 1988-- but its adults only to watch Harry Reems stick his you-know-what in Linda Lovelace in DEEP THROAT. The blood lust or BLOOD FEAST is easy to understand when one remembers that menstruation is the major trauma for teenaged girls, the source of discomfort, insecurity, anxiety, and embarrassment. Carrie's menses were the theme of Brian De Palma's film and the scene where dozens of girls throw tampons and kotex napkins at her in the gym shower captures the anxiety and emotion few teen girls ever get to express.

       Ann Landers got a letter from the mother of a 16-year-old who was stealing from the people who hired her to babysit. She knew nothing of her daughter's kleptomanic tendencies until two women came to see her one morning and told her that her daughter had stolen things like a jade ring, a pearl bracelet, perfume, and cosmetics from them. They came to her because they liked the girl and didn't want to see her get into trouble with the police if it could be helped. She went through her daughter's things when the women left and found the things they had mentioned. She returned them and confronted her daughter when she got home from school. The girl denied everything and swore she never took anything. When the mother told her she had found the stolen articles in her room and returned them to the people, the girl got mad and ran into her room, slamming the door behind her. The mother told Landers that her daughter was out of control. Once she spanked her and the girl went to the neighbors and told them her mother and her boyfriend were abusing her sexually. They had to submit to a police investigation in order to be cleared. Motives for this girl's behavior are easy to find. She may resent another man being in the household in place of her father. She may feel unloved and be taking material things to compensate herself. Her mother's lifestyle may be making her feel insecure and taking expensive things that she can sell if the need arises may make her feel more secure. It's clear that she is upset by the break in the continuity of her family life and instead of getting the needed counseling and help, she is getting disciplined by her mother. And, most likely, by the boyfriend, too. This situation was dramatized on the DALLAS tv series in early 1988. The solution there was to whisk the teenager off to Europe and place her in a Swiss finishing school, but such solutions are not feasible for working people.

       On February 27, 1988, the San Francisco CHRONICLE ran a story black lined SCHOOL SEX CASE STUNS ALBANY. Albany is a small town of 15,000 located between Berkeley and El Cerrito, California, on San Francisco Bay in California's Bay Area. It seems a 15-year-old girl had oral sex with 8 male students on the Albany High School campus.  In the morning, the girl orally copulated four students in the school theater. The group hid behind the stage curtain, but someone saw them and reported the incident. That same afternoon, the girl repeated the act with four boys in the school lunch room. It's a violation of state law to engage in an act of oral copulation with someone under the age of 18. It was speculated that the girl was under the influence of alcohol. The mayor was upset. "If there is a problem in the high school, we damn well want to know about it. We have a quiet campus--no major drug problems, no extortion, no guns, no drive-by shootings. I'm not saying we're better than other citizens, but we operate very closely as a community. This is a real shocker." The mayor was referring to events that took place fairly regularly in Oakland and San Francisco during the late 1980s. At the time San Francisco's muni system was trying to deal with teenage attacks. Busses driving through Hunter's Point were being stoned and shot at. The battles in Oakland were said to be caused by young drug dealers fighting over their territories. The new drug was Crack, made from rock cocaine, and it was being sold by kids as young as ten and eleven in some of the city's schools. The problem was caused by widespread unemployment among the teens. Since they could make hundreds of dollars a week selling the drug, few   would take junk food service jobs even when these were available. Who wanted to stand there and serve hamburgers all week for the same money that could be made in five minutes selling crack in the school john?

       In May of 1988 a group of nine teenagers were arrested in Benecia after a strange scavenger hunt. Most were cited for possessing stolen property and sent home, but a couple was kept in jail. Detective Sergeant Dave Eger said as many as 45 youngsters may have looted the town in pursuit of 36 items listed on a flyer inviting the public to join in the destructive scavenger hunt. The hunt began Thursday evening on a fishing pier at the foot of First Street where the invitations were distributed by an anonymous person. Items needed to win included public telephone receivers, tennis court nets, basketball rims, ski racks, pizzas, automobile fog lamps, mail boxes, lawn chairs, Mercedes Benz hubcaps, windshield wipers, washing machine lids and condoms filled with catsup. The flyer encouraged participants to "bring a screwdriver, a wrench, a camera and the will to destroy." People were told to throw the catsup-filled condoms against buildings and take pictures of the results. The hunt would run from nine until midnight and the loot was to be brought to Benecia State Park on the north side of the city. The fete was discovered when a police officer made a routine traffic stop of a car and found it loaded with tennis nets, business signs, lawn furniture and other unusual items. He sounded the alarm and officers converged on the park where they nabbed eleven suspects with their loot. Two weeks before the hunt, 162 cars in Benecia, Vallejo, and Sonoma had their windows shot out with BB guns. The San Francisco CHRONICLE gave this event sixteen inches on May 7, 1988. BENECIA PILLAGED BY A BIZARRE SCAVENGER HUNT. The Oakland TRIBUNE gave it two inches in the CRIME LOG. Benecia is a suburb between Berkeley and Napa and is the type of community that served as the background for Steven Spielberg's POLTERGEIST films. Teen films have emphasized violent pranks in the past decade and I have no doubt that this scavenger hunt was inspired by this type of film. In a report on the CHILD ABUSE INDUSTRY, Mary Pride noted "in the year 1950, in all of America, only 170 persons under the age of fifteen were arrested for what the FBI calls serious crimes (such as murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault) . . . yet between the years 1950 and 1979, the rate of serious crime committed by children increased by 11,000 percent! (quoted by Mark Cerri, in AVA, June l, 1988)." Dr. Mary Pipher suggested in REVIVING OPHELIA [1995] that it was American culture which had become dysfunctional, not the American family. In March of 1995, five Jacksonville, Florida, teenagers made a two-hour videotape they titled DESTRUCTION. The video shows the young people kicking in walls, smashing toilets with hammers, cooking a live sea trout in a microwave until it exploded, and covering a dog’s head with a paper bag then blowing marijuana smoke into it. These people said they made the video for their own entertainment, but they were prosecuted for vandalism in juvenile court.

       On May 17 of 1988, violence broke out in the corridors of Berkeley High School's downtown campus when members of a West Berkeley gang called the Waterfront gang attacked non-black students in what police reported was part of a gang initiation requirement. The gang members were all black males under eighteen and Berkeley Police Lieutenant William Pittman told a reporter for THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN that Wednesday's violence was racially motivated. Pittman was quoted in the Oakland TRIBUNE on May 24: "There is a lack of motivation in that school. Most crime by young people is caused by excess freedom, and that is all they have there. Many of Berkeley's students are not mature enough to handle an open university-like setting. The California Department of Education's State School Crime Report of May 23, 1988, reported a 4% increase in crimes against people "with Junior High Schools and high schools reporting more assaults, student homicides, and sex offenses." Campus shakedowns have resulted in more confiscated weapons. Hardly surprising since handguns are readily available. As of May, 1988, Maryland was the only state where Saturday night specials were banned.

       I suspect the violence at Berkeley High was movie motivated. The rivalry between the Los Angeles Bloods and the Latino Crips was the core of the Dennis Hopper Film, COLORS, and one of the initiation rites in the film involved a Latino man who subjected his younger brother to a brutal beating by his gang. When the boy proved he could take being beaten and kicked by the others, he was welcomed into the club. Should we be surprised at a raid on Berkeley High School and the random beating of non-black students? In COLORS, the brutality is all directed toward the Blacks and Latinos, and most of it comes from white cops. COLORS is like an outtake of the series HILL STREET BLUES with some of those professional actors-cum-gang leaders looking a bit long in the tooth, flashing us back to WEST SIDE STORY or to the sixties when most of the teenagers in the beach movies were at least 28. It appears that white society has created a militant police force as a buffer zone between itself and the Third World.

       Teen films have changed radically in the past decade. In his autobiography, TIMEBENDS, Arthur Miller suggested that the New York teen gangs grew out of the war, that they were an attempt by young people to organize around the older boys, father figures who stood in for the many real fathers killed fighting in Europe. This would have been equally true of the First World War [1914-17], but Horatio Alger was using gangs of orphaned New York newsboys for material for his novels in the 1870s, and Jane Addams was writing about Chicago street orphans and their addiction to cocaine and opium as early as 1909. Certainly, missing parents or alcoholic and addicted parents are a critical factor in gang formation, however those parents came to be missing or addicted. Sidney Kingsley put a street gang onstage in New York in DEAD END [1934].  Known as The Dead End Kids, the boys in that gang went on to star in several movie series beginning with LITTLE TOUGH GUYS [1938]. By the early forties, they were known as The East Side Kids and they ended their careers as The Bowery Boys. Their leader was Leo Gorcey and the idea was that the guys were tough and defensive of their turf, but really good guys underneath. A collective hero, they usually wound up capturing some criminals and foiling a plot against someone sympathetic like Louie Dumbrowski who owned a soda fountain on the Bowery. The best realistic treatment of teen gang behavior appeared in Irving Shulman's THE AMBOY DUKES [1947], which was followed by a sequel, CRY TOUGH. The teacher's view of gang life was told by Evan Hunter in THE BLACKBOARD JUNGLE [1955]. The theme song of that film was Bill Haley and the Comets doing Rock Around The Clock.  That one had the bubblegummers bopping in their living rooms.  THE WILD ONE [1951] was inspired by the postwar activities of the Hell's Angels motorcycle gang.  James Dean portrayed the ultimate tortured, inarticulate, misunderstood teenager in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE, repeating the same basic character in the film version of John Steinbeck's EAST OF EDEN [1955].  Gang members were most often referred to as juvenile delinquents during this postwar period and numerous psychologists made some spare money lecturing about the problem. Adolescent psychology like other branches of the discipline was in its infancy at this time and the terminology was mostly Freudian or Jungian. Though the gang was certainly a group and provided a symbolic family for those who were homeless or alienated from drunken parents, group therapy was in the future and would not reach its apex until the mid-sixties when it would be seen in juxtaposition to what the subculture referred to as retribalization. Still on the scene then, the Hell’s Angels were the subject of a book by Hunter S. Thompson [1966].

