Q&A With The Realist's Paul Krassner at Chicago 10 Screening
Hobbling on a cane with the flamboyant teeter of a man whose legs have been loosened at the hips to near separation from his body, Paul Krassner explained, swinging perilously this way and that, how the term "green room" originally referred to the chamber at San Quentin where prisoners awaited execution. The event coordinator at the Pacific Design Center's Silver Screen Theater gave a gratuitous laugh that seemed somehow prerecorded, while she led Krassner backstage, delivering him without any sense of irony into his own metaphor. He was about to take part in a panel discussion, hosted by Vanity Fair magazine, which would precede a screening of the new Brett Morgan documentary — well, part documentary, part animated contrivance — about the Chicago 7, called Chicago 10, a film exploring the origins of the yippie movement, the rioting that surrounded the Chicago Democratic National Convention in the summer of 1968, and the trial of scapegoats it created.
Krassner, founder and editor of The Realist, the most widely read underground magazine of satire and radical politics at the time, gave the yippies their name and was the panel's only actual eyewitness to that riotous week in late August of '68 (although Tom Hayden, one of the original Chicago 7, with the stoicism of a cigar-shop Indian, sat in the audience like a man awaiting a root canal). The other panelists besides Morgan were MOCA director Jeremy Strick and West Wing creator and Charlie Wilson's War writer Aaron Sorkin (who also wrote the screenplay for Steven Spielberg's Chicago 7 project, now in preproduction). Krassner — with a Rolodex rumored to be exactly as deep as the FBI's file on undesirables, coupled with his hard-earned gimpiness resulting from a postverdict beating by riot police after the 1979 Harvey Milk-George Moscone trial in San Francisco — seemed as if he'd been invited to give some measure of credibility to the conversation.
"Everyone I knew after we invaded Afghanistan was kind of against the war, but nobody was speaking out," said Morgan, when asked why he felt it was important to make a movie about 1960s antiwar activism. "Even from the years 2002 onward, to where we are today, there really seemed to be a sort of vacuum of ... sort of ... leaders who were inspiring people to get involved."
The memory of the estimated 36 million people participating in the almost 3,000 antiwar protests around the globe from January of 2003 until April of that same year flashed through my mind, and I wondered if Morgan's next statement might begin, And if we ever develop the technology to enable human beings to actually walk on the moon one day ... Pushing his hippieT-length hair away from his forehead, he went on to explain how the real Abbie Hoffman had helped to end the Vietnam War, and now, with Chicago 10, the cartoon Abbie would help to end the war in Iraq.
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Eventually, the discussion ended as all public discussions about political dissent and bleeding-heart optimism do, with a Q&A session and the proverbial pleading from an audience member wanting to know what specifically the public could do to save itself from self-annihilation.
"One word — imagination," said Krassner. "People need to know their capabilities and how to apply them. Nobody can tell anybody else how to do that; they need to feel it in their gut. I used to have arguments with Abbie, 'cause he would say, 'You're not a leader — you don't urge people to do things.' And it's true. I'd rather lead by example and show people how to communicate without compromise. People have to learn that they won't be struck by lightning, and they can only learn that by following their own path."
"What do you know about the movie?" asked a girl during the reception between the panel discussion and the screening, while sipping red wine from a plastic tumbler, her hair like exploded ginger candy floss, her skin as clear as a Beverly Hills afternoon.
"What do I know about it?" I asked.
"Yeah," she said. "I never even heard of the Chicago 7 or 8 or 10 or whatever the fuck it is. Somebody just said, 'You want to see a free movie?' Hell, yeah!" she roared, popping a free triangle of pita into her mouth.
"Well, sure," I said. "I know something about the history of what the movie is about, although I'm not so sure that I trust the director's ability to make a good movie about it."
"Was he the guy with the long hair or the glasses?" she asked.
"He had long hair and glasses," I said.
"Okay, I know who you mean," she said.
"I thought his whole thing about there being no protests over the war in Iraq was beyond idiotic," I told her. "The protests for the Vietnam War, for fuck's sake, took something like eight years to get going, and the protests against the invasion of Iraq were the biggest ever recorded in the history of the planet. And they were mobilized before the war even started — we didn't wait eight fucking years to fill the streets."
"I don't remember," the girl laughed. "I was too young to know what was going on."
"How old are you?" I said.
"Twenty," she said.
"It wasn't that long ago," I said.
She shrugged and walked away, back into the trendy crowd of other 20-somethings, all of them smelling of cologne and perfume like the introductory pages of Vanity Fair, pages whose job it was to obscure the discovery of the index with their aggravating and enviable beauty.
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