Woodstock: Then NOT Now (or why not everything relates to Obama)

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You can say I’m a huge Woodstock fan; I own the inevitable (necessary) poster with an authentic ticket, signed books (Artie Kornfeld), a photo collection and personal drawings (above)… to name just a sampling. I’ve made annual, sometimes quad annual, trips to ‘the site’ at the intersection of Hurd and West Shore roads in Bethel New York. All this years before Bethel Woods Center for the Arts was built. In some ways, I feel like I was there, or should have been.

I first saw the Woodstock movie as a 7 year old in Moscow. I think it was on network TV to showcase the ‘American perversion and result of brute capitalism of the US’ or something like that… I vividly remember standing in the middle of our living room and watching the mud people, and Joe Cocker doing the most memorable (and spastic) version of “with a little help of my friends”… and that was it, I was hooked, I was a hippie-dude. Anything American was always overtly intriguing (as an antiestablishment statement), besides they were playing in mud and I’m 7!

Years later I found myself in New Jersey, and well within driving range of the site where it all went down. My first time there was as a road trip during college… This reporter from a Sullivan County paper let us know “it wont be there for long” and that millionaire Alan Gerry is going to “develop the holy bowl” and gave us a few copies of a local newspaper. She also let us know about the Woodstock Preservation Alliance… and again I was hooked, and tried to help out as much as a distracted college student could. I wasn’t going to get arrested for trespassing though, and so ‘we’ lost and Bethel Woods was built (though the bowl was never developed).

Long story short, I’m a huge Woodstock fan, and I feel as if that empowers me in one way or another … Ok ok, before I completely go off the charts with the sobbing clichés, let’s get something out of the way… Yes, I know I’m 27, and of course I was not there. But none of you reading this were there either, or anyone you know. Only four to five hundred thousand people were, but they did not include President Obama, or his parents.

Last weekend was the 40th anniversary, and I was up at Bethel Woods seeing the Heroes of Woodstock and DVR’d “Woodstock: Then and Now” documentary on the History Channel… mostly a great account of the event, but as a person who, per the above, considers himself rather knowledgeable and involved in the ‘spirit of Woodstock’ I was genuinely disappointed by the 5 minute cockamamie editorial ending comparing ‘my’ event to the Obama inauguration.

I don’t seem to be the only one to think this is absurd, and fully discredited the documentary and quite possibly the History Channel as a whole (check out this board discussion, twitter search and blogpost)… Even as an Obama supporter and voter, I fail to see how on earth Obama turned into Forrest Gump, in the sense that he’s become the cause for and the result of every possibly imaginable major event in recent past.

Obama was partly elected by the flower children but his inauguration was NOT a love in, it wasn’t really even a happening… so why did the History Channel fall into that trap, and why didn’t anyone stop them? How can a serious editorial and producing team connect the biggest counterculture, anti-establishment event ever to the biggest ever government orgy known as the presidential inauguration? The swearing in of the government’s top official, regardless of its size or social magnitude is still just that… a political event. Woodstock it was not.

This obsession to connect everything back to Obama, or his inauguration, or his ‘path’ (whatever that means) or his this or his that has me bonkers… he’s a man, he’s just a man, and you’ve known so many men before, in very many ways (aptly quoted from Jesus Christ Superstar). I think this type of crap takes away from Obama’s accomplishment, his drive, and frankly, from his responsibility and onus of the problems at hand… which are numerous.

Woodstock was a place where credit was disregarded, the focus wasn’t even on the music, promoters were screwed, the people were dirty and hungry, the bands were rushed on and off without schedule or fully working equipment… everyone suffered and everyone owned up to it, that’s the magic. A Presidential inauguration is the epitome of political soapbox chest thumping madness, and revolves around one person, on this one day (the king is dead, long live the king!).

Sure there were a lot of people on the national mall, but I don’t see much else.

To me the 40th anniversary show of Woodstock at Bethel Woods was closer in every way — see sepia image from last weekend below — We were surrounded by tie-dye shirts, some political slogans, my fellow man; plus Canned Heat, Ten Years After, Jefferson (Airplane) Starship, and Country Joe McDonald. And they ran out of food at the end…

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Woodstock was nothing but a moment in time, and unfortunately it was gone as fast as it came to be. And if you ask its true alumni, they’d say no other major event will ever take its place, nor was anything major the direct result of those 3 days of fun and music, and nothing but fun and music.

