February 21, 2014

Liberal Journalism MIA in Berkeley?

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:23 pm

Dorothea Lange, then a Berkeley resident, took the Thirties era photo of a farmer’s wife (the image is called “Migrant Mother”) that became the “go to” image for depicting America in the Depression.  Mario Savio delivered the speech that some historians credit as the real start of the Sixties from on top of a police car in Spraul Plaza at UC Berkeley.  Morris Dickstein wrote:  “The History of the Sixties was written as much in the Berkeley Barb as in the New York Times.”  It seemed only natural to expect that in the Bush era journalists would be clogging both Shattuck and Telegraph Avenues to relay stories and photos of the famous variations of Main Street to the rest of the world.

Wolf pack coverage of the latest installment of bad times still hasn’t arrived in the university town a few miles east of San Francisco and so the question must be asked:  Has Berkeley become passé or has America’s Free Press screwed up again?

The Berkeley campus has a student newspaper and a school of journalism and the fact that the J-students aren’t covering the city’s homeless as relentlessly as the paparazzi dog actors in Hollywood may actually be the story.

Ninja Kitty, a denizen of Shattuck Avenue, finds it curious that the local politicians ignore the homeless at the same time that tourists from around come to the city wanting to take photos of hippies.  Do the tourists contribute to the politicians’ reelection campaigns?

He may have provided a Rosetta stone clue when he noted that the dynamic duo on the Armstrong and Getty radio show distort their audience’s perception of the homeless by focusing attention on the fringe element of the contingent of Bay Area vagabonds and concentrate on warping their observations and generalizations by focusing on the panhandlers in San Francisco who are shunned by the majority of the homeless community.  Why would anyone want to provide such inept attempts at journalism?

Is focusing on a group’s radical extremists an example of fair and balanced journalism?  What if a Liberal radio show asserted that the Republicans Party was populated by people brandishing guns as a way of standing their ground to protect their right to handle rattlesnakes in a religious ceremony?  “You’ll take my rattlesnake from my cold dead hands!”

The World’s Laziest Journalist has listened to Armstrong and Getty and noticed that their basic knowledge of the homeless milieu is inaccurate.  The homeless in Berkeley regularly use the access they have for taking a shower.  The homeless, who often sleep in the open, keep dogs with them as a means of having a burglary alarm system while they sleep.  Any homeless person can verify the accuracy of the folk wisdom:  “The rich rob from the poor; and the poor rob from each other.”

The hippies became known as “freaks” in the late Sixties and since Diane Arbus was known for photographing unusual people, we often marvel that she didn’t document the vagabonds in the Sixties who hitchhiked into and out of Berkeley.

Richard Avedon was hired (by Rolling Stone Magazine) to set up a portable studio at the 1976 Democratic National Convention and take portraits of all the most prominent politicians.  We’ve often wondered why he didn’t cover the anti-war protesters in Berkeley earlier in his career.

If the mainstream media ignores the Berkeley angle now in a complete contradiction of how, hypothetically, Dorothea Lang would have responded to the opportunity, we can chalk it up to unknown factors, but the nagging question remains:  If students at UCB in the Sixties used their local Berkeley angle to gain entry to the exclusive mainstream media In-crowd of the New York publishing world, why then, aren’t the Berkeley panhandlers of today in need of a press agent to handle interview requests?

If you have ever closely watched a human and a dog walk together, the dog frequently makes an effort to get his stealth cues from the human’s face and body language.  They often check to see if the Homo sapiens are emitting subconscious (to the human) clues about how the canine should react.  Is the approach of a stranger a bad thing (grrrr) or a good (wag the tail)?

Could it be that the (Sixties cliché alert!) sell out to the Establishment by Journalists in the USA has become so complete and pervasive that J-schools project the “do not offend the media owners” attitude so thoroughly that the students in Berkeley don’t bother to send query letters to New York based editors about counter culture stories?  Many of the Sixties students were eager to tell their stories in underground newspapers and the trend morphed into a farm club system of developing talent for the In-crowd in New York City (see the book “Smoking Typewriters” by John McMillian) but these days in the Fox era, it seems that the method is to make absolutely sure that Journalism students know from the start that unorthodox methods and stories are off limits and a binary choice about the capitalistic society has to be made.  “Are you in or are you out?”

Speaking of higher minimum wage rates, we are investigating a rumor that makes the assertion that some affluent college students are offering prestigious firms substantial sums of cash to land an internship gig which will give them some material to list on their resumes.

A scholar from Boston, who is in Berkeley to audit a class in philosophy, has told us that he is interested in making some suggestions to the city council regarding urban development and since that topic has a cusp area that overlaps with the needs and wants of the homeless, a greater interest in affordable housing may soon become a relevant factor in an area where tenants rights is impacting the subject of affordable housing.

