Saturday, December 7, 2013

Iconic Images: Apartheid and Other Final Solutions

Yesterday I got to work with a Peter, Paul, and Mary song in my head.  I pulled up concert footage via the Internet.  What a glorious time in which to live!

You can watch it too--"No Easy Walk to Freedom" is here.  Feel free to smile at their earnestness.  Marvel in their harmonies.  Once I had a folkie friend who said that no one else can harmonize like Peter, Paul, and Mary, except perhaps The Kingston Trio or Simon and Garfunkle.

Be sure to watch to the end, when they sing, "Keep on marching and apartheid will fall!"  Yes, indeed.

That experience made me wonder if any of the songs from the Sun City album had made it to the Internet.  I spent some time enthralled by this video.  In fact, I watched it again this morning.

I realized I'd never seen this video before.  It's like seeing old lovers or comrades from a resistance movement, although to be honest, some of these performers are so young, I almost didn't recognize them: Bono is sporting ill-advised facial hair, but he's still so beautiful--and there's Springsteen and Little Steven--who knew Little Steven would go on to be a famous TV star?--and look at all these rappers, back when that genre was so young--such garish make-up, and on men too!--all the interesting scarves and jewelry . . . on and on I could go.  How wonderful to see these 80's outfits and hairstyles and that joy in performing together.  And to see that footage of South Africa and oppression that seemed so inescapable across the globe--not only South Africa, but Central America and Eastern Europe and much of Asia and a chunk of Latin America.

I remember the first time I heard the title song.  The album had come to the radio station.  I peeled back the plastic and put the vinyl disc on the turntable.  I was alone in the studio, not broadcasting, just getting some chores done and needing background music.

The song transfixed me.  I couldn't move.  I listened to the whole thing and then I listened again.  It was a physical experience.  I broke into a sweat, and I cried.

In all of our memories in the wake of the death of Nelson Mandela, I think it's important to remember that the outcome we know now--Mandela released to become the first freely elected president of South Africa and a nation transformed--that outcome was so impossible that few of us dared to hope for it.  Somewhere in my photo albums, I have a fading picture of a friend wearing his "Free Mandela" t-shirt.  He'd been in jail for our whole lives, and we expected he would die there, t-shirts or no t-shirts.

I think it's important to remember how strong the forces of evil seemed then.  But we built our shantytowns on the lawn, we helped Central Americans get to Canadian safety, we demanded changes in U.S. policy which were ignored or dismissed.  We bought our protest albums and went to concerts.  Elders sneered and warned us about the dangers of not establishing anti-communist bulwarks, even if they were staffed by genocidal maniacs, as much of Latin America was in the 1980's.

In the afternoon, I went to the Museum of Art Ft. Lauderdale, where I observed a faculty member on a field trip.  I saw a different set of iconic images, the exhibit of the photographs of Roman Vishniak, some of which you can see here.  I asked my colleague, "What do you think the iconic images of our time will be?"

We are swimming in this sea of images, so I don't know.  I would expect that images of Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama running for president will come to seem iconic.  What else?

I offer a brief wish for more joyful images--or images of the sort that end the "Sun City" official video.  There's that banner that says, "Nelson Mandela must be released."  I felt a sob, as I realized that he was about to be released--yet none of us knew that.  The world was about to shift dramatically--freedom sweeping across various lands--but we could  not have yet believed it.

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