Zoom Fashion

By Anneke Smelik

The cover of The New Yorker of 7 Dec. 2020 features a telling cartoon of our daily life during the lockdowns induced by the COVID-19 pandemic: a woman sits in front of her laptop wearing a smart top, her hair in a nice bun, with lipstick and earrings, but underneath she wears sportive shorts showing hairy legs in fluffy slippers. This strange separation between our well-dressed upper parts of our body and relaxed if not partly undressed lower bodies, is so typical of our online lives in front of the camera. Smart from the waist up; relaxed from the waist down. It brings into sharp relief the performative aspect of the way we dress. 

In the beginning of the pandemic, during the first lockdown, as teachers we shared slightly embarrassed exchanges about wearing sweatpants or pyjama bottoms that no one could see. Soon enough the internet was abounding with faux pas of people online wearing a suit, shirt and tie, but with their underpants showing when they got up. Teachers and students alike are quite conscious of their screen presence, which reveals only the top part of the body. Makeup and hair matter more, as do tops, while bottoms and shoes matter less and probably stay locked away in the cupboard. Staring at one’s own face among many others during the online meetings and classes requires new make-up and dressing routines. Combining nice tops that are in view with sweatpants for the part of the body that (hopefully) no one can see, reveals that dress is, after all, performative: we dress not only for ourselves but also for others (Smelik & Kaiser, 2020). We dress for the public gaze. 

This performative aspect of fashion reminds me of the metaphor of the stage that sociologist Erving Goffman (1959) used to characterize presentations of self as performances in everyday life.  As Efrat Tseëlon (2016) has shown, the theatrical metaphor of performance is particularly apt for the study of clothing and appearance. Goffman’s notion of a ‘front region’, the social role that people adopt in society, versus the ‘back region’, where people relax their looks and behaviour, is intimately connected with the ways we dress. The staged, edited and filtered selfies that we put on Instagram or Facebook are clearly intended for the ‘front region’, whereas we are usually reluctant to upload snapshots from the ‘back region’ when we lounge on our couch in a track suit without any make up on. Translating Goffman’s terms to the digital age of Zoom, Teams, virtual classrooms, and other digital meetings, perhaps we can better talk of an ‘upper region’ and a ‘lower region’! Now, the upper region of our body remains out there up front, while the lower part of the body can relax into the invisible back region. 

Clothes are an important part of ‘impression management’, as it has come to be known. In the presence of others, Goffman argues, individuals will try to influence the situation by presenting themselves in a favourable light. In this respect, Goffman makes a difference between the impression that people give intentionally and the impression that they give off unintentionally. We may dress very carefully to make an impression for a Zoom meeting by doing our hair and applying makeup, putting on a nice top and jewellery, but may give off quite a different impression by getting up in haste showing a pyjama bottom, or worse, underwear. Our online lives are still sustained by normative expectations and tacit rules of embodied presentation: the performance goes on, even if the camera reduces us to ‘talking heads’. 

I am probably not the only one who misses wearing (and showing off) beautiful shoes, and who is slightly fed up with wearing Uggs, however comfortable at home. It cannot be any coincidence that fashion designers have come up with ‘Zoom fashion’, focusing on the ‘waist-up’, with detailed necklines and relaxed trousers (Criddle, 2020). We may not be able to afford such expensive brands, but I have come across a fun solution for Zoom fashion: the work-at-home sweater that looks like a business suit. This certainly helps to create the right impression management. So, while the lockdown lasts, I will try to keep my desire for swirling skirts and smart trousers on hold, and have fun with Zoom fashion by mismatching business-like tops with totally relaxed bottoms. 

References

Criddle, Cristina, ‘Fashion brands design ‘waist-up’ clothing for video calls’. BBC News, 20 september 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-54327987

Goffman, Erving (1959), The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. London: Penguin.

Anneke Smelik and Susan Kaiser, ‘Performing fashion’. Editorial introduction to Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, vol 11 nr 2, 2020: 117-128. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1386/csfb_00012_2

Tseëlon, Efrat (2016),  ‘Erving Goffman: Social science as an art of cultural observation’. In Agnès Rocamora & Anneke Smelik (eds.) Thinking Through Fashion. A Guide to Key Theorists. London: Bloomsbury, 149-164.

Sabaton: The Battle of Identity

By Ruben Broers, Guus Timmermans and Floor Veldmeijer

Music has always been subject to technological change. When around 1860 the first recording of a music piece was made, it forced music to become a dual-efficient commodity: now both live and recorded music could be lucrative. With the invention of respectively the vinyl, the cassette and the CD, recorded music became a mass product. These two faces of music, live and recorded, were the two most defining and the most accessible ways of getting to know the musician that you love. Identification with the musician was done via the music itself and the relation was otherwise formed by interviews done by the mass media. The musician could still sustain their artistic lives with this double income.

However, the rising popularity of the internet in the last decade changed everything. The possibility of endlessly digitally copying music pushed the musical container into an artificial state and became superfluous. This change introduced the decline of the recording as a source of income. The illegal pirating of music killed one of the two revenue streams. The rise of streaming services thereafter compensated this fall-back but did that too little. Nowadays, recorded music isn’t a huge source of income anymore and musicians are predominantly relying on the commission earned by performing. This last development forced the musician to expand their horizons beyond music. Recorded music is nothing more than a sales pitch for the musician’s live shows nowadays. This is where they get their true revenue. To quote musicologist Keith Negus on this matter: Music is a means to another end rather than an end in itself.

In the modern digital age, the musician is relying more and more upon forming a (group)identity. The record companies are now commoditizing an identity via music. Nevertheless, this evolution isn’t necessarily a bad thing for the industry. With the help of the internet, getting close to an artist has never been so effortless. The proliferating use of social media actualizes a closer bond between the musician and their audience. This blog post will focus on a sense of identity contrived by working with YouTube as a storyboard, explaining notes the band made on their songs and other works, obtaining both a better connection with existing fans and building bridges to a broader audience with the help of the algorithms of the video service. The case study in this blogpost is built around Swedish metal band Sabaton, highly successful on musical platforms like Spotify, as well as on Youtube as historical storytellers. With this transcendence of the traditional borders of the media, they could be a blueprint for the future of interaction between musician and audience.

Through their music, Sabaton aims to tell the stories of historic battles, events, wars and soldiers. Because they do this through the perspective of the people, soldiers during WW1 for example, there is very little historical reflection on the subject matter. Because of this, and the subject matter itself, they had to defend themselves from accusations of nazism and rightwing sympathies. Although we will not focus on that, we wanted to mention it, because Sabaton does deal with very sensitive subjects in a way that does not appeal to everyone. For this blog post, however, let us move past this controversy and look at their content and music without moral or ethical judgement, but purely as a case study for the use of YouTube; because Sabaton uses YouTube in a very interesting way.

Sabaton has two channels: one is its regular music channel, the other is The Sabaton History Channel. On that channel they dive deeper into the subject matter of their music, explaining the history behind it, as well as some anecdotes about the creation of the song. This ‘show’ is hosted by Indy Neidell, a veteran of historical YouTube channels. The entire channel is a collaboration between TimeGhost, Neidell’s main channel, and Sabaton.

Through this collaboration, the music of Sabaton gets introduced to a whole new audience. An audience that might not be familiar with metal music, but who are interested enough in history to watch Neidell’s other channels, mainly the TimeGhost and World War Two channels. I say that because of how YouTube’s algorithm works: these channels are all linked as ‘Featured Channels’, a list of channels that the original channel wants to highlight. In a few videos of the World War Two channel, Neidell mentions his work for Sabaton History and implores viewers to go and watch that too. For these new viewers the band Sabaton is rooted in historical content, perhaps more than metal music. 

Broadening the audience is not the only thing that the band gets out of their interaction with Youtube, although it is the most interesting. They also have another way to connect to their existing fans, to earn more money through YouTube and Patreon, a crowdfunding platform built to provide artists with a stable income. This comes back to something that Negus wrote: “Yet, as the few, ever more oligopolistic, major corporations began to reposition themselves as music companies (seeking profits from multiple rights rather than dwindling income from record sales)”. The use of YouTube can be viewed as one way to supplement the dwindling income from record sales. 

Through the multiple YouTube channels Sabaton has, they have a global reach, in theory. This is hard to investigate since public statistics do not show the background of the viewers, but the comments on the videos can say a lot. One example, the official video for Bismarck, mostly has comments in English, but there are quite some comments using the Cyrillic alphabet. Even though the song is named after a German World War II battleship, it is not weird that most comments are in English, as that is the lingua franca on YouTube. But all of these Cyrillic comments date from two weeks ago or even later, while the video was posted in April 2019, and most of the comments seem to date from then. This could be because a year the Russian band Radio Tapok covered the Sabaton song Attack of the Dead Men, a song about a battle between Russian and German soldiers in Poland, and they also performed it together in May. Apparently, this attracted Russian-speaking fans to the Swedish band, fans they would not otherwise have attracted. The Russian video for this song has next to no English comments, and the English version has a relatively small amount of Russian comments, showing that the glocalised music might be spreading globally, but the audiences have not fully merged yet.

