Top Leaderboard, Site wide
Shop the Truthdig Gift Guide 2014
December 19, 2014
Truthdig: Drilling Beneath the Headlines
Sign up for Truthdig's Email NewsletterLike Truthdig on FacebookFollow Truthdig on TwitterSubscribe to Truthdig's RSS Feed

Get Truthdig's headlines in your inbox!


The Senate Drone Report of 2019
Polar Bears Feel the Heat as Icy Habitat Shrinks






Truthdig Bazaar
Intellectuals and Society

Intellectuals and Society

By Thomas Sowell
$19.77

more items

 
Arts and Culture

A Countercultural Conversation With Noam Chomsky

Email this item Email    Print this item Print    Share this item... Share

Posted on Aug 5, 2010
Chomsky
Mr. Fish

By Mr. Fish

The following is an interview with professor Noam Chomsky that was conducted on June 19, 2008 (the 126th anniversary of the invention of American baseball and on what would have been Moe Howard’s 111th birthday), at MIT in Cambridge. The purpose of our conversation was to examine (for a graphic memoir/critique of contemporary culture that I’d just begun working on) the question of why the counterculture, which had been so endemic to the politics of dissent in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, no longer seemed to exist in any viable way. Having used only a small portion of our talk for my book, I felt that the complete exchange was sufficiently interesting to offer up to those who, like me, consider professor Chomsky to be, all by himself, The Beatles of all smart guys, with every interview that he participates in between the publication of his books being the equivalent of Beatle bootlegs, fascinating in their improvised eloquence and revelatory in their matter-of-factness.


Mr. Fish: I’ve already talked to people like Mort Sahl, Paul Krassner, Victor Navasky, people like that, to find out why there seems to be fewer artists and public intellectuals creating art and social commentary that inspires people to conceptualize a worldview [that is able to exist] contrary to the one offered by the dominant culture. I’m trying to find out why we no longer seem capable of creating art that is sufficiently weaponized to combat and inflict real damage to those values that seem more interested in maintaining the status quo—values that may be counterintuitive to our survival as a free society. Before I go on, do you perceive a change?

Noam Chomsky: No, not particularly. There are probably more critics today than there were in the past.

MF: In the arts?

NC: Well, who are the public intellectuals who people talk about in the past—the dissident public intellectuals?

MF: People like [Norman] Mailer, [Kurt] Vonnegut.

NC: They were fine, but they were novelists. They said almost nothing about public events. I mean, yeah, Norman Mailer, I knew him—he would write an article every now and then, a pretty good article, but I don’t think it comes anywhere near to what Norman Solomon does.

MF: Yeah, but when you compare audiences, more people know who Norman Mailer is than Norman Solomon.

NC: Because he was a novelist and one who put himself in the public eye, so he was something of a showman. That doesn’t mean he was reaching anybody with his political views. The fact that he knifed his wife may have put him on the front pages, but it didn’t change anybody’s political views.

MF: He changed mine. I mean, in a society gripped by [political correctness], public urination can be a political act.

NC: I wouldn’t call him a public intellectual. I’m glad he was around and did some of the things he did. In fact, the best book of his that I know of, that I read, was “Armies of the Night,” and that was his single foray into political activism.

MF: Well, that’s not completely true. There was “The Prisoner of Sex,” “The White Negro,” his coverage of political conventions. …

NC: Covering conventions isn’t dissident journalism. That’s playing a role in creating illusions about how the political system functions.

MF: Actually, when it’s done by somebody like Mailer, it’s a piece of writing that explores the humanity of the event, the fallibility of the players, and turns it into a debate that can take place in public, where it can then grow into a conversation and inspire some deeper understanding [of the event].

NC: If that’s what a public intellectual is then I think we have plenty more of them today. I think they’re just illusions about the past. The fact of the matter is that, when you look over time, intellectuals, by and large, are servants of power. There are very few exceptions to that and the exceptions are usually punished one way or another. We think about the Dreyfus Affair and the great intellectuals, they were a small minority. The mass of French intellectuals supported the state.

MF: Was that more about some form of academic freedom than artistic freedom? Are they more or less the same thing?

NC: There are always attacks on academic freedom, but I think it’s better protected now than it has been in the past. There is repression and [there are] bad things that happen, but if you look over time it’s nothing like what it’s been in the past. I mean, take surveillance, let’s say, bad thing. What was in the ’60s? The FBI was all over the place, the Army had surveillance systems, the CIA had surveillance, way more than what it is now. Now you can do things with electronic surveillance, OK, big deal. I was active in the resistance and took for granted that the phone was probably tapped, but it never constrained us. If you had to do something that you didn’t want the FBI to hear, you did it privately. Everybody knew that whatever group you were in was infiltrated, and you could usually guess who the infiltrators were, but if you wanted to do something serious, say help a deserter, you did it with an affinity group. If you think about repression, as bad as it may be today, it doesn’t even come close to COINTELPRO. That was running through four administrations—mainly Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon, where it was stopped—and it went all the way to political assassination. Is that happening now?

