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Dionysus, meet Jesus! - click opera
February 2010
 
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Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 09:45 am
Dionysus, meet Jesus!

I flew yesterday on Virgin Airlines, London to New York. My window seat gave me a view of a cheeky Union Jack flipped on the wingtip like a victory V or a "fuck off". Virgin wants to displace stuffy old British Airways as the "national carrier", so there's much talk of flags and patriotism on Virgin planes. Virgin are going to win this battle, I think, because they've got Dionysus, comedy and sex on their side. As we queued to take off we pulled up alongside a British Airways plane which had been named (I kid you not) "G Bush". Our own plane, sporting the ironic-retro-sexist flying Virgin goddess copied from World War II bombers, was called "Cosmic Girl".

At dangerous moments (before take off, descent) when the passengers had to be controlled, white indie rock music (New Order, Oasis etc) played over the speakers. The safety instruction video featured an indie geezer who looked like Liam from Oasis, Japanese girlfriend beside him. The V:Port in-flight entertainment system recommended I "chill out" with some music videos, or relax with on-demand comedy shows. I watched one that contained this joke: "What's white and sticky and runs down the toilet wall? George Michael's new release."

It's the 21st birthday of Virgin New York flights, so the stewardesses handed out party hats and birthday cake and little paper trumpets, and soon the entire deck (even the Essex casual next to me, who spent much of the flight describing broken-bottle fights in his "rough" Essex town and telling the stranger next to him how some Pakis were all right, actually) was honking away delightedly like a Down's Syndrome day trip. The stewards were Red Coats: lines like "Please make sure your seatbelts are fastened, because we're going to go really, really fast!" got laughs, and turbulent bumps and surges brought collective whoops from the "audience". Who needs the police when you basically have a flying Butlin's Holiday camp? Who needs overt social control when you have a combination of surveillance, technocratic expertise, comedy, rock music and party hats? And who needs all those radical 60s texts about the society of spectacle and repressive desublimation when reality outstrips (and confirms) the wildest predictions of Debord and Marcuse?

I scribbled down in my notebook: "Dionysus sits in the throne of Apollo." We've sent rationality and responsibility up to the locked captain's cabin (and most of the time he's delegated it to the flight computer). With Apollo in the computer, all that's left for humans is Dionysus, the god of wine. We can revel, we can regress to childhood, we can chuckle at sperm jokes. It's all the more comforting because the world is scary and there are people (less Dionysian, more organised, more self-disciplined than we) who want to blow up the plane or fly it into a building.

Those shadowy figures, the ones who don't blow party kazoos, don't enter competitions, don't party (Jeez, they don't even drink!) are shady presences at the airport, too. The airport has a new name, it's not "Newark" any more but "Liberty International Airport". I suppose that's because it was used by the shadows, the organised ones, to remove the two enormous towers that used to be visible from the runway, marking where New York stood. The Department of Homeland Security greets you at Immigration in the form of a noticeboard saying that America is being "kept open to visitors". It's nice to know.

The US feels less postmodern than Britain, more protestant. There's a TV for people queuing for their immigration interviews, but it's not showing Ricky Gervais making jokes about sperm. It's got CNN on with the sound down and subtitles. They're interviewing Franklin Graham of "the Graham ministries", Billy Graham's son. He's talking about "the ministry of Jesus Christ our lord and saviour." The interviewer says "You're known as a bit of a hell raiser, with strong views. For instance, your views on homosexuality..." Graham replies "I have a mission to give the Bible's view on these things, and the Bible says clearly that homosexuality is a sin." I wonder how many gay people there are in the queue, and how reassured they must have been by the gay stewards on the plane, and (possibly) by the gay jokes about toilet sex in the British comedy shows. I wonder if their hearts are sinking at this moment. Graham continues, talking about how, in his view, Islam is an "evil religion". More hearts in the queue sink.

But in today's America there's an equal opportunity: we're all criminals of one kind or another. Potential criminals or sinners. I'm fingerprinted (left index, right index, look into the camera) and waved into New Jersey. From the bus I watch billboards. The first one says "Why Islam?" and gives a free number people can call to learn about the evil religion of organised shadows. The second one has a big banner headline: "YOU LOOK GUILTY!" (It's for a TV show called "The Closer".) The third is for a Broadway musical called "Wicked Is Wonderful". The next, for a bank, proclaims "Land Of The Free... checking". The last shows a new SUV, the Hummer. It's huge, battleship grey, and has tiny windows. It looks like nothing so much as a tank. It strikes me that it's the wintry polar opposite of the AMC Pacer, the 70s American compact car which resembled a futuristic bubble of glass, open to the world around it. "You don't need to see out of me," the 2005 Hummer seems to say, "just crush everything in your path".

The bus pulls into the Port Authority Bus Station. You can feel as soon as you leave the tunnel that it isn't really America any more. It's an anomaly, nervy, creative, dense, nocturnal, glassy-towered. The bus station is full of Asians. The neon graphics are crappy and the magazines look completely alien. But it almost feels like Hong Kong, so I feel comfortable in the nervous hardness, the cheap utilitarian fluorescent light. I'm not strapped in, I can walk. The city doesn't care who I am, I can be anyone. I'm free to escape the flaggy, churchy, rightist "narrative" of America, escape into this city's mesh of complex stories. Even complicate it with a few of my own. It's still New York, isn't it? It's still the city of ambition, weirdness, experimentalism, tolerance. I probably still love it.

35CommentReply


(no subject) - (Anonymous)
nickink
Nick Ink
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 02:02 pm (UTC)

The fact that they were different stewards does lend that a rather sinister edge, doesn't it ?