It seems that songs about battles or people from a certain country attract viewers from that same country. In the comments for many of these videos, you can find people praising their national heroes or lamenting that they do not receive enough attention worldwide or even in their home countries. This is visible in the Sabaton History video on war hero Leslie “Bull” Allen. I did not have to watch the video to find out Bull Allen’s nationality, as I could figure it out from the many comments starting with “As an Australian”. Looking at their tour dates, you can also see that they mainly tour the US and Europe, especially western and northern Europe, and these venues are rather large. Recently, Russia and other countries where Russian is also spoken have also been included in the tour locations. As their last album is solely about the First World War, it is unsurprising that countries that the Great War was fought in and remember it every year are also the countries that the tour was planned in. The only real outlier is the US since they did not include other nations that sent soldiers to die on the fronts of the First World War.  

Sabaton has worked very hard to become known for its niche of historical metal music. This identity resonates with a large audience, and their online presence and the topics they discuss seem to be attracting new audiences with every new location they sing about in their songs, and especially when they talk about in their history videos. It is noteworthy that many of the commenters on their YouTube videos seem to be from the country they are discussing in the video, suggesting that their audience is not as global as they might have hoped. This online audience does seem to translate into real-life concert attendees, as they are currently focussing on the areas which are featured on their albums. This can be seen as a smart marketing strategy and an easy way to find a niche in a large genre, or as underutilisation of metal music’s demographic. Though Sabaton might not be the only one to blame, as algorithms on platforms such as YouTube try to only suggest videos that they think the user will surely love, so it is not too remarkable that their videos seem to garner most fans in areas that they directly reference in their music. So if they wish to expand their audience, they will have to expand their song topics. With this, they could be a prime example of how musicians should interact with their audience in the digital era.

Sources

Cayari, Christopher, ‘’Connecting music education and virtual performance practices from YouTube’’, Music Education Research (2017) 1-17.

Gronow, Pekka, “The Record Industry: The Growth of a Mass Medium”, Popular Music, Vol. 3 (Cambridge 1983) 53–75.

Hargreaves. Miell & Macdonald, ‘’What are musical identities, and why are they important.’’, in: Macdonald, Musical Identities (Oxford 2002) 1-18.

Negus, Keith, ‘’From creator to data: the post-record music industry and the digital conglomerates Media’’, Culture & Society 2019, Vol. 41(3) (London 2019) 367– 384.

Rogers, Jim, The death & life of the music industry in the digital age (New York 2013).

Sabaton, https://www.sabaton.net/news/tour-shows/the-great-tour-is-coming-to-europe-early-2020/

Sabaton looks back on Nazi Controversy: Sabaton News. Anti-Music https://www.antimusic.com/news/16/August/ts18Sabaton_Look_Back_On_Nazi_Controversy.shtml

Destroy My Art – Cancel culture or paradigm shift?

By Marcel van den Haak

Beloved author J.K. Rowling, ‘cancelled’ because of her allegedly transphobic opinions. Classic Hollywood films, from Disney’s Dumbo to the epic Gone with the wind, ‘cancelled’ due to outdated racist stereotypes (on the latter: see our research project, in which you can participate). An increasing number of artists from whichever field, ‘cancelled’ after #MeToo. In the last five to ten years, a large number of artists have been criticised heavily for ethical rather than aesthetic reasons, be it about the artwork itself or about the behaviour or opinions of the artist; about the past (seen in a new light) or the present. 

Strong ethical protest against art from a more conservative side – sacrilegious!, moral degradation! – has been widespread since decades if not centuries. But since recently the art world must deal with ever more critique from progressive circles, often from within the art world itself. This type of critique is by no means new [1], but its impact has grown to an immense scale thanks to social media, which can give space to worldwide calls for boycotts in only a few hours’ time. Besides, for artists who call themselves progressive, it was much easier to ignore conservative critics than it is to dismiss allegations of racism or sexism.

Let’s look at a recent example of ‘cancel culture’ in the Netherlands that has been heavily debated. In September 2020, photography biennial BredaPhoto opened an artwork by Erik Kessels in a local skate park, called ‘Destroy My Face’, consisting of dozens of computer generated pictures of women’s faces that were ‘deformed’ by an overdose of plastic surgery. Skaters were invited to ride over these pictures, in order to gradually erase them, and hence, destroy the destruction. The day after the opening, an initially anonymous collective of art and design students in the Netherlands, @WeAreNotAPlayground, started a petition against this ‘misogynist’ artwork, that invites violence against women. This petition gained a global following, not only in the art world, but also in girls’ skating communities. Within a week, the artwork was removed (by the skate park, not by BredaPhoto). 

image

Instagram post by @WeAreNotAPlayground

Debates erupted about the freedom of art under threat by ‘cancel culture’ gone too far. But did it? In this essay I will weigh the arguments pro and contra removal.

Let us first look at the artwork itself. One cannot ‘objectively’ judge it on aesthetic grounds, but I can imagine it is an interesting endeavour to create an installation that is supposed to be destroyed by its spectators – or perhaps: that is partially created by the spectators. One might call it an interactive piece of performance art of which only images and videos were supposed to remain. It reminds me of ‘Hungry Artist’ (David Datuna eating Cattelan’s taped banana as an artwork in itself), or Rauschenberg erasing a De Kooning drawing, but this time it’s the audience doing the deleting (although there are undoubtedly more examples). What makes it even more worthwhile from this perspective is its placement outside museum walls: BredaPhoto makes art accessible to a young audience that usually would not be highly interested in art. They can even participate in its creation (or destruction), by doing what they like most: skating! Finally, this case is not a simple clash between aesthetic and ethical judgements (original and interactive versus sexist and violent), as Kessels has a moral message himself. He wants to attack excesses in plastic surgery and Instagram fakeness and to propagate a more authentic vision of beauty instead, which is in line with recent counter narratives on body positivity, widespread on social media.

image

Of course, one can debate whether the destruction of destruction leads to restoration and beauty (what Kessels apparently intended) or to the deletion of faces whatsoever (which would have factually been the result – but maybe this is the “irony” that I’m missing). But one way or the other, that women can feel ‘objectified and targeted’, as the petition goes,  when people are skating over women’s (albeit fictitious) faces, makes sense. That this artwork does not fit ‘within today’s climate of sexist behaviour and violence against women’ is therefore a logical deduction. Moreover, it is not far-fetched to point at the potential ‘very real and harmful effects’, when one considers the placement in a skate park, with its predominantly masculine culture. When the skating boys are supposed to be co-creators of the artwork, the flipside is that they are also made accomplices in the symbolic violence against women. It is no wonder that the petition was also signed by many members of the underrepresented female skating community. What might be considered a very inclusive step from the point of view of age (getting young people acquainted with art), turns out to be highly exclusive in terms of gender. 

These arguments are in line with other moral debates on art: the artwork is derogatory to members of a certain group in society, who therefore do not feel included, and it can have actual effects in real life because a dominant discourse is reaffirmed. Furthermore, inclusion on an institutional level is discussed, as the writers of the petition blame ‘the rampant sexism, racism and other biases that are still so ingrained within our cultural institutions’. 

image

Strikingly, the defence mechanism by the artist, the festival and others follows a familiar discourse as well. It is rooted in the modernist ethos that emerged in the nineteenth century and reached its height in the early twentieth century, when moral art critique predominantly came from conservative actors. The only common theme in this discourse that I did not encounter in this specific case, is the aesthetic prevalence over ethical issues, perhaps except for Volkskrant columnist Mark Moorman’s vague nod to the ‘quality’ of the work being made irrelevant.

The first argument in this modernist discourse is that the autonomy of art is sacred. This is closely related to the idea of the freedom of speech, but art has gained an even more special position in society (or even apart from society) as a sanctuary where you can do whatever you wish, no matter what. ‘Once, the art world was a free place where artists could do their divine thing. And that’s how it’s supposed to be’, argues columnist Elma Drayer. Artist Tinkebell adds that ‘art is not a democratic process: an artist should occupy a free position in society.’

Second, art is supposed to provoke, to shake up society and to entice a debate. Art history knows a multitude of morally ambiguous works that have enraged certain social groups, like the bourgeoisie or the clergy, or that confronted the audience with social problems. This is the main line of defence by Fleur van Muiswinkel, the director of BredaPhoto: ‘We precisely want the images to induce reflection. (…) The resulting discussioncontributes to solving social wrongs.’

Third, art knows no fixed or intended interpretation, to which the artist can be held accountable. Everyone can decide for themselves what to make of it; the author is dead, as Barthes claimed. Erik Kessels himself says that his work is supposed to raise questions: ‘Which ones? That’s up to anyone. I don’t judge, I only bring a certain issue under attention.’ This implies that the critics’ interpretation is not the only possible one, as Tinkebell stresses: ‘They think they own the truth, it’s really shocking!’ Funnily enough, at other instances, Kessels seems to imply that there isone true interpretation, but that his critics just didn’t get it. He refers several times to ‘irony’, and he wonderswhether the critics really ‘dived into the background of the piece’ or whether they ‘kept a critical distance’ before signing the petition.

Besides these three well-known arguments, ridicule is an often applied defence strategy as well. Situations like these are said to ultimately lead to ‘self-censorship’ in advance, out of fear for anger by one group or the other. Critics are often mocked as ‘Generation Snowflake’, who act ‘like victims’ or push a radical left agenda (the latter encountered by female skater Nanja van Rijsse). 

Indeed, followers of such movements often take extreme positions in social media storms, particularly when they actually ‘cancel’ the artist in question. Erik Kessels was spit out like a wicked human being, and he was asked to resign from an international photography jury. But can this be said of the initiators of the protest? Their petition is not a quick statement full of unsubstantiated allegations, personal attacks and unreasonable demands by philistines who know nothing about art, but rather an eloquent pamphlet by young upcoming artists, who give a substantial institutional critique and who propose three ‘suggestions’, including – indeed – removing the artwork. Admittedly, the word ‘suggestions’ is probably a typically Anglo-Saxon euphemism for ‘demands’, and their refusal to participate (‘unpaid’) in debates before their suggestions have been followed is not common practice in consensus-based Netherlands. But their Instagram account has since been filled with creatively designed statements and with video interviews on the need for inclusiveness in the art world.

Moreover, they use a serious counter-narrative to the Modernist paradigm on which Kessels and his defenders build their argumentation. On the autonomy of art, they argue that artists and art institutions should take their social responsibility ‘rather than see yourselves as something that is “outside of society”’, as the petition goes. Indeed, one can wonder why there is one domain in society where social sensitivities have no value – it was nice that artists could protect themselves from religious dogma and commercial goals, but it is hard to hold ground in debates on sexism and racism. Second, the petitioners counter the argument that art should entice a debate, by stating that ‘there are more than enough ways to create meaningful and empathic discourse around controversial topics’ than by means of discrimination. Skater Van Rijssel adds that inviting skaters to ride over the faces is not exactly enticing a dialogue. Let’s face it, many contemporary young artists are highly socially engaged in their work themselves. Finally, they give the responsibility for diverging interpretations back to the artist who wanted to get rid of it: ‘Your work has an impact, which can be reviewed separate from your intentions’, one of their later Instagram posts declares.

Yes, the artwork Destroy My Face was ‘cancelled’, more or less comparable to overreactions that sometimes take place when the hordes on Twitter smell blood on some or other scandal. Part of the global Internet community also unjustly demands the head of Kessels himself, as if he is a born and incurable misogynist with nothing but bad intentions. But this is not the initial activists’ aim at all. Their arguments and fundamental critique on the art world are not simply to be overlooked. They ask for serious change, they deserve to be heard. The future will tell whether actions and arguments like theirs will lead to a paradigm shift, ending the era when art was seen as fully autonomous from the rest of society and when ethical judgements were discharged as invalid art critique.

Pictures are from Erik Kessel’s Instagram

P.S. BredaPhoto organised a debate on the issue, that took place 20 November and which I watched after having written this piece. It features, among others, the artist himself, the festival director and the female skater who are featured in this piece.

[1] See for instance the 1960’s critique on the racist tendencies in Mark Twain’s literary classic Huckleberry Finn, as Wayne C. Booth recalled in his 1988 book The company we keep. An ethics of fiction.

Resonance

By Vincent Meelberg

It does not happen very often that you read a newspaper article that makes so much sense that it has a profound impact on your academic research. It has happened to me, though, after reading the interview with Hartmut Rosa in the Dutch newspaper NRC. Even though the interview does not discuss sound or music explicitly, which are the areas of my research, the main concept that Rosa introduces – resonance – does.

Rosa argues that modern society is one that operates in what he calls a mode of dynamic stabilization, i.e. a society that systematically requires growth, innovation and acceleration. Such a society can thus only be stable by being in constant motion and acceleration. This kind of dynamics also influences the arts, as contemporary literature, poetry, painting, dancing, theatre and music also seems to primarily value innovation and originality, and in so doing puts the emphasis on constant change. And academia, too, suffers from this. Academic research has to innovate, to produce something new. This is one of the reasons why replication studies, which are crucial to the integrity of academic research, are so unpopular. These studies do not really bring anything new to the table and at most confirm or refute past results.

According to Rosa, these developments have led to a conception of “the good life” as one that is geared towards availability, accessibility, and attainability. At first sight, this may not seem like a bad thing. Take music, for instance. Streaming services like Apple Music and Spotify has made music increasingly attainable and affordable. Virtually every song that was ever recorded is readily available to us listeners. But do we still actually listen? Do we still have the patience to sit down and listen to an entire song, let alone to a complete album, knowing that the next tune is just one click away? 

We simply do not have the time to listen or read anymore, Rosa points out:

As time has become an increasingly scarce commodity, while music and books have become more and more easily attainable and affordable, very often the books and cds or records thus collected are never really or fully read or heard. They are stored away in shelves and cases for possible future use. They are acquired as mere potential, but they are not, or not fully, appropriated in the true sense of “consumption.” (Rosa 2017: 447)

This paradoxical state in which everything is available, but at the same time not fully appropriated, Rosa calls alienation. Alienations is “[…] a particular mode of relating to the world of things, of people and of one’s self in which there is no responsivity, i.e. no meaningful inner connection” (Rosa 2017: 449). Alienation is a state in which it is impossible to make meaningful relations. It diminishes the capacity to feel affected by something, and in turn to develop intrinsic interest in the part of the world that affects us.

The solution to alienation, Rosa suggests, is resonance. Resonance is a dual movement of being touched or affected and responding to this affection in a way that acknowledges the affection. It thus requires an openness and a willingness to affect and be affected. We need to let ourselves be touched, and even transformed, in a non-predictable and non-controllable way. Indeed, this is similar to the manner in which Baruch de Spinoza and Gilles Deleuze conceptualise affect. What Rosa adds to their conception, however, is both a critique of contemporary society and a possible solution to alienation.

The reason why I believe the notion of resonance is so promising for my field of research – sound studies – is first and foremost because sound is resonance. Sounds are a form of resonance and can therefore be understood as a kind of vibrational affect, as Walter Gershon (2013) puts it. Sound literally touches and affects listeners through resonance. So, perhaps sound can teach us how to enter into a state of resonance. After all, as Gershon points out, “[t]he sonic is resonance and knowledge, vibrational affects that effect how individuals and groups are and know” (2013: 258). Sound perhaps is the most explicit manifestation of resonance, and therefore has the potential to incite us to think about what resonance is, or can be.

Yet, sound not only has the potentiality to inform us about resonance, but can also be used in order to stimulate resonance. A good example of this is sound in public spaces. In each and every space that we enter, sounds can be heard. In such spaces we are surrounded by sounds that propagate all around and come from everywhere at once. Sound thus literally places us in the midst of a world and have a huge influence in the manner in which we experience and interpret this space. We interpret this environment and add specific meaning to it, turning the “space” into a “place.” At the same time, we become part of the environment and in doing so contribute to defining its identity. We, as inhabitants of an environment, influence what Jean-Paul Thibaud (2011) calls the ambiance, which is the atmosphere of an environment as experienced by a person. 

Sounds influence the ways in which we get in sync with this environment. Certain sounds may affect us in such a way that we are motivated to open ourselves up to the environment, to let ourselves be touched and affected, and to respond to this affection in a way that acknowledges the affection. In short, to enter into a state of resonance.

Music in public spaces is an example of using specific sounds to influence the ambiance. Music may stimulate certain people to open themselves up to an environment and stay in this environment for a prolonged period of time. But non-musical sounds can have a similar effect, too. Even sounds that we are not consciously aware of may influence our experience of an environment and the manner in which we attune to its ambiance. 

The same holds for the absence of sounds. The recent lockdown, for instance, has resulted in a radical change in urban auditory environments. The city suddenly became quiet and sounds could be heard that previously were inaudible. This has led to a different relationship with urban sounds. People actually missed the sounds that they, in normal times, would label as “noise.” The relationship between these sounds and urban inhabitants changed, and as a result, their relationship with the city as a space changed as well. Sound, and in this case the absence of sound, motivated city inhabitants to enter into a new, meaningful relation with the urban environment. It stimulated resonance. And all they had to do is let themselves be touched and affected by sound, and open their ears.

References

Gershon, Walter (2013). “Vibrational Affect: Sound Theory and Practice in Qualitative Research.” Cultural Studies – Critical Methodologies 13(4): 257–262.

Rosa, Hartmut (2017). “Dynamic Stabilization, the Triple A. Approach to the Good Life, and the Resonance Conception.” Questions de communication 31: 437–456.

Thibaud, Jean-Paul (2011). “A Sonic Paradigm of Urban Ambiances.” Journal of Sonic Studies 1(1). https://www.researchcatalogue.net/view/220589/220590

To Nazareth and back: an uncomfortable/hopeful journey through time

Written by Anna Geurts

More of Anna Geurts’ articles on historianatlarge.wordpress.com

I – living in western Europe, 2020 AD – have just returned from a visit to Mary and Joseph’s home: their cottage and carpentry workshop in Nazareth. How is that possible, you may wonder, in times of coronavirus? I’ll tell you.

The Dutch woods between Nijmegen and Cleves house a remarkable museum. The museum, called Orientalis, is dedicated to educating visitors about three large monotheistic religions from south-western Asia: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is situated in a beautiful park landscape in which dispersed groups of buildings tell a story of shared roots and cultures, aimed at enhancing mutual understanding and (re)conciliation between these faiths.

