Writing assignment for unit 4:
Woodstock: 3 Days of Peace and Music (Class #1)
"Woodstock must always be our model of how good we will all feel after the revolution" (Andrew Kopkind)
"The dreams of marijuana and rock music that drew 300,000 fans and hippies to the Catskills had little more sanity than the impulse that drive the lemmings to march to their deaths in the sea. They ended in a nightmare of mud and stagnation that paralyzed Sullivan County for a whole week-end. What kind of culture is it that can produce so colossal a mess?" (New York Times, 8/16/69)
"The last bedraggled fan sloshed out of Max Yasgur's muddy pasture more than 25 years ago. That's when thedebate began about Woodstock's historical significance. True believers still call Woodstock the capstone of an eradevoted to human advancement. Cynics say it was a fitting, ridiculous end to an era of naivete. Then there arethose who say it was just a hell of a party." (Elliot Tiber)
"The largest gathering of youth in the nation's history . . . a religious experience . . . a glimpse of communism . . . the pinnacle of passive consumerism . . . first free dope territory in Amerika . . . mud, and acid, and hunger, and freedom, and thirst, and community, and boredom . . . Containment -- revolution." (underground newspaper)
LET'S ROCK N' ROLL
Ok, let's get to it. Woodstock -- in many ways seen as the capstone of the positive aspect of the 1960s. We're going to ask, like we did in the other three units, how should we remember . . . Vietnam . . . the Holocaust . . . the Enola Gay and the end of World War II . . . and now Woodstock?
O, those 1960s, eh. What a decade -- Kennedy inaugurates a New Frontier, Cuban missle crisis brings us to the edge of nuclear war, Martin Luther King dreams a true democracy, King and Kennedy assassinations cut the heart out of the nation, Vietnam escalates, demonstrators are bludgeoned at the Democratic National Convention for all to see on television, the moon gets walked on, and we're on our way to Kent State and Watergate. Whew! It was a tiring decade.
How should we remember Woodstock? It's all tied up with how we remember the 60s.
I'm older than the 60s. I'm even older than television, but that's another story. Where was I in August of 1969 when Ken Kesey's psychedelic bus headed to Woodstock? Well, a broke Gallagher with pregnant wife and three children and all earthly possessions were in another kind of bus -- a volkswagen bus -- headed to Lehigh and the promise of a paycheck.
I was not happy on the Pennsylvania Turnpike hearing that 500,000 young people had a life where they could just take off for a weekend and drink, and smoke, and sing, and screw to their heart's content. They were dropping out at the same moment I was locking in.
And Lehigh was about as far from a Woodstock or a Haight-Ashbury as you could imagine. Very straight, very upperclass, very elite, very male (no women here then), very unpolitical, very materialistic, very much the vehicle to the Wall Streets of this world.
Lehigh was the Establishment, the enemy. Hard to imagine a Hippie on this campus. Maybe even now.
How should we feel about the Hippies? They spoke a "foreign" language: flower power, tripping, dropping out, love-ins, happenings, freak out, rapping, far-out, groovy, hangup, plug in to, space out, Do your own thing, turn on, up tight, blow your mind -- Peace, Brother.
How feel about this thing called the "counterculture"? And what exactly is/was this thing called the counterculture anyway. Maybe this description by Timothy Miller, though a bit dryly academic, is a start:
The counterculture, in its broad-spectrum challenge to the prevailing culture, argued that America needed a sweepingly new ethics appropriate to an age characterized by never-ending global power struggles, technocracy, urbanization, environmental catastrophe, and pyschedelic chemistry. The hippies saw themselves as the people of zero, the vanguard who would build a new society on the ruins of the old, corrupt one. They defined their task as bringing to the world a radical change of outlook, a fundamentally new way of seeing the world. (The Hippies and American Values, p. 3)A counterculture. A culture of opposition. The world was messed up and needed a change. A revolution. And the tools of the revolution would include dope, sex, music, and a new sense of community.
So, we have Woodstock in August 1969 -- thought of as one of the sacred, sacramental times and spaces of the counterculture. Some say as many as 500,000 gather for three days of peace and music. Incredible. Amazing. "Were you at Woodstock?" was a common conversation starter for a decade after. Maybe you have parents who were there. It will be interesting to hear if there are personal "histories" that you can relate to us.
