America Hoffman, Part 3
A Conversation with America Hoffman, Part 3
When I see what’s going on with the current crop of activists and the protest movements of today, I can see that your father was an influence. At least in the theatricality displayed with, say, the “die ins” for example. Your father’s work in that arena resonates still. With the exception that today’s protesters seem to lack any sense of humor whatsoever. Your father had a really keen sense of humor.
“He had a sense of humor, but he had very specific strategies when he did the demonstrations that they did. They were very specific. He was ready to call the media to tell them what was going on. He’d already sort of figured it all out like a chess game. He was an organizer. Right now it boils down to people just holding a sign and speaking their mind. And I don’t see anything wrong with that at all. I’m not against it, but I don’t really see what good it does. The real stuff that’s happening now has to do with banks. And I feel like you need an economics degree just to understand it. Things are passed through Congress that nobody really pays attention to unless you’re seeking out that information. And it has to do with our monetary system and trade and all this other stuff. These huge financial waves that are repercussions from little uninteresting things that get attached to other bills that nobody notices. It’s so exceedingly complicated how the real dynamics of power work that even if you are well informed it’s probably too boring to get anybody else on your side.”
That’s a good point. Banking regulations are not sexy.
“It’s not sexy, but everything important that happens is the result of that. The Great Depression… This is my basic philosophy about life, social systems and everything else: every time you think you’re doing something liberating, something else hitchhikes along with that that is being manipulated by whatever powers that be. And it gets twisted and subverted. Even going back to the Civil War. Slavery was flat out wrong. The worst thing ever. It’s absolutely wrong. But we definitely had a more centralized powerful government after that. The real power players take advantage of every situation that happens no matter how liberating it is for the common people for a little while. Every technological advance has liberated people and allowed us to communicate, but then actually isolates people. The more technology for communication, the more isolated everybody is at the same time… I’m addicted to my iPhone. It’s technology that drives everything. I think it always has been. If there’s something that produces the most change it’s how we communicate. It’s the technology of communication. It’s what’s driving everything in the realm of human experience. The social issues will always be around, but they are driven by technology in ways we can’t even see. I miss the days before the Internet. The days when you could tell a good story and there was no way anyone could fucking fact check you. I miss telling tall tales and regaling people with bullshit. There was an artistry to it. You just can’t do that anymore.”
Yeah, I remember when I was young, before the Internet, hanging out with my friends and bullshitting. And everyone would just roll with it and enjoy the back and forth. Now everyone would be on their iPhone trying to find whatever they can that correlates to what you’re saying, “Oh, there’s a video about that!” I don’t want to watch a video, I want to talk to you and have a conversation.
“For thousands of years we had a rich tradition of storytelling, and that’s vanished. And everybody’s freely giving up information about themselves. There are vast data banks that record everything. There is now the computing power to actually know what everybody is doing, and what everybody’s thoughts are on everything. I feel almost a nostalgic sadness for what used to be two-parent homes; I guess what I envision the ’50s were like. I see a lot of people having children and feeling liberated, even though it’s going to be one parent raising those children. I’m kind of alarmed at the way relationships are being reinvented now. Like the 50 different kinds of genders. We couldn’t figure out the old system of the nuclear family and now we’re trying all these experiments with new ways. And new ways of raising children… And I feel like the most stand-up people on Earth are the people a generation older than me who grew up in the fifties. I have tremendous respect for the people older than me. They were disciplined, they did chores. They weren’t told that every little thing they did was the most amazing thing. They weren’t fed all this stuff that the Millennials were about how they can do anything. People that were raised in the old school ways are more upstanding people: well-rounded, better educated – everything. And now we’re just experimenting with whatever fad is popular in child-raising… I guess [politically] my biggest beef is with liberals because I encounter so many. And they all seem to subscribe to the same camp.”
The thing about liberals I’ve noticed is that, generally, when it comes down to talking about or debating ideas they’re the first – and I hate to generalize – but it seems they’re the first to go for the personal attack, the insult. The “I wish you would suffer” mentality. Whereas my supposedly mean conservative friends generally want to talk about ideas and don’t hate those they disagree with.
