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Archive for the tag “Abbie Hoffman”

I was a teen-age vegan

I’m pretty sure I’ve just dug up the first piece I ever wrote for the St. Petersburg Times, where I worked for 16 years. Wanna read it? Click here.

The editor of the piece decided to change my correct spelling of Buddhist to the arcane spelling. That still annoys me, 15 years later.

WSJ report on rampant pranksters

The super hip Wall Street Journal today featured a trend piece on the phenomenon of large scale urban pranks committed by groups of people.

Author Ellen Gamerman writes of “cities swept up in inane pranks,” like the recent horde of fake zombies roaming downtown San Francisco and the crowd of people in New York’s Union Square that “spontaneously” broke out dancing to music only they could hear. Gamerman writes:

Pranksters say the random events are meant to jolt strangers out of their routines, shake up the monotony of urban life and create mildly awkward moments that play well on YouTube. Organized almost entirely online, the stunts also create a real-life sense of community among participants, many of whom are young people who spend their days in less-than-exciting office jobs.

Which is all fun and games except these “pranks” which some call the “urban playground movement,” began years ago – some might say forty years ago with Abbie Hoffman and his merry band of Yippies (mentioned in the piece) – and a trend story like Gamerman’s will merely inspire yawns from the hipsters involved in the hoaxes.

Though I gotta say, the pranks are becoming a bit more ambitious like the one a few months ago in New York where 15 sets of identical twins in matching clothes sat in one subway car mirroring each other’s actions. Technology plays a greater part in the organization, too, wit mass email lists, text messages and and web sites devoted to the hijinks.

At least one naysayer thinks today’s pranks fail. Joey Skaggs, who, according to the article, has a long history of media pranks, says today’s stunts lack a subversive, anti-establishment edge. For that reason, people who see the prank don’t rally scratch their heads and wonder what it’s all about. They simply walk on.

Except, that’s not really true. A lot of today’s pranks, especially those conceived by the Improv Everywhere group (motto: “We cause scenes”), have a distinctive anti-consumerist feel to them like the stunt in Manhattan wherein masses of redheaded people stood in front of a Wendy’s chanting “No pigtails!” in mock protest of the restaurant’s depiction of redheads.

In 2006 the group dispatched 80 people dressed like Best Buy employees to one of the chain’s stores in Manhattan.

Last year the group sent 111 shirtless men – some thin, some fat, some muscular, some not – to a Abercrombie & Fitch store in spoof of the company’s ads featuring shirtless beefcake guys (and the group’s target store in Manhattan features a real live shirtless model in is front window.)

Have you seen some pranks? Participated in one yourself? Or do you just have a good idea for a stunt in your city?

Happy Anniversary to the Chicago 8

This week marks the 40th anniversary of the infamous 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago and the actions of the Chicago 7 (originally the Chicago 8, as my parents always pointed out) whose protest against the Vietnam War landed them in the courtroom.

The group included anti-establishment Yippie activists Abbie Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, Tom Hayden (who would later serve in the California state senate and be one of Jane Fonda‘s many husbands) and Black Panther co-founder Bobby Seale, who had the distinction of being bound and gagged in the courtroom after calling the judge a “racist” and a “pig”. (Seale was eventually evicted for being in contempt of court and sentenced to an astonishing four years in prison – unheard of for such an offense.)

Bobby Seale

Bobby Seale

The trial was notorious for the Yippies’ fun-loving (others would say “ball busting”) antics. For example, Hoffman and Rubin famously showed up to court one day dressed in traditional judicial robes.

The trial lasted several months, finally resulting in acquittals for all seven on charges of conspiracy. However, five of the defendants were convicted of a new violation: crossing state lines with the intent to incite a riot, a crime instituted by the Civil Rights Act of 1968 (and to date, they are the only people who have ever been charged with that offense). Those charges were later dropped.

The Chicago 8 story has already been the basis of several movies – anyone else remember the cheesy 1987 docu-drama produced by HBO/ DreamWorks recently announced it’s working on its own version with funny man Sacha Baron Cohen in the role of Abbie Hoffman.

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