Culture vulture

Saturday in the park
Didn’t feel like the 4th of July. Thank goodness. Because what it did feel like was one of those all-too-rare late-spring evenings when the temperature is perfect, the breeze is soft as Eider down, and the lowering sun casts everything in a heightened copper glow. Just the sort of evening, in other words, that is optimal for sitting on the lawn of the Downtown Plaza Park and listening to some live music. Which explains why Culture Vulture and the lovely I. Daphne St. Brie could be seen at about 7 o’clock setting up our handcrafted little folding camp chairs (thanks, Uncle Jim) and digging into a bag-borne picnic of taro chips and chocolate bars washed down with a Knudsen Spritzer while tapping our toes to the neo-fusion musings of Global Funk Council.

While introducing the band, the concert’s irrepressible impresario, DNA, gave a little spiel about the importance of reading books in these attention-deficit-disorder-afflicted times. The book he was using as an example of valuable reading material was a study of the infamous Stanford Prison Experiment, a ‘70s psychology experiment in which 24 student volunteers were split at random into prisoners and guards. The guards were equipped with billy clubs, whistles and dark glasses and allowed to make up any rules they decided would help them “keep order.” The prisoners were subjected to strip searches and outfitted with leg chains and smocks.

To make a long story short, the experiment had to be shut down well ahead of its two-week planned duration because the volunteer guards became so overzealous in their persecution of the volunteer prisoners that the researchers overseeing their activities became afraid that genuine and lasting harm (probably in the form of lawsuits and removal from employment) would be done if things were allowed to continue.

It’s important not to forget that the Stanford Prison Experiment happened with a group of seemingly normal, well-adjusted college students role-playing at an institution of higher learning under the supervision of trained psychologists. What horrors might result, one could reasonably ask, in a foreign land during wartime if a bunch of well-armed young kids were given absolute power over an imprisoned populace of people they had been trained to think of as their mortal enemies? And if, instead of operating under the watchful eyes of highly trained psychological researchers they were poorly supervised by a bunch of military disciplinarians barely trained in the nuances of humane penitentiary management, how surprising would it be if horrible abuses were inflicted on the prisoners under their “care"? The front section of Sunday’s San Francisco Chronicle was crammed depressingly full of stories attempting to answer, or at least address, that question.

The concert was very nice. I wish everyone could have been there.

Songs of question

1. John Lennon, “Imagine”

2. Paul McCartney, “Dear Friend”

3. Bob Dylan, “Blowin’ in the Wind”

4. Johnny Cash, “Three Feet High and Risin’”