Saturday, November 09, 2019

'I Learned Your World Order Then'

Pep rallies, political conventions, rock concerts, football games, demonstrations for any cause – all are inhospitable to the solitary man or woman. The individual is erased in a crowd. Nothing seems less safe or more volatile and unforgiving. The noise alone is crushing. Those who willingly, enthusiastically join mobs are already predisposed to their madness. They feed on the collective energy, become something that is not themselves, something stronger and more dangerous. Out the window goes judgment and good taste. A mob is vulgar in every sense. See Elias Canetti’s Crowds and Power (1962).       

“Nothing a mob does is clean,” writes Les Murray in “Demo” (Subhuman Redneck Poems, 1996). His aversion to crowds and “demos” is understandable. As a boy and later he was made fun of for being fat. He was bullied, and crowds are bullies:
“The first demos I saw,
before placards, were against me,
alone, for two years, with chants,

“every day, with half-conciliatory
needling in between, and aloof
moral cowardice holding skirts away.
I learned your world order then.”

A very different writer, Vladimir Nabokov, shares similar reactions to masses of humanity. In the interview he gave Philip Oakes in The Sunday Times in June 1969, later collected in Strong Opinions (1973), he says:

“Rowdies are never revolutionaries, they are always reactionary. It is among the young that the greatest conformists and Philistines are found, e.g., the hippies with their group beards and group protests. Demonstrators at American universities care as little about education as football fans who smash up subway stations in England care about soccer. All belong to the same family of goofy hoodlums--with a sprinkling of clever rogues among them.”

No comments: