Just a coupe of loose reflection on ‘play’ in contemporary culture….
Saw an item about a week ago on local TV channel AT5 about a festival of BMX cross-bike subculture, called ‘flatlanding’. Young guys doing crazy stunts on BMX-ses. A lot of these subcultures, e.g. skating, surfing, rollerskating, etc. – could be called ‘playfull’ or ‘ludic’. (Mostly) youngster creating an own identity around a game. This brought to mind another thing I saw lately: more and more people are attracted by and involved in historical plays: e.g. medieval fights that are being performed by true armies dressed with harnesses, lances and spears. Mostly males between 20-40 years old that are busy on their free Sundays re-playing their own history.
This raises some questions:
To what extent is our contemporary culture filled with these playful elements?
How is the development of these playful cultural elements related to the increase of leisure time?
Who are these players? Are they by any coincidence the same demographical group as the majority of internet-users? Or has each group its own ‘game’?
What do these games mean for the players? To what extent are they a search for history and identity, or are they just ‘play’ as in leisure?
Yesterday I saw – via the internet – a programme called “Move your Ass TV” on new public television channel Llink about Krumping & Clowning. A group of Rotterdam urban youths come together once in a while to dance together and hang out. There is also a film made about it recently, called “Rize” of which I saw a traler a few weeks ago on the BBC. It’s supposed to come out half October in the Netherlands. These wild dancing styles are originally from the west-coast of the USA, the gang infested neighbourhoods of L.A. People were sick of these death-serious laws and rules of different gangs, that forbid to wear certain colours in some hoods, for instance. People started painting their faces, going out on the streets and dancing wildly. It has some references to traditional African ritual. It is also an inversion of the death-seriousness of everyday life in the LA hoods by clownesque dancing and facial painting. It seems mostly to be about forgetting about everyday life and misery, about letting go of aggression and frustration and boredom (‘release’ as Dutch party organisers ID&T call it).
This also seems a good example of ‘playful’ cultural elements that can be said to characterise much of our actual culture. This is – to a large extent – an inverse of everyday life with its structural, imposed, inescapable monotony and predictability. In ‘play’, people become their own agents again. The unpredictable, spontaneous “I” becomes prevalent again over the reflexive “me” (cf. G.H. Mead).
Nevertheless, this seems only part of ‘play’. In play, one is also giving up part of his individuality and becomes one of the group. Is it a (new) search for social bonding, along new lines perhaps?
And finally, there even seems to be a religious tone in a lot of these playful cultural elements: ceremonial rites, denouncing the ‘profane’ for the ‘sacred’ (cf. Durkheim). The Krump-dancers for instance stated “we’re not in it for the money, its all about the game”. So it is a self-referential activity (cf. Huizinga). A lot of these games have ‘rite the passages’ too: a staged event or series of activities that incorporate an individual into the group, and designate a breach with ‘old life’ and former status. But many people that are into these games have ‘normal lives’ too. Can it be said that they live multiple lives in parallel worlds? Which one is the ‘real world’? Or are they all ‘real’? Or is this distinction real-virtual becoming meaningless?
Interesting too, BTW, that these playful cultures are so rapidly being distributed worldwide. The mediatisation of (sub-)cultures is another topic :).