The lack of honest reporting on fun, mass experience seems lost in outdated discourse about authenticity. The question, “How can you enjoy Coachella when it’s something so fake?,” seems to guide the media’s coverage. But even Woodstock, the original festival experience, was a corporate one. As New Yorker critic Ellen Willis wrote in her 1969 coverage, it was spun by publicists as an utopian achievement of the youth counterculture to conceal the reality of its logistical breakdowns and lack of proper plumbing. Just like at Coachella, where reporters describe the crowd’s ADHD attitude toward performers as if it’s the decay of civilization, Willis noted that at Woodstock the music “was not the focal point of the festival but, rather, a pleasant background to the mass presence of the hip community.”
As commentator, Willis was unique in her ability to navigate the space between skeptic and participant: “[T]he most exhilarating intoxicants were the warmth and fellow-feeling that allowed us to abandon our chronic defenses against other people,” she wrote. That abandonment of distance and separation from physical fun that’s now a prerequisite of belonging to today’s prudish media subculture did not de-legitimize Willis’s report; it enhanced it.”—Read Zak Stone on the lack of decent reporting about the pleasures of mass experience in a post-Ellen Willis world.