Talk radio, Hasidic rabbis, insecurity

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Thu Sep 20 09:44:20 MDT 2001

As comrades probably know by now, I am a fan of talk radio for the same
reason that I love the Internet. At its best, it gives you the raw,
unmediated voice of the people. One of the reasons that I am so aroused
over the hijacking of Pacifica radio is that, if successful, it will turn
this rowdy, uncensored medium into the same kind of bland, homogenized
outlet as National Public Broadcasting. Eutrice Leid, the tin pot dictator
who ran WBAI in NYC has just been promoted upstairs to news director for
the network, replacing the disgraced Steve Yasko. In his spare time, Yasko
ran a porn website that contained degrading references to Amy Goodman, a
respected producer exiled from WBAI and leader of the dissidents. After
this appointment, Bessie Wash, the national programming director wrote an
obsequious memo to the corporate thugs on the board congratulating them on
the new appointments. It includes the following observation:

"If these extremists succeed in taking control of Pacifica, it is in danger
of becoming an anachronism, an irrelevance, and an echo chamber for a
radical fringe. It will cease to be community service radio."

Keep in mind that the Pacifica board, which has just been stacked with
Democratic Party hacks, including Marion Barry, the creepy ex-Mayor of
Washington, DC, came *this* close to nominating Colin Powell as a board
member. Powell, who is a buddy of board member Bertram Lee, who makes a
living buying and selling commercial radio stations, is a subscriber
(!!!!!) to the Washington, DC Pacifica station. This affiliate is pretty
much of a model of what the Pacifica board wants to impose on the rest of
the network. It is a jazz-oriented station that has purged all radical
commentary. Its listener base consists largely of affluent
African-Americans who live in the suburbs of Washington, DC and who have
the same kinds of class attitudes as the African-American board members.
They are the sort of characters who wouldn't be caught dead at a Mumia rally.

My tastes in talk radio are extremely wide-ranging. Some evenings I have
WFAN, the all-talk sports station, on in the background while I am reading
Bakunin or Pakistan history. The passion with which a "Vinnie from Staten
Island" can put into rating the batting average based on a player's salary
is really impressive. Noam Chomsky, who also follows the sports talk radio
phenomenon, says that it is proof that the working class can develop
expertise when sufficiently motivated.

But in a way, my favorite listening is on WMCA, the all-religious station.
Especially on Saturday night, when it is turned over to Jewish programming.
It is one of the few outlets that I can hear Yiddish spoken. Even when the
various rabbis speak in English, their delivery is nothing like what you
hear on the commercial stations. One of my favorites is a Hasidic rabbi
with a psychotherapy practice who comes on at 9pm. He offers advice to
husbands and wives along the lines of how ritual baths can bring them
closer together. I admit this sort of thing is an acquired taste.

Last Saturday night he sort of departed from his usual fare and offered
some commentary on the WTC events. He made much more sense than many of the
radicals I've been listening to lately on the Internet. He said that the
American people have been exposed to three great insecurities in recent
years. First, during the 1980s and 90s, they discovered that a job was no
longer a permanent thing. You could no longer take a job with Met Life
after graduating college and assume that you could retire with the company,
as was the case--in fact--in the 1930s. When I went to work for Met Life in
1968, they called it "Ma Met" in the same way that phone company employees
referred to "Ma Bell". Those days are over.

The next insecurity was over the stock market. With the meltdown of the
past few years, especially in the high-flying tech sector, no longer could
you assume that putting away 10% of your take-home pay into the stock
market could make you into a millionaire, let alone make money for you.

The latest insecurity is connected to your physical well-being. After the
WTC attack, nobody in New York City could assume that they are safe
anywhere. This is exactly what I have noticed among my co-workers at
Columbia University. If the level of insecurity I have witnessed up here,
nearly 200 city blocks from the WTC, is any indication, then the
psychological state of downtown workers must be a mixture of depression and
anxiety reaching a clinical state.

In reflecting on the goals of the men who carried out the attack, it is
tempting to think in terms of the Reichstag fire, etc. I think this is the
wrong approach entirely. It makes much more sense to think in terms of the
psychological impact on exactly the sort of people that the Hasidic rabbi
was addressing, rather than ruling class politicians. He obviously had
Israel in mind, as well. Over in Israel the same sorts of suicide attacks
have been taking place for some time now and clearly seem aimed at
increasing the level of insecurity of the average citizen. Needless to say,
this does not connect to any sort of strategic plan for social
transformation but rather flows from a kind of apocalyptic vision akin to
the epic struggles of the Middle Ages. Of course, they are dialectically
linked to the class struggle of today, a subject that I will be addressing
in future posts.

Louis Proyect
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