Plazm Magazine: Documenting Creative Culture Since 1991
Plazm is a magazine of design, art, and culture with worldwide distribution. Founded by artists as a creative resource, the magazine is now published by the nonprofit New Oregon Arts & Letters. Order Plazm #30 now.
Positive Cultural Terrorism
Interview by Joshua Berger. Photographs by Gabrielle Drinard
Jello Biafra is a survivor of the punk music scene of the late seventies, he has remained active and vocal since the demise of his band Dead Kennedys in 1986. Projects have included hundreds of spoken word appearances and collaborative music projects, debating Tipper Gore on daytime talk shows and running his independent record label; Alternative Tentacles.
We’re sitting in my rental car on a brisk Friday night--radio towers at our backs, a clear view of the San Francisco bay over the dash. we’ve just come from the Chinese action film festival, witnessing more deaths-per-minute than most people would possibly care to count. Jello is recuperating slowly but surely from the attack he suffered eight months ago at a Gillman st. show. his new three disk spoken word album, Beyond the Valley of the Gift Police, is set for release early this winter.
We seem to be at an interesting crossroads: People are trying to find some element of creativity in this information age. Scenes get appropriated as quickly as they are created. They are watched by corporate interests. When a scene becomes something larger, when it’s in a sense taken away and commodified, it saps energy from these creative people.
All rebellious or underground youth cultures are not co-opted overnight. Look how long it took with punk. Granted the Sex Pistols, the Damned and Sham 69 were regular features on the British music charts but there was a conscious decision not to have that happen here. It was either heavy metal or skinny-tied pop bands. It took this long to let the guitars get loud on some kind of music other than heavy metal. Part of the reason for finally allowing it in was that otherwise there would be a whole generation of people who were just discovering that they actually liked to think, gravitating to the political content of certain black rappers. Viola. Grunge Incorporated is born. There is always a way to water down and resell something to maintain societal control. The stakes are high right now because not only are there more young people than there were ten years ago but many are sons and daughters of people who resisted the Vietnam War. There is a little bit of consciousness that trickled through in spite of growing up in the Reagan/Bush era. The last thing that our corporate overlords would want to see is any of this “identity quest” to start to gel in a serious rebellion against the system. Usually what such rebellion takes is both an identifiable youth culture, something that wasn’t there before, and a galvanizing issue like a Vietnam War. That galvanizing issue isn’t here yet. It ought to be considering everything that’s going down right now but it’s so many different things all hitting at once: the environmental catastrophe, complete corruption at the corporate and government level as we are slowly turned into a worldwide feudalistic system through NAFTA and GATT. There are so many things to fight, the impulse is just to throw up ones hands, hide in a cocoon and look out for number one and number one alone like the Reaganoids have told us to.
Something that is interesting to me is how creative people in this culture get funneled into jobs in advertising, marketing, product development.
I don’t think my generation has produced anybody the caliber of a Frank Zappa or Jim Morrison and part of the reason for that, per capita there weren’t as many young people, it’s post baby boom, also, it was the Reagan era. The best and the brightest of the young minds, instead of going into music or resistance leadership, go into making money. Nobody seems to ask themselves “Will this wealth, this distribution, suddenly seeing my name in crappy mall record stores, make me happy?’’ If the Dead Kennedys had gotten one tenth the size of Nirvana, I would’ve jumped off the Golden Gate bridge from pressure alone. Any creative, hard working person can’t be bled of their talents forever and not be given any love in return—or they turn into either suicides or monsters.
This system serves to divide people into categories; those who create the mechanisms that
generate consumption and those who are the consumers.
One thing I’ve been trying to communicate at my university spoken word shows, regarding isolating and making money off people, is that nobody called you a slacker until after you protested the Gulf War and helped kick Bush out of office. It was then that the big push came from above about this generation feeling sorry for themselves. Anything that can be done through pop culture to reduce people’s desire and capacity to empower themselves and be more willing to resign themselves to being sedate shoppers will be done. Take this rebellious attitude and make money off of it; let’s also help steer it into something less threatening to the powers that be. Flower power was where the money was, anti-war power is what they were trying to torpedo.
If somebody tells you the same thing enough times, you may actually start to believe it.
It depends on how much of a sense of humor you have. It doesn’t mean I have to buy or buy into it, I can just laugh. Fear of being creative and thinking for yourself is something drilled into you pretty early in school. You can get a lot of shit from teachers and peers if you defy that.
What kind of tools can we give people to empower them to be independent creative thinkers?
There is no universal tool but doing a little is better than doing nothing. Even if it’s a small act of sabotage that you can’t tell your co-workers about; putting out of order signs on office equipment or circulating memos to supervisors calling an emergency meeting so people all show up and nobody knows what the meeting is about. The full story is on I Blow Minds for a Living, there were some people in Ft. Worth, Texas that put up flyers saying they were going to kill their pets to protest the Gulf War. Tons of people showed up, took an afternoon off work to see if it was really going to happen. There are ways for people to use their talents even if it isn’t done 100% of the time; the doctor that puts in a few hours here and there at the free clinic, the lawyer who takes a case every once in a while with people who can’t afford them. Another empowering thing which we all have to keep reminding ourselves of in this day and age is not to be afraid of strangers. People get on edge the more they read about crime in the paper even though the FBI’s own statistics say that crime is going down. Don’t view everybody you don’t know as a predator. It gets especially hard after you’ve been mugged or had the shit kicked out of you.