       One saw what the adults would have teenagers be on Dick Clark's AMERICAN BANDSTAND on television, the good kids, the clean-cut, parent-obeying, non-hookey-playing, rural and suburban teens who tended to have a choral function in movies like ROCK AROUND THE CLOCK where the music was given a rebellious image. They were called teenyboppers as early as 1955 when Chuck Berry played his first gig at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and he wrote SWEET LITTLE SIXTEEN (January 6, 1958) for them. The song was actually inspired by a seven-year-old autograph seeker Berry saw in the crowd around him at an Ottawa concert. When he went on Clark's show to do the song, he was asked to lip-synch it and he thought that was ridiculous. Clark put him down for his attitude in ROCK ROLL AND REMEMBER, but Berry defended himself in his 1987 autobiography by pointing out that Clark was asking him to do something he had never done before and to do it in front of a nationwide television audience. No doubt it was this experience which determined Berry's future attitude toward the medium. In his book he said: "I shy away from television because it has always seemed so restrictive to me. It locks the performance into a schedule, usually with stock music, and leaves no room for the innovation and spontaneous creation, which, for me, are the main glory in the thrill of performing (AUTOBIOGRAPHY, New York: Harmony Books, p. 297).

       Elvis Presley's most important or negative contribution to teen rock was to fuse sex and music, becoming one of the first teen idols not chosen by an adult generation. Magazines like SEVENTEEN and 16 and TEEN, as well as the plethora of movie fan magazines that have been widely read since the early 1920s, were always produced by adults. Teen stars like Tab Hunter were industry creations designed to farm the newly created teen market of the postwar fifties. Presley would be cast as a teen rebel in JAILHOUSE ROCK.  In the forties when MGM was making the Andy Hardy films, we were presented with Judy Garland and Mickey Rooney as typical teenagers in small town middle-class America Singing and dancing were the goals and the show was not only the climax, but the solution to all major social problems.  This began in the 1930s when sound movies matured and the Hollywood musical became the ultimate escapist fantasy for Depression America.  There was a bit of disharmony between teens and adults once in awhile, always over trivial matters like the car keys, but by the climax everyone was back in synch. Musicals like STATE FAIR were quintessential American fairy tales with happy endings. Elvis caused all kinds of problems. He was no bland Dick Haymes in a neatly pressed blue suit singing to Jeannie Crain on the ferris wheel. And he certainly was no Jimmie Dodd giving useless advice to nerdy Mouseketeers. Elvis's sensuality transported mothers back to their childhood crushes on Rudy Vallee or Frank Sinatra and grandmothers back to the days of Rudolph Valentino, while their daughters gyrated into early puberty. The boys, of course, were jealous and put Elvis down at the same time they were ducktailing their hair and leaving grease prints on the bus windows.  After all, Elvis was a rival none of them could compete with, particularly after he was seen in movies like LOVE ME TENDER and JAILHOUSE ROCK and appeared on Ed Sullivan's popular television variety show. By the sixties, rock and roll was equated with sex, drugs, and adolescent rebellion even in the mild beach movies made by ex-Mouseketeer Annette Funicello with pop singers like Frankie Avalon and Fabian Forte. The Beatles came along in 1962 while Elvis was in the army in Germany and a new generation of girls forgot all about Elvis, while their older sisters had to keep the faith by attending all of his dreadful movies. 

       By the time The Rolling Stones kicked out the jams and started singing overtly about drugs and sex in songs like COCAINE and LET'S SPEND THE NIGHT TOGETHER, Haight-Ashbury was beginning to flower and teens were running away from places like Benecia to get in on the action. Others were joining religious cults to try to maintain the order in their lives that seemed to disappear with each new outrageous event reported on the six o'clock news. The sixties were often so free as to become chaotic to the young. Teen motherhood was as frequent as it had always been in spite of the newly available birth control pills and one saw many  young mothers raising their children in the lifestyles of the new age, letting them run naked in the parks, even including them in situations where adults were doing drugs and having sex. These children would become the teenagers of the seventies and many would reject their longhaired hippy parents by cutting off all their hair or mutilating and dying it in bizarre ways.  The Punk lifestyle that broke out in England in the mid-seventies, a rebellious movement against Teddy Boy parents,  would come to middle-class America and be maintained into the late eighties. Hippy was simply a unique form of dress and an anti-establishment attitude for sixties teens in general, but for those who had just discovered LSD [lysergic acid diethylamide], hippy was synonymous with acidhead and the opposite of the linear-thinking straight person. Punk or New Wave served the same purpose in the late seventies and early eighties. Long hair gave way to spiked Mohawks or pink-dyed hack jobs and love beads were likely to be replaced by necklaces of human teeth. American Punks began to wear a lot of the same leather paraphernalia that had been popular in the sado-masochistic faction of the gay community and one saw them in studded black jackets and leather pants hanging around in front of the Stone in North Beach in San Francisco poking fun at middle-class tourists who could have been their parents. Television and movie producers quickly assimilated each costume change into their series. The villains in Bronson's DEATH WISH series were usually hippies or punks because these thrillers were designed as wish fulfillment fantasies for harassed parents unable to deal with their children. Hippies were fear symbols to the suburban adults who featured in the novels Harry Kemelman wrote about his detective Rabbi David Small. In nearly all of the cop shows and thrillers from the late sixties, you will find the heavies wearing long hair and beards. This tendency reached parody proportions in the Dirty Harry films made by Clint Eastwood in the seventies.

       While the music of the sixties was loud, it retained a certain euphony, a romantic quality; this was trashed by New Wave music as the volume rose.  Cacophony said no to any adult still in search of a harmonious relationship with a teenager son or daughter. We're talking about the extremes, of course, because most teenagers still finished high school, played in bands, went to church, got engaged and married, worked at fast food chains instead of joining burglary gangs, went to college, and, surprise, even liked classical and baroque music better than the sounds of The Police and certain other bands whose very names cannot be printed in a polite publication.

       Since the fifties, Walt Disney had promulgated and promoted his personally manufactured version of the norm. The first Mouseketeer Show was on television by October 3, 1955. The show only lasted three years, but it was re-run from 1962-65, juxtaposing Disney's unreal world with street politics. The Mouseketeer Show was basically an ad for Disneyland and the products generated by the show made another ton of money for the corporation. In 1977, ex-Mouseketeer Paul Paterson defined the group as "an all-white, homogeneous assembly destined to become one of the more famous troupes in entertainment history." He goes on to describe the horror of this experiment in child exploitation by parents out to fulfill their own daydreams of fame and wealth. The Disney Corporation held open calls and thousands came. Out of these 24 were picked, most of them kids who had been trained to sing and dance since they were able to walk. This group was divided into three groups, color coded red, white, and blue. Most of the kids were used as a chorus, but a few were given roles in the serials. As in any group, a few soon became recognized "stars." By the second season, fan mail determined that Annette was everyone's favorite. By the third season, it was certain that this teenager would be the only survivor. Disney had all the kids under flat contracts so that they could be used in any part of his operation and he used them for promotion at Disneyland as well as sending them on the road to appear at movie premieres. After their three seasons, the kids were dumped back into the real world. What happened was predictable. The real kids in the high schools were envious and jealous and acted accordingly. They ridiculed the ex-Mousketeers and made their lives difficult. What bugged them the most was the eternal question, "Do you really know Annette?" Well, what was it about Annette? Her beauty? Her talent? Her breasts? She was like a public cheerleader, the ideal that made all the young women who watched her feel inferior. On the one hand, they loved and admired and envied her, on the other they hated her for making it hard for all the rest of them. This was true within the Mouseketeer group as well as in the teen population at large. Boys would joke about her and say, "Let's go home and watch Annette grow." While breasts may be objects of growing sexuality for boys, they are a major source of anxiety for pubescent girls, most of whom fear they are too large or too small or too lopsided and hide the sources of their anxiety in camouflaging brassieres. Annette was on television at the same time that breast worship was being promoted as a value by Hugh Hefner's PLAYBOY MAGAZINE, and its numerous imitators. She wore the most conservative bathing suits in films like BEACH BLANKET BINGO, but it was Annette that drew the teenaged boys to those movies. By the seventies, Annette would be appearing in ads on television while she was being parodied onstage in North Beach in BEACH BLANKET BABYLON.

       Kurt Russell was a teen actor in THE COMPUTER WORE TENNIS SHOES. He was one of the good kids, those who went to school and did what was right. The adult villains were con men out of Mark Twain: gamblers, loan sharks, and greedy businessmen, who, unlike their predecessors in Twain's TOM SAWYER series, often reformed in the end. In THE COMPUTER, Russell assimilates the knowledge contained by a business computer through an electrical accident. From an ordinary kid with very little knowledge of calculus or the nuances of higher math, he becomes a quiz kid, able to answer complex mathematical and historical questions in seconds. Naturally, the bad guys kidnap him and hold him captive in order to use his brain to pick the winning horses at the races. He is rescued by his school pals. No tortured teenagers in Disney. No angst. No puberty problems. We might see a single kiss near the end of the movie, but we're more likely to be left with a sight gag.

       In June of 1989, San Leandro police were investigating the alleged rape of a 14-year-old San Lorenzo High School student when they found an unusual videotape. Two teenaged boys were soon arrested and charged with rape and three counts of filming sexual intercourse with a minor. The cassette tape showed 10 sexual acts involving two 14-year-old girls and one 15-year-old girl from the San Leandro-San Lorenzo-Hayward area. The tape, made with the family camcorder, took place over a period of months. Alameda County Sheriff's Department Sergeant Dale Toussaint said the tape showed the girls were willing participants, though it was pretty clear they did not know the camera was on at first.

       Hey, we'll all been through puberty and adolescence and we ought to remember what it was like and be sympathetic to the new crop of sufferers, but we usually aren't. Once past the madness of the period, we forget it entirely and when faced with our own growing children, we opt for control tripping. Who can predict the weirdness of puberty? Around May 15, 1988, A 13-year-old boy found four grand in a wallet someone left on a bench at a bus stop. "He thought his ship had come in," said Costa Mesa Police Detective Paul Cappuccilli. The boy took the money and ran away to Anaheim, to Mecca, to Disneyland. He rented a motel room nearby and when police checked it out they found it stocked with junk food. The boy had a can of dry roasted peanuts, chocolate peanut butter cups, beef jerky, tacos and a lot of candy. He stayed up all night watching television and went to Disneyland four days in a row. Police found him dressed in new Reeboks and beach shorts. In his room and a locker near the park he had stashed two new skateboards, a couple of cameras, a watch, and some audio-cassette tapes. He lost the last of the money in the park the next day, but he met a man who took him to a car dealer's place where he called home. Believing he lost the money in Disneyland, the boy filed a missing property report there. Well, here is a budding American, brainwashed to consume junk food and products, to spend his time entertaining himself. Corporate America should pin a medal on him.

