Posted by Thomas Nephew on October 14th, 2010
“Astroturf Wars: How Corporate America is Faking a Grassroots Revolution” is an impressive documentary by Australian Taki Oldham; he’s distributing it for online viewing for $1.99, and the DVD can be purchased for $14.99. There’s a website, of course — and it’s worth a look, too.
I’m watching the movie, though I’ll have to quit halfway through and hopefully return to it tomorrow evening. Oldham traces corporate connections to the anti-healthcare movement, the climate change skeptic, pro-energy company movement, and the Tea Party movement.
The grass is real, the roots are real — but any
lawn you make this way isn’t exactly grassroots –
even if it isn’t astroturf either.
Oldham is well aware of the problem with the astroturf charge, one I’ve brought up before myself: that’s an awful lot of people with something bugging them, it can’t be completely artificial. Thus one Louisville Tea Party speaker:
“The fact of the matter is, we ain’t no astroturf. Nobody’s pre-printing signs for us. Nobody’s telling us what to think or how to think it. By God, they’re not gonna start now. So we thought how do we take these feral cats and kind of herd them all together? And we thought, a rolling symbol across the country in towns small and big and in between…”.
He means the Tea Party Express — a bus beautifully custom-painted with images of the Constitution, currently on its 4th multi-state tour in less than a year. Now if that’s grassroots I wish I was back in the business; in the 80s the Nuclear Freeze groups I was with ran out of grubby storefronts if they were lucky and from people’s living rooms if they weren’t.
Oldham’s point — and it seems to me a fair one — is that movements like these needn’t be completely artificial to still be deceptive, to still be “astroturf.” But the word is misleading, because astroturf is completely artificial. Call them perhaps “grass sod organizations” and the distinction to a lawn or a meadow is clearer: not completely artificial — but not natural either: tour buses. Conventions. Ad campaigns. Cookie cutter “Americans for XYZ” groups and web sites. It all costs a lot of money to “spring up overnight” and it costs more to stay there once you’ve sprung up.
With this new kind of phenomenon, the grass is real, the roots are real — but any lawn you make this way isn’t exactly grassroots. It’s been built and it’s being fertilized by other people, ones with plans of their own.