Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Production Value

It was the strangest demonstration.

It had all of the right feel, at least initially.  The crowds, pouring from the Metro, bearing signs and placards.  Here and there, chants beginning, and a sense of growing energy.  It was familiar, and while it wasn't as impossibly vast as the roaring throngs that overwhelmed the nation's capital for the "Women's March," the numbers were there.

People care about the radicalized absurdity of America's absolutist gun fetishism, and about the dismal toll it takes in American blood and treasure.  That our children now are forced to do safety drills in schools as they used to during the height of the Cold War?  That we are increasingly told not that we have a right to bear arms, but that we *must* live out our national life as an armed camp always or be at risk?  That's not freedom.  It's madness.  It's an unacceptable incursion onto our liberty.  

And that matters, so by the hundreds of thousands, Americans were showing up.

We arrived, pouring onto Pennsylvania Avenue, and it was...well...different.

In some ways, it was positive.  

The kids who spoke...and they were all kids...were excellent and strikingly effective.  I was so struck by the eleven year old girl that I could not believe she wasn't much so that skeptic-me went online to see what she sounded like "off-script."  She was just as articulate.  And no, not "golly, she's so articulate" in that way.  C'mon.  Give me some credit.  Meaning: off the cuff, an eleven year old girl was more composed and precise in her use of language than most adults.  In front of a throng that stretched as far as the eye could see.  

But in other ways, it was...odd.

Like the choice to have music blaring from the vast arrays of speakers as the crowd gathered.  It was a nice pop playlist, sure.  

But I've never been in a crowd that size, gathered for a political purpose, where there was less ambient organic  energy.  People were trying.  Chants started, only to be quashed because the crowd couldn't hear itself over the speaker arrays.   "What do we want," they would start, and what we wanted, evidently, was to be listening to Kei$ha.

It reminded me of "contemporary praise worships" I've attended where the guy running the board had turned it up so loud that the congregation couldn't sing along, even to the songs they knew by heart.  Nothing kills the energy of a group more effectively.

Eventually, the masses just sort of sat there, waiting for the event to start.  Three hundred and fifty to five hundred thousand people, and in the brief breaks between songs it was kind of...quiet.  Tranked, even.

When the event began, the kids were, again, great.  

But I and hundreds of thousands of others were mostly just standing there, watching a meticulously produced show on the nearest Jumbotron.  There'd be a young speaker, then a pop star, then a video.   People would boo at the appropriate moments, or chant at the appropriate moments.  But it felt more about what was going on on the screens, and less about the gathered people. 

As if we were not part of the thing we were part of, but instead were watching ourselves be a part of the thing we were doing.   It felt buffed and polished and processed, like a carefully posed selfie run through just the right filter.  Or a concert.  Or megachurch worship.

Perhaps that is the choreographed way of rallies these days, or a feature of a tightly managed political display in the new media age.  It seemed to work for most folks, but...given the stakes...I hungered for more of an edge.

There was almost none of the wildness of other demonstrations, that "we-the-people" moment that comes when a city realizes that a mass movement has overcome it, that the "official route" is suddenly four then seven then ten blocks deeper. 

Ah well.  It probably looked good for the folks streaming it at home.