A slight deviation from topic

16Apr07

As many of you are aware, this past weekend was Easter, and so for purposes of appeasement (appeasing my conscience mostly; I’m sure God has no tally on my church attendance- or lack thereof!) I attended services. Given my family-at-large’s current preclusion towards Orthodoxy, I went to the Pascha services at St. Sophia Greek Orthodox Cathedral. In another investigative project I’ve been examining (what a cold, harsh word choice, by the way!) the Coptic Orthodox Church in relation to ethnic and national Egyptian identity- a far cry from the urban hipster world on my computer that I’ve simultaneously been inhabiting (much better word than “examining”!). Recently I read Nicholas B. Dirks’ “Ritual and Resistance: Subversion as a Social Fact” in Dirks, Geoff Eley, and Sherry B. Ortner’s Culture/Power/History: A Reader in Contemporary Social Theory and this piece, as well as some discussion of it in a class, has left me considering ideas of both ritual and spectacle. (Side-note: Dylan recommended Guy DeBord’s Society of the Spectacle in class, conveniently checked out at my local library. Does anybody want to loan me this book?) Naturally, with this current preoccupation, I was considering facets of the Orthodox Church, liturgy-wise, anyway, and the ritual involved (coming from an Evangelical background of contemporary routine as opposed to ritual, the idea of ritual in a church setting is mysteriously appealing). I might go so far as to say that there is some degree of spectacle involved too, although the word spectacle, in my mind, conjures up images of flashing lights and choreographed moves and an array of color. Spectacle, in my mind, is something undignified, whereas ritual, though it might contain similar elements as spectacle, is dignified. Orthodox liturgy- candles, chanting, icons- is too dignified and holy to be thought of as spectacle.

A party like Misshapes, though? That’s not just spectacle, that’s spectacular. But, like the most loyal Sunday churchgoers, Misshapes has its weekly participants, always dressed to the nines in a conglomeration of creative outfits (the cynics are asking, “Really? Are they really creative? Do they set the trends, or do the trends set Them?” And what came first, the chicken? The egg? Folks, let’s get to that later.) This ritual, and the ways it is expressed through various internet media (Myspace, respective photography websites) can’t be dismissed simply because it’s not some Other. Maybe dancing at a club doesn’t hold the same meaning-of-life sway that an Easter service does, but it reminds me of this idea that I’ve been encountering as I’ve been interrogating concepts like “race” and “ethnicity”: how do we label ritual? Does it have to be inherently “Other” to do so?

I heard it discussed recently that in the wake of globalization, anthropologists, formerly dispersed to the four corners of the earth, have turned their gaze inward (in a manner of speaking), towards formerly assigned “non-culture” entities like masculinity, whiteness, American-ness, and seen that, despite their ubiquity in our own worldview, these things, like the Otherized people and places of Mead and Malinowski, are revealing themselves as having just as much content to investigate as, say, a Samoan or Trobriand islander community. The kinship diagrams of the Anthropology-of-Yore can take on new meaning, for example, when examining the party-goers of Misshapes and TheCobraSnake and their respective connections with one another (e.g. Jackson Pollis and Leigh Lezark are in each other’s top friends on Myspace, but Jackson is in Leigh’s #5 spot whilst Leigh is in Jackson’s #6 spot. What does this mean?). This is not meant as an invitation to Otherize a given group, but as a point to be made: when assigning a loaded category like “Ritual” or “Spectacle” to a specific routine event, this can validate this assignment to another event that, due to its closer, arguably less mysterious affinity to ourselves, we may not count as such. Thus, the fashion statements and posed photographs that Misshapes and its regular attendants provides can prove to be just as mysterious and valuable a ritual to its attendants as the routine of preparing for Pascha, especially when the routine in question may provide or affirm a given self-identity.

Cobrasnake Easter

[Easter, as depicted through Mark Hunter’s Lens]

[A Caveat: Yes, readers, I am aware that I linked to two Wikipedia articles. Am I condoning Wikipedia as a valid scholarly source? Of course not! Am I providing you with a peer-reviewed (so to speak) quick link so you can have some background? Yes, because I think Wikipedia is GREAT for the provision of General Knowledge. General Knowledge, but with a grain of salt. By linking you to Wikipedia entries, I’m making the assumption that my audience can think critically and begin to learn of the foundations, good and bad, of anthropology by the simple step of a Wikipedia or Google Search.]

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