       He might be train-surfing in Rio de Janeiro. About 150 train surfers were killed in 1987 and 40 have died in 1988. The suburb of Nilopolis has a Train Surfers Association. There are three tests for new members. You have to ride hanging outside of a window or door, climb up a car in motion and lie on the roof, and stand on the roof of a moving car. The founder of the club, known as Rambo, was killed doing a stunt on a train. Train surfers ride the fast-moving commuter trains. On top of the car, one thirteen year old said, "you get a feeling of freedom that is greater than any fear." You could also get jolted into contact with a 3,000 volt electrical wire overhead, but all attempts to stop the train surfers have failed. Most of the train surfers come from poor neighborhoods and some Brazilian newspapers have speculated that the young people are trying to emulate the sea surfers at wealthy beachfront districts like Copacabana and Ipanema. They suspect many ride the roofs because they can't afford the fare or because the cars are full when they come by. The system handles l.2 million passengers a day. But officials think they just do it for the thrills. They have to pay to get into the station in the first place and even during slack hours there are a lot of kids atop the cars. The trains have guards, but not enough to cover 450 miles of track and ll0 stations. A busted train surfer is fined a dollar and lectured by a psychologist. A judge ruled that train-surfing was not a crime, rather an act of 'self injury,' similar to attempted suicide, and not dealt with in the Brazilian legal code. Train surfer Luiz Claudio, 18, told Jorge Mederos of the Associated Press, "We're not crazy, and we're not bums either. We're just looking for a little fun, to pass the time during the train ride (CHRONICLE, June 18, 1988, pp, A-9-l0.)."A 19-year-old maid named Elizabeth said she sometimes rode atop the trains because the atmosphere inside the cars was violent and there were frequent muggings.

       Robin Oden, principal of the Mumford High School in Detroit, told the NATIONAL EXAMINER that teenagers in his school had been shot for things like high tech sneakers and leather jackets decorated with insignia. Video has taught the kids to seek status through material things and they have learned well. At the same time, teen misconceptions about life abound. Dr. Stephen Langer reported that teen misconceptions about sex often hindered sexual counseling. One young woman was asked if she was sexually active and she said "No," because she didn't move around during intercourse. Langer said teens often feel they can treat their own sexually transmitted diseases by borrowing acne medication from a friend (NATIONAL EXAMINER, June 7, 1988, p. 28). When this writer was a boy, several of his friends said the best way to get a girl sexually aroused if you didn't happen to have some Spanish Fly lying around your room was to put aspirin in her Coca-cola. I never tried anything like that, but I suspect more than one knucklehead did.

       Slasher films came along as kind of a revenge against Disney. Guys like weird Jason in the FRIDAY THE 13TH series killed Disneyesque teenagers and cut them up. Weirder Freddy even infiltrated their dreams in NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET. Holidays were no longer associated with carving Jack o'Lanterns, roasting chestnuts, or hunting for Easter eggs but with incredible violence and bloodshed, the ultimate being SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT in which a character in a Santa Claus costume goes around slaughtering people on Christmas Eve. These films succeeded because they were bought again and again by teenagers in the mall cineplexes and surviving midamerican drive-ins. It got to the point where anything with Walt Disney's name on it was thought of as being for little kids and by the late seventies Disney had to form a new company and get into suggestive sex and stunt violence in order to compete on the market. Touchstone Pictures was a success from the beginning with pictures like SPLASH in which Daryl Hannah became the first woman to appear nude in a Disney film. Teenagers who had begun to avoid any G rated movies, turned out in droves for the PG films put out by Touchstone.

       Dial-a-Porn became faddist among teenagers in the eighties. A successful business, protected by law, it was attractive to teenaged boys from the beginning. They would get together and make the 976 calls from the houses of friends. Oprah Winfrey did a show on dial-sex in February of 1988. Parents were upset, but most seemed more concerned about the phone bills than about their children listening to a minute of moaning over the phone. One woman suggested that teens were getting addicted to it. Another argued that graphic sexual descriptions over the phone made their children aware of explicit sex before they were emotionally ready to handle it. It was about that time that a commercial for Special K was shown. In the ad, the camera panned the body of a woman wearing a skintight white bathing suit. Her face was never shown. In mid-commercial milk poured into a close-up of corn flakes and strawberries. The commercial ended when the woman's arm became part of the K. The message was quite clear. The product being sold was anonymous sexuality, a faceless female body, not a breakfast cereal. I found this ironic given the moralistic tone of Oprah's show. Which would stimulate a teenage boy more, hearing a minute of anonymous moaning over a telephone or watching the camera lovingly caressing the woman in the bathing suit? While HIGH SOCIETY's editor, Gloria Leonard, was being attacked for her phone sex business, which is advertised in adult magazines for adults, and only allowed at all because the telephone company is making too much of a profit on it to stop it, Special K's owner was free to titillate without comment. Sexually stimulating advertising has its major effect on the young. The soft drink ads have gone into the sex business full blast. Ads for condoms, on the other hand, or any other form of birth control, have been suppressed. The only place I've seen the condom ads is on a Donahue show dealing with them as a controversy and on the PBS special. They ought to be shown on prime time, but it's dirty to talk about condoms; on the other hand, it's okay to associate a woman's buttocks with a breakfast cereal.

       Teen-aged boys used to read and collect comic books until puberty then hide the comics in the basement and start hanging out at the paperback rack in the drugstore as their interest in girls increased.  This pattern has changed. A great many teenagers remain into comics in the eighties, because comic books have assimilated the suggestive sexuality that used to be found only in the Avon paperbacks by guys like Jack Woodward and Erskine Caldwell. In 1988, Superman is shown on a poster kissing Wonder Woman and Batman has sex with a woman. In the Batman story, THE KILLING JOKE, Commissioner Gordon was kidnapped, stripped, tied up, and raced through a tunnel of love lined with blown-up photographs of his tortured nude daughter, Barbara. An underground comic for adults only? Not a bit of it. This comic was sold to the same preadolescent boys who watch slasher movies on the family VCR. In the 1989 BATMAN film, Bruce Wayne had sex with Vicki Vale on their first date. And neither said anything about safe sex!

       Role-playing games tend to continue into college these days. Teenagers have been killed because they displayed a pellet gun at the wrong time and it was taken for a real weapon. Which it might be. The Craigs, a Fresno couple concerned about their daughter's safety, gave her a 38 caliber revolver as a graduation present. Someone told the folks who do People Are Talking and the family appeared on a morning talk show on June 30, 1988. The young woman was going to take the gun with her to college and keep it in her room. Pellet guns have been used to shoot out car windows and flatten tires. One Berkeley comic store carried realistic replicas of fancy hardware like Berettas and Walthers for awhile, but parental complaints convinced them to stop carrying the guns. There is legislation in the works to outlaw the guns completely. On the other hand, real guns continue to be out of control. Crack dealers in Oakland and elsewhere own Uzis and they use them against their rivals and anyone who happens to be in the way. Shotguns, rifles, and Uzis can be sold legally since they are weapons for hunting, not hand guns. Naturally, those most fascinated by all this weaponry are teenaged boys who have grown up on a diet of Charles Bronson and Arnold Schwarzenegger thrillers. Rambo's biggest fans are eight-year-old boys. Ask anyone who works in a comic or magazine store. It's usually the wimpiest little guy who is most impressed by those steroid muscles.

       One June afternoon in 1989, Judy Bienash returned to her home in Janesville, Wisconsin, to find the bodies of her two sons. On the back of a cash register receipt on the dining room table was this message: "Mom, I accidentally shot Clay. It's a nightmare, so I killed myself." Police reported finding Clay shot in the face.  A knife lay near his right hand and there were signs that a struggle had taken place. Piecing together the evidence, Police concluded that the boys had a fight over some baseball cards. Clay was 12, Damien 14.  That same day, in Milwaukee, another boy critically wounded his friend while playing with a loaded gun.  On June 25, 1989, a 15-year-old boy wrote to Ann Landers:  "In my crowd, if you don't do drugs you are weird. Last month a good kid at our school hanged himself. Guns seem to be everywhere. When you were a teenager, Ann, were you afraid of getting shot? Well, I am."

       In response to the many recent gun accidents among teens, Florida passed a law which makes parents responsible. The adults will be prosecuted in all cases where death or injury results from children playing with guns.

       Teenagers are frequently victims. And they get little sympathy from adults. Since they are trying to establish their own identities, to be something other than parental extensions, they often come into conflict with the adult world and the adult world tends to react to them with hostility. A group of teenagers on a bus stop in the afternoon after classes are over is noisy, aggressive, loud, and frequently obscene, certainly not at all the way the adult world would have them be, polite and obsequious. Part of the reason for their behavior comes from the examples shown them on television and in the movies. They do not see Beaver Cleaver or The Brady Bunch anymore; instead they see androids and road warriors and ninjas and transformers. They see violence and aggression projected as the only useful response to the world.

       On November 14, 1987, Tawana Brawley got off the bus at Myers Corner Road near Paino's Mobil Gas in Wappington Falls, New York. She was wearing jeans and carrying her school books. She didn't make it home. Four days later, she was found dazed, her hair partly cropped, feces smeared on her face, KKK and Nigger written across her chest in charcoal. She said she had been raped and sodomized by six white men, one of them wearing a police badge. The case quickly became political. Some people were trying to cover it up, while others were trying to investigate and determine the facts.  Was the attack on her a racist attack by white men or were the rapists simply trying to make it appear that way to protect themselves? Some people described Tawana as an outgoing girl who seemed to be doing well in school. She was a cheerleader, indicating a great deal of popularity. Others said she had been staying out late and was prone to exaggeration. A teacher in Poughkeepsie, New York, told me he thought drug dealers had raped the girl and used her to frame the police. The truth came out in mid-1989 after a long period of lies which were repeated again and again by the media. The Grand Jury found no evidence of any crime. Tarawa had not been abused or raped. No charges were filed against anyone because there was no one to file them against. Tarawa had faked the entire thing to avoid being punished by her mother's live-in boyfriend. A witness saw her crawling into a garbage bag and called 911 and the police and the media got into it. She had never meant for anyone to know about her action. It was just a ruse to avoid punishment. When the authors of a book about the case appeared on PEOPLE ARE TALKING, June 16, 1989, it was clear that most of the black people in the audience believed and continue to believe that Tarawa was raped by some white cops who got away with it.