And so, too, we have the central question in our course: how shall we remember this phenomenal event, this countercultural climax of one of the most turbulent and controversial and divisive decades in all American history? For better or for worse, whether you realize it or not, YOU are a product of the 60s: the music you listen to, your sexual mores, your attachment to your government, the way authorities treat you, what you want to do with your life, and etc., and etc., and etc.
The movie that is the focus of this unit is a "documentary" done at the time of the festival and screened the following summer. It is a lens through which future generations will see Woodstock and through it the 1960s. It is, in effect, a history textbook. In this unit, let's put it under our microscope and examine its agenda, its attempt to write history and thus to control future perspectives on this piece of the past.
YOUR PRELIMINARY ASSIGNMENT
1) Go to the Reel American History site, find Jim Clewley's Woodstock project and
read through it.
2) Note especially the Scene Log, for your writing assignment will relate to it.
3) Reviews: Read Jim's annotations of some reviews. And then read the full text of
these three reviews in our Course Documents file:Stanley Kauffmann on Films--Woodstock4) Historical Context: Read Jim's overview essay, and then note the online resources
Corliss: For One Brief Shining Moment
Holden:Woodstock: The Four-Dollar Revolution
there. You can pick up good information browsing through those links, but here are
three specific sites to look at:What makes a Hippy:5) Scene Analysis: Read Jim's essay; it can serve as a model for the essay you will do.
How Woodstock happened (a very long essay that you will be tempted to skip, but absolutely great at deconstructing the mythology of the festival by giving the behind-the-scene stuff -- don't miss this one):
A site containing personal experiences of Woodstock:
6) Issue Essay: Read Jim's essay which, though longer than what you will write, will
open up the issue, as his scene essay does too, of how trustworthy a "documentary"
is. This is crucially important for "history on trial."
7) Conference board posts: After spending considerable time working through the
site, spend at least 1/2 hour making your conference post and a reply to another's as
usual. Possible interesting topics for your posts besides responses to anything you
come across on the site might include:
-- first general impressions of the filmOk, groovy. Don't freak out on me. Do your own thing. Turn me on with your posts. Tune in for a far-out assignment next class. Peace, Brother! Peace, Sister!
-- specific comments on specific scenes or specific elements in the film
-- any personal "histories" about Woodstock from your family or circle of
-- what you knew about Woodstock before watching the film
-- your impressions of, feelings about, mental images of the 60s, hippies, the
-- reactions to either of Jim's essays
RECAP AND FORWARD MARCH
1) watched WoodstockYou have at your disposal, then, a lot of contextual material relevant to the festival and the film, and below you will see that I add two more pieces of information. So, I think you are ready to write.
2) surfed the extensive info available through Jim Clewley's Woodstock web
3) read especially Jim's scene analysis and issue essay
So, let's back up a bit and formulate a syllogism about what we are about in this unit:And last class we used Timothy Miller's words to describe the goals of the Counterculture in this manner:The 1960s were characterized by the rise of a (mainly) youth movement called the Counterculture,
and the Woodstock festival in 1969 is often thought of as the highpoint of that movement's activities,
therefore in this unit we want to see what kind of history of that event is made in the movie Woodstock.And last class as well we said this about the tools that the members of the Counterculture would use in order to bring about their new vision:The counterculture, in its broad-spectrum challenge to the
prevailing culture, argued that America needed a sweepingly
new ethics appropriate to an age characterized by
never-ending global power struggles, technocracy,
urbanization, environmental catastrophe, and pyschedelic
chemistry. The hippies saw themselves as the people of
zero, the vanguard who would build a new society on the
ruins of the old, corrupt one. They defined their task as
bringing to the world a radical change of outlook, a
fundamentally new way of seeing the world.Well, now I'd like to give you two more resources. On reserve in Linderman library are:A counterculture. A culture of opposition. The world was messed up and needed a change. A revolution. And the tools of the revolution would include dope, sex, music, and a new sense of community.1) Life magazine containing the Aug 29, 1969, issue with the big photoI will assign each of you one of Miller's 4 tools, one of the 4 components of the Counterculture, to work on as your topic:Simply put, your assignment is to demonstrate how your subject is represented in the film:
spread on the festival. Life was "the" magazine in America at the time
and was always known for its gorgeous and meaningful photography.
