Watching the crowd reaction to Bruce Springsteen at the Super Bowl brought to mind how much better Americans have become at collective enthusiasm than at collective action.
The arm punches, screaming, and the mixture of joy, tears and intense facial expressions that in any other context might be taken for anger seemed somewhat mechanical, but thanks to television, movies and prior attendance, we all know how to act in such circumstances even if it means yelling so loudly that you can hardly hear the individual you so admire. Besides - unlike, say, a 1930s big band dance concert - the promoters have made sure there isn't much room to do anything else.
It is easy to forget how recent this phenomenon is. Many credit Frank Sinatra as being the founder of modern fan hysteria. As Pop History Dig describes it:
"By 1942, as his music was broadcast on the live radio show Your Hit Parade, sponsored by Lucky Strike cigarettes, Sinatra began attracting the attention of teenage girls. The 'Bobbysoxers,' as they were called for their rolled-to-the-ankle white socks, were swooning in the aisles for the young singer. Sinatra's vast appeal to this group revealed a whole new demographic for popular music and for marketing. Sponsors had yet to recognize the vast economic buying power of teenagers and young adults, and had traditionally aimed their programming and sponsorship at the 30-to-50-year-olds. But that soon changed.
"On December 30,1942, when Sinatra played his first solo concert at
"Fans had not swooned or screamed over other singers, such as Bing Crosby. So what was it with Sinatra? Something else was going on, the critics surmised. Although his singing was certainly a factor, some charged it was also Sinatra's look; his seeming innocence, frailty, and vulnerability that evoked the passions of female fans. Newsweek magazine then viewed the Bobbysoxer phenomenon as a kind of madness; a mass sexual delirium. Some even called the girls immoral or juvenile delinquents. But most simply saw them as young girls letting their emotions fly. . .
"By 1946 Frank Sinatra's recording company,
Elvis and the Beatles, of course, contributed mightily to the phenomenon. The latter's first appearance at a U.S. concert was at Shea Stadium and 56,000 fans showed up to set a world record in attendance and gross revenue. The Beatles cleared $160,000.
Now, some six decades into increasingly orchestrated fan hysteria, it shouldn't surprise us if both the Springsteen performance and the reaction seemed somewhat artificial. But what did surprise - nay, stun - this cynical journalist was that a suspicion I had voluntarily suppressed not only had merit but was worse than I had imagined: the crowd knew precisely what to do.
In fact, they had been rehearsed, told where to stand and how to react - witness this video.
Such discoveries of rock promoters have spilled over into other aspects of our lives including politics. In fact, the Obama campaign might be fairly described as the first modeled on the principles of a rock concert tour including audiences that are better at cheering than listening, more moved by charisma than content and not too curious about what it all adds up to.
Of course, rock concerts have had a lot of help. Television and the internet, the atomization of American culture and the dominance of corporate and political propaganda in our daily lives have also contributed. So has, I'm convinced, albeit without solid evidence, the widespread use of anti-depressants and tranquilizers. It's hard to start a revolution if you've drugged away your anger and disgust.
In any case, what is clear is that
Disco, with its mechanizing of music, was a suitable introduction to the Reagan - Bush -
Its thus not so surprising that
What this means is not that the collective anger and riots won't come as they already are elsewhere in the world. They likely will and the reaction of the government will likely be cruel and senseless. But it means that our opportunity to avoid such a moment is passing us by as the very leaders who created this disaster create inadequate or even disastrous solutions and the only thing we know how to do well is to stand close to one another, yell and punch our arms towards the sky.
And it will be like until we rediscover the basic truth that the answer is not up on the stage but with those before, behind and on either side of us. In the end, we are the only band that really counts.