As the underground press turned inward and fought amongst itself, late capitalism digested the discontent. The papers’ most visible descendants—the alt-weeklies of today—are distant cousins, for good and bad.
Fred Turner, assistant professor of communication at Stanford and author of From Counterculture to Cyberculture: Stewart Brand, the Whole Earth Network and the Rise of Digital Utopianism, says the spirit of the radical press still exists, but not in print. “I would say their lineal descendants—the alt-weeklies—are fading away, but the critical voices of communities they represent have come alive online,” he says, arguing that emerging social networks are becoming the matrices of modern political and social movements—similar to what the Whole Earth Catalog did for commune-dwellers—and that bloggers are the newest descendants of the counter-cultural press.
Peck agrees: “I think zines. Some blogs. Some web sites. Graphic novels. Underground comics—that’s where more of the continuity is.”
Indeed, the speakers at the Babylon Falling show were eager to draw parallels between the two eras. In the words of Billy X. Jennings, “people are looking back to understand how to go forward.” So what lessons can this new generation learn from these ’60s papers? How can they confront the neutering effects of late capitalism?
Peck says it’s difficult to extrapolate lessons for today’s young entrepreneurs, other than the need for fortitude and humility: “Be human to your brothers. Don’t cannibalize each other.”
Turner says to avoid insularity: “Make sure that your model reaches beyond people like yourself. One of the great failures of the radical press is it tended to speak to the converted.”
Gitlin says own your moment. “It’s an opportune time for people who want to take chances with their lives to develop solid, useful, in the best sense serious forms of journalism, but it won’t be the forms of the ’60s. One should study what happened not in the spirit of reverence but in the spirit of curiosity and deep consideration of how the cultural sparks that flew then were the ones that [would] fly at that moment, and, comparably, how the ones that ought to fly now would belong to this moment.”
Real-time social networks—we’re looking at you.
“If we had Twitter,” quips Peck, “our demonstrations would’ve been more succesful.”