MF: Depends on who you ask, I guess.

NC: And [Woodrow] Wilson’s Red Scare made it all look tame. So, sure, bad things are happening, but we shouldn’t exaggerate. There have been a lot of gains.

MF: Still, and getting back to my point about the mollification of the artistic community, there seems to be fewer and fewer expectations that an artist will or even should engage in world politics.

NC: Expectations from whom?

MF: From the public, the dominant culture, the government, certainly.

NC: The corporate media aren’t going to encourage them to be subversive, but has that ever been the case for art?

MF: No, but the amount of discouragement from the private sector seems new. At one time, it wasn’t so outlandish for a person to say that he or she wanted to become a painter or a novelist or a playwright—it was a lifestyle, in fact, that suggested its own spiritual reward, and politics was traditionally considered to be part of the lifestyle, usually dissent.

NC: But that’s a different kind of change. The freelance intellectuals, whatever they were, the writers and artists, over the years have drifted towards institutions, so now instead of being a [full-time] novelist you’ll be a novelist on the side and teaching creative writing at the university. That wasn’t an option in the ’40s and ’50s.

MF: And that’s the loss, the sidelining of passion, of truth-seeking.

NC: Well, it’s an institutional change. To some people it may have restrictive consequences, maybe impose internal conditions on the work they do, but it certainly doesn’t have to.

MF: But it always will. Consider the size and makeup of the two audiences: an instructor in a classroom writing part time versus a full-time writer whose celebrity comes from a full-time writing career [that’s] lived large in the public eye.

NC: Give talks. I spend half my life just giving talks.

MF: But that’s not novel writing.

NC: Still, being at the university gives you tremendous privilege. If you want to use it, you can use it. It’s a lot more privilege than if you’re in a loft somewhere trying to get enough money for the next meal.

MF: Ah, but that’s so romantic.

NC: Sounds romantic, unless you’re living it. “La Bohème” doesn’t have a happy ending.


New and Improved Comments

If you have trouble leaving a comment, review this help page. Still having problems? Let us know. If you find yourself moderated, take a moment to review our comment policy.

By BabyJay, September 14, 2010 at 2:20 pm Link to this comment

Mr. Fish,  Please make that picture of Chomsky available on a T Shirt.  I would love to buy it! :D

Report this
Leefeller's avatar

By Leefeller, August 9, 2010 at 12:51 pm Link to this comment

Chomsky, as many peoples tin god, seems to have been hooked by a fish.

This article seems to portray Chomsky as having swallowed many lead sinkers, while learning how to swim?

Good job Mr. Fish

Report this

By lpat, August 9, 2010 at 11:18 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Less Fish, more Chomsky.

Report this

By NYCartist, August 9, 2010 at 6:07 am Link to this comment

Ah, Mr. Fish - it takes guts to interview Chomsky.
Chomsky’s replies are marvelous.
My perspective is from:
  I was in my 20s in the 1960s, having just begun my art career after 5 years of public school teaching in NYC (social studies major who wanted to be an artist since age 10).  Spent 2 years in NOLA, with first spouse, a community organizer in antipoverty program.  Beginning my art career, doing civil rights volunteer research work and what peace protest was in NOLA.  Then one year in midwest before back to NYC.

    It took me decades to perfect my skills at political art, while having started as a sculptor.
As Chomsky has said elsewhere, “every bit helps”.

    Chomsky makes good points about the personal vs organized.  I think whatever one can contribute toward change is a good thing…doing as can for as long as one can.  Viva Chomsky.  Thanks, Mr Fish, for all the fish.

Report this
Egomet Bonmot's avatar

By Egomet Bonmot, August 8, 2010 at 10:24 pm Link to this comment

I like Chomsky but he clearly knows nothing of his “friend” Norman Mailer’s work.  The gaps here are embarrassing.

Report this
MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, August 8, 2010 at 7:42 pm Link to this comment

Tony Wicher, August 8 at 11:19 pm,

The reason newspapers are dying is because they quit reporting a balance between liberalism and conservatism in their news reporting, and choose strictly to report news favorable to conservatives, and television media also did the same thing, therefore the internet became the only liberal tool for the populace.

If newspapers would choose to be at least half way liberal, they would be able to remain, but in the media, Conservatism’s Republicans reign, which has no benefit whatsoever to the populace.

