Saturday, 13 February 2010

So many people, so little fun

Last night was the bit I was dreading.

We left late. The night before had been an early one. This was a late one. Everyone talks about downtown at night. That's the place to be, they say.

Three busses went past, too full of partygoers to stop, before we found one we could squeeze onto, more intimate than the Northern Line in rush hour.

Downtown was mainly crowds. And beer. Thousands upon thousands of people were packed into the old city. A concert was going on, Glastonbury-like with a big stage and big speakers and big screens dotted around, and voluminous, endless crowds.

Trying to move, we found ourselves in one of those crushes where you start thinking, this has the potential to turn into one of those headlines, '17  killed in Recife Carnival crush.' You start playing the scenarios in your head; what would you do, try and scramble out? I looked around. That would probably involve standing on that short woman's head. Then she might die. What else would you do? I tried to imagine a co-operative, non violent approach to surviving a crush and figured it was probably not to be there in the first place.

Observing the crowd, two things:

1) Everybody loves a chrous

Hands in the air, everyone singing, doing the dance, on the chorus. Everyone, everyone loves a chorus.

2) Apart from the chorus, and apart from the people actively involved in being in the concert audience,

there was no joy on the faces.

I'd seen it as we walked over the bridge towards the old city. Throngs were walking away with heavyset, joyless faces. Entering the city we saw these faces everywhere, along with the smell of sweat and beer. "So many people!" someone said. And so little fun, I thought.

So why on earth does everybody do it?

I could think of three underlying reasons: mating, bonding, and liminality, the pull of each all greater, apparently, than the cost of handling horrible fun-less crowds, and tomorrow's hang over.

Mating: single people are here on the pull.

Bonding: Couples, friendship groups, the entire city, the local culture, is bonding, having unusual experiences together. It's like the annual running of the boundaries in the Andes, or Mayday in Padstow .

Liminality: "Liminal" spaces are the spaces in between, where normal rules don't apply. We can shed the restricting bonds of social norms and be free.

We need these spaces. And it feels like booze has kind of taken over from other forms and practices as the active ingredient that creates the liminal experience.

I think that's a shame.

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