Wednesday, November 12, 2008

On the wrong side of a cultural revolution

For those of you fed up with post-election news, this post isn't really about that...not exactly. It's just that reading all the breathless coverage of the impending Obama administration and witnessing the seemingly more hopeful mood that has taken over the country has me thinking: How does it feel to be on the wrong side of a cultural revolution?
 
Barack Obama's election as President of the United States is a major moment, a cultural touchstone for my generation. According to Heather Havrilesky at Salon, this election is the thing that allows GenXers to finally understand the earnestness and civic activism of Boomers:

And look, we really did stand for something, underneath all the eye-rolling. We're feminists, we care about the environment, we want to improve race relations, we volunteer. We're just low-key about it. We never wanted to do it the way you did it: So unselfconscious, so optimistic, guilelessly throwing yourself behind Team Liberal. We didn't get that. We aren't joiners. We don't like carrying signs. We tend to disagree, if only on principle.

But when we watched Barack Obama's victory speech on Tuesday night, we looked into the eyes of a real leader, and decades of cynicism about politics and grass-roots movements and community melted away in a single moment. We heard the voice of a man who can inspire with his words, who's unashamed of his own intelligence, who's willing to treat the citizens of this country like smart, capable people, worthy of respect. For the first time in some of our lifetimes, we believed.
 
We actually believe--my generation that practically invented cynicism and snark and slackerdom; my generation that was "raised under Ronald Reagan, smiling emptily under a shellacked cap of shiny brown hair like a demon clown, warning us (With a knowing nod! With a wink!) about those evil Russians stockpiling nuclear arms thousands of miles away." Folks my age were particularly willing to knock on doors and stand in the rain and write op-eds, in part, because we've never seen anything like Obama.
 
Barack Obama is the first candidate to inspire me to donate and volunteer and proselytize, and I've been a political junkie since I cast my first presidential vote for Dukakis. But it's not just me and my Xer peers. Obama's 68 percent approval rating says you don't have to be born between 1965 and 1975 to lament the last eight years in our country's history--the shredding of the Constitution, the criminal partisanship, the war mongering, the xenophobia and anti-intellectualism.
 
As Sam Cooke said, "It's been a long time coming, but I know a change gon come." Most Americans are happy and hopeful that change is here. If Obama can harness the power of all those text recipients, canvassers, phone bankers, t-shirt wearers and rally attendees--Oh, my God, what we could do!
 
But what about the other 32 percent--the folks that disapprove of our President-elect? That's what I'm wondering, after observing a few die-hard conservatives of my generation. After last Tuesday, they're all po-faced and dismissive. I'm guessing they don't feel a part of any movement. Some of my conservative friends roundly reject the idea that Obama's win represents any sort of cultural moment: "Why, this is just what happens when the incumbent president is so unpopular. People don't really understand what Obama stands for. In fact, the candidate could have been anyone. Oh, but I understand how this is a big moment for African Americans."
 
So, I'm wondering what it's like to stand outside of a big generational happening? Y'know, nowadays you would think that everyone in the early 60s was in love with the notion of Camelot. But what about those folks who called JFK a papist and fought like hell to keep him out of office? What about the folks who tsk tsk'd at the sexual revolution, or the people who wanted to keep women in the kitchen (ERA...pfft)? A hell of a lot of people--black and white--didn't like Martin Luther King, Jr., or Malcolm X. Tell the story now and they are heroes, but back then...
 
There are always a good number of people fighting to maintain the status quo, but when history is written we tend to act as if everyone was in on the revolution. Do the nay-sayers eventually join the fold and never speak of their initial opposition? I've never heard anyone actually admit to, say, once believing that rock-n-roll was the devil's music, thinking the Kennedy presidency would be the downfall of Christianity, or branding MLK a trouble-maker bent on undoing society--but you know someone thought those things.
 
How does it feel to be on the wrong side of a cultural revolution?

8 comments:

MacDaddy said...

Great post. And, no, they're not going to admit that they said this skinny black kid with the weird name can't win. They're going to say, "I told Barack, I said man, you jut got to for it and let the chips fall where they may. You know what I'm saying?" Uh huh.

