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The [Wednesday] Papers

Editor's Note: Today I hand the Papers column over to Mike Conklin. Also new on the site today: Dan O'Shea's always excellent Fantasy Fix, and Takin' Care of Schaumburg Plus, a Pritzker Pavilion treat below.

By Mike Conklin

Is it over? Are we done? At first, it seemed as if we were fed excessive Woodstock Music Festival goulash this year. Then, I did the math: The anniversary year is divisible by five. Whenever the media looks back on an event, it will not get excited or consider it significant unless the expired years are divisible by five or, better yet, ten - 15, 20, 25, or, in the case with Woodstock this time, 40. The 38th or 39th anniversary of Woodstock? Sorry, no way were those years as important as the 40th!!! Mark your calendars now for the 45th anniversary in 2014 and a really big blowout in 2019.

If an event is cataclysmic enough, say 9/11 or Pearl Harbor, and there was plenty of death and good art, there are annual retrospectives produced by the media. These will spike in size and volume whenever they hit a five-year mark. The stock market crash, the Bears' Super Bowl win, the Watergate break-in, the '68 Democratic convention, and the JFK, RFK and Martin Luther King assassinations pretty much have been relegated to 10-year retros.

In 1995, on its 50th anniversary, the dropping of an atom bomb on Japan set off all sorts of media alarm bells, most of it dominated by revisionist historians. I haven't heard much about Hiroshima and Nagasaki since then in the mainstream press. I'm guessing we'll have to wait for the 75th anniversary in 2020 for the next, big round of distant replay.

These stories have become journalism's most tired, predictable cliche packages: a mix of pictures, eyewitness accounts, excerpts from a new book, and perspectives from academia. One of my favorite comments in this year 's Woodstock blitz came in Newsday from a college professor, who said: "Woodstock really was the end of an era - the '60s - which brought about the sexual revolution, civil rights, Native American rights, birth control, divorce, women's rights, the idea of living off the land and rejecting consumerism."

Whew. That's a lot to be packed into one August weekend. Fact is, much of what people attribute to the 60s happened in the 70s. As history, Woodstock is significant only in that it boosted a few musical careers. And guess what? Young Americans have been motivated and stamped by their music long before rock. They marched off to fight the British to memorable tunes played with fifes and drums, but no "film at 10" on that one.

The social importance of Woodstock is a myth propagated by entertainment and media industries that continue to make money off a legacy they created. The concert rates high on the list of seminal events simply because it occurred near New York City. This meant the country's most powerful TV mediums had great footage for the evening news.

If the concert had occurred in Colorado, Oregon, or Arizona, we would never have known about it. The networks and wire services are not partial to big events in western time zones. This makes it more difficult to hit deadlines and edit film.

Woodstock certainly did not change one socially redeemable thing that I know of, and that was my "generation" in the concert's mud and goo in New York. Some would argue it was not even the best concert - music-wise - that occurred that year. You'll get a good argument from some Southern Illinois alums that a Simon & Garfunkel appearance later that year in Carbondale, which produced five songs that were recorded and part of an album, was pretty darned good.

In the 60s, I held my share of placards, did a little marching, and worked for Gene McCarthy, but I have yet to meet one person - some of whom were there - who thought Woodstock was important; fun, but certainly not some great symbol of a changing America.

The real significance of Woodstock and the barrage of retrospectives emanating from it, to me, is this: It serves as prime evidence how starved editors and producers are for ideas. Quite possibly it has become the No. 1 example for shallow, reflex-action coverage meant to appeal to baby boomers.

It is not important journalism and it certainly is not serious history. In fact, there was a much more important chapter in our American past being written the same weekend of the Woodstock Festival in New York.

This was Hurricane Camille, one of only three Class 5 hurricanes to hit the U.S. mainland in the 20th Century. This horrible storm, which killed 259 persons, belted the Louisiana area at the same time rock fans were sliding - but not dying - in the Woodstock mud. Camille was the last, big killer hurricane to hit that area before Katrina struck Louisiana and Mississippi in 2005.

And just think: If the media had been running retrospectives on truly important events like this all these years, maybe the federal government would've been alert and better prepared - and could've saved some of those 1,200 or so people who perished. Guess we'll have to wait until 2010, when Katrina notes its fifth anniversary to learn more.

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The Beachwood Tip Line: Retro active.




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Posted on August 12, 2009


MUSIC - The Weekend In Chicago Rock Including Riot Fest Highlights.
TV - No Rehabilitating Vietnam.
POLITICS - Rauner Vetoes Online Privacy.
SPORTS - Coffman: Cooper's Blooper Not As Bad As You Think.

BOOKS - Quimby's Adult Thrillers!

PEOPLE PLACES & THINGS - Chicagoetry: Black Jeans In White Tel Aviv.


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