       On January 14, 1988, a 14-year-old Madison Middle school student named Ricky Hamilton was clowning around the school's locker room. He picked up what he thought was his friend's unloaded gun, pointed it to his head, yelled Russian Roulette, and pulled the trigger. Bang. No more Ricky. Another Oakland teenager, Beverly Whiteside, 13, was playing hooky from Frick Junior High. She and her friends found a revolver on a dresser in the house where they were hanging out. One of the boys picked it up, pointed it at Whiteside, and pulled the trigger. No more Beverly. The boy cried when the police came. He didn't know it was loaded. 11-year-old Lisa Patton was killed in Piedmont the first week of June, 1988, when her 15-year-old brother was playing with his Dad's 'unloaded' gun and shot her. Former Playboy executive Victor Lownes III was fooling around with a .22 rifle before a hunting expedition in the Florida Everglades. A friend of his was on his bicycle. Victor pointed the borrowed rifle at him, not knowing it was loaded. "If you don't get off this minute, you're a dead man." He squeezed the trigger and killed his friend (Russell Miller. BUNNY; THE REAL STORY OF PLAYBOY, New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1984, p. 56.) Handgun Control, Inc., of Washington, DC, estimated that 1,200 people died in 1987 from shooting accidents, 300 of them children. Two Oakland teenagers were charged with murder in August of 1988 after they shot up an AC Transit bus, killing the driver and wounding several people. One of the boys used an automatic rifle. Their motive was revenge. A bus had collided with a car driven through a red light and the woman driving was killed, so the boys decided to exact Bronson-style justice. When they boys told about the shooting they were not remorseful and seemed to be separated from their act, as though it had just happened on television. The driver they killed was not the man who drove the bus that killed the mother of one of their friends.

       In early March of 1988, Patricia Dalton, a freshman at Southwestern High School in Detroit, Michigan, shot and killed herself with a .22 caliber rifle her father kept in the house for protection. This 13-year-old girl was upset because some of her classmates found her diary in a trash can. They tore out some pages of it in which Patricia had confided her private sexual thoughts and fantasies. They passed the pages around and Patricia found out. In her suicide note, she said, "I hope that you all have a good laugh, because I will not give you any more problems. You ran me to my grave and I hope you get happy.  I hope that you all have a good laugh." In June of 1988, a rumor circulated at Fairview High School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, that some students had formed a suicide pact and would commit suicide onstage during graduation ceremonies. Officials decided to cancel commencement exercises because they did not feel they could guarantee the protection of those attending. Noel Loeslein, the senior who told his classmates "this is a graduation we will all remember," said he only meant a practical joke would be played, not the violence feared by the administration. He was taken seriously because friends knew he had witnessed the suicide of a friend at Christmas (Chronicle, June 10, 1988, p. A-3). A recent ad was shown on television which was designed to exploit teen suicide! No joke. The ad showed two teenaged boys standing on the edge of a cliff overlooking the ocean. One boy was telling the other that when the girl with them signals, they will both drive their cars toward the cliff. The boy who jumps out of his car first will show that he is chicken. Unwilling to be thought a sissy, the second boy accepts the challenge. The girl signals, headlights come on and the two boys race their cars toward the cliff. The first boy laughs. The second boy is nervous and tries to open the car door, but it is stuck. He panics and begins to push again the door. The first boy jumps out of the car and rolls on the ground. The second boy screams as the car plunges over the edge of the cliff. The car piles up on the rocks and the first boy and girl run to the rim to look over. Both appear shocked and horrified. The camera then pans to a denim jacket and a pair of jeans floating on the water. The caption--UNION BAY--FASHION THAT LASTS--appears on the black screen. Ann Landers received a letter complaining about this ad and she called the Union Bay Company in Seattle, Washington. The marketing director told her the ad "was a test market commercial designed to reach the 16-24-year-old audience." It was picked because of its impact. The company responded to complaints and withdrew the ad. Landers said: "Obviously the company's marketing strategists underestimated the sensitivity and good sense of this country's teenagers (Oakland TRIBUNE, June 13, 1988, p. D-7)."

       Color me skeptical. This chicken race was one of the trials faced by young James Dean in REBEL WITHOUT A CAUSE. Drag-racing has been common since the forties and racing has been around since the first man climbed on a horse or hitched it up to a buckboard. What this particular fashion ad was doing was tying the race into the suicidal impulse that is common to adolescence in both boys and girls. The brain trust in the ad department no doubt figured that teens would see the ad and opt for buying the denims rather than driving over the cliff, shopping being a common antidote for depression.

       In March of 1988, the Zeta Beta Tau fraternity at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia was suspended for a year and a half for hiring two strippers to perform at a party. Most of the men at a frat house are teenaged boys trying to learn how to be men and to deal with the adult world. It's manly to hire a woman to stand on a table and take off her clothes while all the brothers chug their suds. Hey, if it wasn't adult, would it happen at the Lodge Halls, at bachelor parties? Would there be Wet T-shirt contests in the Dade County bars? Would there be topless clubs all over the country where grown men sit to drink and watch? A sorority has yet to be suspended for hiring male strippers to perform, but watch for a talk show about it in the near future. Male strip clubs became faddist in the late eighties and the trend will drift down to the sororities eventually.

       Ann Landers got a letter in May of 1988 from a woman who told her about an 18-year-old freshman pledge who died in a fraternity house at Rutgers University in New Jersey of alcohol poisoning. The boy had been challenged to drink until he vomited. Her own son, she said, had died ten years before when he was forced to drink a large amount of alcohol while locked in the trunk of a car. He was being hazed at a fraternity at Alfred University in New York. Drinking has been promoted as a rite of passage by the liquor industry for many years. Billions of dollars of advertising money goes into the glamorization of beer-drinking and those most affected are impressionable teenagers who feel the need to belong. Public pressure against tobacco forced smoking promotion off television, but the liquor industry is still free to seduce young people. Smoking is still glamorized on the small screen through the careful association of smoking with pop stars like Don Johnson on MIAMI VICE. Since many television stations are owned by companies other than those in the entertainment business per se, there is a great deal of covert advertising in television series shows and movies made for television. It is no accident when the camera focuses on brand names and the stars are shown using specific products. The standard movie made for television is often nothing more than a string of commercials tied together with a very loose plot. While there is a movement against the usage of children's programs as ads, very little is being done about the major Networks' usage of embedded product promotion. If a character is drinking a Coke and not just a nameless soft drink, it's an ad. Hey, KNIGHT RIDER was one long ad for Pontiac's TRANS AM.

       The teenaged woman is expected to be an agent of sexual control. This is an era when the consequences of teen-age sex are seen as disastrous. A woman may not only become pregnant and have to deal with motherhood long before she is able to deal with her own needs, she may get any of a number of diseases like herpes, gonorrhea, chlamydia [epidemic in 1987], and, most deadly, AIDS. AIDS is still uncommon in the American heterosexual population, but it has infiltrated the drug-using community through shared hypodermic needles and those young women who have sex with users get AIDS and often pass it along to their newborn children. The Campaign to just say 'no' was primarily directed at girls. It was assumed that boys were pressuring them. A girl must appear sexy, yet behave safely. To fail to attract a man sexually is to be lonely. To succeed is to be endangered. Women are turned into sexual traffic cops, but they’re expected to push the red and green lights at the same time. They are also expected to wear cut-off t-shirts, skintight jeans, backless gowns and shirts and lowcut evening dresses, to make the boys strain to put their hands on them while telling them to keep their hands off. Women are not happy in this situation. They want to be more than what they wear, more than sexual stimulae. Not only are their clothes uncomfortable, but the social ambiguity which confronts them makes normal behavior next to impossible. Many reject MTV glitz and wear grungy clothes.

       In 1980, a group of teens was studied at UCLA. Of the 432 blacks, whites, and Hispanics between the ages of 14 and 18, none viewed a male's open shirt, tight pants, tight swim trunks, or jewelry as an indication that he was seeking sex, but the males generally assumed that low-cut tops, shorts, tight jeans, or bralessness meant that a female was encouraging a sexual come on.

       A friend of mine works in a nice San Francisco restaurant as a waiter. In June, many of his late evening customers are teenagers who come from their high school proms to finish off the big night. They arrive in their furs and low-cut gowns and heels, their escorts in their rented tuxedos, and the result is a disaster. Most of these kids in adult drag have no idea how to act in public. They yell and scream, interrupt one another, insult the waiters, and spend their time in the restaurant making basic fools of themselves. What is normal to them is hanging out at the local junk food place in their tight jeans and Reeboks, eating French fries and drinking cokes while they talk about the cute guys they've seen around school. In formal dress in a restaurant, they try to act like they have seen adults act and the result is worthy of a scene in a Fellini film.

       Susan Kegeles did a study to see if teens were actually using condoms and found that they were not. Her study was published in the April 1988 issue of the American Journal of Public Health (V. 78, No. 4) and was presented at the annual meeting of the Society for Adolescent Medicine. Only 2 percent of the sexually active teenaged girls and 8 percent of the boys in her survey at the University of California in San Francisco said they used condoms every time they had intercourse. Most showed little intention to use condoms at all. The boys were most willing to use condoms, but their intentions to do so decreased during the year of the study. Most of the teenagers thought condoms were effective in preventing sexually transmitted diseases but that didn't increase their inclination to use condoms. At this time AIDS was still rare among adolescents, though other diseases were fairly common.

