Jan 13, 2011
Dec 8, 2010
Cold night in Chicago.
Flecks of snow
Wet streets, strange lights
in a sky of leaden clouds
drifting over buildings.
People, just a few, walking,
heads down against
the wind among the walls.
Thoughts -- but few deep thoughts.
Where to get warm, where I'm headed.
I will soon be there -- or I won't.
May 29, 2009
Nov 4, 2008
Oct 13, 2008
Oct 2, 2008
Sep 26, 2008
The thousands who make the sounds take them all together. They relish the excitement of the sounds they are making together, so deep, so loud, so widely encompassing. These actions and many others like them -- why bother describing each, if I could describe them all? Almost any ordinary American would recognize and comprehend just about every gesture and every sound made. They are repeated and repeated again at certain times in ceremonies, or performances, or presentations, like this one, whatever we might call this “event.” Thousands of people repeating these motions and making similar sounds, cheering and hooting and hollering and listening to the cumulative, collective roar. They share the motion and the sound. The sharing of it has some meaning. That’s the issue I have been pondering. What is the meaning, not of the presentation, but of the sharing of it?
The cheering at that basketball game is akin, it seems to me, to something called “shared rhythmic motion,” a term I learned as I searched last spring online for writings about a documentary that flabbergasted me, State of Mind. This documentary film centers on two children in North Korea, 10- and 12-year-old girls who are merely two of the tens of thousands (!) of adults and children who danced in one of North Korea’s so-called Mass Games that the defiantly, brutally communist government has been putting on, on an irregular schedule, for the past couple decades. The Mass Games are huge, rigidly and expertly coordinated spectacles of exuberantly hectic dance and gymnastics. The dancers put on their performances, after months of outdoor practice in city squares, in huge outdoor stadiums or large indoor arenas. Each performance involves thousands of dancers, who form great rectangular blocks of equally spaced people who move in astonishingly tight synchronization. Performances in each edition of the Mass Games go on for several days.
The scenes of the specific edition of the Mass Games shown in State of Mind were astounding -– riveting, haunting, thought-provoking. A quick study of a couple articles on ritualized dance led me to scholars who have been studying such matters for a long time. The most famous book on the subject, I learned, is entitled Keeping Together in Time: Dance and Drill in Human History, by a scholar named William McNeill. McNeill's personal experiences led him to study and define the concept of “shared rhythmic motion.” As a draftee in 1941 while undergoing basic training in Texas, McNeill came to enjoy the hours spent in close-order drill. In thinking about the pleasure he took in drilling, he wrote a speculative history about human society’s practice of keeping together in time in a ritualized manner, which to him means “moving our muscles rhythmically and giving voice to consolidate group solidarity altering human feelings." Though language is another (and the most important) socially shared system of signs, McNeill believes that the use of fully grammatical language added to but did not displace the social import of shared rhythmic motion.
Ever since I made these various discoveries I have been pondering shared rhythmic motion in my life and my immediate social settings. Sports is one venue where I have witnessed and taken part in shared motion. Cheering for teams appears rather similar in some ways to the North Korean Mass Games. Why do so many Americans cheer in sports (and in certain defined, generally approved ways) not to mention spend our money, a lot of money for many people, to watch skillful athletes take part in sports and cheer their achievements? Why do I and so many others care at all about teams and athletes in the sports I find most attractive? Besides my wife Marsha, who can make no sense of the craze for sports, my boys, Logan and Drew, are noticeably puzzled. For somehow they have never gained much interest in sports at all. (I am as puzzled with them as they are with me on such matters.) Scholars of shared motion seem to think that we create some kind of community, in a broad sense, through corporate dance and many other kinds of shared motions. In my view, cheering for sports teams seems to be some sort of dance like the other shared motions McNeill discusses.
Someone has written that “Even in a culture where recorded performance has become central, people crave the live event, largely for that group joy.” It is puzzling that there should be group joy in watching at a stadium or on a television -- or even in reading about others who shared the group joy in my absence (as I do when I read with delight about the games that "my” teams win). Still, how deeply can the shared motions of sports instill community (whatever that abstraction might be taken to mean). At the most, for example, only half of the people in the U.S. watch the Super Bowl. Thus, only half of the citizenry derive some kind of needed community from watching people cheer the Super Bowl. (Only 10% of the citizenry, it is stunning to realize, as massive as that is [30 million people!], watch the most popular television program, American Idol, which has some of its own shared motions and vocalizations). That is a bewilderingly large number. Yet it is only 50%, which means that some 160 million people in the American citizenry do not share in the motions of cheering or watching the cheering for sports teams and players. What does that mean? The whole subject seems too vast to figure out, as much as its existence insist upon us that it has meaning. We are probably forced to make no more than guesses.
As to the photo: it’s a shot taken at the end of a 2007 MSU basketball game in which MSU defeated the #1 ranked team in the nation at the time, Wisconsin, after which the citizenry of mid-Michigan flooded the basketball floor and celebrated. There was plenty of shared rhythmic motion at the game and in its aftermath. I shared in a lot of it.
Sep 24, 2008
Sep 23, 2008
I've always wanted to set up my camera and tripod for some shots of the Fourth of July fireworks show in Copper Harbor. It's a great show, and one of the best and best known in the Upper Peninsula. The Copper Harbor Fire Department has been going BIG TIME with the fireworks show of late, with ever more of the bigger cannisters being shot into the sky over the central harbor, directly across from the Queen IV dock. Here's a shot from the Queen dock on that night. The show took everyone's breath away. It just keeps getting bigger and bigger.
I must admit, though, that I am not an especially big fan of fireworks shows. I don't know why. That might be something to write an excogitation about. In fact, I have been tinkering with a post for some time about "shared rhythmic motion" that might have some bearing on this topic. I'll try to get it finished soon. Fireworks just don't do all that much for me. I do like this photo, nonetheless. That's Porters Island across the harbor from our business (and my parents' home). The boys of the CHFD fan out along the beach facing town on the west end of the state-owned island.