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Did Twitter Save Brand America…?

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One of the things that I’ve been following as part of monitoring for major trends that impact corporate reputation (I do corporate PR, remember?), is the so called ‘fall of brand America,’ in lieu of the perceptual waning based in part on Bush’s years in office, as well as the economic crisis leading to a global downturn that followed. The trend is not new, but looking at America as a brand is something I haven’t done before seeing it through the lens of public relations and communications.

I will note, I always looked up to America as an image and pillar of democracy, opportunity, and freedom; after all I am a naturalized citizen, who had to survive communism to get here (born in Moscow).

It’s no secret that the Bush years wreaked havoc on the image of America, both at home and abroad, so what changed? Is it possible to reverse at all, or is the damage too long lasting (two wars going on, an endless recession, etc.)… My thinking is a resounding yes; like the old Spanish phrase about food, a little bit often (shouldn’t that just become Twitter’s motto too?!).

In my opinion, first step was electing Barack Obama… love or hate him and his policies, the 180 degree change to the Bush tenure was needed to start a process of global reconciliation on the right foot… moreover, I credit the Obama campaign for bringing twitter and social networking into the fray of politics (sorry Mr. Dean), a necessary final step in its full democratization for the masses.

As Victoria Esser recently wrote, in her fantastic byline for Politico:

“Is social media diplomatic window dressing or can the U.S. Twitter its way into the hearts and minds of other countries? While the answer is somewhere in between, the U.S. cannot afford to wait while these channels are perfected in order to direct them in service of President Barack Obama’s priority of renewing America’s global leadership. Indeed, Mr. Obama can use the themes and technologies that helped him generate huge grass-roots support in his presidential campaign to build support for America on the world stage.”

Mrs. Esser continues to source Pew Global Attitudes Survey finding broad anti-Americanism around the world, with the image of the United States declining in 26 of 33 countries since 2002; while characterizing the U.S. image as ‘abysmal’ in most Muslim countries in the Middle East and Asia… so far down has the image fallen that not even the newly elected government could make a dent in the negativity (read: Poll: Obama Not Helping U.S. Image In Iran)

So what’s step two? For me, step two came not during the watered down ‘social media town halls’ from the Obama administration at the onset of his presidency, nor from the YouTube/CNN debates earlier in the campaigns. Rather, it was the election in Iran, and the social media/citizen journalism combo, into what I call open source protesting.

The telling sign of this was the #iranelection crowdsourced outrage over the election results (read: Staggering #IranElection Stats: 2 Million+ Total Tweets), where the world joined hands where the president could not… I’m not blaming Obama at all, diplomacy is hard and not black/white, but I will say that he could have said what he said louder and faster.

By following the conversation on Twitter, we saw American citizens showcasing US ideals in 140 characters, with RTs, links, photos and genuine care for the cause of freedom… without Twitter it would not come to be, and the Iranians would not be able to see the willingness to collaborate and unite in cause, as long as that cause is just. Because of the flat world and the access to open (somewhat, I’m looking at you China, Iran, et al) communication platforms, the ‘face’ of a nation is no longer just based on its leaders, but also the interaction of it’s citizens.

Of course, Twitter never was and never will be the tell all solution to everything, and  I’m not claiming it to be either. I just think that without it, there would be no such level of interaction… a solid building block. I agree with Mrs. Esser, when she concludes her poignantly intellectual analysis of the situation with:

“There are limits to this virtual dialogue, and so it must be continued on the ground with engagement in “retail” public diplomacy — the critical dialogue with political leaders, opposition, minority groups and others needed to demonstrate that the U.S. is willing to come to the table.”

I could not have said it better myself, so I won’t. I will agree though, a ton of work is yet to be done, mainly on the ground, because even the most solid of foundation is not enough… now it’s time to build.

To be sure, however romantic about the topic I may sound, I am NOT endorsing the notion that Twitter founders should receive a Nobel Peace Prize for rescheduling planned maintenance… regardless of that though, didn’t Twitter save Brand America?

If not yet, then it will… just watch.

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