3 August 2014

Group engagement

Beach reading at St. George Island included Cory Doctorow's Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. It is a post-scarcity novel where basic needs are free and unlimited, and death is avoided by regular brain backups and fast cloning. Money is replaced by reputation points (called, humorously, "whuffies"). The key setting is a Walt Disney World taken over by "ad hocracies" that run the different theme parks within in order to increase their collectives' reputation points. Most action revolves around The Haunted Mansion (which resides in Liberty Square, which itself resides in the Magic Kingdom, which is only one land in Disney World), in particular. I had no idea that there was such a byzantine hierarchy of lands-within-lands in Disney World, having only been there once when I was (?) 3.

The key storyline involves the Haunted Mansion's ad hocracy's attempt to defend their curatorship against another, more technologically advanced, ad hocracy. Everyone in the Haunted Mansion group, much like today's various *con-attending cosplayers, are obsessive in recreating and participating in the simulacrum of the Mansion. Group engagement with entertainment as a performative experience is the end in itself.

Compare this with the installation performance of "Forty Part Motet" by Janet Cardiff, as described in the article Solitary Pursuit. The piece, installed in The Cloisters' FuentidueƱa Chapel in Manhattan, consists of a recorded performance of the motet "Spem in alium" by Thomas Tallis, with each of the individual singers broadcast through a separate speaker and inter-performance chatter included in the broadcast. The listener can walk through the voices to physically control which line is dominant and to eavesdrop on the private, backstage comments (e.g. "That line there got me messed up"). The article's main theme is the question of where we can experience solitary reflection in a group setting. The idea, a contradiction of sorts, has at times been a promise of museums and galleries and concert halls. Here, group engagement as private experience is the end in itself.

Years ago, I had gone to The Vortex bar late on a weekend night in order to pick up food for our movie night back upstairs at home. While I drank and waited for the order, I saw a woman alone at the crowded bar reading a hardback novel. That struck me. I'm just as likely to go to the Cafe Intermezzo bar and do the same. Though it's easy to read at home, being isolated in a group satisfies a different impulse.

[ posted by sstrader on 3 August 2014 at 9:58:38 AM in Culture & Society ]