Punching the Line: Fluxus, Yippie, and the 1968 DNC
English Studies Forum
New Year’s Eve, 1967; Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubins, Ed Sanders, and Paul Krassner gathered in rented rooms of Hoffman’s Lower East Side loft—Louisida, Alphabet city. Hoffman picks a letter—"Y"? (Kaiser 232)—and the Hip is Yipped, or flipped. “Yippie,” the “Youth International Party,” as Paul Krassner dubbed the movement, began as a joke, a bit of Fluxus-like detournement, with perhaps a tip of the hat to the “Fluxus International Party,” a like-minded art movement that pre-dated Yippie by nearly a decade. The half-serious series of events that would be scripted for that summer were still a fold in the imagination, yet at the 1968 DNC (8/22-29), Yippie would find its shape, rebus-like, dialogically, through a partly impromptu, "de-collage” reworking of "Convention City" (cf. Fluxus artist Wolf Vostell’s “civic” installations of the same period—de-collage works through de(con)struction to (re)construction). Staged on the cusp of turbulence that would radicalize not only many who took part in the marches and were victims of the riots in Grant Park and surrounding streets during the demonstrations of convention week, but also those displaced witnesses of the televised “revolution” and even the media itself, which at that moment (if only for a moment) became empowered as a vehicle of critical consciousness, Yippie carnivalizations of convention ideology, of the officially constructed convention space—an emblem of smooth, controlled transitions of power, of all-American processed democracy (rather than live process)—would register higher on the scale of ideological impacts than its founders could have envisioned. Though many factors and groups unintentionally collaborated to produce the political “happening” of the ’68 DNC (including the Chicago police department and even—or especially—Mayor Daley, neither of whom were in the mood for jokes), I want to consider the role of the political “jest,” as theorized and practiced by Yippie and informed (perhaps unwittingly) by Fluxus conceptual clowning, in radicalizing convention “participants” (those directly involved in protest events during convention week and, less directly, witnesses/viewers—including the TV audience) and in opening a space for the development/deployment of critical consciousness. Through the humored fissures of Yipped protest, the spectacle of glitz and solidarity bled and distorted; by the end of August, 1968, the national convention as a symbol of political stability and order had given way to (or disassembled into, helped by the TV “tube” as a sort of Brechtian estrangement filter) a more complex, less "united" (if not ultimately unmanageable), yet more vital image of America than conventional political iconography could sustain.
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