Report this
Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, August 8, 2010 at 7:19 pm Link to this comment

RE Anarcissie, August 6 at 12:09 pm

However, the reason the newspapers and so forth are dying is because of the Internet, and that is not (yet) under government or corporate control.  And so we see a spectrum of reportage and opinion ranging from Wikileaks to your wacky 9/11 theories, none of which could ever have appeared in an old-time newspaper or television program.  Things have changed, and not necessarily for the worse.

——————————————————————————-
Anarcissie,

I’ll agree with you there. The Internet is our last best hope.

Report this
MarthaA's avatar

By MarthaA, August 8, 2010 at 6:29 pm Link to this comment

The culture of Working Farmers and Laborers, the American Populace, definitely do need to be bold, and creatively claim their culture, separate from the culture of the Academic Professional New Class and the Elite/Corporate Capitalist Class, as the Academic Professional New Class culture has separated itself from the American Populace culture leaving the 70% Majority Common Population, the Working Laborers including Welders, Plumbers, Auto Mechanics, etc. and Farmers that are the United States of America’s majority population in need of claiming their own culture and constituency; otherwise there will never be representation of the American Populace of the United States in the halls of Congress.

It is time for the Democratic Party to return to representation of the entire population of the United States or provide another political party that is equal to the Democratic Party.  1952 must have been the last year that Farmers and Laborers were mentioned as being important to the democratic Left, the Democratic Farmer and Labor Party, because leaders of the party took Farmers and Laborers out of the party and quit representing farmers and laborers objectively.
 
One must remember that there is no democratic Right, except subjectively, and it is mighty hard to pay ones bills on subjectivity, as the Right contends for being democratic, but are full fledged autocratic and all are conservatism conservatives, and the party will kick out members that are concerned about the populace as not being conservative enough.  Political conservative is NOT fiscal conservative.

Therefore, it behooves the American Populace to unify within their culture and constituency and take the Democratic Party back for Farmers and Laborers.  Minnesota keep the name of the party, but the party significantly changed after the overthrow of the populace by Republican Conservatism.

Culture is that which is passed down from generation to generation of which unions and community are a part.  The American Populace must not allow the other cultures to steal the culture of the 70% majority common population, the American Populace.

Conservatism is the thief.  Conservatism does not belong in the American Populace.  The American Populace as a whole are liberal, but have been propagandized into voting conservative Republican against their own best interest as a class and culture, otherwise there would be an American Populace class and culture and a unified constituency of the populace.

Report this
alyceobvious's avatar

By alyceobvious, August 8, 2010 at 7:23 am Link to this comment

dear mr. fish, thanks for the excellent interview - much-needed inspiration and encouragement for those of us afflicted with the desire to write or make art about our culture’s ills, and who are fully aware that change will never happen from the inside (like a “happy cancer” - heh). really eye-opening to see how many disparaging comments are here - gads, really says something about the state of our society when world-class activists can’t even get support from those on his/her own team!


i no longer live in a loft - now it’s a backwoods off-grid hovel with satellite internet on the roof. i’m a conceptual artist and social and environmental activist - and great appreciator of your work.

thanks again.

http://www.theobviousobserver.com
http://www.facebook.com/pages/USE-HALF-NOW-CAMPAIGN/316473176497?ref=mf
http://www.truth-out.org/makers-diy-agents-social-change59919

Report this
Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, August 7, 2010 at 7:52 pm Link to this comment

gerard, August 7 at 9:18 pm:

‘gerard: Well, maybe.  Who knows anything for sure?  But judging from the days of the John Birch Society .....’

I recall the JBS saying everyone was a Communist (including Eisenhower) but I don’t recall them flogging the racial and religious stuff.  Of course in those days there were plenty of other people to do it.  And my memory could (heh) be just a bit defective.

Report this
Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, August 7, 2010 at 5:46 pm Link to this comment

rico, suave, August 6 at 6:59 pm:

‘... Given that Democrats run the country, why shouldn’t Tea Partiers be worried about police action? Do you really believe that Obama presides over a conservative/reactionary corporate/bureaucratic state that wants to see the Tea Party succeed?’

I wrote quite awhile ago that I thought the most likely effect of the Tea Party would be to split the Republican Party.  Now I hear that Democrats are contributing to Tea-Party candidates with precisely that purpose in mind.  I would not expect less from machine politicians like Obama, the Clintons, Larry Summers and so forth.  The Tea Partiers, far from being any sort of threat, is proving to be a useful instrument.

The people the Democrats really hate are leftists, but they’re used to being threatened and persecuted, so this is not going to be a big surprise for anybody.  Business as usual.

Report this

By gerard, August 7, 2010 at 5:18 pm Link to this comment

rico suave: Well, maybe.  Who knows anything for sure?  But judging from the days of the John Birch Society .....

Report this
Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, August 7, 2010 at 4:16 pm Link to this comment

@ John Ellis:

One other point I would like to make about what you said is that the only people made “prosperous” by the defense industry are defense contractors and oil companies - the rest of the nation is being impoverished to the point of economic collapse.

