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LOCAL Review :: Arts & Culture : Peace & War

The Tsunami Benefit Concert: How the Politics of Activist Entertainment can be Counterrevolutionary if Understood as an End in and of Itself

While war is shredding shrapnel into the citizens of virtually every other continent on the planet, we here in La-La land are busy bopping our heads to a new kind of politics. As exemplified by the February 25th Bay Area Tsunami Benefit concert, such forms of vicarious involvement present the opportunity to "get active" from abroad while maintaining contemporary comfort levels and capitalist consumption patterns. Though such acts no doubt play a crucial role in the raising of awareness, funds, and potential networking efforts, it is crucial to maintain a critical position on the final fallout they do or do not engender. As we groove our way towards new understandings of "activism" and "involvement," we must remain reflective of the extent to which such acts can become limiting when understood as an ends in and of themselves instead of being used as a starting point for more long-term, sustainable efforts.
We are at war here within the U.S. but it is not a war we fight with guns and bombs, it is a war we fight with silence, self-centeredness, and the Eichmann-esque politics of habit and convenience. Limiting our notions of “involvement� to the occasional concert legitimates the As-Is through its masturbatory focus on the moot pleasure feed of songs, signs, and symbols. Whether such efforts go on to more long-term, sustainable endeavors is an issue to be taken up after the sound systems have been unplugged and the crowd scatters off to go partake in their respective lives.

Was community created? Did we accomplish something more than a few signatures and a good time? Did anyone look into Oxfam? Was the role of the Indonesian government and the extent to which it siphons off aid money investigated? Did artists take the time to engage the audience or was it just another good show with a table outside most of us passed by? Did we simply use the well-dressed lyrics and hip-gyrating base lines to ameliorate a growing sense of separation between us here in the U.S. and the disenfranchised misery of communities abroad? Despite all good intentions, the kind of politics content to play along the sidelines shouting "heeey hooo" as directed, does not trespass into power's locus.

Here in Santa Cruz we have perfected the art of snorting up the excusatory mind-drugs of an embittered Leftist rhetoric that can afford to say, "it's ok/understandable that we don't change/act/respond. It's the fault of This Administration." I can't tell you how many times I've heard this conversation in the $4.50-for-a-sandwich coffee shops of our beloved Wholly Cross. But does the indigestion of this town's liberals ever make it past the worn-clichés of a sort of somatic shut down that translates itself to resignation and another cup of imperialistically acquired joe?

In looking at the messy terrain that lies ahead of us, one thing seems for certain: we can expect an upgrade in the fireworks. The question is, will we be ready? Revolution has the potential to be as industrious, creative, resourceful, and effective as the most eloquent examples of postmodern capitalism. But what we need to do is Think first. Take time out and Act instead of being so numbed out on our own desires and due dates that we misinterpret the powerful tool of symbolic politics as the revolutionary cure all.

Criticisms dually noted, it remains equally important to recognize the fact that there IS some super cool shit taking shape in Santa Cruz. From alternative living to sustainable development to youth and student art shows, alternative media, community outreach and the praxis-based studies so many of you/us are involved in, this town is rich with inventive efforts, critical thinking, sexual, political, and racial revolutions. Still, we have a long way left to grow, and staying conscious of the ways in which we use our privilege to activate only insofar as we deem convenient is crucial to such efforts. Life takes everything you got and the taking on and taking up of Power requires endless creativity and vigilance.

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