Verizon Wireless, a new telecommunications company formed from three old ones, is running a television ad campaign where we see people on lawns and sidewalks, flashing V's made from their fingers. The color is grainy, the images appear in slo-mo. We see old people in lawn chairs, smiling to the camera and flashing V's; we see young children smiling and flashing V's. We see a businessman and a leather-clad dude passing each other on the street, flashing V's at each other while chatting on their cell phones, as if the hand signal is some sort of indicator of their cell phone secret society. The folks many times look as if they are drugged out, blissful and content with their cell phones and their great prices on air time. Meanwhile, some Alanis-sounding chick sings those old Rascals lyrics about how people everywhere just got to be free.
The "V" hand sign was last seen in use as a peace sign; and Verizon, of course, is attempting to tap into a peace-and-freedom vibe. The two-fingers-up is a show of solidarity: Be a part of the Verizon world, multitask with other Verizon users* ... Join Verizon and you could be a part of Utopia ... Telecommunication mergers bring power to the people, soon all citizens will be in the street, marching and shopping and calling their friends and comrades - telling them their each and every movement! The ads have a nostalgic-sixties air - minus the bad clothes and bad acid.
I find most people who wax nostalgic about the sixties to either be annoying or misguided, so I guess you'd think I'd be all smug because a memory of the sixties is being corrupted like this. I'm one of those who can recite my Gen X party line by memory ... Like what was so great about an age when the draft was looming? And correct me if I'm wrong, but those who survived the sixties went on to become clueless, patchouli-stinking new-agers or smug, soulless yuppies, right? Sure, it's all based on stereotypes, though the boomers can be equally arrogant revisionists.
I refer to something I saw on a cable-TV talk show sometime around 1993. On a roundtable full of pundits, there was an insistent, indignant, boomer-aged woman blaming Generation X for the rightward swing of the nation. According to her, it was we who had voted Ronald Reagan into office. Another panelist then pointed out that the oldest Gen Xers were only fifteen in 1980 when Reagan was first elected, and only nineteen during his 1984 re-election. The facts didn't get in the way of the boomer lady though: Her generation fought the good fight, while mine screwed things up. I turned the channel feeling rather above it all - her activist, we-got-the-numbers generation holds much more of the blame for Reagan's ascendance than my generation does, and I have never even considered blaming them for it.
This boomer hostility (don't call it "envy") I carry is fun and safe. It isn't racist or sexist, I can turn it on when necessary, and it gives some well-deserved targets well-deserved kicks in the asses. So like I said, you'd think I'd be happy that another memory of the sixties is being corrupted and co-opted. But you see, the peace sign is something I have a personal history with.
* The cell phone terminology is interesting. "Cell" brings to mind a prison, while "user" reminds one of a junkie sticking a needle in his arm.
I had first been exposed to the peace sign in the late sixties as a young child. It was brought to our household by my older brother, who as my guide to the counterculture explained that it meant "peace" and it also meant "victory." He also explained that all hitchhikers were hippies, so we should flash the peace sign to them on the side of the road as we passed by in the family car. And we always did pass them by, I figured it was somehow the inverse of the advice that you should never accept a ride from a stranger - obviously, strangers and cars were a bad mix. Also, once in church the pastor told a story during his sermon about a lady who was depressed and was considering suicide. She picked up a hitchhiker, who then said that "Jesus loves you." When she turned to look at her passenger, he was gone. It was readily apparent to me that hitchhikers were hippies and hitchhikers should not be trusted. And if that wasn't the case, the hitchhiker would be an angel and would scare the shit out of you by disappearing.
My brother, undoubtedly in support of the peace movement, sometimes flashed peace signs when his picture was taken. I accordingly followed his lead and began to flash peace signs whenever my picture was also being taken. Mom claims I took off and ran with the peace-sign idea; flashing it for every picture I was in and saying "peace" instead of "cheese." At my young age, I didn't know much about the war or the peace movement, I guess I just loved making a statement*.
