When Alexander Solzhenitsyn rose to address the 15,000 assembled faculty, graduates, and parents for the Harvard Commencement on June 8, he must have had feelings akin to those of Paul at Mars Hill. Both men enjoyed an unprecedented opportunity—and faced serious problems.
Solzhenitsyn could not have failed to know that The Gulag Archipelago presented deep challenges to the conventional wisdom of many of his listeners. By documenting the manner of administration of “justice” in the U.S.S.R. through the decades, he laid to rest the comfortable fiction that the accounts of Communist atrocities were the invention of “the kept Western press.” More devastating still is his tracing of the massive system of penal camps to 1917, which demolished the cherished fantasy that “Stalin betrayed the Revolution.”
Now, as if to challenge further the liberal chic, Solzhenitsyn reminded fashionable academia of some (to him) serious shortcomings in the accepted ethos of our Western scene. The sea of umbrellas must have quivered slightly—it was raining—as he denounced the triviality of segments of the media for “the revolting invasion of publicity” with the mania for telling all.
Equally unpalatable must have been Solzhenitsyn’s designation of much of broadcasting as “television stupor.” It seems that there is a tacit agreement within sophisticated circles that TV is doing a massive service in democratizing our people—even if it does so by a large-scale vulgarization of life, language, and manners. Scarcely less pleasing was his criticism of our popular music as intolerable. It is chic to view rock music as the finest fruit of the tree of the counterculture, and one can scarcely expect a sophisticated audience, in Harvard or elsewhere, to appreciate ...1
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