When I was a kid my heroes were creative storytellers like Jim Henson. I was
a major puppetry freak in the 4th and 5th grade and still think that is how
I developed an intuition into how to tell a good story. That and having a father
that can’t stop telling tales – and now I find myself doing the same thing –
telling the same story over and over again – embellishing it a little each time.
Gradually my attentions turned to the film world, I found inspiration in Spike
Lee and the early independent film movement. I wanted to create searing burning
films that shocked people into realization (what kind of realization this white
middle/lower-class suburb boy hadn’t quite figured out yet). That and idolatry
of all things Hitchcock – this was all before we had a VCR – I had read more
about Hitchcock and film theory than I had actually seen his films. I loved
his ‘pure technique’ and being so methodical in his process and being able to
achieve artistic and commercial success all at the same time. I also admired
Rod Serling for his passionate vision of what television could’ve been and the
ultimate tragedy it has become (“It is difficult to produce a television
documentary that is both incisive and probing when every twelve minutes one
is interrupted by twelve dancing rabbits singing about toilet paper.”).
I discovered theatre could give me the same buzz as film – without having to
wait for the film to develop so I started a jaunt into the performing arts and
began to see famous directors and composers as heroes: Peter Brook, Anne Bogart,
Stephen Sondheim… and of course the crazy dead white men like Shakespeare,
Artaud and Anouilh. I admired their fierce commitment to a visionary art form
that has gone the way of opera and ballet.
I also started to find certain musicians to be great heroes as well. Ani diFranco
for her commitment to self-publish, self-promote – all without the RIAA music
cartel. I admired Prince for his constant output of music – whether it is good
or bad – he is in the studio, cranking out more work – some of it hits, some
of it doesn’t. And Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails in creating a deeply personal
product and vision as well as tightly guarding it’s integrity from mainstream
enroachment. And Bjork for her distinctive talents in composing and performance
– and honoring the quirky sensibilities of her own unique voice. All the musicians
I admire have a promise to themselves to always be creating and to always guard
their creations from commodification (sort of the anti-Moby).
As I learned more and more about the political backstories that shape the world
I live in: Venezuela, Kissinger, Cambodia, Reaganomics, Gulf War I, Haliburton,
the Florida Elections, the Bin Ladens and Bush… I began to wonder why should
we bother with fiction anymore? Sometimes I see it as a paltry waste of time.
When was the last time fiction changed anything? I started to find heroes in
Greg Palast, Karen Kwiatowski, Noam Chomsky, Arundhati Roy… here were people
using their talents to give witness to the struggles of the world’s oppressed
when the rest of the world had turned their back. People with the balls (eggs?)
to expose the lies that shape our lives.
And that’s why I went to hear Amy Goodan speak last night.
Amy was in town as part of the Chicago Public Library’s Women’s History Month
lecture series. I’ve written about her a lot before – she’s a pioneering journalist
and an ass-kicker of the powerful and prililedged. She hosts the daily alternative
news program Democracy Now, produced by Pacifica Radio.
Amy detailed the ins and outs of the Haiti implosion and how essentially all
of the thugs that were part of the coup have CIA connections or on the payroll
of United States intelligence. She keeps a gentle, matter of fact tone as she
delivers an embarrassing laundry list of shame pointing to our country’s role
in yet another coup of a democratically elected leader. Then she told her story
of East Timor.
Amy and her cameraman, Allan Nairn, were the ones that blew the East Timor
genocide wide open in the late nineties. After Suharto came to power in Indonesia
the country was bascially hermetically sealed from the rest of the world as
he carried out a genocide on par with the Cambodian killing fields. Presidential
administrations, both Republican and Democrat, sat back and ignored as hundreds
of thousands of people lost their lives. She and Allan visisted to bear witness
to the massacre – specifically a solmen procession of survivors of the dead
from a church to a cemetery. They turned a corner and were met with a firing
line of militia, bearing American made M-16s. Amy and her cameraman worked their
way to the front of the line. She held her microphone up high and Allan held
his camera up high to indicate The world is going to witness what you’re
about to do. Allan recalls:
The soldiers rounded the corner, never breaking stride, raised their rifles,
and fired in unison into the crowd. People fell, stunned and shivering, bleeding
in the road, and the Indonesian soldiers kept on shooting. I
saw the soldiers aiming and shooting people in the back, leaping bodies to
hunt down those who were still standing. They executed schoolgirls, young
men, old Timorese; the street was wet with blood, and the bodies were everywhere.
As the soldiers were doing this, they were beating me and Amy; they took
our cameras and our tape recorders and grabbed Amy by the hair and punched
and kicked her in the face and in the stomach. When I put my body over her,
they focused on my head. They fractured my skull with the butts of their M-16s.
When Amy and Allan returned to the United States their coverage generated enough
shame to finally cause Bill Clinton to act and begin to repair the situation
and admit the United States’s role in enabling widespread genocide.
Another great anecdote was when she’d finished a segment with a woman from
Guyana and was farewelling her out of the studio but the woman wanted to stay
to engage in the next segment concerning the presdiential elections. Amy tried
to tell her that she was not part of this discussion. The woman returned with:
I think everyone in the world should get to vote for President of the United
States. We are all affected by his decisions.
But the ultimate powerful point of Amy’s was that all over the globe people
see the U. S. as a sword of anger and destruction – but also as a shield – a
solace – a respite. The clock was ticking and I had to get back to the north
side for a teleconference but I’m glad I stayed for her coda:
Millions of People are fighting, and if we don?t take back the media, then
the rest of the world is in very serious jeopardy. Not to mention all of us
here at home. Lies take Lives. We must decode those lies together…. We have
to make a decision and that is whether to be the sword of the shield.
And that is why Amy Goodman: you are my new hero.