Report this
Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, August 7, 2010 at 3:49 pm Link to this comment

Re John Ellis, August 7 at 4:05 pm

Tony Wicher
“The most elementary science clearly demonstrates
that the Twin Towers and Building 7 were
demolished by high explosives.”

LIGHT
To except the reality that our government did it, that by controlled demolition all of the World Trade Center was sure to be leveled flat to the ground, not for a second is it to be contemplated by all who have been enriched by the misery of it.  For ours is a defense economy and the greater the enemy the greater the prosperity.

—————————————————————-

John,

Mark Twain once said, “Show me where a man gets his corn pone, and I’ll tell you his ‘pinions.” That is generally true of human beings and particularly true of intellectuals, although they are alleged to be dedicated to a truth that is presumably independent of where they get their corn pone. Chomsky has frequently observed this himself about other intellectuals, although I supposed he thinks his own trenchant critique of power makes him an exception to this rule. But I’m not so sure, not after his attitude toward 9/11, which consists in the utter, unquestioning acceptance of the fantastic government story about 9/11 and an adamant refusal to look at any of the scientific evidence himself, even after he has been told that the science involved is so elementary that any reasonably well-educated person can understand it.

Here is Chomsky making a fool of himself on the subject:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoDqDvbgeXM&feature=related


So come on, any reasonably well-educated person out there, look at a couple of videos of the buildings collapsing, read the following scientific paper about the explosives found in the dust, and let’s talk it. Let’s just stick to the facts, and not to a prioi opinions about what we think could or couldn’t have happened. 

North Tower Exploding:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hSApOavkHg8

Fall of Building 7
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rVCDpL4Ax7I&feature=channel

Active Thermitic Material Discovered in Dust from the 9/11 World Trade Center Catastrophe

Authors: Niels H. Harrit, Jeffrey Farrer, Steven E. Jones, Kevin R. Ryan, Frank M. Legge, Daniel Farnsworth, Gregg Roberts, James R. Gourley, Bradley R. Larsen

http://www.bentham-open.org/pages/content.php?TOCPJ/2009/00000002/00000001/7TOCPJ.SGM

Finally, here is Chomsky pontificating about 9/11 a couple of years ago.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoDqDvbgeXM

Report this
Not One More!'s avatar

By Not One More!, August 7, 2010 at 12:11 pm Link to this comment

>>>>>By rico, suave, August 6 at 6:59 pm
Given that Democrats run the country, why shouldn’t Tea Partiers be worried about police action? Do you really believe that Obama presides over a conservative/reactionary corporate/bureaucratic state that wants to see the Tea Party succeed?

That is exactly what I think, that Obama would rather have the tea party succeed rather ran implementing a truly progressive policy (single payer health care, reduction of military and stopping use of private mercenaries, immediate closing of Quantanamo, prosecution of war crimes but of course it is hard to prosecute yourself, and not to mention stop mailing out the corporate elite).

Support republican extremest policy,
vote for a democrat.

(because didn’t we call it fanatical when Bush carried out identical policies?)

http://www.NotOneMore.US

Report this
Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, August 6, 2010 at 9:11 pm Link to this comment

Things were worse in the 60’s? How can Chomsky say such a thing? Instead of sending 500,000 draftees to kill and die in Vietnam, we have a mercenary army to fight our puppetmaster’s imperial wars, and kids with video game skills bombing weddings in Afghanistan with remote controlled drones from the safety and comfort of military bases in the U.S., coming home to shtup their wives after a hard day’s work at the office. Maybe Chomsky thinks this is an improvement. I sure don’t. And the control of the mass media is far tighter than it ever has been. So tight, in fact, that even Chomsky believes the fantastic government propaganda about 9/11, bin Laden and the 19 hijackers, when the most elementary science clearly demonstrates that the Twin Towers and Building 7 were demolished by high explosives. See ae911truth.org for the details.

Also, the economy was fantastically wonderful in the sixties compared with what it is now. Then, the economics of the New Deal had not yet been completely undermined and replaced with the oligarchic fascism we have today. The gap between rich and poor was much smaller then, now it is the greatest in history.

Chomsky’s tone sounds smug to me. He’s been sitting over there at MIT getting his ass kissed by the left wing too long.

Report this
Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, August 6, 2010 at 8:53 pm Link to this comment

Obama doesn’t preside over much of anything. He’s a puppet, same as the last five or six presidents.

Report this

By Edmond, August 6, 2010 at 3:24 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

This is a very unique interview. While most other journalists defer (or parrot right-wing attack points), MF deftly presses Chomsky, while still being respectful. The professor has a repertoire of canned answers, and, knowing that, MF tries to elicit some original responses. Often, he succeeds.