       In Piedmont, California, Elizabeth Brown ran for student body president on a Safe Sex ticket. LIZ BROWN FOR SAFE SEX. IF YOU LIKE CONDOMS, YOU'LL LIKE ME, said some of the posters around campus. Well, great idea, huh? It was Spring of 1988 and the FBI's latest statistics showed Oakland, California, to have the fourth highest rape rape in the nation. The past four years had seen the number of AIDS patients rising steadily and drug usage among urban teens had them at high risk. In spite of birth control pills and other big grossers for the drug companies, teenagers were still getting pregnant at a rapid rate. So a student at Piedmont High decided to make sex an issue and what happened? The school administration had her signs torn down and suspended a student who tried to put them back up. This provoked even more blatant signs from students who resented the administrative censorship. Vice Principal Sandy Anderson said the signs were "in poor taste." She was not out to censor the students, she said, but she would not allow them to promote promiscuity. It's promiscuous to campaign for safe sex? This type of sexual repression is absurd in a culture where x-rated videos are available through rental chains in just about every mall extant, but the hypocrisy goes on. Adults want to think their children still live in the little house on the prairie, that the Disney version is more than the carefully constructed fantasy it is. They do not want to face a world where sexual knowledge comes to their children long before they are ready to deal with it, a world where sex is often available for a five dollar bill in the back of someone's van in the high school parking lot, and marijuana and amphetamines are taken for granted by their ten-year-olds. It is adult hypocrisy that most upsets the idealistic teenager. It's one thing to confront the world as it is presented in a film like COLORS where teen gang culture is associated with excitement and adventure and the thrill of danger and a romantic death in battle, it is quite another to have to deal with a parent who doesn't want to believe that world exists. I remember having an argument with my mother when I was about fourteen. I heard my father swear all the time when he was working on a job with his employees, most of the swearing colorful and often humorous, but I made the mistake of saying something about it around Mom and she went into a rage. Your father has never used language like that in his life! Hey, relax, Mom. Big deal. Maybe, he never used the words around her, but he used them everywhere else. The problem at that point was my not knowing there was a male and a female world and I had violated the male code by mentioning the male world to her. I never did again. This is what the teen always has to face. He knows what high school is like. He knows drugs and sex are for sale. He knows there are numerous gangs and rackets, that there are burglary rings where kids go to parties at people's houses in order to case them for future burglaries. He knows that high school is filled with anxiety. Threats from teachers about grades. Threats in the hallways. Shakedowns. Name-calling. But dealing with parents is the hardest, because all they want is achievement, the high grades, the status of having a kid who will have the grades to get into a good college. They think a kid can go to high and simply ignore the constant anxiety and threat. They take five once in awhile to have a man-to-man or mother-to-daughter and they think this is communication. Well, the total lack of communication between teens and adults during high school has developed into a whole literary genre, one well farmed by writers like Judy Blume, Beverly Cleary, and Betsy Ayers.

       Bruce Anderson, editor of THE ANDERSON VALLEY ADVERTISER, has done some pretty clear thinking about the problems of teen sex. "From what I gather, high school kids get plenty of instruction in the mechanics of sex, but very little in the ethics of it. Feminists emphasize the politics of sex, but don't offer young girls much in the way of practical advice, especially the kind of advice young women need to survive in a pathological society that demeans them as sales policy (AVA, June 15, 1988, p. 6). Bruce relates a story about a seventeen year old who was forced to have sex with a man she hitched a ride with. He assumed she was interested in him sexually just because she needed a ride somewhere. Well, hitchhikers are often young hookers who ask older men if they want "a date," but it's usually pretty clear when someone just wants a ride, because the hookers always make their pitch right away. Anderson listened to the teenager testify, wondering 'hasn't anybody told this kid anything?'

       "Here was a seventeen-year-old girl who meets a young man of twenty-two at a party, 'party' now defined as a large group of young people standing around outside listening to the moronic music of drug addicts while drinking themselves into a stupor. Older people drink sitting down while listening to the music of alcoholics. The young man, virtually a stranger to the young woman, invites her for a ride. She accepts. It's one in the morning. Both had been drinking to the insistent radio rhythms of sexual intercourse. A hundred yards from the merriment, the young man gropes the young girl, demanding that she 'bleep.'" Anderson saw both people acting in an unreal world, the man brutal, the girl naive. Teenagers have to learn all of the euphemisms very early in life or go through a lot of misunderstandings. No boy is going to frankly ask a girl to bleep, because he would be considered a clod if he did. He is going to ask her to 'go for a ride and get a coke' or 'go for a ride and smoke a joint' or some other euphemism. Most girls know very well what it means to go anywhere alone with a boy. If he's into anything social, there is no need to be alone. Going somewhere to be alone means sexual involvement though it may mean no more than heavy necking and petting. What the euphemism does is leave the girl an out. If something happens, she can say angrily: "You said we were just going for a ride!" This behavior is hardly limited to teenagers, though most adults would like to think it was. Most of the men I know would interpret an invitation to "to come up for a drink or some coffee" as sexual consent. Many assume the woman who accepts a ride home from the disco has already consented by taking the ride. Since most people, particularly those in the middle class, are taught not to talk about sex, communication in that area seldom improves much with age.

       Jason Bateman was interviewed in TV GUIDE (April 23, 1988). "This is a real trying time to be a teen-ager. There are so many ways you can go and still be cool. It would be real hard in this day and age to avoid the drugs, the booze and the sex. I've tried all of the above (28)." Bateman said he was brought up middle-class, nonreligious, and apolitical. He was educated partly by high school and partly by studio tutors, that being the mode in the industry. The bulk of this article was used to promote the products used by Jason, turning him into a four page testimonial ad for the yuppie lifestyle. Jason was a child star and continues to work in television sitcoms and movies like TEEN WOLF, TOO. What is interesting is the focus and content of this article, the way Jason is quoted amorally, and held up as a teen idol in spite of his behavior. In a time when Nancy Reagan and Clint Eastwood are going around telling kids to "just say No" to drugs, Jason Bateman rationalizes drugs and booze without mentioning any of the dangers. We have come a long way from the type of articles that used to appear in family magazines. We are now in the era of the celebrity confessional where singers like John Phillips write autobiographies like PAPA JOHN wherein they confess to shooting up their own daughters with heroin and go on playing to sell-out audiences. In gang thrillers like THE WANDERERS and THE WARRIORS, teens are depicted collectively and associated with drugs, crime, heavy rock music, and ugly fashions designed to gross-out the adult world.

       The Los Angeles TIMES reported a study in mid-July of 1988 in which it was found that heavy drug use as a teenager severely disrupted the person's emotional and social growth during the transition to adulthood, but occasional drug use was suggested to have no impact at all. The eight-year study by two UCLA psychologists found that daily use of hard drugs such as cocaine unnaturally accelerated the transition to adult activities and increased unhappiness in relationships, job instability, crime and self-destructive thoughts. Infrequent use of drugs like marijuana and hashish did not seem to affect relationships, educational achievement or mental health. Moderate alcohol use, without other drugs, actually seemed to reduce loneliness and improve one's sense of social support. The just say no approach was found inadequate, merely a sop to naive parents. Living under constant threat the teen enjoys seeing teens onscreen who are fear symbols to the adult world. That's why Stephen King's CARRIE was such a hit. Carrie White was a shy girl with a religious mother and they were both considered weird by the normals. Carrie was tormented by her classmates when she hit puberty and when she discovered she had telekenetic powers she ultimately used them to get revenge on her tormenters. She locked the entire high school student body and many of the teachers in the gym the night of the prom and burned them all to death. When her mother tried to kill her, she crucified her mother with a hail of flying kitchen knives. CARRIE is the quintessential adolescent revenge fantasy. It opened in May of 1988 in New York at the Virginia Theater as a musical!

       Hollywood gives the teen an uzi and lets him wipe out the adult world, just pull the trigger and spray all the frustration and repression away, get rid of it once and for all. But then what? The responsibility of organizing a new society? If everyone is a biker hero, who is going to build the houses and drive the busses and sell the burgers and change the oil and clean the streets and who's going to fix the video games when they stop? In the sixties when thousands of teens were lured to Haight-Ashbury by media hype that promised free and easy sex and drugs and rock and roll, the people who came to San Francisco with flowers in their hair were easy prey to the jackals waiting in the parks. You can't build a life on sex, drugs, and music. Oh, you can become involved in these things to the point where they become your way of making a living, but that's not what was in the teen mind during Haight-Ashbury. There, it was constant stimulation, sensation, emotional outburst, the long high, the acid orgasm; everything was far out and groovy. Until Dad's check never arrived in the mail and there was no money to buy food or pay the rent or you did a little too much of a drug and couldn't seem to get the world back into focus, had those weird demons dancing around your mattress, those roaches crawling all over your skin or you found yourself pregnant and had no idea who had helped you into that situation and you were sick and there was no mommy to sit down and comfort you in your  comfortable little pink room back in Champagne, Illinois, or Omaha, Nebraska. Everything was fine until you got hustled into modeling nude for old men with polaroids in some store front and had their attitudes sour you on sex. Well, you wanted to quit, but it was fast money and lots of it and you had a little habit you were feeding and it seemed to cost more and more. Everything was fine until you found out you really weren't very talented at playing the guitar and no band wanted you and the one who did try you out was made up of guys you couldn't get along with. Goodbye to all those dreams of being a Beatle or a Stone and driving around in a Paisley Rolls Royce and having hundreds of screaming girls try to grab you as you pounded your Stratocaster on stage in Golden Gate Park.

