In a guest column at InTheLobby, Richard A. Lee, Communication Director of the Hall Institute of Public Policy-NJ and a former journalist, argues that songwriters of the sixties were the alternative media of the day. They were raising issues and questions ahead of the mainstream media much like bloggers do today.
"Forty years ago this week, Seymour Hersh broke the story of the My Lai massacre, in which hundreds of unarmed Vietnamese civilians were killed by U.S. soldiers. Hersh later was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his reporting, but he may have been scooped – not by another journalist, but by a then 20-year-old singer/songwriter named Arlo Guthrie.
Two years before Americans learned about civilian casualties from Hersh, Guthrie addressed the issue in “Alice’s Restaurant,” an 18-minute musical narrative that begins with his arrest for littering and ends at the Draft Board, where a Sergeant notes the arrest on young Arlo’s record and asks him if he has rehabilitated himself. Arlo replies with a mixture of anger and sarcasm: “Sergeant, you got a lot a damn gall to ask me if I've rehabilitated myself. You want to know if I'm moral enough join the army, burn women, kids, houses and villages after being a litterbug.”
During the 1960s, young Arlo was not the only singer/songwriter running ahead of mainstream media outlets. Protest music actually functioned as alternative media during the Vietnam War era, regularly asking questions and raising issues that were absent from the mainstream media."
Lee states that additional research is required before definitely declaring bloggers as cultural leaders.
He goes on to describe another disconnect between the mainstream media and what people really care about that he observed while exploring Bruce Springstein's work:
"My goal was to learn how Springsteen has kept in touch with his working class New Jersey roots while becoming a multi-millionaire and international superstar. I began by searching for connections between Springsteen’s music and the major news stories that have taken place in New Jersey during his career.
When I found none, I realized I was looking in the wrong place. I was looking at the major stories the New Jersey news media had reported, but I didn’t take into account the possibility that the items the news media deemed most important to cover might not be the same as the issues on the minds of working class New Jersey families – and that these working-class New Jersey families have more in common with the messages of Bruce Springsteen’s songs than they do with the news that makes headlines.
A number of media scholars have suggested that there is a gap between the type of news that is reported and what is actually of importance and interest to the citizenry. Much like protest music did in the 1960s, Springsteen’s music fills this gap. For example, people may gain a better understanding of the dire economy from the characters and the stories in Springsteen’s songs than they do from news reports filled with numbers, percentages and statistics."
I point this out not to pump up bloggers...God know some of us take ourselves too seriously already. Lee's piece creates an interesting context for blog participants...writers, readers and commentors alike.
It also gave me an opportunity to create a funny picture and tweak a few of my friends.