Museum village Beth Juda/Nazareth, photo by C.S. Booms (2009) (CC-BY-SA 3.0).

Yet things are not so simple, even within a relatively small museum such as this, and even (or especially?) in a land far away from the pain of Palestine-Israel.

This is not in the first place a critique, but an account of the fascination which this museum holds.

While walking through the museum park, I feel myself move through many layers of history, and many layers of meaning. For the greater part, this is a very exciting experience. But it is also unnerving. Those layers across which I walk can be distinguished quite precisely:

It all started in the 1900s when three Dutch Catholics – until about that period a heavily marginalised cultural minority in the Netherlands – met on a pilgrimage to the Biblical lands. On their return to Europe, priest Arnold Suys, artist Piet Gerrits and architect Jan Stuyt decided to offer their less fortunate Dutch brothers and sisters the opportunity of seeing the holy places for themselves, right there, virtually in their own back yards.

They bought a piece of land east of Nijmegen, and from 1911 started building what was to form a halfway stage between a Catholic church – with its Biblical pictures and stories – and a theme park. They called it ‘foundation Holy Land’.

Imagine a super-elaborate open-air nativity scene. A place of devotion, of education, but also a place of enjoyment and even entertainment, with its forest, hills and meadows, its cottages, its recreated scenes from well-known stories, its group visits, monks acting as tour guides, and the refreshments that must undoubtedly have formed part of the day out. And, let’s be honest, most real pilgrimage journeys also have something both of the austere and of the frivolous.

So, there we have the museum’s first layer, created in 1911 and the decades that followed.

But of course, what the creators of the museum really wanted to show was the holy land as it existed in the days of Jesus. And so, visitors are led on a tour past Nazareth, past the cave where Jesus was born, and past the house near Nazareth where he grew up. (On the matter of that nativity cave, by the way: while we see Mary admiring the new-born baby Jesus in her lap, husband Joseph is taking a well-deserved nap. Poor guy, the twenty-first-century visitor thinks: modern expectations of fatherhood must have been taking their toll.)

Joseph resting after the birth of Jesus.

Especially the Jewish village (aka Nazareth, pictured above) makes for a real voyage of discovery, with its Mediterranean vegetation, its contrasts between hot outdoor and cool indoor spaces, and its mountainous winding paths that makes wheeled traffic nigh impossible – a boon for clamber-happy children, while probably a nightmare for wheelchair users who might therefore have to miss out on what is one of the best, most immersive parts of the museum.

But what’s that? That modern-looking plaque on one of the Jewish cottages? Isn’t that the emblem of the twentieth-century bureau for national built heritage, the kind of emblem usually found on medieval castles and around the grand canals of Amsterdam?

Carpenter’s workplace and home, design Piet Gerrits (1924).

It turns out that, in a highly ironic gesture, the national heritage service in 2003 (now no longer anti-Catholic, nor anti-Jewish, one imagines, and with a refreshingly broad-minded view on what counts as ‘national’) officially declared these faux Palestinian buildings to be part of Dutch national heritage.

Interior of the same.

There is more. The buildings, designed to exemplify the architecture of Biblical times (an idea which in itself forms a mixture of history and narrative, mind) – these buildings were modelled on nineteenth-century Palestinian buildings.* The assumption of the Dutch creators of the park, in line with a view on world history dominant in Europe at the time, was that life outside Europe, especially outside the city, had remained virtually unchanged for thousands of years. Therefore, when we visit Joseph’s carpenter shop, a site where we may imagine the infant Jesus playing with bits of left-over wood, we are at the same time visiting a rather pretty nineteenth-century house – or at least one as remembered by a Dutch traveller who spent quite some time studying western-Asian design. And so, we may imagine an entirely different set of children running around the place – or not so different after all?

So far, we have been criss-crossing between historical antiquity, Biblical narrative, nineteenth-century Asian architecture, twenty-century Dutch monuments and Catholic devotional tourism.

But we are not done yet. From the 1960s onwards, the museum changed tack as it moved in the direction of interreligious education, dedicating more space to Jewish history and later also to Muslim lives. This led to a series of new buildings and displays, and a reinterpretation of existing displays, many dedicated to contemporary themes ranging from Omani fashion (the Omani state is an important recent donor of the museum), to European celebrations of Eid al-Fitr, and the poverty philosophy of the current Pope. One could teach a veritable course on the history of museum education here.

Two more layers to go.

First, there are the temporary exhibitions and events, which this year are related to ‘75 years of freedom’. ‘Freedom’ here refers to the period since the allied forces conquered the Dutch territory from the German forces in 1945. And, truly, the museum has some surreal tales to tell, of twentieth-century soldiers in bivouac on the mock-Roman military square of no less than Pontius Pilate himself; and of locals who refused to collaborate, hiding away in the nativity cave.

In WWII, people found a hiding place in the nativity cave.

But wait. There’s a final building: the Sanhedrin, the court where Jesus was reputedly trialled by a council of rabbis (such a council was called a sanhedrin). This structure, too, has Dutch national-heritage status. But must we therefore display it in the same way as it was built?

The Sanhedrin was artist Piet Gerrits’s interpretation of what such an assembly building, and such as assembly, may have looked like in ancient Judea, based on the Bible and on archaeological excavations, but, I suspect, also on the long art-historical tradition in which Gerrits had been educated. The building was installed in 1940 and a range of mannequins added in 1952. In the inner room, the assembly itself is taking place before our very eyes: eleven bearded men are passionately discussing Jesus’ verdict. Jesus himself must be imagined to have stood at the centre of the room, in the position where present-day visitors find themselves.

Now I may be mistaken, but when I enter the room, I feel there is something the matter with these mannequins. Eleven bearded men in togas, gesticulating vehemently. The expression on their faces – is it earnest, motivated to learn the truth, as you might expect a council of judges or jurors to be? Rather, their faces seem contorted in anger. Instead of dignified, some of the councillors look evil, as if they are playing the villain in a Disney film. Are they passionate in disagreement? Or, instead, in their agreement that Jesus should be convicted? One gets the sense that one is dealing with a mean set. Is a more historical interpretation of the Bible perhaps making way here for a more overtly ideological one? And what about the facial features of these councillors? Are their noses bigger than those of the figures who play a more positive role in the museum’s story of Jesus? Their teeth more often bared, their eyebrows more pronounced? And how about their postures and gestures, which certainly stand in a long tradition of Christian painting?

Standing in this room, I get the unpleasant feeling that I am looking at the remainders of a centuries-old Christian idea of Judaism. An old idea of Judaism that we now more commonly refer to as anti-Semitism, and that seems to have survived in the artistic style of the by that time 74-year-old artist Piet Gerrits, who may still have been caught up in his Catholic revival, a project which had by that time long been completed.

It may be time to give these sculptures a new context; to remove them from their self-evident place as telling a story that does not need a counter-story.

True, the much more recent interpretation sign in the courtyard of the Sanhedrin gives a fairly neutral explanation of the biblical story of Jesus’ last days. Still, the centre piece of that courtyard is a so-called Judas tree, which again draws attention primarily to Christian traditions of Jewish guilt and Christian martyrdom. It gives the entire Jesus route in the park a flavour of animosity rather than peace, love and forgiveness, which seem to be the aspects of the Christian faith which the current museum directors want to emphasise.

I am editing this column just as Facebook and Instagram have announced that they will start to remove some of the harmful stereotyping of Jews that happens on their platforms (although far from all). Facebook and Instagram are obviously surfing on the hype/working under the pressure of the current media attention for the Black Lives Matter movement. But the fight against racism, including anti-Semitism, is of course much older. And even within European museums, which are usually run by people of white, Christian backgrounds, efforts to get rid of the racism that is inherent in so many of these museums, have been long underway.

We all know that it is precisely the kind of hate-mongering stereotypes that are often propagated through images of Jesus’ last days, that keep sabotaging peaceful relations between (cultural) Christians, (cultural) Jews and (cultural) Muslims. Therefore, in a museum that is constantly reinventing itself anyhow, these are the images that need tweaking first of all; especially now that the museum’s new mission expressly preaches understanding between the faiths.

Museum Orientalis offers a veritable walk through time. A walk that is at times pleasant and picturesque, at times fascinating, but at times also uncomfortably close to the violent tendencies in our history.

Orientalis deserves a visit. But the Sanhedrin deserves a renewed display.

* See the interpretation signs in the museum itself, as well as the Heilig Land Stiching website.

All photos by APHG, unless noted otherwise.

For the museum at its most picturesque, see for instance this blog.

Gone With the Wind: Racisme als verdienmodel

Geschreven door Liedeke Plate

image

De film zag ik voor het eerst in een bioscoop op de Champs-Élysées
in Parijs. Ik zal toen 16 of 17 jaar zijn geweest, en samen met mijn vriendin
Isabelle en haar jongere zus waren we die doordeweekse middag (in de
herfstvakantie?) op de zeldzame gelegenheid afgegaan om de net-geen-4-uur durende Autant en emporte le vent, zoals de film in het Frans heet, in
VOST te zien: version originale sous titrée, in het Engels (Amerikaans)
met ondertitels, en dus met de stemmen van Vivien Leigh en Clark Gable in
plaats van met Franse stemmen nagesynchroniseerd.

