An interview with political activist Abbie Hoffman at the Chicago Amphitheater on the 20th anniversary of 1968 Democratic National Convention. In the interview, Hoffman talks about the complicating aspects of activism, the applications used to promote and spread messages to wider audiences, and the media's effect on American daily life.
00:00Copy video clip URL This video begins with a shot of Abbie Hoffman. Hoffman banters with the interviewers before they begin to ask him questions. The music blaring in the background makes it very difficult to hear the interviewer’s questions. Hoffman eventually begins to talk about the rise of activism and the interest in the ’60s among the younger generation. Hoffman also talks about the media’s hesitance in talking about the ’60s radical movement and their twisted view of youth rebellion. “Youth rebellion is a common theme in many, many Hollywood movies but what the youth want to do is throw up on their sweatshirt after the fraternity party or dance on the hood of their car after curfew. There’s no kids that want to burn their draft cards you see? So to go directly to the sixties is still too controversial… It’s a very contained view.” Hoffman then goes on to comment about being portrayed in the film The Big Fix. In the movie, Hoffman was portrayed as advertising executive, while in reality, he was a fugitive during the time of its release. He finally goes on to comment on the cynicism of the media.
04:17Copy video clip URL Hoffman talks about younger generations being deprived of their history. “It makes them very sad growing up, even the search for the sixties among the kids… In a way they’re looking for their own youth. It’s a normal thing for middle aged people to have somewhat mellowed and to be somewhat nostalgic for their youth, but when you see it happening with young people, it’s a form of depression. It’s a form of disgust with the present but no particular strategy for moving forward.” Hoffman then talks about advising the Student Action Union. He helped put together a national demonstration taking place later in the year. He goes on to say that the Reagan Administration has had a negative effect on education in the U.S. “The Reagan years have hurt them in terms of high tuition costs–taking away student loan programs of minority groups. Reagan has made campuses what they have traditionally been in in American society: training camps for young, rich ladies and gentlemen to learn how to become older, richer ladies and gentlemen. That’s all they are.” Hoffman also goes on to talk about the positive and negative aspects of television. “See, TV, unlike the other media–movies, reality, books, etc… TV gets into your fantasy world–that’s why the images are shot blurred and at the same time very specific and they keep fading and they’re in short bits and zoom in and out–that’s what fantasy is about: They’re not dreams and they’re not reality. So if you want to enter the fantasy world of America, which you have to because people watch seven hours of television a day and that’s how they get their information–you have to learn how to use it. It isn’t enough just to whack it as a medium. You also have to learn how to use it.” Hoffman continues to talk about television and the reach it can provide.
08:28Copy video clip URL Hoffman talks about the meaning of words and the different forms of rhetoric and methodologies that he and his cohorts used in the ’60s to gain support for various causes. Hoffman states that those on the right have studied these methodologies and techniques to use for their own purposes. Hoffman also criticizes the use of these methodologies in the corporate world. “They’ve taken the form and the content is not only not gone, it’s transformed into a corporate kind of content.” He goes on to showcase his point by comparing modern day demonstrations to those of the past. Hoffman remains fervent about the issue. He cites the absurdity in events like Hands Across America. “What does it mean? It means nothing because it has no demands. It wasn’t like the hunger marches in the thirties. They went to Washington. They demanded. They had certain answers to solve the problem of the homeless, of the hungry–Hands Across America had no agenda, nothing but the form.”
13:15Copy video clip URL Hoffman states that the country is in decline. “We’re headed towards the middle ages. This is the decline of the American empire. This is what decline looks like–middle class vanishes, plagues sweep the earth, droughts, locusts in Georgia, the dumbing of the country, the vanishing of the middle class, lack of leadership at the top, unstuck youth at the bottom, high suicide rates, homeless people in the streets–I could go on and on… Maybe good riddance to bad rubbish… Somebody once asked Gandhi what he thought of Western Civilization–he said it was a good idea, somebody ought to try it someday.” Hoffman goes on to tell one of the interviewers not to blame the media, but to learn how to utilize it in the best way possible.
14:42Copy video clip URL When asked how to use a news media that doesn’t belong to you, Hoffman states that one has to study the media while at the same time rejecting it. Hoffman then goes on to talk about the importance of television and its ability to reach a wide audience. Hoffman talks about television and it exposing him to injustice. Hoffman and the interviewers continue to debate media distribution models.
17:35Copy video clip URL When asked to take a look at a flyer for a leftist cause, Hoffman criticizes it and the close to 200 flyers he’s received from leftist organizations at the event. Hoffman states that many on the left do no know how to properly market their materials. He then talks about the perils of the leftist movement. Hoffman goes on to say that one must have a sense of humor and an understanding of human nature if the leftist political movements are to be sustained and enlarged. Hoffman also cites the importance of understanding depression. “Depression is not disillusionment. You see, people get depressed because they break up, their dog dies, or it’s bio-chemical. It has nothing to do with what goes on in Central America, the Mid-East, or the fact that the local activist group can’t get its act together, you see? So on our side it’s very easy when people are depressed to translate that to their political sentiments and become disillusioned. So that’s why the attrition rate on this side is so rampant, whereas on the other side, where they have a more fatalistic view: they’ll always be rich, they’ll always be poor, there will always be war, we’re always going to fuck with the earth etc… You can fit right in.” Hoffman continues to talk about the romantic vision within activist work and it being intertwined with depression.
20:45Copy video clip URL Hoffman comments on the difficult aspects of activist work. His remarks get cut off by the end of the tape.
22:06Copy video clip URL Tape ends.