       What teenagers do not have is continuity of identity or purpose. They have hundreds of great plans based on what they have been fed through television and movies, most of them unrealistic and impractical. Usually, these plans are shunted to the daydream circuit where they recycle harmlessly throughout life, but in the sixties, they spilled over into reality via the assistance of marijuana, LSD-25, and other psychedelic drugs, and the results were as mixed as the drug combinations. Some teens did become pop stars and attain wealth. Many chemists attained wealth by manufacturing drugs. Indeed, a lot of today's trendy boutiques were financed by acid money. But most of the teenagers, who followed the Pied Piper to places like Haight-Ashbury, the East Village, Berkeley, Ann Arbor, Woodstock and Altamont, either compromised with their daydreams or fell the long fall. Thousands were addicted and many died. At one point, David Smith, who was head of the Haight-Ashbury Free Clinic, reported over 5,000 people addicted to heroin, most of them teenagers. Young pregnant girls in mini-dresses were a common sight in the parks on Sunday. They would be stringing beads, banging tambourines, or dancing near the band. There were always two or three exhibitionists who took off their tops and their pictures would invariably be the ones to appear on the garish covers of underground newspapers. They named their children Flower and Sunshine and Gruvi, names that would bring them ridicule in the straight schools they had to attend. There was the rub, after all. The new community that began in the sixties was still subject to the rules of the local and federal governments, the schools and the entrenched bureaucracies would take their toll. Hey, the government paid for all of it. The early acid was obtained by the CIA and used experimentally on civilian target populations as you can read in Timothy Leary's FLASHBACKS. Most of those who actually quit their straight jobs, the drop outs, lived off their families or welfare. The money had to come from somewhere. The food that was fed to the thousands in Golden Gate Park was partly donated by churches, but a lot of it was stolen as Emmet Grogan, a founder of The Diggers, confessed in his novel, RINGOLEVIO (1972). The same pattern was in progress in England as you may read in Doris Lessing's THE GOOD TERRORIST, a novel about a group of people who hated their parents and justified the random bombing and murder of civilians as revolutionary. The children of the wealthy with unlimited funds did every drug imaginable as anyone who has read the novels of Bret Easton Ellis or the memoirs of Carrie Fisher knows.

       By the mid-1980s, a new form of cocaine had been manufactured. It was called rock cocaine or crack and it was designed to be smoked in a pipe. It was sold on the streets for small amounts of money, usually $10 to $20. It was sold by teenagers to other teenagers in urban high schools and it quickly created a new class of wealthy teen. By 1988, the drug culture was out of control.  Drive-by shootings were reported almost daily as rival gangs fought over territory. The jails were full. There were too few police officers and social workers to handle the overflow. Oakland, for example, was facing a 66 million dollar deficit and any drug programs were going to be axed early in the budget sessions. The only logical thing to do was legalize cocaine, but America's puritanical anti-drug roots were too deep to pull out and there were and are too many organizations and people making too much money on illegal drugs for them to be legalized. THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN did a two part series on KIDS AND CRACK in May of 1988 in which teen crack dealers were laughing at the adult world and joking about the light sentences they got. The drug-wealthy kids arrived for their hearings in expensive sports cars carrying the belt beepers they used in their business. They were organized the same as other businesses, sending their salesmen into new territories, expanding the use of crack and making light of the adults trying feebly to keep them under control. After all, what was it all about? This was a world where there were no meaningful jobs for the masses of teens growing to maturity in the urban neighborhoods, where the Third World of Blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Amerindians had been cut off from the mainstream and shunted into slave labor, where American factories were closing in favor of cheap labor in Taiwan, South Africa, Central America, and leaving millions unemployed. The teens who survived in this situation were the ones who found their own way to make money and one of the major means was drugs. The younger kids saw the dealers with money, expensive cars, nice apartments, and the women who went after those things. Would they just say No to drugs and die in poverty? Would they work forty hours a week in a junk food outlet to make less than the dealer made in a single hour? Didn't they have the government's example to look up to? Hadn't they been hearing throughout the Reagan years about the CIA's front companies making money through smuggled cocaine with which to finance foreign wars? Did any reasonable adult really believe that the teenagers paid any attention to the lies in their history classes at high school when they could sit and watch the evening news and hear about what was really going on, how the world was really run?

       With more teens committing murder in the streets, some attention was given to what happens to those young people convicted in the courts. An article about 14 juveniles on death row appeared in the May issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry. Most of these killers suffered from mental illness, near retardation, brain damage, and all had histories of emotional and physical abuse. Confronted, they tried to hide their condition rather than use it as a plea for mercy. Their families concealed the facts and cooperated with the prosecution asking for the death penalty. These young men averaged 16.5 years of age and constituted 40 percent of the 37 juveniles on death row in the United States. Seven were psychotic at the time of evaluation of had been diagnosed as psychotic sometime in childhood. These are not drug dealers protecting their turf. One 15-year-old shot his father and stepmother and buried them in the backyard. He killed his stepmother when she said he would be tried for murder. Paula Cooper was 16 when she and some of her friends conned their way into a 78-year-old sunday school teacher's house in Indiana by pretending to be interested in the Bible. They killed the woman as she was pleading for her life. At this time, the United States does execute people for crimes committed as children, at least in 37 of the 51 states.

       The U. S. Department of Education released a report titled "Youth Indicators 1988 and the bad news was that teen suicide rates were up, income down, pregnancies on the rise and the levels of skill and knowledge were dreadful. The report noted that the "passage into adulthood" was coming later for young people. They lived in the dorms or at home longer. U. S. students placed last in recent international science and math tests.

       Ralph Keyes proposed that people continue to see themselves throughout their lives in the way they were defined socially in high school. IS THERE LIFE AFTER HIGH SCHOOL? stated people saw themselves as innies or outies who differed from one another only on the basis of status or power. High school grads recall the impact of high school being social, not educational. Keyes basically concurred with James Coleman's 1957-58 study, THE ADOLESCENT SOCIETY. Coleman saw the drive for status as the controlling force in adolescence and for males in high school the highest status was found in athletic competition. Star athletes gained access to money and women.

       Teen consciousness shifts radically from moment to moment, because nothing is certain. There are no absolutes. One day you're a Valley Girl, the next you're trying to adjust to a college sorority. There are numerous fantasy plans in progress and these clash with contemporary necessity. In an interview with Gary Groth in THE COMICS JOURNAL 121 (April, 1988), Cartoonist Robert Crumb discussed his alienation at the age of 14. "It didn't take me long to get a real superiority ego going about my alienation from the world (56)." He explained that his superior attitude was "a cheap defense mechanism. The other side of this was feeling horribly inferior. Girls weren't interested in me at all. I couldn't make it at all in the teenage scene. So I had to rationalize it by thinking I was too smart for all those jerks (56)." Crumb summed up the generation gap, particularly that between immigrant parents and their children: "The next generation doesn't want to be identified with all that old-fashioned bullshit, they just want to be modern and look good. They don't want to dance the polka in the Baby-Doll Lounge anymore. They want to listen to rock music and be cool. And they carry that on into adulthood, so the old ways die out (59)."To become a teenager is to be different and some value that difference, fight with parents over it, but many more conform. Instead of saying No to their parents, they say yes. They apply to all the better colleges, take the tests, endure the interviews and constant evaluations. They become over-achievers and want to be their parents. They look forward to taking over the family business, not doing their own thing.   After all, Crumb himself is the obverse of this idea. He revived an earlier drawing style and when he was playing music with The Cheap Suit Serenaders in the seventies, he did not play an amplified banjo. There are always teenagers who maintain the past or it would be gone by now and everything would be plastic and vinyl and total disco.

       For most teens, Image is predominant and dress is the major visual aspect of that image. One high school girl will decide to assert her budding sexuality by cutting off her t-shirt so that her belly button is visible between the shirt and her jeans and pretty soon other girls will be wearing cut off shirts and before you can take a quick breath you will see the shirts for sale in chain store windows.  How can this be? There are people who make their living watching what teenagers come up with on the streets. They copy these ideas for the mass market. My brother, Ken, took the wheels off an old pair of skates and put them on some orange crate slats. He was riding this contraption up and down North 50th Street in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1950. Today, the same basic idea is sold as a skateboard, and one sees them all over Berkeley, often ridden by boys long past twelve. They enjoy being a threat to the older people who give them a wide berth as they clack along Telegraph or Shattuck. After all, in most situations the adults have the power, but when a dude is riding his board, man, look out!  A kid uses a barrel hoop and gyrates so that it spins around his or her waist and hips and a few weeks later plastic hula hoops are on sale everywhere and are being proclaimed in the news magazines as the latest national fad. Wham-O mass marketed the hula hoop in 1958 when teenaged girls were wearing poodle skirts and bobby sox and boys wore chino pants with belt buckles on the back. The top song on the jukebox that year was the Teddy Bears' To Know Him is to Love Him. A new Chevrolet Impala was only three grand and the gas for it was 30 cents a gallon. GIGI was the big Oscar winner, and everyone was reading Truman Capote's BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY'S. Sometime in the sixties, someone decided to fade a pair of jeans, to age them and make them look older. In 1988, acid-dyed jeans and jackets were on sale in all the chain stores and were being worn by college freshmen around Berkeley.

       One teen tries to do something to individualize his or her life and it is quickly turned into a new form of conformity. Those who wear the store faded jeans want to be seen as right-thinking members of the herd. To be different, to differentiate themselves, would be a threat to this class of people. Hey, what if you don't eat pizza and drink cokes? What if you don't like frozen yogurt? If you walk around the Berkeley campus in 1989, you will find more quick pizza spots than any other type of cafe. The hot spot on Telegraph is Blondie's, half a block from Sather Gate, and the place is crowded nearly all of its working hours. People buy pepperoni or cheese slices and cokes and sit on the sidewalk in front to eat them and gossip about classes. A slice and a coke averages $l.75. Junk food, but perhaps a bit better than the diet of a Santa Rosa High School cheerleader quoted in the San Francisco CHRONICLE for May 9, 1988. For lunch she had "candied fruit, a Pepsi and a bag of Honey Nut Cheerios." She said she ate pizza and tortilla chips when she could afford it. Well, in 1998, she'll weigh in at l68 pounds or more and wonder how she got that way, but for right now the exercise is keeping her in shape and why worry about the future anyway? When he was 17, singer Chuck Berry considered "four dozen donuts, a jar of jelly, two loaves of bread, and one hunk of bologna" the perfect food for an outing with his buddies.

       The teens surveyed at Santa Rosa in 1988 said the following things were in:  Pizza, surfer jams, Leave It To Beaver  re-runs, The Beatles, U-2, Depeche Mode, rap music, INXS, Sting, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner's autobiography, Porches, BMWs, Mercedes, VW bugs lowered and painted with bright colors, Honda  CRX or Prelude, Acuras, and Toyota mini-trucks. So Kiss it goodbye Ford and General Motors. The only non-American car that was out was the Yugo. It was rejected along with things like Madonna, classical music, The Smurfs, and sushi.

