Events dear boy, events

Gaw ponders the attractions of the Big Event.

Everyone knows that we philistine Brits only queue overnight for things like the Next Boxing Day sale, Centre Court Wimbledon tickets or squatting rights to a pavement stone with a view of the latest royal matching or despatching. So what’s all this about people – of all ages too – queuing in the wintery cold through the wee hours to see Leonardo’s court paintings at the National Gallery? Or to see Jerusalem, a rather intellectual and challenging play that began life at the arty Royal Court?

We could argue fruitlessly about whether this sort of thing dispels accusations of dumbing down – it’s a big subject with a mass of conflicting and slippery evidence. However, I think we’re on surer ground when we see it as a sign that we are all of us – and regardless of our brow height – living through the Age of the Big Event. Our cultural landscape is infested by blockbuster art shows (Hockney’s is the latest, with Lucian Freud’s building), arts festivals (I note that ‘Hay’ is now an international lit-fest brand), rock jamborees (a glut of Glasto-lites marks just about every summer weekend). The international pop concert circuit has never been more profitable. Stand-up sells out arenas. Football thrives in obscene fashion despite the downturn. Then this summer we’ll witness – perhaps even in person if you’ve beaten the most amazing odds to nab a ticket – the crowning spectacle of our Age of the Big Event, the London Limpicks.

This was all quite unexpected. Back in the ’90s it was thought we might be witnessing the death of Live. The late Gilbert Adair, perhaps one of the cleverest cultural critics of the last couple of decades, thought so:

…the ubiquity of technological reproduction in general, and of television, video and compact discs in particular, means that ‘liveness’ is no longer perceived as a necessary condition for any of the performing arts, no longer perceived as a cultural value at all… [T]he live is dying.

So what went right? There’s no doubt that the entertainment industry needed to put its marketing money behind a product that couldn’t be downloaded, pirated, copied or otherwise consumed for nothing. And whilst bytes are difficult to keep tabs on, atoms, in the form of paying customers, can very reliably be counted in and counted out, whilst being required to part with upwards of £50 a go.

I do, though, think there’s more to it than this. Humans are perverse creatures who habitually confound expert prognostications, of course. But that’s not to say we’re unbalanced; in fact, quite the contrary. I think the more our relationships are virtual – much like the one between you and me right now – the more value we put on the odd bit of physical engagement. It becomes a refreshing contrast to our day-to-day disembodiment. Less innocently being there also happens to serve up a pleasing portion of conspicuous consumption. And is there a more conspicuous place to brag about where we’ve been and what we’ve seen than the online world? What would fuel our blogging, Facebookery and Twittering if we weren’t able to show off about the latest thing we’ve been to see? And which you, poor thing, haven’t, but really ought to… Ironic, that.

Incidentally, as I was making this argument a certain logic was making itself felt. Is our very own Dabblerfest only a matter of time?

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7 thoughts on “Events dear boy, events

    February 20, 2012 at 10:22

    It all started, of course, with Rupert Neve in the back office and Top of the Pops front of house, “is she miming to that record”. Cilla, the crappiest singer on the planet, was relieved, singers who couldn’t and instrumentalists who didn’t heaved a sigh of relief. The day of reckoning had arrived, ersatz r us. Suddenly the stage filled with adherents, the blockbuster, oh no it’s not. Stupendous, in your dreams, sunshine. Must see, by whom, pray tell.
    Add another subject to readin’, ritin’ and rithmatik’. ‘Sorting out the wheat from the chaff’

    Hate, loathe and despise queues and queuing, not least because of it’s daft spelling. Possibly the reason why we sit here, for half of the year, in our Eildon fastness, off the beaten track, watch world events and chortle.

    And Dabble, naturally.

    Rupert Neve
    multi-channel mixing consoles. Based near Royston.

    February 20, 2012 at 10:32

    “Add another subject to readin’, ritin’ and rithmatik’. ‘Sorting out the wheat from the chaff’”

    Get Malty over to Michael Gove now, the seconf half of that sentence has been comprehensively buried for the last fifty years and don’t it show?

  3. Worm
    February 20, 2012 at 10:33

    Dabblefest 0’12…I’ll bring me glowsticks. Watch out for the brown acid though

    February 20, 2012 at 13:25

    Indeed. I want to run a mile from anything catalogued as a “blockbuster”. My long finger of suspicion points to the sinister “Star Wars” as being one for the very first bbs; or at least, of the cinema persuasion. When was that, 1977? Hang on, when was the great King Tut thing at the BM. 1972? Long queues stretching down Museum Street; all sorts of tacky souvenirs, punters camping on the pavement…

    February 20, 2012 at 13:47

    Never underestimate the popularity of a good day out, at least for those who don’t live in London. Compared to the staggering sums asked for a ticket to many live events, art shows still offer very good value and you can throw in a meal and maybe a film or comedy club for what you’d have to fork out for a footie match or rock concert.

    I wonder if the most popular live event of our time is the car boot sale, at least in terms of numbers of sales up and down the country. Scary – or did it give everyone a taste for getting together in droves? Perhaps a Dabbler boot sale – the boots stuffed with Glengoyne, freshly cooked dishes and interesting books – would tempt some from their lairs …

    February 20, 2012 at 14:17

    In the US one hears of the King Tut show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art as the grandaddy of them all. I’ve lined up for tickets for a couple of big shows at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, and despite the inconvenience was glad to have seen the big Vermeer show 16 years ago. Yet I find that I can look with concentration at art for at most an hour and a half at a time, no doubt a defect of my education. It annoys me to have spent that long to get the ticket, and then to leave having just learned what I should go back and look at again.

    (And I would not line up for Hockney or Freud.)

    It seems to me that a performance, whether concert or play is quite different. There it is this night, this cast, this audience, a somewhat different chemistry each time. In athletic contests, the relationship between performers and audience is secondary–which is perhaps why I’m as happy to watch on TV–but then the outcome is not supposed to be scripted. I think that is why performers and athletes are given to superstitions–their working lives are all about unrepeatable moments, the at-bat that will never come back, the night’s performance.

    February 21, 2012 at 17:47

    I agree with malty – queues are abhorrent. And I’m not keen on crowds of the rock festival variety either (nor rock music for that matter!) But you’ve hit on something, Gaw, social networking does seem to have created more interest in live events. What I find weird is that people no longer seem to go to events and exhibitions for the life-enhancing experience (or even to meet people), but to photograph or video them for their blogs or social networking pages.

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