MARTHA THOMASES: Summer of Love
It is traditional to see Memorial Day as the unofficial beginning of summer. Entertaining blockbuster movies open, people who rent summer homes start their weekend commutes, beaches open, and the more enlightened workplaces close early on Fridays. It is nearly as traditional for newspaper editors to write essays decrying the fact that people “celebrate” a holiday that was started to honor the memory of those who lost their lives defending our country in wartime.
Throughout the history of literature, war has been glorified and those who fought have been lauded more than those who resisted. Graphic storytelling is no exception. Throughout World War II, when many comics sold in the millions of copies per title, war comics and other stories where the good guys trashed the evil Axis were favorites.
The Fifties continued in this vein, with a few ripples in the undercurrent. Harvey Kurtzman’s Two-Fisted Tales showed that war might be more than glory. At the same time in other parts of popular culture, the Hollywood witch-hunts, searching for Communists under ever bed, inspired brilliant science fiction and fantasy, as creators tried to tell their story through metaphor. The Twilight Zone, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Day the Earth Stood Still – all are more profound entertainments because of the complexities of the time.
By the Sixties, everything you ever knew was wrong. The civil rights movement, the war – and the draft – affected everyone and everything. It was a fabulous time for pop culture. Top 40 radio played Frank Sinatra, Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, the Jefferson Airplane, all jumbled together like jambalaya. Events like the Woodstock Festival made clear that topical issues were interconnected, that poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia and environmental destruction were the results of what happens when violence and capitalism are out of control. Underground comix made the scene, and the people who made comics were an honored part of the counter-cultural art scene. They made comics that were completely unlike the heroic fantasies that were popular before.
That’s the basis for where we are today, pop culturally speaking. In between, the people who sell entertainment for a living got a lot more savvy, and blurred the lines between rebellion and consumption. Want to save Africa? Buy a phone. You say you want a revolution? We’ve got the car for you.
My best friend lost her brother in Viet Nam, and that was horrible. Richard was smart and funny and would have served his country much better if he’d stayed home, worked at a job, amused his friends and had a family. There are tens of millions of people with similar memories, and our current administration is doing all that they can to ensure that people will continue to mourn for generations.
Those who died in the war should be mourned and their service should be honored, but they are not the only ones who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country and our society. Martin Luther King, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, Michael Schwermer, Robert Kennedy and many, many others died to make the world better, without carrying any weapons themselves.
There are those who gave their lives in other struggles besides the anti-war movement. We lost at least a generation of brilliance and talent to AIDS and the homophobia that caused people to resist early attempts at creating a treatment. Thousands lose their lives every year because of hate crimes, assaults on people because someone doesn’t like their looks.
This column could continue listing people who have died in the line of duty, but, in the words of Joe Hill, “Don’t mourn – Organize!” And, in the words of Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance, you can keep your revolution.” Find something fun to do. Read a comic, or buy a CD. Even better, write or draw your own comic. Make your own music. Plant your own garden, and find your own family. Show the world there are more fun things to do than fight.
Martha Thomases is the Media Queen of ComicMix. Despite what she says, you don’t want to see her dance.