De bioscoop halverwege de chique Champs-Élysées was bekend
om zijn gigantisch scherm. Het zusje van mijn vriendin vond die VOST op dat (hele) grote doek dan ook zo’n geweldige ervaring dat ze in de zaal is blijven zitten om de film nog een keer ter zien. Toen we haar rond 10 uur ’s avonds kwamen ophalen stond er een journalist bij de uitgang. Wij schoven het zusje naar voren: inmiddels had zij de film 17 keer gezien, dat zou weleens een interessant verhaal kunnen opleveren. Maar ook Isabelle was een fan. Zij had de film weliswaar maar 13 keer gezien, het boek had ze meermalen gelezen en ze kon na lang voor de spiegel te hebben geoefend net als Vivien Leigh in de film één wenkbrauw optrekken.

Ik vertel dit verhaal om duidelijk te maken dat Gone With the Wind niet zomaar een film is, ‘in een andere tijd gemaakt, door kunstenaars van toen’, zoals onlangs in Trouw (11/6/20) stond. De film wordt ook in het heden getoond, de filmvertoning is een (re)productie en het gevolg van specifieke keuzes. Dat ik die film daar toen zag is niet toevallig. Het feit dat er een journalist op afkwam wijst op het bijzondere karakter van die filmvertoning in de bioscoop op de beroemde Champs-Élysées. Dat dit verhaal zich 40 jaar na de première afspeelde onderstreept het bewuste, gecureerde karakter van filmvertoning nog eens. Was dit jubileum de reden voor
de VOST-vertoning in de Franse bioscoop? Hier laat mijn geheugen me in de
steek, maar het zou goed kunnen. Een jubileum is immers een uitgelezen kans om de film weer eens onder de aandacht te brengen.

image
image
image
image

Jubileum-edities van het boek en de film en speciale jubileumuitgaven van Life Magazine.

Gone With the Wind is de commercieel succesvolste
film ooit
(na inflatiecorrectie). Hij is gebaseerd op de bestseller met
dezelfde titel van de in 1949 op tragische wijze relatief jonggestorven
Margaret Mitchell. De filmrechten werden in 1936 voor een toen ongekend hoog bedrag verkocht en werden in 1987 door mediamagnaat Ted Turner aangekocht. De overige rechten bleven in beheer van Margaret Mitchell en haar erfgenamen. Door strategisch management van publicatierechten, auteursrechten (copyrights) en adaptatierechten (radio, televisie, toneel, opera, etc.) hebben de erfgenamen ervoor gezorgd dat de bestseller een van de bestverkopende en iconische boeken aller tijden bleef. Kortom, Gone With the Wind is een verdienmodel, gefundeerd op zorgvuldig gedoseerde aandacht voor een verhaal waarin de zogeheten Antebellum South wordt verheerlijkt; de periode vóór de Amerikaanse burgeroorlog, toen het Zuiden op slavernij leunde voor economische voorspoed.

Brandmanagement, het in de markt profileren van het merk Gone
With the Wind
, staat daarbij centraal. Er werden sequels gemaakt,
denk aan Alexandra Ripley’s Scarlett (1991), verkocht met duidelijke
verwijzing naar Mitchells roman, vervolgens geadapteerd in een eveneens
commercieel succesvolle televisieminiserie (1994); en later Rhett Butler’s
People
(2007) en Ruth’s Journey (2014), allebei van Donald McCaig op
verzoek van de erfgenamen geschreven.

Al deze sequels en adaptaties hebben ervoor gezorgd dat de
belangstelling voor Gone with the Wind onverminderd bleef; en dat de
boekverkoop goed doorliep. Voor het schrijven van zo’n geautoriseerde sequel hadden ze overigens strikte richtlijnen, waaronder een verbod op homoseksuele of interraciale seks en op de dood van het hoofdpersonage Scarlett O’Hara.

De reis van Ruth in het bijzonder moest ervoor zorgen dat het racistische beeld dat aan film, boek en onderneming bleef kleven, genuanceerd werd. In de loop van de laatste decennia was de kritiek op het romantische
verhaal dat de historische werkelijkheid van de tijd waarin het zich afspeelt
verdoezelt, steeds luider geworden. In 2001 was na een uiteindelijk door de
erfgenamen verloren juridische strijd The Wind Done Gone van Alice Randall verschenen, waarin het verhaal van een halfzusje van Scarlett wordt verteld, dochter van Mammy en Scarletts vader, als parodie en correctie op Mitchells roman. Schrijvers en wetenschappers spraken toen hun steun
uit voor Randall omdat het naar hun idee tijd werd dat het Amerikaanse publiek een ander perspectief op het leven op de plantages zou krijgen dan die in Mitchells roman wordt geschetst.

image

In het kielzog van de Black Lives Matter-protesten staat Gone With the Wind nu weer volop in de aandacht. Na hem eerst te hebben teruggetrokken is de Amerikaanse streamingdienst HBO Max inmiddels voornemens de film binnenkort weer beschikbaar te stellen, maar dan ingeleid door de Afrikaans-Amerikaanse filmwetenschapper Jacqueline Stewart die de film ‘in zijn verschillende historische contexten’ zal plaatsen. In zekere zin is dit enkel de volgende zet in deze zorgvuldig geregisseerde saga met als hoofddoel: het merk Gone With the Wind sterk houden en zo verkoopcijfers blijven stuwen. Immers, wie nog niet van de film had gehoord is nu nieuwsgierig gemaakt en zal hem willen zien. Daarmee is de mythische status van Mitchells werk weer verder verhoogd en zullen verkoopcijfers niet achterblijven. Een kritische inleiding kan de blik van de toeschouwer richten op de manier waarop de film witte suprematie verheerlijkt, met schitterende kostuums, imposante decors en oogstrelende cinematografie; en zo met andere ogen leren kijken naar hoe een tijdsbeeld met cinematografische middelen wordt gecreëerd. Het biedt echter nog niet de ruimte voor andere verhalen om de plek en aandacht te krijgen die Gone with the Wind al meer dan 80 jaar in de culturele verbeelding inneemt.

Materialities: a virus and face masks

Written by Anneke Smelik   

Image: Duurzame Mode 025

The fashion and beauty industries are suffering financially from the corona crisis, but some clothing companies, including large fast fashion ones such as Zara (Spain) and H&M (Sweden), are converting to the production of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in the form of face masks and protective gowns. Now that face masks are slowly entering the streets of European cities, there is the critical issue of accessibility: where to buy them and how to remain fashionable? DIY videos instruct people how to
make do with materials on hand, from fabric and sheets to bras and T-shirts. Volunteers make masks for hospitals and nursing homes, while private consumers have become producers at home.

Luxury brands like Armani, Gucci and Prada in Italy and LVMH in France (Dior, Fendi, Louis Vuitton and Givenchy) resort to making face masks for their respective governments, while luxury perfume makers such as Bvlgari and Guerlain have pledged to make hand sanitizers (Bramley 2020). Fashion brands and collaborations between industry and government become sources of local and national pride in times of crisis. To address aesthetic concerns many smaller fashion brands or designers are making fashionable face masks, including sequined, 3D printed and recyclable ones (Philipkoski 2020). In the Netherlands designer Sjaak Hullekes (Hulle Kes) and tech-fashion designer Melanie Brown (Bybrown) make fashionable face masks, while The Fashion Filter designs them together with the Technical University of Eindhoven. In the region Arnhem-Nijmegen the platform for sustainable fashion has developed a project with local designers to produce sustainable face masks: ‘FACE MASKS 025’.

In an earlier contribution to this blog I wrote about new materialism. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, materials and materialities come into stark relief. As the virus spreads globally from body to body, the importance of material protection, along with ‘social distancing’, becomes paramount. Initial material shortages of face masks, protective gowns, ventilators and testing swabs presented life-threatening conditions due to sheer demand as well as supply chain disruptions. By the end of April, many countries were recommending or demanding cloth face masks for everyone in public spaces, with the clarification that medical masks should be reserved for healthcare workers.

The question whether ‘to mask or not to mask’ (Eikenberry et al. 2020) has become quite the topic of debate. There have been mixed and dramatically changing messages whether the general public should engage in mask-wearing. Cultural as well as material and medical factors had influenced some of the earlier advice for the public not to mask in Europe and the USA. In addition to concerns about material shortages and perceptions of a false sense of security, there had been concerns about stigmatization and discrimination (Tufekci et al. 2020). Unlike the invisible virus, the mask is highly visible and has not been customary in western cultures. Mask usage in public for health purposes is much more common in Asian countries, especially since the SARS outbreak in 2003. In China, mask-wearing
is a practice associated with modern material culture.

While there are benefits to individual wearers, depending on the particular material and fit issues associated with the mask, it is basically an act of generosity to others to don a cloth mask. Inasmuch as ‘western’ cultures have tended toward individualist rather than collectivist needs, compliance requires a transformation in meaning and thinking. As Austria began to mandate mask-wearing in public spaces such as grocery stores, for example, Chancellor Sebastian Kurz noted that it would be a ‘big adjustment’ as ‘masks are alien to our culture’ (Norimitsu 2020).