Since the overall Conservative strategy has long been “divide and conquer,” circumstances, which cause a uniting of the assorted activists working on the challenges of renters’ rights, the long term consequences of home foreclosures, and the problems of the homeless, could , if they all joined forces, become a worse nightmare scenario for the champions of capitalism in action.

The World’s Laziest Journalist believes that the One Percent does not want a permanent solution to the homeless problem and consequently that topic will be revisited in future columns for years to come.

Since many of the political pundits with national audiences have pointed out that the Republican Party seems to be simultaneously alienating women, Chicanos, labor, abortion rightists, pacifists, and the advocates of legalized pot; it seems that there is only one possible strategy available to the Republicans to win the contest.

Brad Friedman, the leading Internet voice for criticism (Google hint:  Bradblog) of the electronic voting machines, with no verifiable results, has been labeled a conspiracy theorist, and so the only response to the aforementioned challenge may require a reference to the W. C. Fields quote:  “If a thing’s worth having; it’s worth cheating for.”

Stoned munchies?  Cities in the San Francisco Bay Area (Berkeley?) are finding that there is a noticeable increase in the sales of Girl Scout cookies at the locations that are in close proximity to the dispensaries for medicinal marijuana.

[Note from the Photo Editor:  A portrait of a fellow who is trying hard to cope with the new hard times will be used to illustrate this column.  Isn’t a poor attempt to imitate the photojournalism of Dorothea Lange, better than none at all?]

In “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” (on page 67), Hunter S. Thompson wrote:  “History is hard to know, because of all the hired bullshit, but even without being sure of ‘history’ it seems entirely reasonable to think that every now and then the energy of a whole generation comes to a head in a long fine flash, for reasons that nobody really understands at the time – and which never explain, in retrospect, what actually happened.”

Now the disk jockey will play Simon and Garfunkel’s “Mrs. Robinson,” the Rolling Stones’ “Street Fighting Man,” and the Searchers’ “Needles and pins.”  We have to go look for a news story about the new Tonight Show host, Jimmy Falon, which mentions that one of his predecessors was Al “Jazzbo” Collins.  Have a “we don’t gotta show you no stinkin’ badges” type week.

December 27, 2013

The homeless, panhandlers, and mug shots

Filed under: Commentary — Tags: , , , — Bob Patterson @ 1:26 pm

Berkeley’s beloved Hate Man 

Approximately forty years ago, Esquire Magazine commissioned a commercial photographer in New York City to select some bums from the Bowery, take mug shtos of them, then spruce them up, put them in fashionable clothes and take their portraits a second time.  The pairs of portraits made a very effective statement about the absurdity of lookism, which is the philosophy that everything, particularly people, should be judged on how attractive and stylish they look.

When we first arrived in Berkeley CA, we recalled the Esquire Magazine effort and considered doing a localized version of that approach to the controversial subject of the local homeless.

Things have changed (a bit) since the Sixties and these days people are up tight about having their photo taken and so the project was slowed down by an attempt, which had to come first, to win the confidence of some of the panhandlers.

Richard Avedon had a unique lighting style that made his portraits distinctive and eventually we figured out (“imitation is the sincerest form of flattery”) how to duplicate it.  It would take some expensive strobe lighting and a huge studio and, over the years, we (photo pun alert!) developed a low budget way to try to imitate the master’s distinctive style.  A plain white wall with Northern lighting would be a cheap way to get the flat lighting and plain background.

Francesco Scavullo came to our attention as the end of the last century drew neigh.  Scavullo usually had a hair dresser, a make up artist and a wardrobe wrangler on his staff and he could make anyone look like a movie star and made movie stars look like living legends.  If he selected a hippie, a panhandler, or a homeless person as a subject they would end up looking drop dead gorgeous in the finished print.  The photo critics eloquently praised Scavullo’s ability to see the inner human dignity of the subject.

Armstrong and Getty, who have the hottest (radio) show on the West Coast, are rather relentless in their harsh criticism of the homeless, the panhandlers, and the hippie connoisseurs of tobacco and home rolled cigarettes.  Lookism reigns supreme in the ranks of the Republicans.

The radio duo will, for example, describe in lurid detail just how unsanitary some panhandlers seem to be but they will not acknowledge that often businesses in San Francisco or Berkeley will deny the homeless access to public toilets.

During the series of Occupy protests in the San Francisco Bay Area, the World’s Laziest Journalist had to cope with the same challenge.  If, for example, there is a hotel with public toilets in the area, and if they deny access to those facilities during a time period when a big political protest is being conducted nearby, that could be construed as stacking the deck against the activists in the hopes that they would have to soil themselves and their clothing and thus provide grist for conservative propaganda.

Could that sly attack on freedom of speech happen in a country that had thousands of men die defending the Four Freedoms (can you name all four?) in World War II?