* And don't you dare call me a hippie - I sported a crew cut well into '73.
Enter President Richard Nixon. He co-opted the peace sign, using it as a "V for Victory" symbol*, consistently flashing two of them (peace-sign users tended to just hold up one hand) from podiums and entryways of presidential helicopters. Sometime late in the Nixon era, I stopped using the peace sign. I don't remember exactly why I quit. The nation is described in this era as being weary of war, protests, and scandals. Personally I was weary of Nixon and his Watergate scandal, whose hearings constantly pre-empted my Tennessee Tuxedo cartoons.**
* He apparently got this from Winston Churchill, though I've always thought that Churchill was merely holding up one finger for each time the UK had to ask the good old US of A to bail them out of their German troubles.
** In 1972, the year of the Watergate break-in and the year Nixon blew out peace candidate George McGovern in the presidential election, rock 'n' rollers struck back. Both Todd Rundgren and Ozzy Osbourne co-opted Nixon's move, with Rundgren's brilliant paranoid photo in the inlay of the Something/Anything album, and Osbourne's turn on a cover of Black Sabbath's fourth album. (Alas, it wasn't the one with "War Pigs" on it.)
Okay, flash way ahead. Past the part where I become a pacifist / isolationist (emphasis on the latter.) In 1991, shortly after a war started, Neil Young played a concert at Target Center. I went with my pal Turk and his buddy Okie. Sitting in some yuphole downtown bar before the show, we discussed the senselessness of the war. As society went, we weren't in the majority - most people seemed to bray along with the propaganda they were being spoon-fed.
Neil's show was electric, it was loud, it was unrelenting. He had a huge white-on-black peace symbol as a backdrop, his third song was "Blowin' in the Wind." Neil knew the score. After the show outside the arena, these fundamentalist Christians were distributing literature, all their usual crap-ola about rock 'n' roll being evil. (A war is going on, let's protest Elvis on the Sullivan show.) To me, these simpletons were in the same oppressive boat as the warmongers, the war supporters, and the company I worked for - which around this same time made all of us employees piss in cups for drug tests. It seemed the walls were closing in and the bad guys were winning on all fronts.
We walked past the Bible-bangers. Turk and I parted with Okie, who flashed us those two fingers and said "peace." I remember it clearly. The simple gesture had a dignified power to it. It stood for the opposite of all the shit that was getting me down. It was cool. The next day, I started again flashing the peace sign, and people began wondering about me. Good.
And you remember the war, of course - it wasn't that long ago. We were told that it was up to the US to preserve world order. We were told that Saddam Hussein was another Adolph Hitler. We set up a Desert Shield which became a Desert Storm once the bombs started dropping. By the time it was over, we had killed over 100,000 Iraqi civilians (what smart bombs?) and left their infrastructure decimated. Hussein stayed in power. But word did go out: You mess with a monarchy like Kuwait, and the United States will respond with full force. Makes you glad Bush wasn't in charge at Valley Forge, don't it?
Yes, I know my flashing a peace sign didn't make a difference back in '91. Then again - aside from the loss of all those tens of thousands of human lives, the whole damn war with Iraq didn't make a difference either, did it? And all you people who were so irate when I dared suggest that we stay out of the Gulf … do you no longer care that Hitler is still in charge in Iraq? How come you don't get in my face about him any more? Where are all you people? Did you find someone else to hate, or do you just pretend you weren't duped?
As for Verizon Wireless, they're trying to take from all of us something that is simple and sweet. A gesture that means peace - peace of mind, go in peace, peace be unto you, no justice no peace. But now if you make that simple gesture, if you flash those two fingers, you risk having folks think that you're supporting an air-time company. It's a brilliant, cynical move on Verizon's part. For all I know, they're wishing for a war, so bleeding hearts across the nation will be in the streets - carrying signs and banners, pimping for their corporation.
So congratulations, you bastards at Verizon: you just made my enemies list.
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