'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, April 03, 2008


OK, I know, it's corporately sponsored. OK, I know, it's also funded by two of my bete noires, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and, horror or horrors, NPR.

But sometimes, even the bad guys have good ideas and projects worthy of our participation. StoryCorps is a national oral history project, an opportunity for us to sit down with one of our loved ones, whether family, friends, co-workers or significant others, and relate the most important formative experiences of our lives. Or, alternatively, the most playful ones . . the most emotional ones . . . or, all of them together.

Why do I consider this project to have merit? As many of you know, one of my preoccupations on this blog has been the extent to which postmodern entertainment culture consciously and subconsciously persuades us to diminish the importance of our lived experiences to the point of erasure. Passive observation of entertainment media has replaced much of the folkloric transmission of knowledge, experience and joy that used to be so prevalent.

In other words, it enables us to assert the primacy of our lives, and the importance of sharing our experiences with one another, against the artificial social creations of transnational entertainment companies. It empowers us to decide what is important and what is not, as opposed to having it filtered through focus groups, marketing surveys and the programming decisions of telecommunications companies.

Even more seditiously, it allows us to exploit the very technologies utilized to disassociate us from ourselves, the computer, the Internet, the DVD and miniaturized audio equipment, to recover our sense of self and our relations with the people around us. Cynics will say that the recordings will rarely be heard. Perhaps. But I think that they underestimate how prized these recordings will become for those who participated. With the passage of time, people will increasingly enjoy hearing them and actively seek them out. Beyond this, I suspect that they will constitute a bountiful resource of sociologists and historians.

Of course, I may be romanticizing the potential for this project, but, even so, it is critical to understand, as I said earlier, that the mere act of participation is a form of individual empowerment. To step forward, and speak about ourselves with the understanding that our experiences have value, to recognize their importance, is a powerful act of self assertion. Or, to put it differently, we are persuaded to marginalize ourselves by silencing ourselves, and this project induces us to resist it.

More specifically, I believe that it is essential for those of us on the left to participate so as to document our lives, our experiences and our values. We can preserve them for others to hear through this project. Note that the participants receive a free, broadcast quality CD from the project. Just imagine what we could do with them if we participate. By memorializing our values and experiences through this project, we can pass them down to our children and generations to come, leaving open the possibility that another world is possible. An incremental effort, to be sure, but then, isn't history shaped by the collective accumulation of such efforts?

I intend to make a reservation for when the StoryBooth comes to Sacramento. For more information about how you can participate, please go here. Apparently, there are ways to have your stories recorded, even if you can't get to a StoryBooth location.

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