The pandemic reminds us that we are all material subjects (Smelik, 2018), dependent on fabrics, clothes, and other materials not only for protective, but also for aesthetic, cultural, and social reasons. When I donned a – very ordinary – face mask for the first time, I was struck how hot it was walking in the sun, how it itched behind my ears, and that my glasses got fogged up. As I realized that the highly visible face mask is a material object that protects me, us, from the material yet invisible Covid 19 virus, I felt acutely how our daily life is characterized by non-human actors invading as well as protecting our all-too-human (and hence vulnerable) bodies. We are material subjects made up of nonhuman and human components within the larger contexts of material culture, local circumstances and global circuits.

* This blog is based on a text that Susan Kaiser and I wrote together, “Materials and materialities: Viral and sheep-ish encounters with
fashion”. Editorial introduction to Critical Studies in Fashion & Beauty, vol 11 nr 1, in press June 2020.

References:

Bramley, Ellie Violet (2020), ‘Prada the latest brand to make medical face masks’, The Guardian, 24 March.

Eikenberry, Steffen E.; Mancuso, Marina; Iboi, Enahoro; Phan, Tin, Eikenberry, Keenan; Kuang, Yang; Kostelich, Eric; and Gumel, Abba B. (2020), ‘To mask or not to mask: Modeling the potential for face mask use by the general public to curtail the COVID-19 pandemic’: https://doi.org/10.1101/2020.04.06.20055624

Onishi, Norimitsu, and Méhuet, Constant (2020), ‘Mask-wearing is a very new fashion in Paris (and a lot of other places)’, New York Times, 9 April.

Philipkoski, Kristen (2020), ‘30+ fashionbrands pivoting to make stylish coronavirus masks’, Forbes, 12 April.

Smelik, Anneke (2018), ‘New materialism: A theoretical framework for fashion in the age of technological innovation’, International Journal of Fashion Studies, 5(1), pp. 31-52.

Tufekci, Zeynep; Howard, Jeremy; and Greenhalgh, Trish (2020), ‘The real reason to wear a mask’, The Atlantic, 22 April.

Een écht goede band vraagt niet om steun? Een pleidooi voor een nieuw popmecenaat

Door Helleke van den Braber en
Rocco Hueting

image

We zullen met zijn allen de schouders onder de Nederlandse pop
moeten zetten’
, schreef Robert van Gijssel in De Volkskrant van 7 mei j.l. Hij heeft groot gelijk. Belangrijke vragen: hoe ziet die steun aan de pop er dan uit? Wie moeten het ‘met z’n allen’ geven? En hoe zetten muzikanten dit op een goede manier in gang? Deze week zette Pip Blom al een eerste stap, met de oprichting van haar ‘members only service’ Pip Blom Backstage. Vooralsnog is ze in Nederland de enige.

Is het denkbaar, mecenaat in de pop? We doen een voorzet – en wijzen tegelijk op de obstakels.

De coronacrisis legt de kwetsbaarheid én de kracht van popmuzikanten bloot. De pop krijgt slechts 0,15 van het geld dat in de Basisinfrastructuur voor podiumkunsten is gereserveerd. Bands doen veelal geen beroep op de
overheid, maar bouwen aan hun carrière in interactie met hun fans. Nu de zalen leeg blijven, drogen die inkomsten op. Juist wat pop altijd gedragen heeft – de intense en productieve afhankelijkheid van het publiek – slaat nu om in het tegendeel. Het ‘eigenaarschap’ dat de fans van oudsher voelen jegens hun favoriete bands, de intense onderlinge connectie – hoe daar nu uiting aan te geven? Voor miljoenen mensen is popmuziek in deze tijd een springlevende bron van energie en houvast. De schouders eronder dus – maar hoe?

Een snelle blik op de gevestigde kunsten. Daar worden makers al decennialang in geefkringen rechtstreeks door hun bewonderaars ondersteund. De gelauwerde musici van het Residentie Orkest zijn trots op de hulp van 1500 liefhebbers, de acteurs van ITA verwelkomen donaties van 2000 toneelfans, en het befaamde Concertgebouworkest bedankt jaarlijks 20.000 trouwe vrienden. Waarom is deze vorm van mecenaat wél geaccepteerd in de gevestigde kunsten, maar vrijwel volledig afwezig in de pop?

Komt dat doordat we in de gevestigde kunsten volop tijdloze en gelauwerde instituten zien, waarin musici, dirigenten en regisseurs elkaar al generaties lang opvolgen? Veel popbands kennen een vluchtiger en commerciëler
bestaan en zijn minder dan de orkesten en toneelgezelschappen die we hierboven noemden verankerd in duurzame instituten gewijd aan Echte Kunst. Hoe het ook zij: geen gerenommeerde band waagt het z’n fans om hulp te vragen. De belangrijkste reden: steun zoeken bij het publiek is voor popartiesten geen teken van kracht, maar van zwakte.

Dat heeft alles te maken met aloude Romantische ideaalbeelden en taboes rond kunstenaarschap en geld die vanaf de jaren zestig een nieuw en vitaal leven kregen in de popmuziek. De ideale popartiest is onafhankelijk (een rebelse outsider), authentiek (een oprechte vertolker van zijn eigen waarheid) en onbaatzuchtig (louter gericht op de kwaliteit van zijn muziek). Dit beeld en de bijbehorende taboes wordt door elke nieuwe generatie popartiesten uitgedragen. Zij én de muziekindustrie hebben er belang bij het idee van artistieke en financiële autonomie hoog te houden. Alleen wie niet ‘te koop’ is kan immers hopen artistiek serieus te worden genomen.

Hoe springlevend dit alles nog is blijkt uit de gewetensnood waarin metalzangeres Floor Jansen dit voorjaar kwam toen ze de video- en
audioregistratie
van haar (later wegens de coronacrisis afgelaste) concerten in de Afas Live via crowdfunding wilde financieren. In de podcast De Machine van 10 maart 2020 vertelde ze hoeveel moeite ze had om daar zelfs maar een klein bedrag aan haar fans voor te vragen, zelfs al was de videoregistratie voor diezelfde fans bedoeld. Profijt trekken uit de trouw van haar fans was voor haar een brug te ver. Dit past perfect in de ideologie zoals in de vorige alinea omschreven. Een écht goede band, zo is het idee, vraagt niet om steun. Een écht goede band kan het op eigen kracht. Wij vinden: elk pleidooi voor meer geven aan cultuur – en dit soort pleidooien verschijnen nu links en rechts in de media – moet rekening houden met dit soort oordelen en taboes. Ze maken het voor kunstenaars lastig om ondersteuning met opgeheven hoofd te aanvaarden.

Toch denken wij dat er ruimte is voor een nieuw en vooruitstrevend
popmecenaat, dat deze taboes niet alleen erkent en omarmt, maar ook weet om te buigen. Dat moet dan een vorm van ondersteuning zijn die niet alleen ‘van de fans voor de band’ is, maar ook ‘van de band voor de fans’. Mecenaat in de pop kan bloeien als het wederkerig van aard is, gericht op uitwisseling, en gebouwd op dat wat muzikanten en hun fans van oudsher bindt: een gedeelde identiteit en energie.

De pop heeft baat bij een mecenaat waar een band z’n fans trots en zonder gêne bij kan betrekken. Dus niet: een anonieme doneerknop ten bate van ‘de popmuziek’. Wel: geefkringen op maat, door bands zélf ontwikkeld, passend bij wie ze zijn en bij het soort fan dat om hen heen staat. Niet: een eenmalige donatie om een zielige, door coronanood getroffen muzikant te ‘redden’. Wel: de geefkring als (virtuele) plek waar fans zich duurzaam om een band scharen, en deelhebben aan wat een band doet en maakt.

Om dat mogelijk te maken is een mentaliteitsomslag nodig bij band én bij hun fans. Bands zullen, net als Pip Blom, open kaart moeten spelen over hun behoefte aan steun en hun fans een oprecht en doorvoeld voorstel moeten doen. Pip Blom houdt haar fans deze week voor dat ze hen via hun membership deelgenoot wil maken van ‘why it means a lot to us’  om in de band te spelen, en vraagt hen in ruil daarvoor om een bijdrage van 0,
4 of 10 euro per maand. De fans, op hun beurt, zullen afscheid moeten nemen van hun consumentenperspectief en erop moeten leren vertrouwen dat de band zijn best doet een tegenprestatie te leveren die past bij de waarde van hun investering. Misschien zal die tegengift niet altijd de vorm of inhoud hebben waarop de fans gerekend hadden. Belangrijk is dat beide partijen werken aan een vorm van community building en elkaar de ruimte geven een gezamenlijk domein van uitwisseling vorm te geven.

De geefkring als interactief domein van samenkomst dus, waar je als betrokken fan graag bent én blijft, om met gerichte donaties te zorgen dat we ook komende decennia naar nieuwe muziek kunnen luisteren. Popmecenaat: het is er nog niet, maar het kan er komen.

Helleke van den Braber is verbonden aan de Radboud Universiteit en bekleedt de leerstoel Mecenaatstudies aan de Universiteit Utrecht

Rocco Hueting is Muzikant en Cultuurwetenschapper

Dit is een bewerking van een opiniestuk dat op 13 mei 2020 in De Volkskrant is gepubliceerd.

Op zoek naar een alternatief

Geschreven door Roel Smeets

Deze tekst verscheen eerder op De Reactor, Vlaams-Nederlands platform voor literatuurkritiek.