You might think of what Life showed and what it didn't, and how its
images compared to the film's.
2) Photocopies of 4 chapters from Timothy Miller's book Hippies and
American Values: the chapters on -- you guessed it -- dope, sex, music, and
community. These chapters on the 4 tools are in separate folders. Miller's
chapters are designed to give you some context for thinking about each of
the 4 subjects.
THE NEW WRINKLEHow are drugs represented in the film?
How is sex represented in the film?
How is music represented in the film?
How is a sense of community represented in the film?
The opportunity I'd like to offer you is to have your essays linked to Jim's Woodstock page on the Lehigh student Reel American History web site.
There has been some very good writing in this class. I think that I have said that the grades have been high in each of the 3 units so far. 'Tis true. And I believe everyone is capable of writing an essay good enough to go onto the site.
Let me talk a little bit about the Reel American History site. It's actually a kind of 60s "place."
We started the site last semester in a senior seminar for English majors. I'm working with it in a graduate class this semester as well. At the end of this semester there will be projects on a total of 19 films on the site. And students will continue to add to it. More films will come online almost every semester. The site will grow and grow over time.
The basic idea is related to a sense of community, a new sense of community in education (I may be able to work music into the site somehow, but I'm not sure about the sex and drugs!) Students teaching other Students. Good work done by students for the purpose of helping other students to do good work. A place where a variety of voices can be heard, not just the voice of the teacher, and where different viewpoints are equally represented, contributing to the pool of knowledge on an important subject.
The challenge of publishing work on the site ups the ante for your work. No longer busy-work. No longer just working for a grade. No longer a returned essay that gets buried in a bottom drawer. But trying to do your best work in order to help others learn. Trying to do work that will live on even after this course, even after you graduate. Ha! Work that might even be visible testimony to your children of your intellectual effort in college! Several of you mentioned watching Woodstock with your parents -- imagine "watching" our web site with your children!
I'm hoping you will feel that this site is a good thing to be a part of. I'm hoping that this opportunity will motivate you to do your best work at this climactic time of your first year. Strut your stuff!!!!
MORE DETAILS ON THE ASSIGNMENT
Both Jim's scene analysis and his issue essay caution us that even "documentaries" have agendas. That's an important point here. Maybe think of the Woodstock film as analogous to a museum exhibit -- recalling our last unit. The director Michael Wadleigh selects and shapes what to present. It's important to get this point. People often think of documentaries as objective fact. As showing undeniable and incontrovertible truth. But make sure you familiarize yourself with Jim's work. Though you need not agree with it in every detail, I think he's doing an important service by opening our eyes to the complexities and the subjective nature of documentaries.
Now, an important step. Here's my plan. Take a look again at the scene log on Jim's web page. I'd like you to find a scene that relates to your topic and make it the anchor for your essay. And then we will make a link from that scene to your essay.
Thus, in a way you are doing a scene essay like Jim did, but you are choosing that scene on the basis of your topic. Now, your essay may focus on just one scene. Or your essay may focus on or refer to more than one scene. But, in any case, choose one scene as the one to which we should link your essay. And, in either case, write specifically about details of the film to make your case.
Finding one scene will be easier for some of the topics than others. There may only be a few scenes that relate to several of the topics, though, on the other hand, music takes up the bulk of the film, and those students will have to figure out how to focus and narrow considerably.
These topics are controversial. Whether drugs are good or bad may be debatable. Whether free sex is good or bad may be debatable. Whether rock music is healthy for the soul may be debatable. Whether new forms of community are practical may be debatable. So, though your primary purpose is to demonstrate how your subject is represented in the film (i.e., how the filmmaker feels about them and wants you to feel about them), you should also feel free to bring your own views to bear. You do not have to exclude your own opinions. In fact, a year 2000 perspective on this year 1970 view of history would be welcome, but just be sure you deal concretely with the film's viewpoint as well. Thus, identify the film's viewpoint as specifically as possible, but it is ok to tell us how this history "plays" on the pulses of the present generation.