While few, if any, can compete with Chomsky on political matters, I think he’s surprisingly devoid of insight on the topics of art and culture and comes off rather poorly. He belittles Norman Mailer, makes a point of saying he can’t be bothered with American movies (though maybe a European film will do) or with television, and he seems to dismiss the potential of art in creating a more humane society. A novel doesn’t have to outline a political program and speak explicitly about public events in order to spark social consciousness.

Report this
rico, suave's avatar

By rico, suave, August 6, 2010 at 2:59 pm Link to this comment

gerard:

I was in college in the late sixties. I think back then we were just as worried about the things you list then as they are now. Maybe more so, since “the 60s” was a brand new experiment.

Given that Democrats run the country, why shouldn’t Tea Partiers be worried about police action? Do you really believe that Obama presides over a conservative/reactionary corporate/bureaucratic state that wants to see the Tea Party succeed?

Report this

By REDHORSE, August 6, 2010 at 2:26 pm Link to this comment

Art is expression, and experience, of living soul, within and without.  Often cultural, and often trancendent of time and space, its valuation of true universal human consciousness, dispels false manipulative propagandist political materialistic illusion, and merges infinite and finite reality, as it restores sanity. Huxley, Castaneda and Leary sought it with drugs, but they’re not necessary. It is the rumored “New Age of World Consciousness”, and the humbling doorway, through which one enters Christs present on Earth, Kingdom of Heaven, the Buddhas Nirvana or the Native American Great Mystery. It is not filled with magic chrystals or little pink cherubs. It offers a terrible freedom in which one discovers that he/she is both the good guy and the bad guy. A place for compassion and discovery of our interdependency and personal fragility.

    People avoid this terror at all cost. Those who pursue it for humanitarian purpose often die. It represents such direct engagement with the deadly and destructive forces of change that it often kills one outright. Freedom Riders, the Mary Knoll Sisters, Dr. King, Ghandi, Malcolm X and Robert Kennedy are quick examples. One literally loses ones life to save it. Chomsky points directly at the problem. The cat can be belled, it just can’t be done without risk of personal safety. That’s what fascist police states are about. Get it??

      For me, the poet Charles Baudelaire said it best (paraphrase): “—the study of beauty, is a duel, in which the artist shrieks with terror, before being overcome—”. Try to remember our first fire—reach for the experience. Ask yourself who you love and who loves you. Is your childs future safe?

      Suit up or shut up!!

Report this

By Richard Nixon, August 6, 2010 at 12:28 pm Link to this comment

I think what happened to my generation is pointed out in the famous adbusters
article ‘The Dead End of Western Civilization’

Today the ‘counterculture’ or popular youth movement is hipsterdom.

Basically it all about self image that is brought about from purchasing. These
people think that you’re rebelling, when actually they are just heavily immersed
in the mainstream corporate world and so deeply invested in maintaining their
own image, they don’t in any way defy the power structure.

https://www.adbusters.org/magazine/79/hipster.html

‘We’ve reached a point in our civilization where counterculture has mutated
into a self-obsessed aesthetic vacuum. So while hipsterdom is the end product
of all prior countercultures, it’s been stripped of its subversion and originality.’

Report this

By anyfreeman, August 6, 2010 at 10:28 am Link to this comment

I seek Chomsky’s comments. Mr. Fish is a relevant social observer. This interview suffers as a result. Here’s what bothered me - the generational and aspirational chasms between the two men prevented them from even agreeing violently. Chomsky seems pedantic and removed “I don’t have time for television” while Fish insists on attempting to fit his nostalgia for   lost generations into today’s zeitgeist.

If Howard Zinn had interviewed Chomsky…..

Report this

By wildflower, August 6, 2010 at 9:10 am Link to this comment

Re: “A Countercultural Conversation With Noam Chomsky”

So what Chomsky is saying is that the difference between “now and then” is only a matter of hard work and organization - until hard work and organization become popular again things will remain the same . . .

NC: Well, I didn’t go to the panel, but what the panelists should have told [the audience] was to try to organize enough mass popular pressure so that whoever is in office will have to react to it.

MF: But, you see, that just sounds like more work to people.

NC: Well it is work. And it’s hard work.

MF: Sure it is, but I wasn’t inspired to become politically involved from somebody talking about work. I learned about humanitarianism and dissent from art and popular culture, which made it cool and sexy. I joined the movement because I wanted to grow my hair, to piss off intolerant people, to own myself.

NC: That’s just a personal statement. What really changed things in the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s was popular organization. I mean, the civil rights movement, the anti-war movement, the environmental movement, the women’s movement, and so on, there were personal statements, but that was only a small part of it.

MF: The personal statement is what gets people involved.

NC: It may get people involved, but the personal statements are all fine for you, but when you want to organize an anti-nuclear movement or a solidarity movement with Central America, your personal statements don’t matter.

