Sunday, August 8, 2010

The politics of the floating gay

The floating gay parade, 80 boats with specific themes sailed along the Prinsengracht/ Amstel river canal with Lady Gaga ruling the airwaves. Cher managed to seep in a little but gone are the days of Madonna and Barbara Streisand. While no doubt an enjoyable spectator sport, there were some troubling trends. For instance, the energy on the boats lay low (my benchmark = NYC and San Francisco gay pride parades). You start to think about the relationship between the parade participants or “actors” and the crowd or the “audience.” Usually, in such parades, the line between the spectator and the spectacle is blurred, with the run of the mill you and I dressing up with stringy pink wigs, rainbow socks, to sometimes a full blown, out-of-the-closet costume. And you your life depended on it. Your vocal cords compete with the likes of a newborn baby. Yet, at the Amsterdam parade, there was a sober quality where the audience barely even cheered, let alone waved at the floats that went by. A beer and camera in hand, they waited diligently for each boat to have their say as they clicked away, almost voyeuristically so. You wonder how much of that played into the energy on these boats as you saw even the S&M boat with black leather shorts and straps retire on the boat, some barely shaking their hips. Was it the physical distance that created a psychological distance? Are street parades more high energy because proximity creates accountability? It is theatre after all, where small productions are more "involved" and "involving" than say, a Broadway musical perhaps? What was also strange was the United Colors of Benetton themes..niche boats like "Mensa gays," "Jewish gays," "black gays," to "gays for ING" and more. What happened to the rainbow unity, at least just for 1 day? And not to forget, the commercialization of these boats, of ING and ABN to the police and political parties all showing their progressive side, hoping to get a slice of the DINK (Double Income No Kids) population. There was also a “Fight Cancer” boat…seriously? Isn’t this a mission confusion statement here? Is this where gay parades are heading to – niche markets, competing causes, and spectator sport? So as I joined the masses in clicking away, I contribute to pictures speaking a thousand lies.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Culture on the go: the New Yorker's Subway

Commuting can be a drag, even more so in a densely populated city like Manhattan. I’ve done the uptown-downtown journey for years where you learn to block ungainly sights, smells and sounds on the subway. It’s a talent onto itself really. Jammed with the loudly enthusiastic tourists, the drunk and the homeless, and the emaciated college kids heading to east village, you develop a protective force field that usually is a potent combination of your iPod, the Economist and shades. That said, it is astonishing that the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) takes this reality and turns it to its advantage. Understanding that New Yorkers are constantly on the move, it capitalizes on this and makes this commute a cultural experience. And we do stop and notice. While there is comfort in standardization through the quintessential subway blue and white tiles, there is also difference. Difference that reflects specific neighborhood stops. So if you get off the Natural history museum, that’s find different animals and their larger counterparts embedded in the tiles. Its as if the museum experience is extended and enhanced. If you’re in Harlem, you’ve got the color and character and jazz. And then, if you're at the Prince stop, you ve got interesting visual stories of figures in motion, all unique, quirky and artsy. Art has found a way of saving the commute. Of course, no one will ever accuse the commute within NYC to be monotonous, although it’s not necessarily culturally enhancing. So you learn to forgive the man picking his nose or the children yelling in your ears as you absorb the free art experience tailored to you, marking each neighborhood in its own unique way.