The Spectacle of a Spectacle
Last week saw the little girl giant marionette’s visit to Liverpool,
her walk through the city and reunion with her long lost uncle, also a
‘Did you see the Little Girl Giant?’
It was a venture as culturally vacuous as it was profitable. The absence
of any cultural substance I believe was intentional by the way, to defy
exclusory elements – the cultural version of extreme positive discrimination.
This way everyone on society’s spectrum will feel encouraged to
take a trip down to the centre and pay for parking and Mocaccinos and
a Ferris wheel ride thrown in, to make absolutely sure the outing was
worthwhile, and to compensate for that nagging feeling of dissatisfaction
at the experience. The Ferris wheel (or the meal out) won’t have
done the trick either, but by this time everyone concerned is so fatigued
and frustrated they’re willing to just throw in the towel.
The spectacle constitutes a house of cards construction of belief that
a desire will be fulfilled. It constitutes a faith in a location of meaning
that has no foundations and no root. In the family outing, the parent(s)
attend(s) for the sake of the children, the grandparents go to support
the parent’s endeavor to fulfill their parental duty, and both these
sets attend to ‘spend quality time with family’. This links
in with reified ‘leisure time’, which is the time not taken
up by work or sleep, according to modern industrial society. ‘Spending
quality time’ with the family comes of a well-meaning urge to come
closer or solidify bonds between family members who are alienated both
from themselves and each other.
The children attend either because the parents obligate them, because
they have been sufficiently convinced that the day is for their benefit,
or that the object of the spectacle is entertaining, important, or will
prove essential in their social exchanges: ‘It’s what everybody
will be talking about in school on Monday’. That is to say the children
will have been vulnerable to either social, parental, publicizing forces
exercised on their susceptible minds. They may be convinced that the day
is for them’ by a process of interpellation – placing themselves
in the position of the subject to which a cultural commodity is aimed.
The child thereby constructs him or herself as the ‘ideal’
viewer of the spectacle and/or constructs the cultural commodity as ‘ideal’
for him/her. Had I been a child during the giant marionette’s visit,
I suspect I would have done it out of guilt feelings towards my parent/s;
come out of rejecting their emotionally valuable intent to please my sister
and me. This intent was probably also motivated by guilt or feelings of
inadequacy. Guilt as a motivating factor too reflects an unwitting mutual
construction of meaning without foundation.
Desperate for the human touch
I spoke to an old school-friend on the evening of the second day of
‘When the uncle and girl giant hugged, the crowds of people were
wildly cheering and clapping.’
Thousands of people volunteered to visit the spectacle and showed their
support for the two giant marionettes mimicking a human display of affection;
‘a heartwarming reunification’, as the organisers put it.
It is understandable that culture should reproduce human narratives in
order to better understand human nature, archetypes and behavior. If we
take the examples of theatrical plays and myths, narratives are reconstructed
by taking diverse aspects of human experience and coordinating them into
a form that resonates with people as they reflect on their problems, imbalances,
feelings of loss, rebirth or celebration etc. In re-synthesizing human
experience they reflect it, to provide an understanding, acceptance and/or
catharsis. The difference with the spectacle is that it doesn’t
even have to provide a narrative or framework, and the spectacle viewer
is sold short. He/she gets superficial emotive triggers which elicit an
almost automatic emotive response such as cheering and applauding giant
The founder of the artist’s company that created the spectacle,
Jean-Luc Courcoult, claimed to ‘give a new narrative back to the
people of Liverpool from which to construct a different future.’
Contrary to this, some might say, patronising claim, the truth is that
no preamble was necessary, and no laying of the emotional groundwork.
What Courcoult calls a ‘narrative’ is merely a setting of
the scene as an attempt to justify the business venture. Even this ‘narrative’
was barely evident through the marionettes or the spectacle itself, but
separate from it, which supports the idea that the background information
provided was a loosely-related justification invented after the marionettes
were, and not as a conceptual basis for them.
