Friday A/V Club

What Really Happened to the Class of '68?

Friday A/V Club: The Yippies, the yuppies, and the ghosts of the '60s and '80s

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Here at the Friday A/V Club, we look at the junk left in our cultural attic, not the junk that gets nominated for prestigious awards. So I won't dwell on the fact that Aaron Sorkin's The Trial of the Chicago 7, which is up for six Oscars on Sunday, took the three-ring lunacy of the Chicago 7 trial and somehow managed to reduce it to the pat platitudes of a Stanley Kramer movie. In fact, I won't dwell on the Chicago 7 trial at all. Suffice to say that the government tried to prosecute seven activists (originally eight) for their roles in the protests at the 1968 Democratic convention, that a lot of crazy shit happened in that courtroom, and that the defendants were eventually acquitted on all charges, though some of them didn't get a full acquittal until they appealed the original verdict.

Now let's leap ahead a decade and a half.

In the last installment of this column, we talked about "a disorienting moment in American history: a time after the convulsions of the 1960s and '70 had ended but while most of the giant figures of that faded age were still around, trying to find a place for themselves in a changed world." In that case I was talking about the LSD evangelist Timothy Leary and the Watergate burglar G. Gordon Liddy, who held a series of public debates in the early '80s. But those weren't the only veterans of the '60s culture wars to launch a stage show in the Reagan era. Two members of the Chicago 7, Abbie Hoffman and Jerry Rubin, went on a debate tour of their own.

In 1967, Hoffman, Rubin, and three other activists founded the Yippies, a group of psychedelic revolutionaries known for their media pranks and guerrilla theater. (Among other things, they staged an invasion of Disneyland, nominated a pig for the U.S. presidency, and—in Rubin's case—showed up at a hearing of the House Committee on Un-American Activities dressed as Santa Claus.) Then Hoffman got busted for dealing cocaine and went underground for six years, while Rubin spent the '70s sampling a smorgasbord of New Age trends. By the '80s, Hoffman was an activist again, albeit of a more conventional kind, while Rubin was an entrepreneur who worked on Wall Street and organized networking salons for young professionals. In 1984, the former comrades went on the road as the Yippie vs. Yuppie debate.

I caught their act in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in February 1985—15 years to the month after the Chicago 7 verdict had been handed down. A year after that, they held their final debate in Vancouver. Some folks from AM Productions recorded the Vancouver show, and you can watch it here:

 

By this point, the tone between the two was more bitter than it had been when I watched them debate in Chapel Hill—and Rubin's mood got grumpier when someone stormed the stage to throw a pie at him. Hoffman was the better showman: He always was the funnier of the two, and he worked the crowd with ease. Whether he "won" depends on who you ask. The video includes some interviews with audience members at the end, and they had a variety of views on the subject.

And what did the duo say onstage? Hoffman pretty much took the standard positions of an '80s leftist—the sorts of views you would have heard on Mayor Bernie Sanders' public access TV show. While Rubin…well, the Jerry Rubin of the '80s was an interesting creature. He had plenty of criticisms of the New Left and the counterculture: He said that he and his comrades had been too macho, too drug-addled, too smitten with Third World Marxist regimes, too unwilling to see the positive side of business. But he insisted that he hadn't turned his back on his past, that he still wanted social justice, that his work in the '80s was a natural sequel to his '60s activism. In some ways, he foreshadowed an idea that later became much more widespread—that beneath those ideological masks, the individualism of the 1960s and the individualism of the 1980s were closely linked.

Unfortunately, Rubin attached that idea to a rather vapid veneration of the baby boom. His big argument wasn't a libertarian claim that those ideals of peace and freedom are better served by an open economy than by state socialism; he was arguing that the baby boomers were an enlightened generation, that they were joining the establishment now, and that they would put the wealth they were building to more socially conscious uses than the old capitalists did. Some of Hoffman's best moments in the debate came when he harpooned such generational stereotypes, pointing out that the majority of the baby boomers had not been lefty activists in the '60s and that there was no good reason to expect them all to have progressive values in the '80s either. (Rubin's big example of yuppie do-goodism was Hands Across America, a then-pending effort to raise awareness of homelessness by forming a human chain from one side of the country to the other. Bad choice: In Tyranny of Kindness, her 1993 exposé of the charity-industrial complex, Theresa Funiciello notes that the event "took some $16 millon to raise barely $15 million.")

In any case, I was ready to mock Rubin when I saw him predict that "in 1988, you will see a baby boom–oriented candidate elected president of the United States." (Spoiler alert: That didn't happen.) But later in the video he tempered his forecast and said that the boomer ascension might not happen for another four years after that. So give him a point for the prophecy: Bill Clinton did get elected president in 1992, and his policies did bear some resemblance to the "neoliberal" ideas that Rubin espoused in Vancouver. (Yes, Rubin really used that word—though he meant it in the Charlie Peters sense, not the modern academic sense.) But Clinton didn't exactly usher in the millennium that Rubin promised, and neither did the three boomer presidents who followed him. And if Joe Biden surprises us all and gives us Rubintopia, he still won't count: He was born in 1942, so he doesn't technically qualify as a baby boomer.

