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Smells like Danny Goldberg: All the Schmooze That's Fit to Print

Received Fictions and Other Persiflage

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Thursday, August 04, 2005

How the Left Lost Teen Spirit
Danny Goldberg
Akashic

Reviewed by Steve Finbow

In the closing pages of Danny Goldberg's book, he describes how John Kerry met John Lennon at an anti-war rally in 1971. In that one meeting, we have a synopsis of Goldberg's theories ? politician meets pop star, the world changes. Nah-ah. John Lennon was a wife-beating heroin addict. It is about time we stopped viewing the Sixties through kaleidoscopic granny glasses. Goldberg believes that progressive change can only be accomplished through a return to Sixties values. These values, he argues, are only defensible in a world dominated by an admixture of pop stars and politicians; apparently, ordinary people cannot make up their own minds. It's Not What You Know It's Who You Know could have been another subtitle for Goldberg's analysis of the Democratic Party.

I had no problem with Goldberg's argument that the Democrats should return to a more progressive ideology, and I had no problem with the basis of this ideology: civil rights, anti-war, pro-choice, and support for social welfare. I cannot fault Goldberg's passion and involvement. However, I can fault his prose style, his na?vety, and his claim that, unless the Democrats get down with the kids, they will never form a government.

For somebody who is obviously influential on the left of American politics, Goldberg's adjectives betray him as one of those aging hippies from the Sixties who wanted to have their hash brownie and eat it, too. In other words, the type of man who looks like a ?Biblical prophet? or an ?Old Testament patriarch,? and, if we are to take Goldberg at his word, Michael Moore is a combination of these adjectives, an ?Old Testament Prophet.? Patricia Medavoy -- well, I think that's who he's describing, the prose is so muddy here, and she doesn't rate a mention in the index -- is ?a stunning blond beauty even by Hollywood standards.? On at least three occasions, rather than use ?a large proportion of Americans,? or even ?many Americans,? Goldberg uses the clunky ?huge chunks of Americans.? I'm sorry but I had these visions of obese body parts spread all over the Midwest. Everyone whom Goldberg knows is either ?brilliant? or ?well known?. His basic argument is that if the Democrats listened to pop stars and other celebrities then kids would listen to the pop stars and vote Democrat. This is fatuous and na?ve nonsense.

Voter apathy is a universal truth. Fewer voters are voting in elections than ever before. Baudrillard chronicled this in his early work In the Shadow of the Silent Majorities. The silence of the majority, ignored by the power elite -- an elite which includes pop stars and other celebrities -- becomes a political vacuum out of which grows terrorism and the media metastasization of single events such as 9/11 or the Beslan school massacre. The diseased body politic is only able to define itself by its own sickness and its attempts to battle what it perceives as an alien virus -- it goes to war. It goes to war against other nations and, inevitably, it goes to war against itself.

The book suffers from its own virus -- name-dropping. The narrative never moves anywhere unless Goldberg is telling us about all the famous people he knows, with whom he has lunch, the bands he personally discovered. Most kids, given the choice to listen to the views of Bruce Springsteen or Eminem, would rather dance to their records. Ideology or fun? I'd go for fun. Why should kids be interested in the Democrats any more than they should the GOP? Goldberg writes, ?Although I don't pretend to know why the left has drifted away from populism, especially as it relates to mass communication?? Well, why write the book in the first place? It takes Goldberg 296 pages of name-dropping, back-patting, and ass-licking to sum up in 21 words why I shouldn't be reading the book.

I was also concerned that Goldberg attempted to force a union between religion (spirituality) and politics. Surely, the left should be forcing a divide between religion and the state. The GOP is self-explanatory but do we need the Democrats to be the JOP -- Jesus' Own Party? Goldberg writes, ?Pregnancy is one of the most important events a human can experience.? Really? Well, that is so wrong in so many ways. I'm not sure about any other male readers out there, but the last time I checked -- and I believe I am human -- I cannot experience pregnancy. There is an underlying, almost creepy, moralism in this book. The tone is that of a hypocritical older brother lecturing a younger brother, using outmoded slang, about the pitfalls of drugs and sex and the need to get out there and make things happen.

A direct address: Dear Mr Goldberg, wake up. This is not the Sixties. It is the year 2005. Home-grown Islamic fundamentalists have just bombed London, attempting to brand it with a fiery cross of death and mutilation. America is waging an unjust war in Iraq in which innocent people die every day. Nothing in the music of Diana Ross, Madonna, or Jackson Browne will persuade me to vote for a party that is like any other opposition party. The Democratic Party is a postmodern political machine: it is a simulacrum of the party in power, a simulation of government; it is a replica of the Republican Party. What America needs is a third party: an antibody. The Democratic and Republican parties are mega-corporations in their own right; they could not care less if there were an increase in the youth vote. As Michael Lewis has written, ?Apathy is a perfectly intelligent response to our current politics.?

Steve Finbow, a free agent based out of ? but not necessarily limited to ? London, contributes ?Pond Scum? for Me Three and expects to see his short story ?Half Past the Monkey's Arse and a Quarter to His Balls? published in the pages of The New Yorker any day now.


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