This manner of echoing human experience is possible due to the commodification
of emotions and human relations. They have become compressible into an
easily exchangeable form through repeated behaviourist tactics of trigger
and responses to audiences and consumer on a global scale. So persistent
are industry’s effort of managing mass responses, that they fine-tuned
them to the point of needing no investments of narrative within which
to manifestly place the spectacle, or preparation in terms of priming
the masses from whom they wish to elicit a response. All that is needed
is to operate cranes to maneuver 7 metre and 15 metre marionettes into
a semblance of embrace and the crowds are beside themselves. Interestingly
the masses have not been primed in the equivalent way with regard to government
policy and the role of the state; therefore announcements thereof do not
elicit the equivalent level of response, nor the same presence in numbers.
The construction of a ‘spectacle’ is the privilege of select
events. We members of the public give mandate to their construction by
our choices of what to be aware of and where to be.
Comment left by dazza on 1st May, 2012 at 18:35
I enjoyed the event, so did my 6 year old daughter, so did everyone I spoke to. Most who would never ever visit a gallery. It was a strange chance for people to get together. Maybe it was a ideal vehicle for business to get people to buy. But it was also a chance for people collectively to get involved in a great spectacle and for a couple of days participate in a fantasy world which is what many other art forms do. It was much more accessible than most of the slef indulgent bullshit people see when they visit galleries. Put out there by artists who believe they are unique and don'tneed to explain to the masses about what art is. I think this was art for the people, the puppets were great. A fantastic spectacle. And there was a collectivisim to the event, no trouble, people respectiful, people smiling at each other a chance for people, maybe people feeling the alination of capitalism, being afraid of what this government was going to do nex. I think it does raise a fundamental question about art. Should the artist be foccusing on trying to explain their his/her work their message or should people be trying really really hard to understand the artist. One is self indulgent bullshit created by alianted artists, one is someone who works towards great things to be a voice or to speak to the people.
Comment left by Ritchie on 2nd May, 2012 at 16:57
It’s true that some people were moved by the spectacle. I enjoyed the giants as well, and thought the mechanics were really clever. But I do have quite a few misgivings about this event, and I think what this article presents is a really good argument for these. The point about kids being dragged along is particularly apt. I was annoyed that the giants were always late, and felt for the children waiting for so long. I’m also reminded of what Barbara Ehrenreich says in her book ‘Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy’ about participatory events and how people have lost appreciation for each other.
In Liverpool we spend millions on either fireworks or giants, that we are supposed to ogle at, when an event such as the Lantern Parade, which is much more inclusive and interactive, has funding cut.
Comment left by frank hargreaves on 3rd May, 2012 at 13:06
"Had I been a child during the giant marionette’s visit, I suspect I would have done it out of guilt feelings towards my parent/s; come out of rejecting their emotionally valuable intent to please my sister and me. This intent was probably also motivated by guilt or feelings of inadequacy. Guilt as a motivating factor too reflects an unwitting mutual construction of meaning without foundation."
what a load of nonsense. Had you been a child...you would be a child. You therefore would not have had the inclination to analyse anything other than hunger and fatigue. You certainly wouldn't have lost the feeling one gets when a certain level of euphoria besets a crowd. Thats *ANY* crowd be it the "primed masses" or the angry mob.
I am staggered at the audacity to actually believe you know what people were feeling, how those feelings were triggered and not least what has happened in their past "people as they reflect on their problems, imbalances, feelings of loss, rebirth or celebration etc."
You know them all personally ?
People were on the streets, people were smiling, people, masses. Some enjoyed it, some may not have. That may well go for their children too. Is enjoyment for the sake of enjoyment not allowed ? To pick on what "dazza" said...when these people smiled were they really thinking "sod it mate, I'm smiling, I'm getting a smile in now because I feel alienated by capitalism at all other times and I am scared of what the government is going to do next". I think not.
Perhaps, just maybe...the authors are so hung up on the undoubted misery that abounds teh world over that the thought of anybody smiling...well..."don't they know how bad it all is". If we could only educate these people about art..then they would stop smiling.
How about things not needing to always have a message ? no agendas ? I saw people laughing, town full. What these people think, eat, drink or wear is none of my business...How disgusting and conceited to dare intrude and judge. What the child sees when confronted with this kind of event...is sacrosanct. By second guessing and projecting then daring to judge ? That surpasses any motives or agenda (hidden or otherwise) you accuse the "artists" of.
Laughing without guilt...you should try it sometime. I wont think any less of you.
Comment left by Me on 8th May, 2012 at 15:10
I can honestly tell you I did not understand any of that - woooosh - that was it, just then, flyin over me head, (I'd have to study this). I do understand a massive chip and shoulder when I see one though. May you should explore never having your intelligence validated by your parents I think, growing up. Any meaning in your article is lost by the diatribe of intellectual language. I would say about 2% of the population would understand in one read, cos they have a PHD in social policy and constructivism (lol) 7% will understand the gist (that's me) and the rest wouldn't even get past the first paragraph, so who your target audience are I have no idea.
Comment left by guy the gorilla on 21st May, 2012 at 18:04
This article was much needed. The relentless positivity which this spectacle appeared to generate needed a counter-perspective and critical appraisal. As for the people who say "i didn't understand it" ( the article ), well now and agian it is good to read something that stretches your intellectual capabilities,this is how learning operates. And to those who may say that things "do not always have a message" I would say: you are naive.
Comment left by Redskye on 12th September, 2012 at 12:22
I agree with the sentiment of the writer. A friend travelled a long way from the West Midlands using our inadequate public transport system with her children to see this ‘spectacle’. Her daughter seemed to be the most enthusiastic.
I said I’d try and meet up with her if and when I could find her amongst the crowds. I personally wasn’t interested in this spectacle, because I didn’t think it had much artistic or valid content, very much like that ridiculous mechanical spider in 2008, many millions of pounds spent on creating a temporary vacuous and shallow event - oh have we really become this shallow, dumbed down and infantile?
My off hand comment was “So that’s what a closed library looks like then?” My friend seemed to have enjoyed herself as did her kids. Taking children out for the day anywhere is always a welcome break for children, but it’s always very expensive especially for low income families and thus mostly an impossibility for most low income working class families.
After a day of being fleeced by the commercial interests in the ‘Capital of Vulture’ which included the over-priced “Ferry’cross the Mersey” I failed to meet up with her. I had chosen to avoid the masses awaiting the giants, instead I hung out in the social centre cafe and chatted with some political friends.
Later in the evening I was called up to help my friend. Liverpool’s tourist industry and commercial interests had suckered in the masses (literally hundreds of thousands) to royally fleece them to the max, it then abandoned them at the end of the day by failing to effectively convey many of them back home properly.
The reality of transport chaos wasn’t reported anywhere as far as I can recall in the glossy media coverage and self congratulatory back slapping. The transport system was unable to cope due to being overloaded. It stranded my friend and her kids here in Liverpool City Centre with a major cost and stress impact upon her. Here are a couple of her TXTs to me.
TXT: “This is chaos. We can’t get home as trains are delayed and qs are awful. There are 1000s of people”
TXT: “We made it to the 24/7 at last. This is terrible. We don’t think we’ll be able to leave for another hour yet-even then its dodgy. This has been a disaster.”
After queueing for hours in Lime Street station for the train home, she eventually gave up as she was rudely told, after returning to the standing queue, that she was jumping the queue after asking her kids to hold her space while she took a much needed sit down due to her disabling medical condition.
I met up with her in the 24/7 Taxi café near Lime Street later in the evening and had to help find her some emergency accommodation with local comrades for the night as she was eventually unable to get the train home, due to the transport chaos at Lime Street.
This meant additional headaches for both of us. Fortunately comrades up in Sefton had offered her and kids a bed for the night at short notice, this meant extra driving for me, I was already exhausted myself at that time.
Having to travel back on the Sunday meant my friend ‘should’ have bought new train tickets. Fortunately she was able to ‘blag’ it all the way home, if I hadn’t been available to help out she would have had to shell out for expensive overnight accommodation as she has before. If she hadn’t been confident to ‘blag’ it there would have been additional extra cost for rail tickets for her and the kids. This is where the spectacle ends up costing us all, apart from the money taken from essential public services, cut backs in CAB and welfare rights, local arts and youth services budgets by Liverpool City Council to effectively front-end and subsidise the tourist industry and boost profits of cafes and pubs from these one off spectacles.