Or, how the Allied Media Conference gave Northwest Ohioans an opportunity to mass consume counter-culture relics of days past

Rob Prince

[1] It would be very easy to dismiss last June's Allied Media Conference as just another opportunity for young and privileged white liberals to join in a collective rant about the perceived evils of compassionate conservatism. Granted, the large gathering of humanity that populated that warm summer weekend was indeed composed mostly of people more likely to vote for John Kerry than George W. Bush.

[2] And while a small contingent of other races, creeds, and colors were in attendance at the event, held on the serenely pastoral campus of Bowling Green State University, in Bowling Green, Ohio, the overall mise-en-scene of the Conference was that of a pragmatically conspiratorial, but freshly scrubbed, neo-subversive remix of activism popular in the sixties. Terms and ideas that had been advanced forty years ago were floating around the conference like so many dialogue balloons from old-school Doonesbury strips.

[3] The most striking impression made on me by the AMC was irony: the irony of experiencing a totally unexpected use of good old fashioned capitalist consumerism in support of the Conference's focus on the benefits of collective and thoughtful resistance to dominant ideology.

[4] Everything was being hawked; as counter-culture faux artifacts and memorabilia were aggressively sold in the aircraft hanger sized BGSU Student Union ballroom on ten's of tables rented by opportunistic vendors. The spectrum of choices went from tables selling books on the benefits of anarchy to jewelry to the ubiquitous poster vendor who had the expected collection of my favorite revolutionary visage: the handcuffed, perfectly Afro-coiffed Angela Davis.

[5] I sensed a devilishly delicious dichotomy. However, I also sensed that this was a nuance that appeared lost on the younger attendees. Point-in-fact: I observed the college aged constituency openly bemoaning the fall of American culture to selfish corporate interests while at the same time giddily practicing the mass consumerism that is the primary tenant of these same interests.

[6] In other words, Angela Davis would not be holding a tent sale at a conference that hoped to change anything. Therein, I thought, lays a sign of the coming cultural apocalypse. The revolution would be televised. Our young seemed to be undergoing the training necessary to be its media savvy sponsors right before my eyes. Somewhere Antonio Gramsci was rolling his eyes.

Selling the Revolution

[7] The fact that the imagery of America's most notorious radical revolutionaries of recent history — such as Fred Hampton, Angela Davis, Che Guevara, and Huey Newton — was for sale in the ballroom did not surprise me. The dominant ideology of mass consumerism in American can be likened to a wily virus, not unlike the HIV virus, which in biding its time learns how to adapt and survive at the expense of its host.

[8] Our society is trained from infancy to do two things: first, fear everything in sight. Second, we are taught that the only way to relieve the pain caused by that fear is to buy everything in sight. Mass consumerism, not religion, is the new opiate of the masses. So forgive me for being aghast at the sheer scope and size of the student focused, made-to-order, indoor marketplace. Admittedly my expectation that certain a reverence might be appropriate for the real people whose images were on display was, in hindsight, unrealistic.

[9] Any notion of screaming out at the top of my lungs that the participants might want to hold just one frigging workshop on how the deeds of these historically relevant revolutionary principals fit in context with today's Worlds Gone Wild (instead of shopping till they dropped) prudently caught in my throat.

[10] By pressing the pause button on my anger, I thus allowed myself the opportunity to identify and question an interesting contradiction that was on display; why was the market driven concept of the subversive capitalist bazaar necessary?

[11] True enough, the post-Martin Luther King radical and violent social justice revolution, as exemplified by the FBI's on-going battle with the Black Panther party (see Mario Van Peebles' 1995 film Panther for a good but fictional feel of what that was about) was long ago ground under the jackboot template created by Richard Nixon's paranoid schizophrenic neo-fascism.

[12] What stung this old-school relic in attendance at the conference is the realization that the future revolution Gil Scot-Heron so triumphantly sung about as not being televised now appears to have suffered the fate of Borg-like assimilation by the hegemony, a memory to be marketed to and mass consumed by the young, who were not alive at the time and thus only aware of history through the official story given by high school textbooks.

[13] This potent cocktail of unwitting ignorance, coupled with a college consumerism tailored to the impulses of the unaware, concerns me. Many of the "revolutionary" retailers who rented tables to sell their wares confessed to me that their livelihoods were based on selling at conferences like Allied. They followed conferences like this from college campus to college campus, thus reinforcing the mantra of consumerism. The idea seems to be that these iconic images, pictures of real people who fought for social justice during a time that ended well before most of the young college aged participants were born, could now be safely sold as commodities. I could only ask myself if Fred Hampton had indeed died in vain. Or worse, if anyone under forty knew who Fred Hampton was. Hampton is but a folk hero now, one of the best examples of George Clinton's brilliant observation that America eats its young. But unlike his fellow martyr Martin Luther King, there are no schools, roads, bridges, or holidays named after a young man who was no older than the majority of the well meaning kids that were now the subject of my gaze.

[14] America had been afraid, very afraid, of this young black man because he somehow found a way to give free nutritious food to the hungry children of his neighborhood without asking for Uncle Sam's help. The fear was that if he could do it maybe others would do it. Self-determination often spreads like wild fire.

[15] Young people need to understand that the "free your mind and your ass will follow" school of thought is very dangerous because it is rooted in the truth and the truth is the last thing the people who have constructed the concentration camps disguised as prisons want to see. Today Hampton's heroic life and cowardly murder at the hands of a conspiracy between the Chicago Police Department and FBI informants has been neatly reduced to a 17 x 24" poster.

[16] On the other hand youth's fascination with a man, who was the embodiment of the true revolutionary, is understandable given the milk-toast behavior of our rich and privileged current day leaders who sound bite the talk and limp the walk. At least the poster of Hampton offered upon it a very brief history of his life.

[17] Was it the expectation of students and adults alike, faced with a continuous cycle of democratic "choice" between which of two wealthy white men will be President of the United States, that the conference provide shelter from the corporate advertising hurricane that propels the anxiety driven mass consumerism of daily life in America? Or did they simply want to obtain confirmation that there was intelligent life on earth that would not try to make them feel as though what they bought made them what they are?

[18] I did not get the sense that the question could be answered that weekend, if ever. One does not interrupt grazing sheep before its time for the slaughter. Also, I didn't get the feeling that these young participants really knew that these were questions to consider at all. I tried asking a few, but gave up after it was clear most were more interested in the purchase they were mulling over.

[19] What I did gain was an understanding that these attendees, most of whom would be my children's age, could now buy the memories of the social justice revolution like so much tooth paste at Wal-Mart (albeit without the little yellow mark down smiley guy to help lower the prices).

[20] There was a time when the term "sold out" had a different kind of meaning. Nevertheless, I ended up buying something, too, bringing home a Fred Hampton poster because I thought I was qualified. When I got home the first thing I did was to sit on my couch, unfurled it from its tube, and for a moment let the memories of those heady times take my breath away.

[21] The poster reminded me that I was 16 when Fred Hampton was brutally killed in the middle of the night. It reminded me that Fred Hampton was 21 years old when he died. It reminded me that he was shot 100 times while he was asleep in his bed. It reminded me that, with few exceptions, these kids didn't really have a clue.