Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Air Guitar Nation and the politics of spectacle

I went to see the documentary Air Guitar Nation this evening, and it was the most inspiring movie I've seen in quite a while.

I thought it would be no more than a lame joke, but what I found was a movement to turn possibly the most natural, participatory, fun and democratic activity into a non-commercial, pro-peace happening. As the organizers of the International Air Guitar Championships (which this movie chronicles) point out, Air Guitar is pure (and can't be commercialized) because it is invisible. And yet, although it is invisible, it is also pointed out that you can't fight a war--you can't hold a gun--if you have an air guitar in your hands.

Of course, air guitar isn't the only possible expression of this desire for progressive communal celebration. This week in Slate, Joshua Glenn writes about the potential uses of spectacle for progressives:

In a new book, Dream, NYU media professor and political activist Stephen Duncombe laments that progressives have become … well, tedious. The people who built the New Deal and led the civil rights struggle are now engaging in old-fashioned, top-down political practices. These days, whether you attend a rally, sign a petition, or forward a MoveOn e-mail, it can be a disempowering experience. Duncombe is not contemptuous of the traditional anti-war demonstrations against Iraq, but, he argues, obscured within these and other well-intended political actions is "a philosophy of passive political spectatorship: they organize, we come; they talk, we listen."

...If progressives ever want to set the national agenda, Duncombe insists, they must embrace what he calls dreampolitik, a politics that "embraces the dreams of people and fashions spectacles which give these fantasies form." With the exception of street activists at the far fringes—he praises Billionaires for Bush, Critical Mass, and Reverend Billy and the Church of Stop Shopping—progressives remain convinced that "their sense of superior seriousness will win debates, convince the public, and lead them back into the halls of power."
Speaking of Critical Mass, the next Santa Monica Critical Mass bike ride is this Friday, April 6, starting at 6:30PM at the pier.