Marshall McLuhan called it reversal. We created the city and its parts to meet our needs, but now we serve it, like little neurotransmitters in pants, and our manufactured needs govern us. Our daily routes are determined partly by our desires and mostly by what there is to buy, where it is and what buildings and asphalt strips are between it and us. Even our relationships are mediated by restaurant chains, movie companies, concert halls and greeting card companies.
We step out the door into the stream of cars and Pavlovian consumer impulses and are carried away by the (ironically, often idling) torrent. And if we should lose our way, there are signs everywhere, but none really point anywhere. They just direct us to a vague, expensive fulfillment that is as close as the horizon, or simply to more directions.
We've reached the point where people don't completely trust their own senses much of the time, unless those senses are channelling pre-approved content.
You'd think that in a society where people are at such a loss about how to fuggin' entertain themselves, a society supposedly based on fulfillment of desire and in which we are all bargain-hunter-gatherers, the iconoclasts would be revered. Let's face it, the artists, dissidents, "crazy" people, people who do things in the streets that make us sneer publicly but chuckle or swoon privately, and those who were "thinking outside the box" before that phrase was placed squarely inside the box are the really entertaining people.
In medieval times the jester, quite rightly, had the king's ear. The fool or trickster plays a crucial part in just about every cultural history. And like any important cultural icon, that role has become commodified, gone from Shakespeare's wise creation, Puck, to Geffen's annoying creation, Eminem.
Society is quite capable of handling rebellion by adopting it. But rebellion lies in the struggle not to be branded, especially not to be branded as The Rebel. There are enclaves of people who devote much of their time to the growth of this kind of non-commercial contrarian hilarity in an explicit attempt to joyfully disobey (even their adoptive parent counterculture).
When parents go away for the weekend, they inevitably say, "No parties.' And what did you do whenever your parents went away for the weekend? You had a party, obviously. So, too, we're told that the streets are for the kingly automobile and the flow of the city's business, and there's to be no interfering with traffic. So what do we do? We hold a Reclaim The Streets festival (Friday, August 30), take back some pavement and turn it over to the service of bicycles and self-expression.
It's a party that for many of us is political, but it's not a political party (RTS is a far cry from NDP), and it will be precisely as fun as you want it to be. Consider this your engraved invitation.
Admittedly, I'm a bit eager to plug it (and if you are, too, please do -- there is no central propaganda committee). That's because it represents a seed of something I hope for every day -- people walking out of their homes and into their community and throwing a party together and not stopping. Somewhere along the way the world will get changed, and no one will remember how or care, really. Just like when your parents' poodle somehow ended up with a purple Chelsea cut.
A writing teacher once gave me the advice "Show, don't tell.' Why not show what it is we stand for on that day? This is my manifesto, of sorts. I'm calling upon you to inflict your fantasies upon the city.
Maybe you think that for one day a bank lobby should be the venue for a rave. Maybe an old, scowling brick edifice is conspicuously lacking multicoloured paint explosions. Maybe there's some street theatre you've been waiting to unleash. Maybe you just want to hear some smokin' tunes on Queen Street. Without pants.
Later we'll have to get down to things like direct democratic governance, raising the minimum wage, banishing cars and ending wars. You have to clean up after every party, after all. But first, let's just loosen up a little, so when utopia gets here I'll actually want to live in it with some of you.