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Vital Voice

Thoughts on nearly four decades spent covering the counterculture

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ANALOG STREAMING In this unretouched photo, light from a thing called a 'projector' streams in 
a thing called a 'beam' to a screen somewhat larger than a computer monitor.
  • ANALOG STREAMING In this unretouched photo, light from a thing called a 'projector' streams in a thing called a 'beam' to a screen somewhat larger than a computer monitor.

On the occasion of the anniversaries of the Pacific Sun and its sister paper, the North Bay Bohemian, consider that both outlasted their model, New York's Village Voice, which perished this August.

The New York paper, founded by Norman Mailer and others in 1955, made its fame dealing with the matters that the other Manhattan dailies wouldn't touch, such as drugs, feminism and anti-war activism. The paper waxed and waned with various countercultures, surviving through decades of beatnik, hippie, freak and yuppie readers, finally expiring in the era of Yelp, Tinder, and the artisanal pickle. Imitating both the Voice's example (bravery, frankness and prioritizing local issues) and its flaws (insularity, self-indulgence, self-satisfaction), dozens of smaller tabloids sprung to life in every funky town or college ghetto in the U.S.A.

As New York grew whiter and richer, the Voice suffered from years of mismanagement. It changed hands and in 2005 became part of the New Times chain out of Phoenix. While the Phoenix New Times deserves honor for its heroic reporting on the brutality of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the chain itself proposed an apolitical, one-size-fits-all model for the papers they engulfed and devoured. The Voice survives in name only as part of the Voice Media Group, the remains of a media group that once faced scrutiny by the Justice Department for the way it invaded markets.

As for the Voice itself, it dwindled, eventually being placed into a sort of online-only hospice before the plug was pulled this summer.

The VV was perhaps one more casualty of what critic A. S. Hamrah describes in his new book The Earth Dies Streaming as "Trumpancholia"—a global malady "afflicting most of the planet's population, who have traded the things they used to enjoy for the constant monitoring of Trump's reality-TV spectacle."

Today, there isn't a newspaper around that's not trying to do more with less, and not a writer for them that isn't coping with smaller spaces, shorter attention spans and less time to rearrange words. Still, the VV's model created careers as something that sounds patronizing: an "alternative journalist." It was—and for the ones left, still is—a gift to be able to write as you please, and to be able to use everyone's favorite four-letter words in matters where nothing else works. In this line of journalism, you don't have to button your collar, or worry about what the Baptists would think, or, when writing about the arts, pretending to be bulldog, gruffing about these pretentious academics or those long-haired hippies.

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