       Along with being different comes the creation of a new language and every new generation makes up its own idioms. The Santa Rosans surveyed used some new and some old terms. A geek is still a loser, though a goober is now a nerd instead of a peanut. If you've been faced, you've been put down by someone and lost face. A Boom is a car stereo and bald is terrible, probably because these suburbanites do not go in for shaving their heads as do certain urban teens who are known locally as baldies or skinheads. Even girls are now called dudes, but a stud is likely to be referred to as Clydesdale. In the fifties, the teenagers of my sister's generation made up a language that consisted in reversing the meanings of various words. Bad or poor meant good. Cherry was good. In my school days a cherry was a virgin. Neat, keen, and groovy were all positive, but often used ironically. If my sister was asked to do something she was very unlikely to enjoy she would say, "Oh, that'd be neat." Why the necessity for a new language? Well, why not? Everyone wants to recreate the world in his own image and for awhile during the school years it is possible to maintain certain illusions through closely knit groupthink. One thing is for sure, if your parents are constantly at you not to do or say certain things, these will form the core of what you feel compelled to do when the parents are not around. The certainty about teen fads is that they recur, particularly these days when the junk will not sell out first time around. Someone will find a few thousand hula hoops in a warehouse somewhere and it will be round two or three or four. Many of today's punks are the spitting image of the biker gang in THE WILD ONE and all of the baldies look like the Fordham Baldies from Richard Price's THE WANDERERS.

       One way to see the distorted nature of adolescence in contemporary America is to compare it with other cultures and other periods of history. Clearly the American teenager is now an economic role, one that brings huge profits to corporations and huge problems to the average family. Every primitive culture I have read about has rites of passage, puberty rites, a time when the young undergo various tests. Those who pass are then accepted as adults. These rites vary from tribe to tribe, but most involve tests of physical courage and endurance. The boy is tattooed or mutilated in certain African tribes, his body physically marked to assert his manhood to the rest of the tribe. The Australian film, WALKABOUT, contrasted the survival ability of an aboriginal teenaged boy with that of a middle-class white girl and her little brother. After the suicide of their father, the girl and boy find themselves in the outback. Had the Aborigine not adopted them and taken care of them, they would not have survived. He knew where and how to find food and shelter.  In recent years, aspects of primitivism have arisen in American culture, and it is now fairly common to see on city streets things which used to be manifest only in secret societies. Today, it is common to see teenagers cut off their hair, wear ear and nose rings, and tattoo their bodies.  Some Carve marks on their arms and hands with knives as the Latino Pachucos did in the 1940s, while others have symbols put under their skin by professional tattooists. In the military, a tattoo has long been a rite of passage for the young recruit on his first trip to Japan or China. When I served in the Navy in the early 1950s, I remember a young man who proved his manhood to all his shipmates in a rather flamboyant way. We were in Hong Kong for a weekend of rest and recreation and he went to a tattoo parlor and had a giant American eagle tattooed on his hairless chest. He was a weight lifter who was always working out on one of the upper decks of the ship and I would see him carefully shaving his pectorals as though he was about to compete for Mr. America. It was a surprise to all of us when he finally revealed his chest in the compartment one night. He wasn't the only guy to get a tattoo, but most of the guys were content with an anchor or a rose or some small emblem, usually on their upper arm near the shoulder where it would be hidden by a shirtsleeve; Johnny was one up on everyone with that huge eagle. Nor was this his only attempt to prove his manhood to his mates. He was a fireman, assigned to work in the boiler room. When the ship was in port, we were assigned what was known as the Cold Iron Watch, which amounted to little more than sitting around in the engine room drinking coffee and talking about women. Most of the younger men had sex for the first time when they were overseas, either in Japan or Honk Kong. They went on liberty, drank that rotgut beer in seedy little bars named for American towns and states, and went to the hotels or skivvy houses with girls that were often just a hair past puberty. Ah, well, at least they were initiated by pros and didn't have to suffer the awkwardness and downright inept misery that often typifies the virgin's first night in the sack. For some, the evening included an hour or so at the local tattoo parlor and the obligatory tattoo. My brother got a nice rose with his fiancée's name on a ribbon below it. Problem was, she sent him the usual Dear John letter while he was overseas and he married a woman he met in Long Beach when he was back in the states. This meant a trip to the tattooist to have the name of the first love covered over. Fortunately, I avoided getting tattooed.

       The rites of passage are less dramatic in civilian life, but for many they can be more severe. Secret cults aside, it is not easy to get out of childhood and attain adult status. Even when the transition is normal and meaningful as it is in primitive culture, it is often painful, involving changes in the body that will parallel changes in thinking. After all, the tribal lore is saved for the grown male, not given to the young. Civilized cultures, on the other hand, offer what? The freedom to play pool, drink beer, and drive recklessly? The freedom to work at some meaningless servile job for a pittance? The primitive becomes an adult hunter and warrior, a man who will man the boats, fashion his weaponry, protect and feed his family, and carry on the traditions of his tribe, traditions which do not change as do the fads and fallacies of the artificial world offered civilized teens via corrupt movies and television shows which distract, but never teach anything worth knowing. The contemporary teen is offered thousands of roles, but no one concrete role that will make him valued by the entire culture. Those who learn the craft of their fathers often carry on a tradition, but those who go to colleges and foreign schools usually learn skills that separate them from their family tradition forever. Gender amplifies the problem. The primitive does not have this problem. A man is going to hunt and fish and hollow out the canoe or Kayak, to protect his family and his tribe. A woman is going to take care of the hut or igloo and have the babies and feed and care for them. The division of labor and the responsibilities are settled at birth. ln contemporary computerized culture where men can survive without physical strength or hunting skills and women demand to be equal with men, very little is decided at birth. One major result of the shift to higher technology is the deterioration of the family which is now divided neatly into a set of markets to be exploited for the greater enrichment of corporate ad-cult. Teenagers growing up in this milieu are locked into a continual cycle of puberty rites. The young man does not kill his prey and prove he can feed his family. He wins a video game, which gives him a free chance to win the same video game again. He sees the same movie over and over again in which he learns that the solution to all problems is violence, that reckless driving and random violence against innocent people is a lot of fun. He feels his family should feed and take care of him and send him an endless supply of money so he can buy all the junk offered by pop cult, but he does not feel obligated to return anything. Selfishnessness is offered up to him as the only value and cooperation is ridiculed along with family solidarity. Ego is all. He will drive through a quiet neighborhood with his car radio turned up as high as it will go and think nothing of it. His attitude is to hell with everyone else. I can do anything I want. Everyone will know I am going by.

       Yes, but they remember you only with hatred, and you might have been a loved and valued member of your community.

       David L. Beason wrote to the San Francisco CHRONICLE on June 9, 1988: "I was a teenager in Chicago during the summer of 1968. The death of Martin Luther King and the subsequent riots had already signaled to us that it would be a long, hot summer. The death of Bobby Kennedy (who we affectionately referred to as the "Great White Hope") snatched away the cooling breeze of hope, and the upcoming Democratic convention--with its attendant sideshow--promised a "heat wave." History shows that we got it. It was difficult to be young and black that summer, because to be young and black was to be impatient. We had begun to taste the fruits of what John Kennedy promised and Lyndon Johnson delivered: we began to believe in a Great Society. We were opposed to the war in Vietnam (mainly because we were doing most of the dying), but it was easier to feel duty to a country that was finally allowing us to participate as full citizens. Suddenly the voices that gave substance to the promises of franchise and promoted hope for our future were stilled--and there were no other voices to replace them. I have watched and listened to the commemorative speeches and reminiscences marking the 20th anniversary of Martin and Bobby's deaths. I remember their speeches (King and Kennedy), and what they meant to us while they lived. Then I thought about the progress that we have made as a society over the last 20 years since they died. It seems to me--and more and more with each passing year--that our last best hope was lost to us in that summer of '68."

       On June 8, Al Goldman wrote to THE DAILY CALIFORNIAN: "...any 16-year-old or older who engages in felony crimes such as robbery, and dealing in drugs--small or large scale--should be arrested, not detained, and tried in a separate court. This court can be designated as a young adult court or chancellery. At the age of 16 our youth must face or be prepared to go to jail (behind bars), not a juvenile facility, when convicted of a felony crime. By this age they are fully aware of right and wrong. If juveniles are drawn to pursue drugs as an economic livelihood they should be sent to a penal institution. Can it work? Yes, New York state instituted a statute for over 20 years. Teenagers have had a free ride in California for their criminal behavior. Change the state juvenile code. Bring equity to our older juveniles. Our youth cry out for help. Stop the profit-making drug dealers' free enterprise operation." Goldman is upset and wants to blame the victims of social failure. On a Ted Koppel drug symposium telecast in September, 1988, New York Governor Ed Koch wanted long jail sentences for addicts. As long as drugs are illegal, there will be enormous profits made on them, mainly by adults. The high-level dealers who are buying homes on Florida's Gold Coast are not teenagers. The bankers who are laundering drug money are not teenagers. The men who are growing poppies in Peru and Colombia and Turkey are not teenagers nor are the members of the organized cartel involved in exporting cocaine and heroin to the United States. In his major report on drugs, THE FIX, Brian Freemantle noted that the entire economy of the state of Florida was now based on the import of illegal drugs. The legalization of these drugs would lead to bankruptcy! And Goldman's solution is to fill American prisons with the poor blacks, Asians, and Chicanos who turn to drug-dealing to finance their youth because our society has failed to give them anything else, no meaningful roles to play in society, no identity.