Wouldn’t such cynical manipulation of the protesters be a stealth way of contradicting the need for those men who fought and died in WWII, to give the ultimate sacrifice?  Or would it reduce the Conservatives’ lavish praise or patriotism to the level of being an egregious example of their addiction to hypocrisy?  What’s not to love about crass and callous hypocrisy?  Don’t Republicans want to be on the billionaires’ team rather than spend additional tax dollars on the casualties of war?

What would Armstorng and Getty have to say if, hypothetically, Francesco Scavullo were able to round up a contingent of Bay Area panhandlers, get them out of their dirty clothes (there is at least one Laundromat in Berkeley that offers the homeless a free night when they can wash most of their clothes.  [What’s not to love about a guy in his skivvies washing all the rest of his wardrobe?]), take an impressive portrait, and turn them into matinee idols and starlets?  Berkeley even offers the homeless a chance to shower and shampoo their hair, twice a week.

If Scavullo were still alive and transforming the homeless in the San Francisco Bay area into potential movie stars (there’s one guy on Shattuck who reminds us of Lee van Cleef [Does anyone still make spaghetti Westerns?]) we would expect Armstrong and Getty to ignore the results and continue to demean the victims of the current class warfare.

Since radioland will soon be turned into all conservative propaganda all the time, don’t expect sympathetic media coverage of the panhandlers any time soon.

Several years ago (could it have been twenty years ago?) the World’s Laziest Journalist occasionally bought lunch for a fellow who “owned” the begging rights to the 405 off-ramp at National Blvd in the Mar Vista Section of Los Angeles.  He had no reason to lie to us and so we take what he said at face value.  We asked him why he didn’t use some of his “offerings” to get a haircut and buy some nicer threads.  He bluntly told us that if he did that, he wouldn’t bring in half as much money.  The people, he said, wanted to have a full experience of being a “have” who was giving to a “have not.”  In Los Angeles, which is the home of the movie industry, an elaboration of the “you have to look the part” philosophy was not necessary.

Things were much better economically back then, and we had no reason to doubt him when he said his earnings were enabling him to put his two children back East through college.  He blithely told us that his annual income was $38,000.  Based on what he told us, it is easy to see why a panhandler would not want, back then, to get a “makeover” from Scavullo and his team and thereby sabotage his way of earning a livelihood.

In our photo archives, we have a good portrait of Berkeley’s beloved Hate Man.  We had to do a re-shoot when we couldn’t find the j-peg files of his portrait.  We used Northern Lighting with a white door as background to get a shot with the look we wanted.

The East Bay Guardian did an award winning feature story profile of Hate Man ( ) and we could not hope to do better with a measly 1,000 word column.   If readers do a Google Image search for Hate Man, one of the top suggestions is a portrait of Hate Man earlier in life and we offer that photo as conclusive proof that we do not harbor a condescending attitude regarding Hate Man because fifty years ago, he had already achieved a level of journalism success that we can still only envy today.

If (subjunctive mood alert!), the World’s Laziest Journalist were teaching a course in Journalism at a world famous University that is close to People’s Park, which is where Hate Man’s World Headquarters is located, we would beg him for the opportunity to be  a guest lecturer in an outdoor meeting of the class.  Hell, they should pay him to teach a class there every semester.

As it is, most folks take a quick look at Hate Man and revert to Lookism to make their assessment of the fellow.  Getty and Armstrong would score a coup if they could talk to him and listen to what he has to say.  Come to think of it, maybe even Uncle Rushbo would love to hear a person proselytizing on the idea that people shouldn’t suppress hate.

If the Republicans want an eloquent exposition on the idea that hate should be expressed enthusiastically, they couldn’t find a better spokesperson.  Since Hate Man lives in one of the most Liberal congressional districts in the USA, maybe the Republicans might take pride in Hate Man if they elected him to be the local Congressional delegate, but it is our opinion that Hate Man would get claustrophobic sitting in a Congressman’s office and decline the opportunity.

Recently in London, photographer Rosie Holtum caused a sensation with a photo exhibition that was based on the same premise that Esquire used so many moons ago.  Conservative media owners will probably be very quick to squelch this graphic evidence which proves a liberal contention.

What would happen if, instead of giving families a home makeover on a reality TV show, the production company started doing a weekly program that gave homeless people a makeover?  Conservative media owners won’t let that idea be expressed in any pitch session, eh?

While writing this week’s column, we saw the new Walter Mitty movie which features repeated recitations of the mission statement for LIFE magazine which provides us with an appropriate end of the column quote: “To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of Life.”

Now the disk jockey will play Madonna’s “Vogue,” Frank Sinatra’s “Nancy (with the laughing face),” and the Cowsills’ “All I really want to be is me.”  We have to go buy a DVD copy of “Funny Face.”  Have a “say ‘cheese!’” type week.

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