But then, neither did Jerry Rubin, who was born in 1938. The would-be generational spokesman didn't actually belong to the generation he claimed to be speaking for.

Fun fact: In his Hoffman biography, For the Hell of It, Jonah Raskin writes that Abbie Hoffman's speaking gigs in the '80s often brought in "as much as a hundred thousand dollars a year," some of which he quietly invested on the Chicago Mercantile Exchange. Raskin then quotes Hoffman's broker, who said the old Yippie "loved the idea of making more money than Jerry Rubin."

(For past editions of the Friday A/V Club, go here. For another installment involving the Yippies, go here. To see another stop on the Hoffman/Rubin debate tour, this one recorded in Alberta, go here. To see Jerry Rubin's cameo in an early episode of Saturday Night Live, go here. To see me imagining Aaron Sorkin writing The Trial of the Chicago 7 as a heist movie, go here.)

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  1. Boomers-the most overrated generation ever (except for millennials).

    1. Yeah.

      But we got to see all the cool bands.

      1. fuck yes. I saw Rush in 4 different decades.

        1. The 1970s shows were the only ones worth a damn. The Hemispheres tour was very good. They were sucking bad by Moving Pictures.

    2. “The ’60’s, what a shrill and pointless decade.” -Kent Brockman channel 6 news.

  2. “Suffice to say that the government tried to prosecute seven activists (originally eight) for their roles in the protests at the 1968 Democratic convention, that a lot of crazy shit happened in that courtroom, and that the defendants were eventually acquitted on all charges, though some of them didn’t get a full acquittal until they appealed the original verdict.”

    The profound hypocrisy of the Oscars, offering the Chicago Seven up for adulation, even while the news media is demonizing average Americans for their activities on January 6, that really needs to be mentioned here by somebody!

    Every one of the Chicago Seven were charged with conspiracy, the intent to incite a riot, and some of them were charged with crossing state lines to do so. They were absolutely guilty, and I’ve seen some of them admit it in interviews. They wanted to disrupt the Democratic National Convention, but they also wanted to undermine and overthrow the U.S. government.

    The contrast with the way Hollywood and the media represent the people of the Capitol riot is amazing, and it should be the subject of a documentary of its own. I remain unpersuaded that most of the Capitol rioters wanted to overthrow the U.S. government, but the Chicago seven were absolutely guilty of sedition. They say history is written by the victors–but so is the news narrative in the present.

    The epic audacity necessary to give this film an Oscar would be amazing. Jesse Walker once wrote a book about how even if conspiracy theories don’t tell us anything about what’s really happening in the world and why, they can tell us a lot about what certain people are thinking. The elitism in Hollywood will be on full display if they give this film an Oscar–even while they condemn average Americans as insurrections out the other side of their mouths.

    1. I thought about that too. How the media conveniently forgets the violence of the Left during the 1960s and 70’s, that included numerous bombings, bank robberies, kidnappings, and targeted murders of police. Instead, they are fondly remembered as the peace, love, and happiness flower children. Those at the Capitol on January 6th didn’t even come close to the mayhem inflicted by SDS, Black Panthers, and Maoist sympathizers.

      1. In this case, they were really seditionists by their own admission.

        As this Oscar nomination shows, they haven’t forgotten. They romanticize and glorify this stuff.

        There are other distinctions, but the main one is that they approve of pretty much anything so long as it’s coming from the left. And they condemn anything that appears to be coming from the right.

    2. The profound hypocrisy of the Oscars, offering the Chicago Seven up for adulation, even while the news media is demonizing average Americans for their activities on January 6, that really needs to be mentioned here by somebody!”

      The average American isn’t trying to subvert an election by storming the capitol.

      You fascists really think you’re in the majority?

      You’re outnumbered by sane people.

      1. “The average American isn’t trying to subvert an election by storming the capitol.”

        Apparently, there were only a few hundred who stormed the Capitol. Some of those who got caught up in them moment were average Americans, and plenty of thousands who were protesting and stayed outside were average Americans.

        Before the DNC in 1968, plenty of mainstream protest organizations and mainstream rock bands were supposed to be there. Once they realized who on the far left was organizing it, they knew that they were just there to be cannon fodder for the police–and they cancelled. No, the Black Panthers and the SDS circa 1968 were not in any way representative of average Americans–except for their opposition to the war. They did not want to subvert the U.S. government.