“One thing I’ve noticed is how vicariously bloodthirsty the left is.”
And just how casual it is.
“I don’t know how people get so mad. What makes me mad is…I hate being misunderstood. I hate it when I say something and somebody assumes it’s something else. That can get me really mad, but I don’t want to harm them.”
I’m sure you remember growing up during the cold war, and how during the Reagan era, radicals, artists and musicians felt like there was a clampdown on freedom of expression. Then it was the right that was censoring expression, like the Moral Majority and the PMRC. And now it seems completely the other way around, and it’s the left that is attempting to silence speech considered offensive.
“People want to censor themselves. I feel like the status quo won. If you look at it institutionally they all probably look at us as such peons beneath them. They really don’t care if we’re fighting racism or whatever social issue, they’re just looking at the instrument of control. If whatever is presenting itself as the counterculture now is a series of witch trials where everybody is putting everybody else under a microscope, then how much more divided and ineffectual can it be?”
Exactly! That’s how power is dissipated on the one hand and control is consolidated on the other.
“Right. You make the youth culture the most conformist, self-censoring group of people ever – and that’s the next generation running things. If we’re going to have witch trials and persecute anything that’s even slightly subversive, even if that subversive thing is labeled racist by everybody else, or something that’s very repellent, it’s more about the dynamic of control. And once we’ve accepted totalitarianism, once we’ve accepted groupthink, it really doesn’t matter what the topic is about. It doesn’t matter who the enemy is that we’re all united in fighting against.”
I think that those who seek power, who seek control, will try to obtain it using whatever means they have at their disposal. Any issue that will help them gain control will be exploited. Whatever the current outrage du jour is, they’ll use it to their advantage.
“If you wanted to get really scary… I’d like to think I’ll never be targeted for anything. And I’m sure a lot of people feel like this sometimes – a sense of paranoia. When I research MK Ultra or COINTELPRO, which actually happened to my parents… And then some people have theories that my dad was assassinated. Every couple of years I web search all of that stuff, and I get so frightened! Because you start to see patterns. The rabbit hole goes deep. So then I stop. I do it a little bit, and then I’ll stop. And for me it’s even more frightening, because my own father died in such a way. [At the time] there were a rash of suicides that had to do with Prozac. Prozac is an antidepressant, but antidepressants can give some the energy to carry it out. Most people that are suicidal are completely unmotivated to do anything about it, because if you’re a depressive person you’re [usually] not going to be proactive enough to carry that out. But back then it gave a lot of people just enough chutzpah to carry out their suicidal intentions. So most of me thinks that because he was one of the loosely-monitored early Prozac users…that his death is because of that specific thing… But it could have also been a staged assassination. I have no idea. He did have this article he wrote that had to do with the Iran-Contra affair. He was sort of making waves with all that. So, maybe there were enough interested parties to take him out. Who knows? For all I know there could have been a conspiracy to kill him. I think it was a suicide, but there is always the nagging suspicion that it wasn’t. I wasn’t there. I don’t know what happened. There were no signs of a struggle. I believe he was found with a benign expression on his face.”
There were reports in the media at the time of his death stating that he was depressed because not as many young people were engaged politically as they were in the 1960s. The materialism of the 1980s.
“No. That’s one thing I’d like to dispel. My dad didn’t even think that way. He certainly thought the fight was harder. Times were tougher in the eighties. People were putting more on the line to be activists. But, no, he absolutely did not, in my opinion, kill himself because he was sad about the way the country was going, or anything having to do with that. He was manic-depressive… Right after he died I remember being at the memorial for him, and people in tears coming up to me and telling me what an inspiration he was. And there were thousands of people there all distraught. I was 19-years-old and I felt almost angry because I hadn’t had time to cry yet or time to process this. And he was my father, not theirs, and they had no right to cry in front of me about him. I had my own grief and I didn’t want to share it with them.”
That’s a lot for someone so young to process. And those people that came up to you crying were much older and probably should have known better.
“That’s happened many times. People want to engage me and tell me how important he was to them. I’ve heard it a thousand times. It’s strange because I am really proud of who he was, but it’s also deeply personal. But then again I feel like I need to own it.”