photos in this post by nathan jurgenson
I’ve watched mass gatherings with great interest while living in Washington D.C. From Obama’s election night and inauguration to various marches, and, of course, Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart’s rallies to restore “honor” and “sanity,” respectively. These last two, both organized by cable television personalities, brought massive amounts of people to the National Mall, so many people that these rallies might be telling us something about our current moment in American political discourse and participation. Let me describe yesterday’s Rally to Restore Sanity and argue that the politics of irony on display are more than “mere spectacle,” but potentially quite powerful.
Left, White and Bigger than Beck
Like Beck’s rally, yesterday’s crowd was partisan and mostly white. It was far less diverse than Obama’s election night celebrations or his inauguration day, a point that deserves its own analysis. It was clear to anyone who attended both Beck and Stewart’s rallies that the latter brought the larger crowd. Current estimates have yesterday’s crowd at around 215,000 people (about 2.5 times Beck’s 87,000). And, of course, Stewart’s attendees were largely on the political left.
A Postmodern Event
If you have seen any images from the event [here are some photos I took], you know that it was intended to be humorous and entertaining. Yes, there was Stewart and Colbert on stage, their shtick was good as always, but more importantly there were the many hilarious signs and costumes created by the attendees. People watching gets no better than this. The rally was indeed a site for creativity and expression. There was a somewhat incoherent “pastiche” of images presented. If there was a central theme, perhaps it was “irony” -you know, in that weird way we use it to mean “sarcastic.” This event had all the hallmarks of a more postmodern space for possibilities of all kinds, be they intellectual, artistic, humorous, etc, than just a space for political rhetoric.
Bryan S. Turner
National University of Singapore
In general dons don’t leave Cambridge University. They die there or they get thrown out, but generally speaking the charm and prestige of the place are sufficiently strong to secure life-long loyalty. I was unusual; I left. Having been appointed in 1998 as the new professor of sociology, I was soon teaching four ‘papers’ (lecture courses), supervising six PhD students, giving supervisions to college students, managing MA candidates, and sitting on several Faculty Boards. Unable to get on with any empirical research, the material I was presenting in my classes on the sociology of religion felt unreal, overly abstract and unimportant. My tutorial topics were not rooted in any real issues. Much of sociology and cultural studies lacks historical depth, concrete specificity and political relevance. Chris Rojek and I described this tendency as ‘decorative sociology’ in Society & Culture (2001). Some relief from this hothouse environment came when I started giving lectures at the Ismaili Institute in London. Many of the students there were ‘refugees’ from failed states in the old Soviet Union bringing with them a strange baggage of Marxist Leninism, political Islam, traditional Ismaili loyalties and anti-colonial radicalism. They were typically pious and political. My Cambridge existence by contrast appeared increasingly ethereal alongside the traumatic experiences of my students from such places as Tajikistan, Pakistan and Kyrgyzstan. My Orientalism, Postmodernism and Globalism (1994) said nothing about the brutal persecution of religious minorities as a feature of modernization.
An international design collective, NAU, is developing an Immersive Cocoon that would allow users to step into 3D virtual worlds. Within the Immersive Cocoon, users would be able to visit virtual cities, museums, and stores, experiencing the environments as if they were actually there, walking, looking, and shopping. French sociologist Jean Baudrillard suggested that postindustrialized societies enter states of hyperreality marked by the dominance of simulacra, wherein simulations of experiences become more meaningful and important than actual experiences. The Immersive Cocoon may become the most advanced simulacrum developed yet.
Gane on Baudrillard in Blackwell Reference Online