MF: But they’re indispensable with issues of sexism and racism and classism. They’re uniforms—unifying ones.

NC: There’s nothing wrong with them. They’re, at most, a first step towards more serious commitments, but not always. Take the civil rights movement. It wasn’t about personal statements. It was SNCC workers riding Freedom buses.

Report this
Anarcissie's avatar

By Anarcissie, August 6, 2010 at 8:09 am Link to this comment

Tony Wicher, August 6 at 11:11 am:

It seems to me that corporate control of the government and the media has never been stronger or democracy weaker than it is right now. ...’

That may be true of the old media.  As the newspapers and broadcast television become weaker and move towards extinction, they are more likely to come under the control of finance capital.  However, the reason the newspapers and so forth are dying is because of the Internet, and that is not (yet) under government or corporate control.  And so we see a spectrum of reportage and opinion ranging from Wikileaks to your wacky 9/11 theories, none of which could ever have appeared in an old-time newspaper or television program.  Things have changed, and not necessarily for the worse.

Report this
mitchum22's avatar

By mitchum22, August 6, 2010 at 7:59 am Link to this comment

Wonderful discussion. Thank you very much.

Chomsky is one of my all-time heroes, but when he talks about pop culture he’s really pretty lame. Many movies from the 40s are indeed high art (Out of the Past, Ambersons, Letter from an Unknown Woman, My Darling Clementine, The Big Sleep). Cary Grant, the greatest movie actor of all-time, WOODEN? And Bogart was indeed subversive.

Mr. Fish’s counter-culture examples aren’t much better. What’s all the discussion about The Graduate? There must be 100 movies from ‘67 better than that piece of middle-brow doo-doo. Regarding the 40s & 50s: “the POSSIBLE exception of Orson Welles and a few others”? Huh?? Peter Fonda? Catch-22?? Mike Nichols!! And why is “Europeanizing”(whatever the hell that means) American cinema a good thing? Actually, Euro cinema was Americanized (in a good way) throughout the 50s, leading to Antonioni, Godard, Resnais et al.

But Mr. Fish’s overall point is right-on. Corporate commodication has swallowed American pop culture whole. (And sports culture as well. Just compare Bill Russell, Ali, John Carlos, Maury Wills[who was suspended by the Pirates for refusing to play the day of RFK’s death] with the nothingburgers such as Jordan, Kobe, LeBron, Tiger.) In particular, vampire capitalism has sucked almost all the fresh blood from publishing and the movie business. (Where are all the independent production companies such as October Films, Good Machine etc. All “acquired”.)

Still, a great read.

Report this
Tony Wicher's avatar

By Tony Wicher, August 6, 2010 at 7:11 am Link to this comment

It seems to me that corporate control of the government and the media has never been stronger or democracy weaker than it is right now. Maybe there is a residual anti-war feeling left over from Vietnam that has prevented sending a half million draftees to war, but instead we have a mercenary army that carries out imperial wars while the people are told to go shopping. Control of the media is so complete that it was possible to engineer 9/11 to gin up the phoney war on terror and keep it covered up under two administrations.

Please see ae911truth.org for the facts about 9/11.

Report this

By Bubba, August 6, 2010 at 6:21 am Link to this comment

Really enjoyed this, Mr. Booth.  Thanks for doing it.  You should do more such stuff. 

You mentioned having done other interviews to NC.  Perhaps you could publish those as well?

Report this

By NoMoreSheeple, August 6, 2010 at 5:42 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

The effect of shows such as The Daily Show, The Colbert Report, and Bill Mahr
should not be dismissed so quickly.  While it is true that watching a TV show in
the comfort of ones home is a passive and private act, these shows nevertheless
allow a large audience to see the hypocrisy of the status quo.  This large audience
is thereby more open to question authority than they would otherwise be.  It is the
accessibility of these shows that has helped galvanize another generation.  Where
they go from there is up to other influences

Report this

By monthofsundays, August 6, 2010 at 5:42 am Link to this comment

As NC states, “one ways to discipline (young people) is
to make sure that when they get out of college they
have a heavy debt and that was very conscious”.

It works just as well with both young and old. I
believe that today’s relative passivity owes a great
deal to the drive to provide the greatest number of
people with the greatest volume of personal debt, both
in the US and in the UK. And yes, it WAS a deliberate
act.

Report this

By John Andersen, August 6, 2010 at 5:37 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I think the corporate teamplayer movement (teamplayermania) launched in the early 1990s, and which continues today has had a huge effect on buying off young people who would otherwise be part of the counterculture.

It’s high time for young people to start rejecting the role of teamplayer, and instead return to standing up to power and speaking the truth.

Report this

By zagostino, August 6, 2010 at 4:37 am Link to this comment

Empirepie: Your words are poetical and moving.

