Studs Terkel excerpt from No Stranger

excerpt from No Stranger to Strange Lands: A Journey Through Strange Coincidences, Connective Thoughts, and Far Flung Places

Studs Terkel
...I seem to be existing in separate realities. One reality is my daily life and the regular people I encounter, who don't seem to be concerned at all about the downfall of this nation due to the stealing of the elections – twice – and the lying us into an unnecessary war and the depletion of the federal coffers so that the only thing government can spend money on is the “war on terror” - goodbye education system, goodbye affordable health care, goodbye social security, goodbye infrastructure, goodbye government regulators of industry... Then there is the reality that I seek out on the internet, the “left-wing” blogs and information sources, and LINK TV. It is truly a bubble unto its own. One that is full of the most creative, intelligent, talented, aware, caring people, one that could and should be a more widespread non-bubble phenomenon, if only its message could get past the corporate right-wing propaganda machine that passes for “news” in this country.

Today, Amy Goodman was in Chicago to interview Studs Terkel for two hours – an amazing man and another national treasure – why had I not heard of him before? Why isn't he more commonly known outside of Chicago? His radio show played for an hour, five days a week, from 1952 to 1997. He interviewed really interesting people like British philosopher Bertrand Russell, gospel singer Mahalia Jackson, author James Baldwin, Pete Seeger, who played with Woody Guthrie in the group, The Almanac Singers, and many, many more famous and not so famous people. He was very active in supporting the workers rights movement, the civil rights movement, and was blacklisted as a Communist during the McCarthy era. He, like Howard Zinn, was most interested in the telling of history by regular folks and through diverse viewpoints, in order to counter the prevailing narratives that the powerful would like us to believe. In this interview, he starts out by stating that the “greatest generation” came out of the 60's, not WWII. He talks about the perversion of our language and our thoughts concerning key words like “Commie” and “Liberal” and “Terrorist.” He, like me, wants to know why the so-called “center” is actually so far to the right, thus painting so many as being on the far left fringes that should really be considered mainstream. Much of this is because we do not understand our own history and background. Studs digs right into Alan Greenspan, lamenting that he is a big Ayn Rand fan and throwing in that she believed that the rich deserve to be on top and the poor deserve to be “down there.” He calls the free market ideologues “members of the new religion we have,” and points out the irony that the children and grandchildren of the people that were saved by the actions of the New Deal government during the Great Depression are now ignorantly calling out “too much government.” His rapid-fire 95 year old mind then moves right into how the response to the attacks of 9/11 have been an insult to our common sense of decency and to our intelligence... and that just begins the interview. Later, he comes around to finish out his overall thinking on all of this:

“How could it be at the end of World War II, we were the most honored powerful nation in the world? 'Honored' is the key word. Today we’re the most despised and feared. How come? Because the American public itself has no memory of past. You know, Gore Vidal used a phrase, 'the United States of Amnesia.' I say the United States of Alzheimer's. We forgot what happened yesterday. We know all about Paris Hilton. We know about that. But what do we know about -- why are we there in Iraq? And they say, when you attack our policy, you’re attacking the boys. On the contrary, we’re defending those boys. We want them back home with their families, doing their work and not a war that we know is built upon an obscene lie. We know that now. And so, it’s this lack of history that’s been denied us, just as the case of this guy who was told the government saved them during the Great Depression.”

I was particularly struck by the quote that Studs Terkel pulls out of his jacket pocket during the interview when the subject of James Baldwin comes up. Here is Terkel quoting Baldwin:
“History does not refer merely […] to the past. On the contrary, the great force of history comes from the fact that we carry it, the past, with us. And we’re 'unconsciously controlled' in so many ways, that history, the past, is present now in all we do.”

That is obviously a very important idea to Studs Terkel, and it is exactly what I am driving at about history not only being so important to inform our actions, but that it actually exists in a substantial way in the present as well as in the past. The denial and rewriting of history has been purposefully perpetrated on this nation in order to distract us from caring about anything but what our next purchases will be. At the same time that we are amnesiacs, we are “unconsciously controlled” by a past that we do not know. No wonder we are so confused and easily distracted. Perhaps it is not me who is schizophrenic, but the rest of society, the ones who do not realize that they are so easily manipulated by the corporate interests that run this country, who do not know the historical facts upon which the present stands, who do not recognize the hypocrisy of so much that comes out of the mouths of our illustrious leaders. Isn't it strange that it is Progressives who want to remember the past accurately, in order to be able to understand ourselves better, while Conservatives want to conserve not the past, but the status quo, and are perfectly happy rewriting the past to follow the narrative they want to disseminate in order to hold on to their status and power? They tend to gloss over the bad and the ugly and glorify the “good” parts of history's story. They get mad when someone brings up the painful particulars. They attempt to bury those not so happy memories. This is not healthy for individuals nor for societies. As James Baldwin points out, the past does not go away. It stays with us, and we need to have the strength of character to work through the hard parts as well as the happy, to own up to them and heal them, not just ignore them and let them unconsciously control us until they burst out in some uncontrollable rage. History and Memories – they are both, if not themselves irrational, very closely connected with the irrational universe of the Emotions.

No comments: