Photo by bootload/Peter Renshaw
The Opera. Stages filled with ladies singing in a gruff germanic or romantic language, and men prancing around in colourful soldierly uniform. Stories so simple yet obscured by language; thankfully the Playbill(tm) details the plot. Plots of love lost and family betrayal, have remained unchanged in some instances for centuries. The audience silent in the stalls, listens and applauds at the appropriate places. It is all scripted and follows a well worn path.
Strong scripts, strident soaring songs and standardised characters are repeated year after year to an audience that dresses up to show off their cultural status. Baby boomers, once the bastions of cultural iconoclasm, now flock to the safety of the opera. The safety of the known story provides succour in a troubling and confused world.
The Opera is an appropriate mirror of a slowly declining, old power structure: standardised stories with a strong cultural understanding of expectations. There are few surprises, and the actors faithfully represent the characters as written. To stray from the culture will result in review rebuke, and potentially financial ruin. The utterances are known, and everything fits into the story.
In the modern, hyperconnected world where everyone wants to write their own scripts; to merely ape an old opera is stale. It no longer resonates, nor does it excite. The worn path may provide temporary comfort: but does not provide long term sustenance.
At the opera, theÂ generously-proportionedÂ female singer has begun her last stanza.
The Circus. I remember the circus arriving in our small country town. I, and the hoard of kids and teachers tramped down to the town’s football oval to oggle. The animals we eyed were from a distant continent. Lions, Tigers, Bears and Elephants. It was like a zoo, but the animals were smellier and close. Eating and stomping close.
Traditional circuses such as these are now rare. Circuses with the animal menagerie are rarer, as they have been hounded out of our towns by animal liberationists. A tradition, as cultural as steeplechasing, has vanished into the mist. The animals are happier.
Modern circuses are about people. The animals have been sequestered and retired to zoos and forests. Circuses such as Quebec’s Circ du Soleil give a medieval commedia dell’arte a modern flavour wrapped in a bright coat of 21st century globalised commercialism. Completely comprised of people, franchised to a culturally flattened world; therefore standardised to highlight human performance. These circuses are for people, about people and make a point of breaking the third wall to stretch the entertainment.
In more traditional circuses, clowns would regularly break the third wall. Throw faux water, in the shape of confetti, into a faux surprised audience. The circus entertains, as the sad clown provides a reflection on our mixed up, complex lives.
This forest we are navigating through: Social Media, is like a circus. It is a human centric institution, wrapped in new technology zeal with a hoard of clowns, mummers, so-called ring leaders and high-wire acts all screaming for your attention, laughs and money. Difficult to ignore when they are in town; and they can be smelly at the approach. Bright Lights! Shows! High wire acts with stars having incongruous names. Social Media has it all.
A true circus extends out from the focus on the tent and the highwire of show night. The canvas riggers and animal trainers transform into the spruikers of side-show alley. Crafty games of shooting, prowess of strength and precision take a fool from their money. Fairy floss, candy apples and fortune tellers return a future of rotten teeth and rotted minds.
In a similar way, Social media has a plethora of spruikers. The games they advertise remove you are after your gold. Some of these games have a large pay off; sadly many don’t.
To really enjoy the circus, you must experience the whole show, not merely snack on the fairy floss and candy apples.
Social networking is more than the latest crazes of Twitter and Facebook. In fact, it predates blogs. And the WWW, even if you could hand-code HTML. Even before the internet escaped from the university cage and it’s trainers, there have existed “social medias”. Email, Bulletin board systems, Talk-back radio. Small newspapers and magazines; telegraph wirings and Morse code; pamphlet and book publishing. All add to the social discourse. In fact, since the democratisation of communication that began with the printing press: where thoughts in the form of words could be etched and produced enmasse; a social discourse has existed.
What is different is the connectivity we all enjoy. We all are a few steps away from the humanity that encompasses the planet. At once in one large, multi-cultural circus. No one mono-culture can exist. Generalizations break down as individuals assert their individual characteristics, subverting the propensity for traditional hierarchies to classify, box and bucket.
The impact of this individual yet share instant experience is being being felt now across businesses and governments. Unrelenting forces for change are singing strident tunes from the opera, whilst the circus clowns laugh in mock humour at the futility on the grave of theÂ generously-proportionedÂ female vocalist.