For as long as I’ve been conscious of my surroundings, American culture has been one of greed. In fact, I think it safe to say that if Dante’s’ hell does exist, most of us will be stopping by the fourth level for at least a short visit. In bed last night, as my mind churned with images of this mess our country has landed in, and how we got there, my thoughts turned to Woodstock (the festival, not the little yellow bird).
Woodstock started out as a corporate venture, as most ventures do. But, as the attendance list grew, so did the ideals behind the concert. It became bigger than business suits and conference rooms, bigger than budget meetings and profit margins. It became bigger than the dollar. The weekend was shared in a spirit of love and peace, and although problems did arise, the attendees took them in gracious stride. They weathered rain, poor sanitary conditions and food shortages all because they wanted to be there, to share in the moment itself.
Fast forward to 1999. Another “Woodstock”, this time–a true echo of its origin’s nature–held at a Superfund site. Corporate sponsors lined up, hands out. Merchandise booths and food vendors descended like hungry vultures, each one charging far too much for the substandard wares they hawked. In the only mirror of the previous festival this paltry approximation could claim, food and water again ran short, as did sanitary provisions. This time, riots broke out. Fires were started. Women were raped. The Gen-X answer to the concert that changed rock and roll was a heinous, violent disaster.
When money becomes the sole motive of any purpose, no matter how innocuous or pure the original intent, a shadow falls. This darkness obscures the way, leaving us to wander in the pitch, hoping the direction in which we point is true. And that’s what has happened to our country. We’ve been staggering around in the blackness of avarice, surrounded by the material things we’ve collected, forging for ourselves a vertiginous maze of high end cars, gated communities and the all-mighty–I hate to be forced to say this word–bling.
It is a hard lesson to learn, but a necessary one, one that extends to every aspect of our lives, our hopes. For who among the downtrodden clan of struggling writers has not dreamed of a giant advance, a throng of loyal readers, book signing lines that snake around the block? Hoping for such things is fine, as is attaining them. But, it’s the method by which we go about achieving it, the intent behind our own personal Woodstocks that make the difference. At this critical point in history, where we can learn from our mistakes or doom ourselves to repeat them, we would be better off focusing on what we want out of our work on a personal level, and leave the scrabbling for material achievements to those who enjoy the shadows.