ReplyThread Parent

(no subject) - (Anonymous)

(no subject) - (Anonymous) Expand

la_aquarius
Chris
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 02:09 pm (UTC)

great post. love seeing home through your eyes; a fresh look.

thought you might be interested in this site: f u, h2. althought the add you saw was for an h3, the next gen hummer abomination.

hope you're not too disappointed in the "disneyification" of NY, though...


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uberdionysus
uberdionysus
Troy Swain: Black Box Miasma
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 02:42 pm (UTC)

New York is ruled by Apollo now. Dionysus has gone into the skies and slunk into the shadows.

Looking forward to meeting you at your opening. Congrats.


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bardot
bardot
the word girl
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 03:01 pm (UTC)

i love this city because i'm from here, but i wouldn't be the last one to tell you that it hasn't changed for the better. old ghosts and skeletons. not to say it's not my favorite place to be. it's just different.


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fufurasu
fufurasu
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 03:17 pm (UTC)

I would want front seats for a Dionysus vs Jesus wrestling match.


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transient_poet
transient_poet
Transient Poet
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 07:37 pm (UTC)

There are several theories that the Dionysos cult in Ancient Greece was similar to the Christian cult in Judaism. Also, the coming of Dionysos was to usher in a new age of civilization, a son of god not bound by the previous cycles of patricide, etc.
Sorry, I was being a serious intellectuall there for a second. I apologize.
$50 on Dionysos


ReplyThread Parent
lekyukumbre
lekyukumbre
LE KYUKUMBRE
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 03:18 pm (UTC)

welcome to my home state. new jersey, not new york, that is. although i personally am in france right now.

anyway if you call that number for 'why islam' at least if it is the same ads which i have seen, it is in fact a service to help explain the religion and why it isnt evil to those individuals in the US who are ignorant of religions other than their own and like to find convenient scapegoats in those who are different.

and i think the musical is called 'wicked' based on a book of the same name about the wizard of oz.

other than that, its fun to read about my home from your point of view - especially when i cant be there myself.


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_greengrass
_greengrass
_greengrass
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 05:01 pm (UTC)

I was going to say the same about the musical.


ReplyThread Parent


yanatonage
yanatonage
love you from the heart
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 03:30 pm (UTC)

welcome back to new york

I look forward to reading about how you react to it this time around.

And your opening should be fun.


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(Anonymous)
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 03:31 pm (UTC)

welcome to NYC! please give the details on your upcoming gallery show again. this saturday you may want to check out the dionysian mermaid parade at coney island: http://www.coneyisland.com/mermaid.shtml.


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imomus
imomus
imomus
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 03:33 pm (UTC)

By the way, this isn't related to the post, but if anyone in NYC has a spare sound system we could borrow for three weeks, I'll come and pick it up and be terribly grateful. It can be anything from a ghetto blaster to a home stereo to a DJ mixer attached to speakers, but it must have an AUX setting, ie be able to have external devices connected to it.

momasu(at)gmail.com


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intergalactim
intergalactim
intergalactim
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 11:40 pm (UTC)
sound system

When i was in the USA, i got my hi-fi from RadioShack & then returned it for full refund after 3 months. Most big chain shops (stores?) seem to be pretty good for this sort of thing in the States actually...

I mean, it wasn't a very good sound system, but it was "free"... there was something "wrong" with it though, the speaker wires picked up FM radio when there was no signal, so your cd would finish & then there would be classical music through a fuzz box (i quite liked it).

***
also, you might like this article
http://www.guardian.co.uk/arts/fridayreview/story/0,12102,1512708,00.html

"...the latest generation often seems to be united by a fondness for inconclusive songs that try to capture life's most elemental aspects, but end up evoking nothing much at all."

I really do prefer Momus lyrics myself...


ReplyThread Parent
scottbateman
scottbateman
Scott Bateman
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 03:41 pm (UTC)

If you'd like to get together for coffee while you're in NYC, email me at scott at batemania dot com...


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cataptromancer
cataptromancer
Bastard anglicana
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 05:01 pm (UTC)

What are you doing in nyc? I seem to have missed any information there migh've been here on click opera.


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transient_poet
transient_poet
Transient Poet
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 06:32 pm (UTC)

Welcome to New York. If you want to be truly frightened by the USA, try driving back and forth across the middle sections a few times. I did this last winter working for a Ballet company. Fucking Terrifying.
Times Square is rather brilliant. Totally safe, but enough of the 'riff raff' are allowed a presence to give it a fun park feel of possible trouble around the corner.


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cityramica
cityramica
cityramica
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 07:27 pm (UTC)

if i stand on my roof (and then on my toes), i can almost see you!
though the rocky mountains are standing in the way a bit.

ah i can't wait to go back.



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cubitt
cubitt
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 07:50 pm (UTC)
George Michael's new release

Was that comedy show you watched 'The Office' by chance?

I saw him recently, he came into the store I work at, a Tower Records.


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cubitt
cubitt
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 07:57 pm (UTC)

Never mind, you confirmed it already.

I'll ask a proper question, have you listened to 'Tearing Up The Album Charts ' by Lawrence yet?


ReplyThread Parent

(Anonymous)
Thu, Jun. 23rd, 2005 08:13 pm (UTC)
Welcome back

Welcome back to America Nick -
I suggest you start an outreach program where you volunteer
with some poor children...perhaps even some rural/midwestern ones...
or some british ones...some gentle songs to get the imagination flowing.

Is New York in summer as smelly as I remember it?


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