But as the transcript of Chomsky’s interview touches
on, it is the absence of Arts - that can inspire a
broad appeal to get involved, like the Arts in the
60’s and early 70’s, that is disheartening.

Art, music, poetry, literature, they exist, your
words, exist, but they are fragments lost in the sea
of noise that is the mass media, that is “Fox and
Friends.”

It’s about Signal to Noise ratio. And your signal,
TruthDig’s signal, is muted in the buzzing public
consciousness, if such a thing exist.

Report this

By ardee, August 6, 2010 at 3:37 am Link to this comment

A citing from this rather on target interview:

You have to ask yourself, what is the ultimate effect of a bunch of people who believe they’re progressives because they can parrot the language of the movement but aren’t actually engaged in any genuine political activity? People end up marginalizing themselves.

Chomsky has that crystal clear perception and vision that cuts through the sham that is today’s progressive activism

Report this
Not One More!'s avatar

By Not One More!, August 5, 2010 at 11:55 pm Link to this comment

There is a dominant narrative that everything is fine and our elected officials and corporations are working towards democracy and liberty for all, or at least the American people. This is a complete fallacy.

Then there is a secondary narrative that is supported by The Nation and other supposedly liberal websites that the democratic part is the way to achieve democracy, at least for the American people, and that is also a complete and total fallacy.

In fact, only when people stop supporting the corporate/political elite, can a change even possibly occur, but it will be an uphill battle because the corporate elite don’t want to see any change and work to suppress the truth whenever it challenges the dominant narrative.

It is a strange world when conservatives think that the Sarah Palin and the Tea Party are going to save them; and the liberals think that Obama and the democratic party are going to save them.

The reality is that most of the ruling class and corporate elite are only working for themselves and the hell with everyone else. But they do a great job as car salesmen and convince the public to support them while actively working against the public’s interest. Go figure.

Isn’t it great that most liberals still think that Obama really wants to help them but can’t?

Vote third party, don’t support the corporate elite.

http://www.NotOneMore.US


“I’d rather vote for what I want and not get it than vote for what I don’t want, and get it.” - Eugene Debs

Report this

By jerrygates7, August 5, 2010 at 6:18 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Maybe American art has fallen off of it’s activist
edge due to atrification of talent, Abusers of gifts
usally fail in their endeavors in the final analysis,
Hitler, A gifted speaker, abused his gifts to incite
rabid nationalism American suffer from that same
malady today, they see self and little else. What art
has made the film industry but the slick fantastic
effects that show hollowness as the strength of
American wonderlust.

  It used to be American to do art for the sake of
art many still do this, they suffer in obscurity to
make what appeals to them as individuals, not homogeneous parts of a nation, but real people with
real ideas who want to show the world diversity,
cultural tolerance or ethnic love, gay rights, animal
rights, clean air, water minds and the dance, music
and showmanship that art is and does for it’s
audience.

  Art comes from the soul, Americans are soulful,
artistic, loving and graceful, Conservatives or
liberals, soul is where art comes from, America has
souls, lots of them and they do great art.What compels this right of passage to ethereal bliss and
zealous creation of activist art is inspiration from
like minded souls. People who do art see art, those
who dont appreciate art but may not understand what
they are appreciating beyond there own impressions.

  Palestine does art as well, they have a heart for
the dispossessed and write beautiful poetry from
their souls. Suffering makes for inspiration also,
Palestine suffers , Iraq suffers and Afghanistan
suffers and they create art that depicts their
straights and miseries, which is activist art,
expressing the depths despair.

  When Fish asks Chomsky why there is a dearth of
art, he asks from his mind, not his soul, Chomsky
answers from his mind not his soul, two people
discussing art that cannot create such inspiring
expressions as eliccit more of the same. Art begets
art, we could say if you make it you take it in as it
comes and share it with others. If you fake it who
are you really but some bystander of art that takes
ownership of it by virtue of some inane comment or
curators rights of showing, but this is not art for
art is fresh with vogor and life, and the stuff
tauted as art in museums is stake and lifeless, old
and arcane, which is what Americans do, they recycle
old things and worship them as a cultural identity
that shows class or education but not the creative
energies which priduce new forms with new ideals that
change people forever, not keep them looking at the
same old crap decade after decade. The orchestra, as
nice as it is, rarely shows off itself as new and
different but replays old tomes as their works. This
is not art it is relication, mimicry or false
appreciation for the sake of self esteem built on
specious imagery repeated time after time to hollow
applause, America is stale, reserved and in the box,
art is out of the box, linear and progressive, the US
left is art the democrats and republicans are
repitive stress which leads to the stripping of art
from their constituents, The fifty fifty split in US
thinking is stale, old and dead, art is alive, do art
Noam, just get a baloon and fill it with red pain and
throw it at a wall, maybe in DC, see, it’s red and
dripping, like the blood that the US spills every
second, this is a protest, art and well done. Do art
America, rebel, be fresh and new, be critical, fired
up and edgy, this is art!