I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
I went to the crossroad, fell down on my knees
Asked the Lord above, “Have mercy, now, save poor Bob if you please”

Hoewel Satan nergens expliciet ter sprake komt in het nummer, wordt ‘Cross Road Blues’ (1937) van de Amerikaanse bluesmuzikant Robert Johnson doorgaans in verband gebracht met het pact dat hij met de duivel zou hebben gesloten. De legende gaat dat Johnson op een kruispunt ergens in de Mississippi Delta zijn ziel aan de duivel verkocht in ruil voor zijn muzikale virtuositeit. Een kruispunt staat symbool voor de morele transitie die zo’n duivelse deal veronderstelt. Ga je verder op het rechte pad, of volg je de route van het Kwaad?

Harpie, de heldin van Hannah van Binsbergens (1993) gelijknamige debuutroman, bevindt zich ook, hoewel niet letterlijk, op een kruispunt. De roman opent met de zin: ‘Als je lang genoeg naar een plas bloed kijkt, zul je zien dat er een gat ontstaat, een portaal naar een andere wereld.’ Tijdens een zelfmoordpoging – een kruispunt tussen deze en ‘een andere wereld’ – ontmoet Harpie de duivel, die de anonieme verteller beschrijft als ‘een grappig mannetje […],  een klein bloedduiveltje met zwarte schubben en prachtige gouden paddenogen’. De Satan van Van Binsbergen lijkt weinig op de kwaadaardige, afstotende gestalte die deze figuur meestal aanneemt in de cultuurgeschiedenis. Net als Goethes Faust sluit Harpie een duivels pact, maar het Kwaad boezemt hier weinig angst in. Integendeel: met zijn vaak cynische opmerkingen (‘Er zijn makkelijkere manieren om vrienden te maken’, is bijvoorbeeld zijn reactie op Harpies zelfmoordpoging) fungeert Satan in deze roman eerder als een gimmick, een practical joke, een running gag. Hoewel hij Harpie gedurende 175 bladzijden (ongevraagd) begeleidt in het vinden van een antwoord op de fundamentele existentiële vraag of ze wil blijven leven, legt zijn aanwezigheid weinig gewicht in de schaal.

Dat is meteen mijn enige, maar toch niet onbelangrijke bezwaar bij de roman. Wanneer Harpie nadenkt over de ‘existentiële status’ van de duivel, concludeert ze dat hij ‘een ontsnapte droom’ is en bovendien een ‘aardige duivel’. Maar die conclusie is weinig verhelderend. De aardige, grappige, cynische Satan verleent aan de roman inderdaad een droomachtige, surrealistische sfeer. Opeens duikt hij op in innerlijke dialogen en manifesteert hij zich in de vorm van andere personages. Zijn rol is om Harpie een spiegel voor te houden, haar tot zelfreflectie te dwingen (‘Als dit de hel is, wat gebeurt dan als je doodgaat?’). Maar omdat Satans existentiële status onduidelijk blijft, is zijn rol in de compositie van de roman te vrijblijvend, te weinig urgent om te fungeren als rode draad.

Absurditeit en kapitalistisch realisme
Veel interessanter dan Satans existentiële status is de vraag waarom Harpie twijfelt of ze nog wil leven. Hoe is ze verworden tot ‘een berooid en depressief jongmens’?

Volgens de Franse filosoof Albert Camus gaat de meest urgente filosofische vraag over zelfmoord. Moeten we blijven leven als we vaststellen dat het leven betekenisloos is? We kunnen het leven betekenis geven via religie of spiritualiteit, maar als we dat niet doen en geen betekenis weten te vinden in het onontwarbare kluwen van de realiteit waar we dagelijks mee geconfronteerd worden, dan ligt zelfmoord voor de hand. Iedere dag opnieuw diezelfde rotsblok de berg opduwen – zoals Sisyphus in de mythe – waar is het goed voor?

Tegelijkertijd de betekenisloosheid van het bestaan erkennen en blijven leven is absurd, maar desalniettemin schuilt volgens Camus juist daar waarde in. Als een hedendaagse Sisyphus ziet Harpie zich geconfronteerd met de absurde situatie waarin ze zich bevindt: ‘Elke dag een nieuwe kans, wat een genade. Wat een zieke, zieke grap.’ Anders dan bij Camus is het kapitalisme voor Van Binsbergen de centrale drijfveer achter die absurditeit. Haar roman draagt als motto ‘Our struggle must be towards the construction of a new and surprising world, not the identities shaped and distorted by capital’, van cultuurcriticus Mark Fisher, auteur van Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative? (2009). Fisher definieert de term uit die titel als de realisatie dat er geen alternatief is voor een leven buiten kapitalistische kaders. Binnen die kaders blijkt het voor Harpie moeilijk om betekenis aan haar leven toe te kennen; zelfmoord lijkt daarom een logische optie.

Harpie beseft maar al te goed dat haar identiteit ‘shaped and distorted by capital’ is. Ze wordt aan het begin van de roman voorgesteld als ‘Harpie Poelgeest, tweeëntwintig jaar, momenteel werkloos maar popelend om aan de slag te gaan voor uw bedrijf’.Iedereen die wel eens een verjaardagsfeest heeft bezocht, weet dat een zelfkarakterising als deze de normaalste zaak van de wereld is. Naam, leeftijd, werk, eventueel nog relationele status – niet noodzakelijk in deze volgorde. Als introductie van een personage klinkt het echter op zijn minst vreemd. Zijn karaktertrekken, dromen, wensen, gevoelens, worstelingen, et cetera niet een belangrijker onderdeel van je identiteit dan je naam, je leeftijd en waar je je geld mee verdient?

Uitwegen in Harpie
Natuurlijk wel, maar Harpie probeert te spelen volgens de regels van het kapitalistische spel. Wanneer ze zich tijdens haar zelfmoordpoging op het kruispunt tussen leven en dood bevindt, ziet ze de mogelijkheid van een bestaan buiten de dwingende kaders van het kapitalisme. Het eerder aangehaalde ‘portaal naar een andere wereld’ uit de openingszin van de roman is een uitweg, vormt een alternatief voor het leven binnen onze door kapitaal geperverteerde samenleving. Misschien is de dood de enige route naar die ‘new and surprising world’ waar Mark Fisher het over heeft, maar misschien ook niet. Misschien is die nieuwe, verrassende wereld ook te vinden binnen het kapitalistisch systeem, misschien is er betekenis te vinden in de beperkingen die dat systeem oplegt.

Harpie is een poging om die mogelijkheden te verkennen. Het blijkt voor haar niet evident om de betekenis te ontwaren in de schijnbare betekenisloosheid van dat steeds maar weer opnieuw omhoog duwen van het rotsblok. Toch probeert ze het. Ze zet zichzelf in de markt: ze gaat aan de slag als receptioniste op een kantoor en als luxe-escort. Die keuze deed me denken aan de eerste zin van het openingsgedicht uit haar poëziedebuut Kwaad gesternte (2016, winnaar van de VSB Poëzieprijs 2017): ‘Nu iedereen met me meekijkt kan ik eindelijk beginnen / te groeien naar de markt’. Hoewel ze door zichzelf te vermarkten zich in eerste instantie lijkt te conformeren aan de dwingende regels van het kapitalistische spel, blijft ze flirten met de mogelijkheid van een uitweg, vooral in haar hoedanigheid als escort.
Een van die mogelijke uitwegen vertegenwoordigt Hein Witzius, CEO van het escortbureau, die haar aanbiedt om in dienst te treden van zijn nieuwe bedrijf, ‘EXIT STRATEGIES: een merger van de domeinen van prostitutie en assisted suicide’. Zo pitcht Hein – of is het Satan? – zijn nieuwe businessplan:

De dood in het leven, niet zozeer vanwege de kleine dood van het orgasme maar meer de mens zelf, het ego dat oplost in de fantasie, de vrouw die oplost in de daad. Ik word me er steeds meer van bewust dat de seksindustrie handelt in uitwegen, manieren om een onbevredigend zelf af te werpen en een nieuwe huid aan te trekken, scenario’s voor een dubbelleven. En waarom dan niet alternatieven voor het leven?

Harpie wordt geconfronteerd met haar verlangen om ‘een onbevredigend zelf af te werpen en een nieuwe huid aan te trekken’, waar ze als escort voor andere mensen in faciliteert, maar zelf ook alles behalve ongevoelig voor is. We zien hier de klassieke associatie tussen seks en dood, Eros en Thanatos: ze liggen in elkaars verlengde, functioneren allebei als uitweg, als alternatief.

De slotscène van de roman lijkt op het eerste gezicht te functioneren als optimistische conclusie van Harpies existentiële zoektocht. Satan, die zich voor de gelegenheid heeft gemanifesteerd als haar psychiater, leidt een soort kringgesprek met Harpie en haar ex-collega’s van MetaMedia, het kantoor waar ze onlangs is ontslagen als receptioniste. Hij valt meteen met de deur in huis: ‘MetaMedia collega’s waarom laten jullie Harpie alleen? Ze is toch niet de enige die ongelukkig is?’ Hoewel deze vraag ook op enige weerstand stuit (‘Als je zo ongelukkig bent, moet je misschien iets zinvols doen in plaats van je hart uitstorten bij deze clown’), geven de meeste medewerkers van het bedrijf voor het eerst een inkijk in hun ziel. Ze zijn geen presterende, geld verdienende werknemers meer, maar mensen met angsten, verlangens en dromen zoals iedereen. Het antikapitalistische sentiment wordt hier heel expliciet verwoord door ene Patrick: ‘Ik schaam me eigenlijk dood voor onze onzin, marktstrategieën en holle ideeën en we gaan er maar mee door! […] Hebben we geen bestaansrecht zonder dat we het grootste deel van onze tijd besteden aan betekenisloos werk of uitrusten van dat werk?’