       If teenagers are to be tried and sentenced as adults, then they should be given adult status and whatever benefits accrue from that status. Carla Jenkins, a young black teenager was refused the right to graduate from Unity Catholic High School in Chicago, Illinois, because she had a baby. She sued the school and appeared on Phil Donahue's show on June 16, 1988, where she explained that she was an honors student, that she had worked for her degree just like anyone else and she had a right to walk across that stage and get her diploma. What did her pregnancy have to do with her education? Lynn Kidder spoke out for childcare centers in high schools [TRIBUNE, JUNE 13, 1988]. She said that every year 600 teenaged girls had babies in Oakland and many had to leave school because they could find no way to take care of their children and continue the school routine. Nationally, half a million teens have children every year and nearly half drop out before diploma time. Berkeley, Hayward, and Alameda have set up child-care centers on campuses. Why all these pregnant teens in a sexually enlightened culture? Obviously, it isn't. There was a lot of discussion of birth control during the Donahue session, but many of the girls said they got no sex education at home or in school and several said they were taking birth control pills regularly and got pregnant anyway. Only a few even considered abortion. Most wanted their babies. Well, that's the normal way. What is abnormal is for a woman to wait for years after reaching child-bearing age. Those hormones have a way of brushing morality, religion, politics, and everything else aside.

       It seems to me that it makes little difference whether one is sixteen or sixty when there is no meaningful work and no possibility of advancement. One of the cops in COLORS summed it up very well when he said that the young kids saw who had the money and the Mercedes and the girl friends, the pimps and drug dealers. The same kids have seen those adult roles glamorized endlessly in blaxploitation films like SUPERFLY, CLEOPATRA JONES, and the Shaft series. It makes no difference if the dealer is killed in the end. The young are fascinated by life in the fast lane. "Live fast, die young, and make a good-looking corpse." That was the motto of the young man who lived it in Willard Motley's KNOCK ON ANY DOOR, an old Bogart movie.

       On Friday, June 10, 1988, the San Francisco CHRONICLE carried a story about Tiffany Renee Darwish, a popular 16-year-old singer who was petitioning the court to free herself from her mother's guardianship. Tiffany agreed to drop the suit when her mother threatened to force her through an expensive trial on the question of whether or not Tiffany could act as an adult. Tiffany's first MCA album has sold five million copies and her mother, Janie Williams, alleged that George Tobin, the producer of her album, tied Tiffany to "unfair management and production contracts" that gave him the bulk of her profits. (CHRONICLE, June 10, 1988, p. A-3).

       The exploitation of teenagers differs little from the exploitation of everyone and everything in a capitalist culture. After all, there are baby beauty contests long before Miss Teen America and Miss America and Miss Universe, but the teens are an especially traumatic period and I suspect being used wrongly during this period has a more prolonged and serious effect. The beauty contests introduce a competitive factor in teen life as well as fomenting a generalized feeling of discontent throughout the teen community. A handful of teens on one end of the scale are given all the advantages while the vast majority get only negative criticism. Only beautiful teens are shown in serious roles in movies and on television, when the others appear in these larger than life representations, they are considered comic relief. Once in awhile talent overrides this preoccupation with physical beauty, but very seldom. One need only consider the beauties who parade through the prime time soaps, the women on Beverly Hills 90210, Melrose Place, L. A. Law, NYPD Blue, etc. We are supposed to believe that the world is peopled only with beauties, that they work in service positions, and are, by corporate definition, the only people who count. This has a strong effect on image and role for fashion-conscious teens. Those who look like the TV stars become surrogate stars in their high schools and form cliques which ultimately dominate the social life of the school. Those who look different from the exceptions promoted by TV as norms go through life feeling rejected and left out. The beauties ultimately get to tell their stories and we hear a lot about how lonely it is at the top, but the fact is that it is much lonelier among the overweight, the acne-plagued, those who are mentally and physically impaired, and the majority who are selected out by the social Darwinism which prevails in America.  When Deborah Spungen told her side of the story in AND I DON'T WANT TO LIVE THIS LIFE [1983], we realized that Nancy Spungen was a schizophrenic child who could get no help from doctors or teachers, indeed, one who was controlled as a baby with prescribed phenobarbitol, an addict before she left her crib. A teenager badly in need of help, she drifted into the rock and roll world of the British Sex Pistols where she died. The tabloids and the film SID AND NANCY treated the teens as crazy freaks in weird clothes and never really cared about the suffering people trapped in those absurd images.

       With the glasnost of the eighties in the Soviet Union, we are beginning to see how teens live there.  The first Moscow beauty pageant in the Summer of 1988 crowned Maria Kalinina, 16, the first Moscow beauty queen. The pageant included a bathing suit competition and prizes included a crown, two trips abroad, and a suitcase full of cosmetics. Sexism is now alive and well in Moscow. In Beijing, teenagers picked up the American fad of breakdancing in 1988 and mounted a student movement in 1989 that resulted in heavy repression from the old power structure.

 

Vidal Palimp by Clay Geerdes

            A book like PALIMPSEST is an enigma for the reader because it exists on several levels simultaneously. Mainly, Vidal is reminiscing about people he has known, places he has lived, roles he has played--novelist, playwright, actor, politician--and his comments and asides have one meaning to those within his circle and quite another to outsiders. Well, this is always true. If you are going to write something self-indulgent, you feel the need to justify it to those who remain; those who are safely dead are not going to show up on your answering machine or at your front door. What Vidal gives is what he got. He saw only the roles people played for him. We get his version of Jack Kennedy, his version of Jackie, his version of Truman Capote: “Truman was surprisingly innocent. He mistook the rich who liked publicity for the ruling class, and he made himself far too much at home among them, only to find that he was to them no more than an amusing pet who could be dispensed with, as he was when he published lurid gossip about them. Although of little interest or value in themselves, these self-invented figures are nothing if not tough, and quite as heartless as the real thing, as the dying Swann discovered when he found that his life meant less to his esteemed duchess than her pair of red shoes [Vidal,  239-40].” Interesting. Isn’t Vidal publishing lurid gossip about the rich in PALIMPSEST? Capote, at least, published it when the subjects were alive, and was more than once confronted with his tendency to lie about his relationships with this or that celebrity; but here is Vidal telling us in detail about fucking Jack Kerouac in the Chelsea Hotel in New York [218, 232], quoting Allen Ginsberg saying that Jack “was rather proud of the fact that he blew you[232],” and Kerouac safely dead from alcoholism, unable to confirm or deny.  “Allen spoke of Jack’s sad last days, when he and his mother retired to Florida, where he drank himself to a death which finally came when, after he ate a tin of tuna fish, his liver exploded and he bled to death, like William Burrough’s son, who, in his twenties, thanks to drink and drugs, underwent a successful liver transplant, then promptly used up the new liver and died [Vidal, 218].”

       “The Beats had for a time flourished, and many of us were alarmed. Was this what writing was destined to be--an endless report on what one had done the night before while listing the names of the all-alike towns that one sped through on the ever-same road? Although, as writers, Kerouac and Burroughs were not much different from such conventional writers as Philip Roth and John Updike, I feared that their imitators would, like the executors of some inexorable Gresham’s law, drive literature itself out the window. All this proved to be a false alarm. Their imitators were few, while the originals either died or did not continue, and literature went out the window anyway [410].”

           Vidal preaches from on high. He speaks as a member of the upper class, one used to having his pronouncements accepted as holy writ. He will proclaim then ramble on as though his proclamation had become law. He considers to books he has written to be novels and looks down on works that he considers to be journalism, namely the recent novels of Norman Mailer. I don’t agree with this at all. Novel is simply an Americanization of nouvelle, which means new, and it does not imply that a researched work dealing with past history is in any way superior to a researched work dealing with contemporary history. I think Mailer’s EXECUTIONER’S SONG comes a lot closer to being a great American novel than of Vidal’s historical tomes. In his memoir, Vidal has a way of dismissing American novelists, always comparing them and their works in some way to his own and finding his own superior. Well, that’s fine, Gore, but as someone who has read most of your novels as well as those of the people you tend to rate below you, I have to confess that I find a critical flaw in your fiction, the inability to breathe life into a character. You don’t have to do that in nonfiction, and for that reason I enjoy your essays and political writing in a way I cannot appreciate your fiction. Even in PALIMPSEST, where you are gossiping about people I have seen on television and heard about for years, you do not realize those people, and if I did not know of them and their lives from other sources I wouldn’t know what the hell you were talking about 90% of the time.

           Vidal’s homosexism is paramount in PALIMPSEST. One of the major criteria he has for talking about writers is their sexuality and those who share Vidal’s homosexual orientation are discussed in detail throughout his memoir while heterosexual writers, male and female, are ignored or put down for not writing what Vidal thinks they ought to be writing. The only woman writer Vidal discusses at length in this memoir is Anais Nin and he spends a lot more time detailing her lies and revisions that he does discussing her writing career. Ralph Ellison is mentioned only because he happens to be living with Saul Bellow in Vidal’s neighborhood, not because he wrote a serious study of the role of a black man in American society.

 

1 For the complete details on the CIA's covert use of LSD, see Martin A. Lee and Bruce Shlain's ACID DREAMS: THE CIA, LSD, AND THE SIXTIES REBELLION, Grove Press, New York: 1985.

2 See Timothy Leary, FLASHBACKS. Boston: Houghton-Mifflin, 1983. Leary did a previous book about his work called HIGH PRIEST.

3 Ken Kesey's 1962 novel, ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO'S NEST, was the in psychedelic novel of the period. He wrote it after taking LSD and subsequently went on a crusade to try to turn everyone on to the drug. His album was called THE ACID TEST. Tom Wolfe wrote up his adventures in THE ELECTRIC KOOL-AID ACID TEST. 

4 Television became a major propaganda medium in the sixties. The short haired cop hero was usually set against a longhaired young villain. This pattern was repeated endlessly on cop shows and on the prime time news. Critics of the military-industrial complex were cast as militants [negative] while spokesmen for corporate America were shown as benevolent statesmen [positive].

[1]On March 13, 1864, members of the Brewster Church of Brewster, Massachusetts, learned that their minister, the Reverend Horatio Alger, Jr. had been buggering at least two young boys, Thomas S. Crocker and John Clark. Alger did not deny the charges. He was dismissed from the ministry and left town that night. He continued his activities in New York under the cover of “befriending” young newsboys. See Edwin P. Hoyt. HORATIO’S BOYS. Radnor, Pennsylvania. Chilton, 1974. It has always seemed ironic to me that Alger’s name became synonymous with “rags to riches” success in America. None of his characters worked their way up a la Ford or Edison. A typical Alger “hero” saved the life of a banker’s daughter and was rewarded with a job as a clerk in the bank. He prospered by sucking up to the rich. C.G.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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