Report this

By empirePie, August 5, 2010 at 6:10 pm Link to this comment

Predator Lean     empirePie   August 5th, 2010

On the big wheel of life
is the treadmill fueled with strife.

Come stained as you are
we glide on stained…. the come of dynasties
some dried on a blue dress
from the squirts in the oval office to the gusher in the gulf
oil up the machine to predator lean
for….

..... the dead zone is a family affair.

A wedding with a meltdown at the suite
the doorman is sweating but not from the heat;
while the dynasty of super class is sucking at the teat.

Fossil fools keep coming to the wheel.
No need to engage.
No need to feel.

The wheel needs fuel to feed the war machine
to pump more fuel from distant lands to feed
the machine from others sands
to fuel itself for further stands
to find more lands to fuel the blue

fuel on blue,

stain on blue

blue dead zones for Narcissus on the wheel

But the cycle is not complete,
till you join the wheel of the predator shield
for your work is for nothing and your style is for free

Be a wheel


Join the wheel.

Report this

By zagostino, August 5, 2010 at 5:50 pm Link to this comment

Enjoyed reading the transcript. The lucidity of
Chomsky is a balm on the brain after listening to
nightly network news cast.

Your comment that the effect of watching Stewart,
Bill Maher, et al, creates a sentiment in the
viewer that he is actually doing or being a part of
something progressive, or part of a counter
establishment was right on point. It is to
political activism what pornography is to Sex; it
provides a release without the danger or reward of
human contact. If you don’t have the former, you’re
condemned to the later.

The desire to bring about a more sane and just
world can only be consummated within a larger
social movement. Presently, I don’t see even the
glimmer of one on the near horizon.

But then again, you never know what tomorrow will
bring….Thanks for for printing the transcript…

Report this

By gerard, August 5, 2010 at 4:53 pm Link to this comment

The draft is one thing, but other issues play into the present situation as well.
  People are afraid to protest for fear of losing the measly job they have for which 1 others are standing in line to take.
  People are afraid of being tazered, pummeled and given a jail sentence that will blackball them from getting a job.
  The peace and justice movement lacks mature leadership to give it the dignity and wisdom it deserves. It is also very difficult to fund because most of the people in it have little or no money, and liberal/progressive organizations are overwhelmed by the current drag of conservatism, and are also without adequate funds; instead are barely able to stay alive.
  One more point:  College tuition being what it is, many students had a hard enough time getting in They ar not likely to give it up for street action—at least not yet.
  Relative to the interview, the best thing about it was to hear Chomsky’s evaluation of the accompishments of the 60s.  That’s also pretty much kept under wraps to discourage contemporary actions.
  Why aren’t the Tea Partiers worried about police action, future jobs etc.?  Because their activities are not a threat to present conservative/reactionary policies of the corporate/bureaucratic state?

Report this

By David Ehrenstein, August 5, 2010 at 4:29 pm Link to this comment

True on both counts.

Add to that the fact that conformity is sold as “hipness” and the word “Liberal” has been so demonized that “Progressive” has been invneted to hide behind.

“The Graduate” isin no way shape or form a political film. The most important English- lanuage politcal film of that era was “Privilege” by Peter Watkins.

Report this
kerryrose's avatar

By kerryrose, August 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm Link to this comment

It’s funny that neither guy mentioned that the reason there is no counterculture, no war protests is because there is no draft!  Reinstitute the draft and the wars would end very quickly.

The second reason is exact.  There is no social protest, or freedom to ‘do your own thing’ because most people leave college with crippling debt. 

It is a conscious way to get obedient, docile workers.

Report this

By Lanark, August 5, 2010 at 3:47 pm Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Terrible interview. The interviewer, MF, was more interested in asserting his views and personal experiences than listening to what Chomsky was saying. MF would make unsubstantiated, often nostalgic remarks on a period of time that Chomsky lived through, and then get frustrated when Chomsky wasn’t agreeing with his opinions. If MF would have stopped trying to prove his ego as an intellectual and a “real” artist/dissenter, he might have been able to get somewhere with the interview.

Report this
 
Monsters of Our Own Creation? Get tickets for this Truthdig discussion of America's role in the Middle East.
Right 1, Site wide - BlogAds Premium
 
Right Skyscraper, Site Wide
Right 2, Site wide - Blogads
 
Join the Liberal Blog Advertising Network
 
 
 

A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion   Zuade Kaufman, Publisher   Robert Scheer, Editor-in-Chief
© 2014 Truthdig, LLC. All rights reserved.

Like Truthdig on Facebook