Thursday, March 20, 2008

Anti-War March @ Hollywood & Vine

HOLLYWOOD, March 15 -The good news about the 2008 anti-war march through Hollywood is that Hollywood is still there. The Capitol Records Building has not pancaked, The L.A. subway system has not been dirty bombed, the Hollywood sign has not been vaporized by a suitcase nuke. None of the disdainful rockers dudes or street trannies have had their faces melted off by SARS. The cops are still plenty attractive. There had been some suspense over these points at the last Hollywood march I attended.

Now the bad news: the last Hollywood march I attended did not stop the war in Iraq. This was a little over one month before bombing started, and it's strange to think that as recently as February 2003 it was still possible to believe that tens of millions of protesters could have had the slightest influence over the current administration (or that gas only cost $1.40 a gallon, or that Barack Obama was merely a Gregory Peck sound-alike Illinois state legislator). That willful naiveté seems as distant now as the pre-9/11 world did in 2003. In the horrified resignation that followed the first bombing in Baghdad, it became easier and easier to avoid protests as just another futile civic chore, like voting, or, eventually, jury duty.

Who could have imagined, at the last march, that the next huge catastrophe to hit this country had already been scheduled? The 2004 election was as much a triumph of nihilism as the 2001 attacks. All bets are off after Kerry Vs. Bush. The potential cataclysm of a McCain presidency is but the tip of the iceberg. If sixty-two million people can vote to reelect the mastermind of this war, they could just as easily elect Courtney Love, or a stray dog, or a broken smoke detector to the highest office in the land. We are in uncharted territory.

America is a much darker place today as a result of the war that didn't get prevented. Could it be a coincidence that "Saw" was released six months after the photos of charred KBR contractors hung like piñatas in Fallujah? Could Eli Roth have made "Hostel" without Abu Ghraib? The "end of irony" so widely predicted after 9/11 has itself, somewhat ironically, crumbled under the weight of "Wonder Showzen" and "Drawn Together" style post-irony, where ironic racism (and anything-goes-style AIDS / incest / Sept. 11 / abortion / etc. jokes) has moved into the realm of post-post-post irony. Posters along Hollywood Boulevard advertised the just opened "Funny Games", one of several mainstream torture movies opening in 2008. In just five short years, nihilism has gone vogue.

The 2008 march certainly could have used a touch of nihilism. The aroma of thwarted benevolence wafted through the crowd. For the first hour the march failed to move, with an uncomfortable crush of protesters squeezed into a de facto free speech zone in the short block between Vine street and Ivar Ave. This meant many different types of lefties crammed into each other's personal space. Mother Earth hippie women danced over a human beatbox. Somber punks with black hankies drawn to their eyes grandly tramped through the throng, as if on route to a stagecoach robbery. Different signs bore witness to conflicting tallies of U.S. dead (and, oddly, not one mention of Afghanistan). At one point, a protestor rapped over a sample of "We Gotta Know" by the Cro-Mags, the most brazen political misappropriation since Reagan tried to steal "Born In The USA".

As the day wore on, I found myself pondering the same question I faced five years ago. Namely, how do I physically express agreement with the march's aims? I feel the same about chanting as I do about dancing, or taking off my clothes in public; nonnegotiable. When driving past weekly protests in Claremont, I always extend a somber thumbs up, and I gave some thought to walking around giving everyone the thumb at this march. But that would have required just as many thumbs down for the obnoxious conspiracy geeks, and the frequent references to that magical force known as "The Struggle", and an ironic thumb for the irony of the adoption of Spanish as the language of anti-imperialism. (I did develop several styles to signal that I didn't want any of the literature being thrust out by every third person; 1) The Squint (sometimes combined with the Outstretched Hand), 2) The Walter Matthau (for communists only), 3) The Abe Lincoln (stare sternly into the distance, as if contemplating history itself), 4) The Me No Speaky English (showy shrug, goofball smile).)

The 2008 march was an exercise in many things - optimism, community, free expression. But nobody seemed to pretend that it was an exercise in meaningful democratic participation. Iraq has changed that. At the start of the afternoon, after the Cro-Mags rapper had left the small stage, an organizer tried to whip the crowd into some kind of enthusiasm. "Are you all sick and tired of five years of war?" This time around, the cheers were a bit more like groans. Everyone in the country can groan yes. None of this was news. And if a teen starlet had decided to crash her car into a hedge on this particular day, the march wouldn't have made the news at all.