1 Sep 2006
That’s Entertainment! – An Evening at The Circus, or a Plasma Screen TV?
I have ruminated before here about how we might entertain ourselves when the highly energy intensive ways we choose these days become unviable. With the news that the craze for plasma screen TVs is creating an energy demand requiring two new nuclear power stations, it may be instructive to consider some modes of collective entertainment that will still be feasible beyond the Age of Cheap Oil. I had the great pleasure the other week of taking my kids to see a great example of this, Giffords Circus, performing on the common at Minchinhampton in Gloucestershire.
Giffords Circus are a village green circus in the time honoured tradition, keeping the history of the circus alive in spite of increasingly pointless beauracratic nonsense which makes it harder and harder to stage such things. They were started in 2000, and have produced a new show each year ever since. This year’s show is called ‘Joplin’ and has a 60s theme to it. They had a live band, cossack riders, a clown, great jugglers, even performing geese! The whole thing felt like a real community/family affair, and felt rooted in an ancient tradition, it was also very funny and had lots of ‘wow, did they really just do that?’ moments.
Of course travelling circuses are not unique to the UK. When I lived in a small village in the Tuscan foothills in the early ’90s, once a year a travelling family circus used to pass through. Every summer they travelled from village to village putting on their show. They would string a high wire up between the lampposts to do the tightrope walk on, and the whole show was done in the square. They came from a region on the French/Italian border, and spoke Italian with a French accent, the most beautiful Italian I ever heard. They did acrobatics, clowning and juggling, the whole thing, with the kids really involved too. Everyone in the village would turn out to see them, it was a highlight of the year.
I was in the local electrical shop the other day and they had a plasma screen TV in there that was huge, and with a picture quality that was as good as looking out of the window. It was an incredible quality of picture, you felt you could just climb in through the screen. In my house, we have a tiny video monitor that we’ve had for 10 years, which is never connected to the TV aerial, but serves just to play videos on. The picture quality is … ok, but it has done us absolutely fine all that time. I always go by the philosophy that most new technology is unneccesary until you have it, and then it becomes indispensible. I still have vinyl, and bought my first CD about 7 years after everyone else. I only got a mobile phone last month (to be the phone number for the Transition Towns project).
When I lived in Ireland, many peoples homes had instruments in them, just there, in case people wanted to have a sing. After my first couple of times going to people’s houses where, after a meal, the instruments would come out and people would take it in turns doing their song, or story, and I only had a few snatched verses from Velvet Underground songs, I soon realised that I had to get myself a small collection of songs I could do at social occasions. It is one of the lovely things in Ireland, most people have their ‘turn’ they can do at a party, often great long songs with lots of verses. In England, for most of us our singing voices were humiliated out of us at a young age.
So where is all this going? For me, a post peak, more localised world will inherently have to entertain rather than be entertained. I always enjoyed this quote by anarchist writer Harry Harris, who wrote, “in order to make the world dance, one must first turn off the music”. Bring people together to enjoy people actually skillfully entertaining each other is so memorable and enjoyable. Creating room in our energy descent approaches for entertainment is essential. In the same way that so much of the more survivalist elements of the peak oil literature say your response to peak oil should to amass and stockpile 4 years worth of cornflakes, I would add that you should perhaps also start learning some songs, few poems, or an instrument. Alternatively you could learn cossack riding (perhaps a bit trickier to do by a campfire), juggling or the like. In short, a more localised, self-reliant community will need to be able to entertain itself. In Giffords Circus I saw a precious example of this, and would argue that we need to support such things whenever they occur close to us. Soon they might be one of our primary forms of entertainment. I look forward to that.