In deze collectieve opstand, verbroedering en spontane oprisping van medemenselijkheid, lijkt zich het alternatief te openbaren waarnaar Harpie op zoek was. Het is een utopisch einde: ‘Het is niet meer te zeggen welk geluid uit welke mond komt. Achter ieders ogen brandt een vreemd vuur, ze zien de toekomst voor zich liggen.’ Het is echter de vraag hoe serieus we dit moeten nemen. Moeten we hieruit concluderen dat verbondenheid en empathie de sleutel zijn tot een waarachtig, betekenisvol bestaan binnen kapitalistische kaders?

Transgressie en beperking
Die conclusie ligt voor de hand, maar is daardoor juist misschien te makkelijk. Er zijn bovendien te veel passages in de roman die een meer cynische conclusie suggereren. Met name de bespiegelingen op de positie van de vrouw binnen hedendaagse kapitalistische samenlevingen roepen een ander beeld op. Literatuurwetenschapper Saskia Pieterse beschreef in De Groene Amsterdammer al kernachtig dat Harpie van Van Binsbergen ook een boek is ‘over vrouwenhaat, sadomasochisme, over de vraag of je op de bodem van een volstrekt gecommodificeerd verlangen een moment van bevrijding kunt vinden’. Als escort onderwerpt ze zich moedwillig aan de eisen voor vrouwelijke seksualiteit. Hoezeer ze ook ingaat tegen het idee dat ‘seks en geweld over macht gaan’ (voor haar is seks transgressief: ‘de belofte van een permanente ontspanning uit het leven’), uiteindelijk kan ook zij zich niet ‘onttrekken aan de gangbare normen voor neukbaarheid’.

Dat komt grotendeels omdat het seksuele verlangen binnen het kapitalistische systeem gecommodificeerd is. De anonieme verteller weet dat ook: ‘Er zijn weinig dingen zo verstikt in betekenis als een vrouwenlijf. […] De poses en contexten waarin het naakte vrouwenlijf mag verschijnen zijn altijd dezelfde’. Hoewel Harpies keuze voor een baan als escort geïnterpreteerd kan worden als een poging agency over haar lichaam op te eisen, of als een poging tot transgressie, kan ook zij de geijkte categorieën niet ontstijgen. Wederom doet dit denken aan regels uit het openingsgedicht van Van Binsbergens debuutbundel:

Ik hoef mijzelf niet meer te dwingen een gezicht op te
zetten om naar buiten te gaan. Al mijn gezichten zijn bekend,
gezien in medische catalogi, besproken in ondergrondse
correspondenties, beproefd in het gebruik. Ik wil eruit
maar nergens ben ik veilig, mijn geweten is iets lichts
geworden nu ik mijzelf altijd moet zien en zien hoe ik door
iedereen gezien word.

Hoe Harpie ook probeert te ontsnappen aan de status quo, ook haar ‘gezichten’ zijn al bekend, ‘beproefd in het gebruik’. Ze kan niet zomaar Harpie zijn; in de ogen van de (mannelijke) ander is ze enkel een van vele stereotypen:

Het buurmeisje. Het meisje aan de andere kant van het zwembad. Het meisje dat de tijd lijkt te stoppen door met haar lange benen sierlijk een trap af te lopen. Het bruidsmeisje. Het serveerstertje. Het meisje in de bus dat even naar je lacht als je naast haar gaat zitten.

Aan zulke dwingende categorieën van vrouwelijkheid kan ook Harpie niet ontsnappen. Ik ben daarom geneigd de surrealistische slotscène van de roman vooral als utopie te zien. In hoeverre is het echt mogelijk om te ontsnappen, een alternatieve route te bewandelen, een uitweg te vinden?

Van Binsbergen bouwt met haar romandebuut Harpie voort op thema’s die ze in haar poëziedebuut al pregnant verwoordde. Dezelfde laconieke, ironische, soms bijna cynische toon uit Kwaad gesternte is aanwezig in Harpie. Het is niet altijd aangenaam om naar die toon te luisteren, maar dat is ook niet de bedoeling. Van Binsbergens stem is niet zoetgevooisd of zalvend, maar snijdt door je trommelvliezen. Ze vertegenwoordigt dan ook een pijnlijk geluid en brengt de ongemakkelijke boodschap dat onze perceptie geperverteerd is door een neoliberale ideologie en beperkt wordt door vastgeroeste beelden over vrouwelijkheid.

Recensie: Harpie van Hannah van Binsbergen door Roel Smeets.

The Pandemic Sublime

Written by

László Munteán

image

Now that staying home has become the new norm, the bulk of my contact with the outside world is channeled through the screen and the microphone of my laptop. Within the confines of the home, the Internet remains an umbilical cord to information, social life, and entertainment. Overwhelmed, frustrated, and at once obsessed with the visual culture of the pandemic burgeoning online, I am intrigued by the proliferation of drone videos featuring cities under lockdown, featuring (in alphabetical
order) Boston, Budapest, Chicago, Istanbul, Mumbai, New York, Sao Paolo, Rio de Janeiro, and San Francisco. The most recent one is a 48-mintue superbly edited footage of New York augmented by a moving soundtrack resembling cinematic establishing shots. There are many more out there and presumably even more to come in the near future. Regardless of the differences among these cities, the videos share an aesthetic repertoire, which employs soothingly uplifting music as an atmospheric background to panoramic views of empty streets forming embroidery patterns on a gigantic carpet unfolding without end. Viewers, including myself, are
mesmerized, as evidenced by the acclaim they receive on YouTube.

There is, however, nothing new about their aesthetic repertoire. The increasing affordability and ubiquity of ever more sophisticated personal drones had yielded a plethora of similar videos long before COVID-19. From the drone’s bird’s eye perspective, humans and traffic are rendered almost invisible, allowing the city to emerge as an artificial landscape dazzling in its variety of detail and at once fathomable from above. These drone videos celebrate cities in terms of what David Nye calls the ‘technological sublime’. Updating earlier conceptualizations of the sublime, Nye traces its manifestations in such emblems of American modernity as skyscrapers, railroads, bridges. As an example of the technological sublime, Nye also mentions Consolidated Edison’s City of Lights diorama of New York, which, at the 1939 World Fair, was the largest in the world. Similarly, urban drone videos also turn cities into a sublime artifact, human-made and at once beyond human scale, overwhelming and at once uplifting to survey from above.

The drone videos of cities besieged by the pandemic add a poignant edge to the technological sublime. The overwhelming sight of the modern city, which translates Kant’s dynamical and mathematical sublime into Babel-like visions of technological wonder, is here compromised by the invisible but overwhelming presence of the virus. The drone’s elevated perspective, otherwise enacting the Kantian transcendence of reason as key to the experience of the sublime, gestures to the technological sublime as a
nostalgic memory in the midst of angst and loss. Being at a safe remove from the threatening object, which Burke sees as indispensable for the experience of the sublime, is likewise illusory, uncannily recalling measures of social distancing, which has left streets vacant.

This is not to say, however, that the videos’ depressing context undermines the pleasure of viewing them. Quite the contrary, they cater to the kind of pleasure generally ascribed to the apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic imaginaries. Cinematic destructions of American metropolises in countless Hollywood blockbusters or the abandoned New York of I Am Legend (2007) all celebrate the greatness and beauty of these cities by way of fantasizing about their decay. Projected into the distant future, these (post-)apocalyptic imaginaries mobilize the technological sublime in an inverse fashion, generating a nostalgia for the present. But the cities under lockdown are neither ruined nor abandoned. The disaster at stake is no fantasy, it is not awesome but awful. If there is a ruin to be seen through the drones’ eyes, it is that of the liveliness of public space. What unfolds in front of our eyes is a diorama-city with a few ghostly passersby: distressing and yet stunningly beautiful. If these videos bring anything new, they do so by mapping a familiar aesthetic onto a new urban reality, eliciting the experience of a pandemic sublime.

The pandemic sublime taps into the daunting reality of the lockdown but it does so in a way that allows the city, captured in the vocabulary of the technological sublime, to take the upper hand. The sense of pleasure to be felt is not guaranteed by any spatial or temporal distance because the viewer, no matter where he or she watches these videos, remains at risk. Instead, the drone’s eye caters to the desire to leave the limits of the home, while the sight of abandoned streets foster a sense of togetherness in isolation. The pandemic sublime locates the source of threat in the unfathomable proportions of the pandemic and mobilizes the aerial view to
celebrate the city as a metonym for its inhabitants confined to their homes,
that is, those lucky enough to have homes to stay in, jobs to work at from a
distance, the technology to watch these videos, and the health to carry on.