Citizen Ojo said...

Interesting post. My only concern is the unrealistic expectations that some will place on Obama. His success is not only based on what he does but what we "the people" do. We have to keep the positivity going....

Faith said...

I guess they feel sad but that their CHOICE.

Mista Jaycee said...

I often wonder what young so called conservatives like Amy Holmes will tell thier grandchildren when asked about the election of Barack Obama and how will they explain that they did not vote for him and in fact were almost openly hostile?
Jaycee

Anonymous said...

I don't think most people believe they are on the wrong side of history most of the time. I don't recall a white person every saying directly to me that they hated MLK or Malcolm, for example. White people I know hate Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton.

Herstory/history is a much more complex organism, and presidential elections or "big leaders" to me speak of mostly male supremacy. JFK was a creep in his personal relationships with women, for example. Gore Vidal once answered a question JFK put to him. "Why do all those women love Adlai Stevenson?" Vidal answered that they loved Adlai because he took women seriously as intellectual equals, and JFK exclaimed, "Oh it isn't worth all THAT effort."

The sexual revolution looks very different from a lesbian feminist perspective.

And to tell you the truth, I am much more excited about women being the majority of the New Hampshire state house, than a lot of what happened on the national political scene.

I've liked Malcolm X far more than Martin Luther King, although both men were such incredible sexists that they often make me sick with their clueless selves, compared to a real feminist hero like Frederick Douglas, for example.

I didn't think rock and roll was the devil's music, but to tell you the truth, I really hated it when I was in gradeschool, junior high and high school. I found most male rock groups womanhating, the music weird, and the drug culture that went with it sickening.

Yes, I am a baby boomer who never did drugs, and never had sex with a million women.

When women's music came on the scene I was far more interested, and now I like classic rock and roll, but when I was younger I really adored classical music.

My revolution, I guess was the feminist revolution, and my leaders were Gloria Steinem, Mary Daly, Barbara Smith, Audre Lorde, Janice Raymond and many others.

The male triumphs in politics, and the male exploitation of female bodies never excited me. The sexual revolution was also about male widespread production of pornography, and the rape culture.

We have yet to realize the women's revolution fully yet.

I am quite happy that a new generation loves Obama and really got excited about politics, just as I am delighted that young college kids are out in the streets still protesting the outrage that was YES on 8 bigotry and the denial of lesbian and gay basic civil rights.

Herstory and history aren't really the same thing, but we can often reflect on intersections, stop signs and green lights.

And yes, I knew the skinny kid with the funny name would be our next president, because the country is still too sexist and womanhating to get a woman into that office yet.

Anonymous said...

My experience is that people always feel they are right. The ultimate wrong side was poor Zora Neal Hurston, who actually was against integration, and thus was banned from the black cannon for decades.

Neighbors voted against Roosevelt and up until the 1970s still hated him.

White people still say that blacks are worse off when the really intelligent and capable people fled the ghetto, leaving the riff raff behind.

People pretty much stick to their opinions and don't seem to care what history says.

Kjen said...

Depends on how big of a cultural revolution it is and what are the consequences for not going along with majority opinion that will determine how they feel.

The true die hards may work among people who hold popular/majority opinion, but in their spare time will choose to be among like minded people. Maybe they will disengage entirely from civic life.

But as for the election of Obama, heh, I see it as the election of a person, not an actual movement.

Sorry I missed the boat with volunteering for Barack Obama, but I was so inspired by him that I have decided to get out and reach out more. Thus my volunteering at my counseling center and am on the look out to do more.

If I and others can keep on reaching out, then I think we can call this a movement.

Anonymous said...

I don't know many people these days who care who did or did not vote for Nixon, for example.

Certainly the radicals who made a mess of the 1968 Chicago convention got it all wrong-- they paved the way for a Nixon win. But to hear them continually tell this story today, they think it was all worth it.

We put way too much emphasis on what men do, and not enough emphasis on the lives of women and public policy formation.

Or maybe its mostly men who talk about all this "cultural revolution stuff" -- you know, the radical guys who expected their girl friends to make the coffee. The same men who do nothing when their new wives "choose" to take on the male ownership last name. Oy

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