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A Brief Genealogy of Festivals

May 9, 2009

Anthropologists and sociologists theorize that the very nature of spectacles, as a category of festival, demand momentary rupture in self identity. . . That is, holidays and vitals occasions. . . are essential for permitting and encouraging us to shed or disguise our ordinary selves”, and that “the festival experience transgresses mundane rationality.

-Alexander Hooke, Spectacles of Morality, Spectacles of Truth

Much feminist critical theory argues that rationality is gendered masculine and emotion feminine, which privileges rationality. It is unexpected then, that many of the West’s festivals are patriarchal in content. A couple of anecdotal examples:

I am in my middle years of secondary school. In my search to find some way to identify with my peers, I attend an ice hockey game. The team colors have been foregone, and fans wear the bright orange making one instantly recognizable as the type of person who enjoys killing deer on weekends. As the Other team (If you can call them an Other, as everyone on the ice and in the stands are white, upper-middle class professionals and their progeny) skates onto the ice, a rhythmic chant of “Fuck…..Those……Bitches” crescendoes in fascistic unision.The energy of the mob can be felt in the air, and the satisfaction those attending take from the event seems to be from their freedom to express their violence towards the Other, rather than the game.

Walking to a friend’s house to work on a film score on a Friday night, I pass by scores of parties on the house lining the street. From porches, I receive reports of the social norms that have been negated for this festival.

“I am going to fuck those bitches so hard tonight. She won’t be able to walk tomorrow”

and the syntactically similar

“I am getting so fucked up. I won’t wake up until next weekend”

Both of these festivals emphasize characteristics gendered male: violence, sexual assault, addiction, and perhaps more subtlely, confidence and certainty.

This violence is both external and internal. The drinking attacks the self, the sex attacks the feminized Other.

What could a feminist version of the “festival” look like? One example I have thought of is giving birth. During this event, rationality, norms, and meaning all radically shift, with emotion central to the process. Perhaps this is the reason that birth has been heavily medicalized, leaving as little in the hands of the woman giving birth as possible.

What other festivals could we construct that do not center around male-gendered qualities?

  1. May 9, 2009 6:26 pm

    The understanding of birth as a festival is present in nascent form at least in the use of childbirth metaphor by writers and other artists, including or perhaps especially male artists.

  2. thomasmurphymusic permalink
    May 10, 2009 10:13 am

    Freud certainly embodies this, although I am not sure I agree with his idea that the birth experience embodies the “true” self. I think the festival allows a different self to come forward and be active.

    What writers and male artists are you thinking of?

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