Consumers vs. creators of culture

Just before my departure from NY, a bunch of us went to a concert with Brazilian musician Jair Oliveira. One of our friends – from Bahia – was excited about the evening, but paused upon entering the venue.

“Wait… there are seats?”

Yes… seats. In other words, no room to dance. So we sat. And listened. And with the irresistible rhythms filling the theater, it didn’t take long for our Bahian friend to start “dancing” in his seat. The rest of us started getting into it, moving around as best we could and having a good time – until someone seated in the row in front of us turned around and snapped,

“Would you guys please tone it down?! I’m TRYING to enjoy the music.”

…and that, in a nutshell, is what I’m talking about.

The thing I love about Brazilian/Bahian popular culture (popular not meaning trendy, but rather “of the people”) is that people participate. You don’t go to Carnaval to watch, you go there to dance. You don’t just have a favorite soccer team to watch, you also play soccer. You probably know how to do something or other with a pandeiro, drum, guitar, or paintbrush.

Whereas U.S. popular culture often seems to focus on passivity – sitting and being entertained. So a few of our major national pastimes are shopping (buying stuff that other people made), television (watching other people live life), and surfing the ‘net (reading about AND watching other people live life!) Dancing is only for people who “can dance,” playing music is for professional musicians, and we tend to prefer sitting and consuming rather than doing, creating, participating.

I’m not saying there are no creators of culture in the U.S. Nor am I saying that there’s no place for cultural consumption. But if all you are doing is consuming culture, and never participating in its creation… then all I can say is that you’re missing out on some of the best things in life.

Do you really want to reach the end only to say, “I never sang, danced, painted, played, built, wrote, traveled, created, or did much of anything… but I watched other people do so” ?

Tonight I am going to see a forró band. And there will be no seats.