Last Monday saw the infectious PRONK! street band festival here in Providence. I’ve been studying how these spectacular events work for years now, things like the Urban Pond Procession, WaterFire and the astonishing annual Halloween Iron Pour at Providence’s Steel Yard (on October 25 this year). Community spectacles assert that life is more magical than our usual daily grind — by actually going out into the streets and making life more magical.
In her 2006 book Dancing In the Streets: A History of Collective Joy, social critic Barbara Ehrenreich notes that around the 17th century, carnival, communal rituals and festivities were extensively drummed out of Europe for fears that they were immoral, raucous, sexy fun — and that they might inspire folks to overthrow kings and bishops. This coincided in the West with “an epidemic of melancholy.”
Ehrenreich writes that there are reasons to think “that festivities and danced rituals actually cured the disease we know as depression. . . First, because such rituals serve to break down the sufferer’s sense of isolation and reconnect him or her with the human community. Second, because they encourage the experience of self-loss, that is, a release, however temporary, from the prison of the self, or at least from the anxious business of evaluating how one stands in the group or in the eyes of an ever-critical God.”
In Providence, the magic anti-depressant formula seems to be loud music, underground/alternative worlds, and setting things on fire. So besides, say, mourning the Phoenix with drink, I’m going to keep close to that stuff. Let’s stay in touch. Let’s hang out. You can find me on Twitter @AestheticResear and at the Facebook. And I’ll be around.