Saturday, January 27, 2007

Festival Is the Festival of the Oppressed

Allow me to recommend Barbara Ehrenreich's new book, Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy. Not a particularly substantial work, but still one with a striking argument at its core:

Human beings are hardwired to share emotions collectively, and it was only the introduction of hierarchy into society in the form of classes that brought the experience of collective joy to an end. Nobles and clergy were confronted with the choice of joining in the revelry and licentiousness with the throng, thereby engaging as equals with the lower orders and risking undignified and levelling behaviour, or they could withdraw from the public carnival or festival (which many did, resorting to their own, more "dignified" celebrations behind closed doors), with the consequence that the carnival offered an opportunity for building class solidarity among the oppressed, including acting as a cover for attacks on the class enemy.

Because the ruling classes could not control carnival, an essentially anarchic and egalitarian event, they sought instead to ban it, initially, an always unpopular decision, and it was only more recently, in the last century or so, that the carnival was instead transformed into spectacle, the masses turned into passive spectators instead of active participants. And even now, because of that empathic hardwiring we still have, we cannot sit still in the dark for very long, cannot discipline ourselves sufficiently to just watch in silence: Carnival continues to erupt, as footie fans dress up, bring along inflatables to matches, insist on having a laugh and making their own fun, or drive out to the middle of nowhere to take drugs and dance to their own music with thousands of strangers, resisting at every turn the authorities' efforts to control unruliness and possible "civil disorder."

An uplifting book and a reminder of the importance of getting out there and enjoying the craic.

No comments: