The issue is the ratio of fun producers to fun consumers.
Capitalist fun likes a ratio of like 1:1000, or 1:1,000,000. Madonna is the capitalist funster’s dream: One singer, a creative team of a few hundred or so all things considered, and a paying audience of millions upon millions. Sweet.
In the kind of fun I’m looking for, consumers are their own producers. I’ve come to summarize it to people with hand movements. Mainstream entertainment takes the broadcast model: (I span my hands outwards like they’re pretending to be headlights): the entertainment is on a stage and broadcasts the fun to the passive audience.
The Fun Fed specializes in ‘generative entertainment’, I say, thinking that I need a better word than that and making a circular bowl shape with my hands. The people in the room create the fun with and for themselves.
I tried to get into Carnaval spirit last night, I really tried. I drunk a bunch of neat white rum on ice with my friends, danced and wooped around the room, put on make up and a dress I made that was meant to be a halterneck and ended up backless, and we hit the town as a capital-city-troupe (Buenes Aires, Brasilia, London, Berlin, Paris) ready to Party.
And found disappointment yet again.
The issue, I concluded, was one of ratio. A few stages dotted throughout the city hosted bad local pop, to which some people danced. The rest of the city simply held bars, booze stands and thousands upon thousands of people traipsing around looking for fun.
Nowhere was the idea of making fun, any way other than drinking some booze and hoping that did it for you.
I, I thought quietly as we traipsed around, I can, er, sing. And I’m pretty good with rhythm. I can’t start or lead anything because I don’t have the knowledge or the relationships here… but I could, er, I could join in…
I looked at the people going past. What can you do? I bet we had loads of fun capacity between us, loads and loads and loads.
Finally we found a circle of people playing samba rhythms in the street, no electricity. Fun! We stopped to dance by them, in the middle of the dense pedestrian highway the street had become. That encouraged the drummers, who packed a bit more funk into it. That put more funk into our dancing. We fed each other, the way drummers and dancers do. We grinned at each other. Grins all round. A few more people joined in. Then more, and more. Then we had a crowd, a real crowd, playing and boogying away. Wonderful!
A friend dragged us away to look for a ‘real’ samba band, which we found round the corner, four guys in a row, with mics and too-loud speakers, a black man with painted face paid to dance, sweating a lot and looking tired, a manager managing everything, and a tame crowd lolling around. It was ok. But the musicians looked unhappy. Their playing was mechanical.
Then the electricity went off. Sudden aliveness! The crowd took over the rhythm with their clapping hands; helped out with the chorus at top voice. The musicians grinned! The energy raised! Ah-ha! I thought. My hypothesis about electricity being a fun killer is supported! Here at least. Then it came back on. The energy dropped again. I went to sit down.
From the back of the crowd I could see loads of girls doing the samba de peu, and they were rocking. Cute, sexy, grinning, rocking. Moves! They knew the moves. Moves are good.
The boozed up rampaging around is understandable. If people have been making their own fun with carnaval all day, they have to stop at some point, but the party wants to continue. Supply decreases while demand doesn’t.. Also, people don’t want to spend their whole time singing and dancing; they also want to talk, flirt, kiss, rampage around freely.
But the booze and the electrification and the professional bands and the merchanidise all up that little thing called GDP. People who spend their down time practicing musical instruments or dance moves rather tahn watching tv, and get together to make their own joy needing nothing but space and time, don’t really.
Is that why, in Western cultures (I'd include Brazil in that) we've come so far from self-sufficiency in joy?