Saturday, 17 November 2018

The Funny Side of 1968

The Funny Side of 1968
23 Aug

This week, from August 23 to 25, the Democratic National Committee is holding its summer “general meeting” in Chicago. Ironically, delegates will make their final votes on party rules almost exactly twenty-four hours before the fiftieth anniversary of the opening gavel at the unruly convention of 1968.

An often-repeated line attributed to comedian Charlie Fleischer says, “If you remember the ’60s, you really weren’t there.” But I remember well the clouds of tear gas over Grant Park and the tight security at the Pick-Congress Hotel.

What struck me as extraordinary wasn’t the presence of the National Guard, or even the military tanks—both had appeared on Chicago’s streets four-and-a-half months earlier during the unrest that followed the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Rather, it was the sheer numbers of angry aggressive police right in downtown’s hotel district that gave the city the feel of an armed camp.

After the police riot and floor fights inside the convention hall, no major party would hold its convention again in Chicago for nearly thirty years.

In 1996, the Democrats returned with a much less controversial ticket, the re-election of Bill Clinton. The city of Chicago, in an effort to make a good impression, cleared the streets of homeless and other destitute residents in the week prior to the convention.

The 1996 event drew a number of 1968 convention alums, including Chicago Seven defendants Tom Hayden, Rennie Davis, and David Dellinger. Also in attendance was Paul Krassner. A protégé of comedian Lenny Bruce and one of Ken Kesey’s “Merry Pranksters,” Krassner was a founding member of the Youth International Party, or Yippies.

“We needed a name,” wrote Krasner in 2007, “to signify the radicalization of hippies, and I came up with Yippie as a label for a phenomenon that already existed, an organic coalition of psychedelic hippies and political activists.”

In August 1996, I stood with Paul Krassner next to Grant Park and talked about the difference between the two conventions, twenty-eight years apart. “1968 was more fun,” he told me.

Last week, I wrote to Krassner, who is still a prolific writer, and asked him to write something for this fiftieth anniversary of Chicago ’68. He sent me the following excerpt from his forthcoming book, Zapped by the God of Absurdity: The Best of Paul Krassner:

The current FBI has swung a pendulum from fifty years ago, when the FBI was an enemy of progressive activists. An agent’s poison-pen memo attempted to smear Tom Hayden with the worst possible label they could invoke with flyers—yep, an FBI informer. Others distributed a caricature depicting Black Panther leader Huey Newton “as a homosexual,” and ran a fake “Pick the Fag” contest, referring to David McReynolds as “Chief White Fag of the lily-white War Resisters League” and “the usual Queer Cats–-like Sweet Dave Dellinger and Fruity Rennie Davis.” I was described as “a raving, unconfined nut.” I thanked the FBI for that with title of my autobiography.

Folk singer Phil Ochs observed, “A demonstration should turn you on, not turn you off.” It was the credo of the Yippies. We were in Chicago at the Democratic National Convention, where a certain competitiveness developed between Yippie leaders Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin.

Abbie bought a pig as a presidential candidate, but Jerry thought Abbie’s pig wasn’t big enough, mean enough, or ugly enough, so Jerry went out and bought a bigger, meaner, uglier pig, which was released outside City Hall. In the elevator inside, a few cops were chanting, “Oink. Oink.”

Abbie bought a pig as a presidential candidate, but Jerry thought Abbie’s pig wasn’t big enough, mean enough, or ugly enough, so Jerry went out and bought a bigger, meaner, uglier pig.

On a quiz show, a contestant didn’t know the name of that pig. However, a book, Surveillance Valley, states:

“The generals wanted to be consumers of the latest hot information. During the Chicago riots of 1968, the army had a unit called Mid-West News with army agents in civilian clothes and they went around and interviewed all the antiwar protesters. They shipped the film footage to Washington every night on an airliner so the generals could see movies of what was going on in Chicago when they got to work in the morning. That made them so happy. It was a complete waste of time. You could pick up the same thing on TV for far less, but they felt they needed their own film crew. The main thing they were going after was a pig named ‘Pigasus,’ who was the Yippies’ candidate for president. They were really excited about Pigasus.”

Reprinted with permission from Zapped by the God of Absurdity: The Best of Paul Krassner, to be published in 2019 by Fantagraphics with an introduction by Andy Borowitz. A version of this excerpt previously appeared in the August 2018 edition of the newspaper Funny Times.



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