Popularity, the Techno Viking and Other Monsters

4 Apr

What follows here is a late-night message to writers, philosophers, painters, sculptors, industrial designers, actors, tuba players, drummers, guitarists, dancers, and other practitioners of strange and rarefied arts:

This tall, slightly frazzled Nordic type you see here cavorting down a Berlin street was filmed in 2000 by video artist Matthias Fritsch at an event eloquently known as the Fuckparade.

By mid-2010, YouTube had recorded some 20 million hits.

In other words, if we consider this video to be a work of art – and many do – then it is more successful than “A Hundred Years of Solitude” – which only sold in the region of 11 million copies. Of course, this only holds true if one believes that popularity is a yardstick of worth. Is popularity a good measure? W.B. Yeats, who, it must be said, was no niggard in the popularity stakes, wrote in the poem “To a Friend Whose Work Has Come to Nothing”:

“Bred to a harder thing
Than triumph, turn away
And like a laughing string
Where on mad fingers play
Amid a place of stone,
Be secret and exult,
Because of all things known,
That is most difficult.”

Yes, it is difficult to be quiet. It is difficult to hold one’s tongue. To shut up, let’s say. An ex-girlfriend of mine once said, with some exasperation: “If you knew what you were talking about I wouldn’t have to say anything. Then I’d love to shut up…” Somehow no one ever knows what they are talking about. No one ever likes to shut up.

I like the Techno Viking. I like his upbeat, determined prancing. People stand on the sidelines, watching. This man is not going to stop dancing, not ever. He’s tough but he’s no fighter. He inspires me to keep doing what I am doing without the slightest concern about what people may think. I will dance through your high streets and through your cities. Unstoppable and utterly unwilling ever to shut up.

What a nightmare.

You know, it is very difficult to get twenty million people to do anything, even to breathe according to plan. Heart attacks and emphysema will knock out a good number of them. Some will be run over by trams.

A few years ago I tried to organise a demonstration against rainforest destruction. Virtuous, some might say. A dullard with a cause, others might snipe. I spent weeks persuading people and eventually I managed to get about twenty people to turn up. We stood there forlornly chanting and waving a few desultory flags. A complete failure.

But success came to me on the way home. I passed a techno procession, a car with speakers at the front. Loud music. There must have been five thousand people marching and dancing behind that car. They seemed to be campaigning about something, but there were no banners. Only sweaty people reaffirming their right to jump up and down and make certain sophisticated moves, honed to perfection over hundreds of hours of gyration and observation in chill-out rooms.

It made me wonder: what would it take to get this many people dancing for a better reason?

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