October 18, 2017
One in a series of enthusiastic posts, contributed by HILOBROW friends and regulars during 2017, on the subject of our favorite squads.
Nobody has a “squad,” really, and that terrible loneliness is why #squadgoals has become a social-media fantasy in this time of being utterly alone while never left alone. Squad goals are empty wishes: If I had a social group, it would be the greatest and most heroic, the most tolerant and enlightened of any squad.
A small, tightly bound group, doing good works yet being quiet about it — this is an impossibility in our time of pointless and constant overexposure. No good deed goes unposted, and not even the dimmest light is content to be under a bowl.
The moral outlaw lives outside the law, outside of society even while working to correct it. And then they catch you and nail you to a tree or feed you to the lions and throw your corpse in the hole.
There were “Secret Christians” of the early church, communicating in code, sharing food and wine in private homes, whispering in the marketplace, hiding from the Empire. There were underground societies hoping to point the world to enlightened humanism, from the Rosicrucians to the Underground Railroad. And by the 1970s, there were political radicals around the Western World, tiny terror cells sworn to blood oaths.
The Monkey Wrench Gang, the half-fictionalized adventures of Edward Abbey’s late-night drunken rebellion against billboards and land rape, is an Old West gang for the Vietnam War era. It is diverse for its time: the Jewish ballerina and outraged feminist-socialist Bonnie Abzug, the environmentalist river-running Jack-Mormon polygamist Seldom Seen Smith, the dirty-old-man surgeon Doc Sarvis, and the shellshocked special forces soldier George Washington Hayduke. Barely able to tolerate each other yet deeply loyal to the cause, these four accept the holy mission to save the American Southwest from America. Somebody’s got to do it.
Their symbolic deeds — public prayers for the destruction of Glen Canyon Dam, torching billboards that block the view of the desert — give way to that doomed notion to make a real difference, blow something up, give a hoot! And like the real Earth First! that grew from the novel that grew from a real Monkey Wrench Gang half-remembered by Abbey from his beatnik days at the University of New Mexico, Hayduke and his gang ultimately fail, ultimately doing “more harm than good,” but in the process they create a legend that lights up other movements, from the mundane but necessary work of regulating carbon and toxins to the romantic but doomed last stands to stop a nuclear plant or fossil-fuel pipeline.
And if I was the kind of irresponsible adult who still collected survey stakes for my desert campfire, I would surely cover my face in a sweaty bandanna during the commission of the crime, Monkey Wrench Gang-style.
#SQUADGOALS: Annie Nocenti on THE WILD BUNCH | Alice Boone on PRETTY LITTLE LIARS | Gordon Dahlquist on BOWIE’S BAND | Rob Wringham on THE HOME GUARD | Jennifer Krasinski on WATERSHIP DOWN RABBITS | Annalee Newitz on ROBIN HOOD’S MERRY PALS | Adrienne Crew on THE BLOOMSBURY GROUP | Mark Kingwell on THE HONG KONG CAVALIERS | Adam McGovern on KAMANDI’S FAMILY | John Overholt on THE CLUB | Greg Rowland on THE VULTURE SQUADRON | Sara Ryan on BETSY, TACY & TIB | Chelsey Johnson on VI ÄR BÄST! | Brian Berger on THE JOHN FORD STOCK COMPANY | Sherri Wasserman on THE WARRIORS | Jessamyn West on FAREYNIKTE PARTIZANER ORGANIZATSYE | Josh Glenn on DADA | Matthew De Abaitua on THE TIME | Mandy Keifetz on THE FOUNDING FATHERS | William Nericcio on ZOOT SUIT PACHUCOS | Deb Chachra on FIREFLY CREW | Matthew Battles on THE ANIMAL FAMILY | Ingrid Schorr on THE HARLEM GLOBETROTTERS | Joe Alterio on THE USUAL GANG OF IDIOTS | Dan Reines on THE BREAKFAST CLUB | Rob Walker on LES TROIS INSÉPARABLES | Devin McKinney on 1975 RED SOX | Steph Burt on DAMAGE CONTROL | Elina Shatkin on THE HOLOGRAMS | Chris Spurgeon on THE ALKALI METALS | Carl Wilson on NEW YORK SCHOOL POETS | Barbara Bogaev on THE MOD SQUAD | Franklin Bruno on THE AACM | Judith Zissman on THE FUTURIANS | Mimi Zeiger on ARCHIGRAM | Jacob Mikanowski on THE RATBASTARDS | Lynn Peril on THE DALY SISTERS | Anindita Basu Sempere on MEG MURRY’S FAMILY | Libi Rose on THE ENIAC TEAM | Gary Panter on THE TRIBE OF HIPPIES | Peter Doyle on CORNEL WILDE BOYS | Ken Layne on THE MONKEY WRENCH GANG | Molly Wright Steenson on BAUHAUS | Katie Hennessey on BEAT POETS | Mimi Lipson on THE RUNAWAYS | Jordan Ellenberg on BOURBAKI | Michael Campochiaro on THE SUICIDE SQUAD | Deborah Wassertzug on THE BLOODHOUND GANG | Colin Dickey on ACÉPHALE | Douglas Wolk on SEVEN SOLDIERS OF VICTORY | David Smay on THE MYSTIC KNIGHTS OF THE OINGO BOINGO | Karinne Keithley Syers on BLACKLIPS PERFORMANCE CULT.
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