        The polls I saw showed that some 75% of Republicans thought the election was fraudulent, and the crowd at the Capitol riot was representative of average Americans that way–the thousands who stayed outside more so than those who entered the Capitol. Walker’s book about conspiracy theories is all about how wide spread and normal conspiracy theories are. And the belief that the 2020 presidential election was stolen is a great example of that. Yes, we’re talking about average Americans believing that Biden stole the election.

        1. “The fear of intrigue and subversion doesn’t exist only on the fringes of society, but has always been part of our national identity. When such tales takes hold, Walker argues, they reflect the anxieties and experiences of the people who believe them, even if they say nothing true about the objects of the theories themselves.”

          https://www.harpercollins.com/products/the-united-states-of-paranoia-jesse-walker?variant=32132859035682

          That was written about Walker’s book in 2014.

          It could have been written about the Capitol riot in 2021.

        2. “The polls I saw showed that some 75% of Republicans thought the election was fraudulent”

          Because the GOP is the party of Trump and Trump has kept saying it was stolen despite no evidence.

          There are more registered Dems than GOP and Biden got more votes.

          The average American disagrees with you.

          1. 75% of the Republicans isn’t the extreme margins. That’s normal, everyday, average Americans–whether you like it or not.

      2. You’re not one of the sane people screetch, so how would you in fact know this.

        Piss off leftie shit.

        1. I’m not a Trump worshipping traitor like those who stormed the capitol and their cheerleaders on here. Most Americans agree with me on that.

          1. Lemme guess, you’re one of those who supported those who burned whole bocks of cities over last summer and didn’t consider that insurrection.

            1. A is A. Trumpistas and looter anarchists both worship the initiation of force; are the same thing.

      3. The average American isn’t trying to subvert an election by storming the capitol.

        That’s not how subversion works, you moron.

        You’re outnumbered by sane people.

        Speaking from experience, you hicklib faggot?

  3. Lots of commies like making money. They are in on the grift all the time now. Theft from others isn’t new with them. They will lie and scam you to your face if you let them.

  4. “But Clinton didn’t exactly usher in the millennium that Rubin promised”

    Dunno what Rubin promised, but when Clinton left the White House the economy was booming and there was a $650 billion surplus in the Treasury. Isn’t that enough for you, Jess?

    1. Dunno what Rubin promised, but when Clinton left the White House the economy was booming and there was a $650 billion surplus in the Treasury.

      I thought you were going to go with “Dunno what Rubin promised, but when Clinton left the White House we had just entered the third millennium.”

    2. He also left a massive turd in the punch bowl called the U.S.–China Relations Act of 2000. Way to shit on the American middle class Bill.

  5. The Leary/Liddy debate was a great show. I saw them down South at State U. Our A&S fees were well-spent for entertainment and I made sure I got my money’s worth. We had the Talking Heads for Homecoming (1984 IIRC) the year after they had…Bob Hope.

    I think the English Department paid for the Leslie Fiedler talk (on GWTW among other things, I got him to close out the Q&A on Phillip Jose Farmer)) Nick Gillespie has referenced the same lecture he must have caught elsewhere on the “tour”

    1. At least Leary and Liddy left it clear the debate was libertarian individualism versus mystical altruist National Socialism.

  6. ok lets be honest…if their last names were Rizzo and Murphy the media/hollywood wouldn’t be so obsessed with them..

    that said..I’m in my late 50’s and recall the summer of 70 when the old man next door died..his son rented the house to a bunch of hippies. My Dad was a combat veteran of WWII (3 years in the PTO) and hated hippies with a passion. Well he put up a 3 foot pool for me and my older teenage sister. He came out to cut the lawn and one of the hippies was peeing in the pool. My Dad grabbed a baseball bat and chased this punk up the hill to the rental house. They hippies wouldn’t come out and my Dad let’s just say accidentally “ran into” their VW microbus with the bat. They called the police and wanted to arrest the old man. The cop (who knew my mom as this was a small town) was smart. He knocked on the door and when the hippie opened it he smelled pot…he immedatly went in and found some stash on the kitchen table…the hippies were gone the next day…the good old days…and to his dying day at 93 my Dad hated hippies..

  7. After the Leary/Liddy debate in Austin I drove my battered pickup with Golem Press stickers to Book People to see Tim. Like at Reason today, some slimy sockpuppet questioned my “Love the Nuke” T-shirt. I shook Leary’s hand and said “thank you.” The sockpuppet again made noise and Tim told him “It’s a big country. There’s room for all kinds of people–people who love the nuke and people who don’t.” To this day Timothy Leary is one of my favorite people and Book People–recently evicted for allowing customers to pack heat while buying books–my fave book people. Fave scene at Woodstock was when motormouth Rubin was knocked offstage with a guitar.

  8. Waitaminnit… it was motormouth Hoffman who got knocked off someone else’s stage. Rubin was almost as much a waste of skin, but not quite.

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