As the street theater performers Billionaires for Bush celebrate
“Education is Not for Everyone Day” on campus —
indulging in croquet on the Diag grass and tossing off slogans like
“A mind is a terrible thing!” — Michigan students
will either get the joke, get mad or be had.
The Michigan Daily’s Steve Cotner sat down with the
group’s national co-chairman Andrew Boyd, a.k.a. Phil T.
Rich, to discover where this group is coming from. Boyd is a
University alum who made headlines in the ’80s creating
ironic spectacles like the “Nuclear Saints of America,”
a group that exalted the University’s Cold War military
research to god-like status and invaded the military lab to do
communion with atomic fireball candies.
While on campus to recruit last week for his group, he answered
a range of questions about the history and future of political
protest. The full interview can be found
(Microsoft Word format).
The Michigan Daily: In the ’60s, Martin Luther King Jr.
was effective because he planned out the events so thoroughly, and
he made sure the symbolism of the situations was very clear.
Andrew Boyd: Yeah, that’s why he did it at the Lincoln
TMD: And having food thrown on you, or having a firehose turned
on you, was a kind of street theater, but one in which right and
wrong was very clear. So if you were drawing influence from those
kinds of things early on, what did it mean to you to start using
irony instead of that bare morality?
AB: That’s a good question. Abbie Hoffman said that
“All protest is theater,” it’s just traditional
protest is bad theater. Partly because the people aren’t
aware that it’s theater, and they’re not treating it
like theater. And by being theater, it doesn’t mean that
it’s not authentic, right, it doesn’t mean it’s
not real, or passionate, or a true act of power or empowerment or a
spiritual moment for people. But you just want to understand it
like King did, about the symbol and deploying it.
Why did we end up using irony? I think we just sort of went by
our gut, that we were creatures of our times and our times were
becoming very ironic. It’s almost the dominant trope of our
age, maybe not by ’83, maybe we were just ahead of our times.
But certainly the ’90s, you’ve got The Daily Show.
You’ve got Dave Eggers. Where would that be without
I think it is partly in the wake of the failure, if you will, of
the ’60s, or people’s sense of disheartenment.
“We did all the marching, and look where we are.” So
irony is a way to protect yourself from that failure, and yet
comment on it and still sort of salvage some hope.
TMD: Given that sense of failure, and the present state of
corporate control that you protest, how do you manage to get past a
tragic mentality, and be active and even have a sense of humor
AB: Well, there’s a lot of things. One is you look to the
past for inspiration, that there’ve been equally dire moments
in our history and people have organized themselves and created
fundamental movements for social change that have transformed the
face of American politics. Look at the Civil Rights movement, the
abolitionist movement, the progressive reforms of the teens and
’20s, the anti-Vietnam war protest. In ’64 the
war’s unfolding but nothing’s happening and suddenly
five years later, the whole country’s in revolt. 100 years of
Jim Crow and then starting in ’54 this explosion of
grassroots movements transforms the face of the South.
You look at the fact that 70 percent of Americans think that
corporations have too much power. Seventy percent identify as
environmentalists. You go down the issues, and Americans are quite
liberal, a majority of them are progressive on the issues,
it’s just that both parties are failing them. So
there’s a lot of reasons to have hope.
And in any case, it’s the good fight. If you know that
there’s a real problem in this country and you do nothing
about it, it’s gonna eat away at you, and you’re gonna
feel bad. There was actually a scientific study done recently that
being civically engaged, and being a dissenter and involved in
protest, is better for your individual health. You’re not
avoiding it, you’re not letting this stuff eat away at you.
If you’re repressing it, it’s going to come back and
bite you two-fold. So you engage it. You’re locating yourself
in the world, in reality, and you’re dealing with it. And
then you find a way to have fun, and you find a way to become a
better person through it.