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Under the Radar 1

The Journalism 

of the East Village Other

 

This is the first of a series of columns inspired by the
 
East Village Other, written by former EVO
 
columnist Alex Gross, and aimed at  
 
recapturing the spirit of that unique newspaper. 
 
These columns are equally inspired by the exhibit
 
about this newspaper sponsored by four NYU
 
divisions: the NYU Arthur L. Carter Journalism
 
Institute, the Fales Library and Special Collections 
 
of NYU Elmer A. Bobst Library, the Program on 
 
Museum Studies, and the NYTimes.com Local 
 
East Village. This exhibit celebrates EVO's past
 
and is most welcome. But EVO's passing has left
 
a gap in the journalism of the present, and many
 
stories that EVO would almost surely have covered
 
have in fact been left unreported. The columns
 
that follow attempt to fill that gap. To see other
 
columns in this series, click here

 

On Feb. 28 three NYU divisions will inaugurate their  exhibit “Blowing Minds: The East Village Other, the Rise of Underground Comix and the Alternative Press” at 20 Cooper Square, appropriately located in the East Village.
 

From 1965 until 1971 this underground newspaper struck fear into the hearts of millions of Americans. But countless other Americans welcomed it as a glorious ray of hope and joy.
 
Essentially the flagship of the Sixties, EVO influenced many other so-called underground newspapers in this country and around the world. While resistance to the Vietnam war was often featured, it was scarcely the only theme. Nor was EVO only about sex, drugs, and rock & roll, though these were certainly present.
 
I wrote for EVO from 1968 to 1971 and before that helped out with other underground newspapers in London, Amsterdam, and Berlin. So let me confirm that other EVO topics included feminism, eastern mysticism, the commune movement, new approaches to education, practical problems of artists, the budding ecology/environmental movement, and the struggle for Black and Hispanic equality.
 
You might also find the odd plug for classical Marxism, though contrary to today's right-wingers this topic never played a major role. True, our movement was called the "New Left" (among many other labels), but our "left" was always more cultural than political.
 
Humor played a central role from the beginning, and in some ways EVO ranks as a continuation of that great American tradition mixing humor and skepticism pioneered by Mark Twain, Ambrose Bierce—both also journalists—and H.L. Mencken at his best. EVO’s humor was both verbal and visual, introducing millions of Americans to the art of R. Crumb, Art Spiegelman, Kim Deitch, Gilbert Shelton, and others.
 
Of course sex was important, and sex meant all varieties, straight, kinky, and gay, not to mention major sex-related practices like birth control and abortion. Drugs embraced both soft and hard varieties, with a slight bias towards the former.
 
Wars can bring about major social changes, and there was room for all of these issues and more on the broad coattails of the anti-war movement.
 
Which brings us essentially to the world we know today, where all of these Sixties causes have either taken over or have greatly altered our outlook. Except in the red states of course, where a Fifties mentality still aims at the abolition of all 60s values.
 
It was called a "youthquake" at the time, a seismic jolt that can suddenly occur when the rules we think we live by are gravely subducted by the rules we actually live by, causing profound social eruptions to suddenly break out in powerful upheavals all around us.
 
Could such a youthquake, could such a mind-jolt happen again? The answer is simple: it has clearly already begun. In 1965 remarkably few Americans thought any of the Sixties issues could ever reach the surface, much less take over.
 
As a Sixties survivor I believe we are now living in our own version of 1965. And that equally major social changes may soon be bursting forth on all sides.
 
During the Sixties one of the few places you could write about such offbeat topics was the East Village Other. I'll be doing my best to continue that tradition and tell you about some of these other subductive faults right here in 60S REBORN, my attempt to recapture the spirit of the East Village Other.
 
Here's just a few topics no one else is covering, a few questions that urgently need answering:
 
Is the Afghan government actually less corrupt than Washington?
 
We're spending billions on the space program, but is it for real? Will humans one day actually be living on planets in other galaxies (and perhaps making war on our own through conveniently located wormholes)?

Is it truly ethical for someone to make a bet on how long you will live? Or on how healthy you will be tomorrow, next year, ten years from now? And to make money from such a bet?

Proof from the founding fathers that God is NOT a basic part of America.

Is housing in this city well on its way back to the year 1900?


Here are a few more detailed topics:

Over the last ten years a whole new domain of human sexuality has spread among millions of men and women around the world, thanks to almost unlimited free videos and photos available from the web. It encompasses a hundred new positions, none of them found even in the Kama Sutra, and is grounded in a whole gamut of motives and psychologies. Women love it because it is totally feminist, and men have also been quickly converted. Meanwhile, so-called scientific sexology has remained almost totally silent about these practices, while simply describing the basic body parts  involved has proved too embarrassing for most journalists to write about. (And no, we're not talking about dildoes, sphincters, etc....)

In some ways education during the Middle Ages and Renaissance was superior to our modern universities. Those lucky enough to complete the trivium and quadrivium and go on to the study of medicine, law, or architecture would have acquired along the way a grounding not only in grammar, logic, and  public discourse but in astronomy, mathematics, and music as well. Such a broad-based education is anathema to our modern universities, which promote the highest possible (and sometimes ridiculous) level of specialization. During the Sixties Marshall McLuhan warned against this tendency and called for the creation of generalists as well as specialists, but his warning went unheeded.

The US and Europe: Almost seventy years after World War Two Americans and Europeans still understand almost as little of each other as they did during the decades that led to that war. Despite travel, films, the web, Europeans of all classes still indulge in ludicrous generalizations about America, and Americans do much the same about Europe, whether the field is culture, economics, or social values. The author is highly qualified to  write such an article based on his twelve years in Europe, the five European languages he speaks, and his unique family embracing French, English, German, Hungarian, American, Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish members.

 

And a host of other fun topics. So stay tuned... 
 
 
 

Alex Gross has written of his experiences with the underground press in the US, UK, Germany, and the Netherlands in his book THE UNTOLD SIXTIES: When Hope Was Born. His website:
http://language.home.sprynet.com/

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