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A round peg in a world of square holes...

Friday, June 20, 2008

Private spaces

It's 5:26 AM. I didn't get to ride, so I chose to write.

'Managed to catch "small metal objects" mid-week (Thank you, dear). Dazed by 4 hours of sleep and a new, punishing, workout routine, I grabbed a cup of overpriced pig swill gourmet coffee from a nearby cafe before heading to the performance.

Under an hour in length, this little gem astounded with its layers of reversals. Even with plays in the park, the space between audience and actors versus members of the public (non-audience) is clearly defined. E.g. upon crossing a field, one sees a play taking place in the open; out of earshot, one can still determine who are the actors. Not so in "small metal objects."

Continuing the example, the audience's presence is also explained for, by having a clear, recognizable focus of attention — the actors. In this sense, they are "shielded" from the prying eyes of the public. Not so in this play.

The seats blankly faced the embarkation and disembarkation gantries of the Sentosa Express. The actors donned diminutive mouthpieces, indistinguishable from Bluetooth or handsfree headsets; wore street clothes, and freely mingled with the public. Only the headphone-clad audience were privy to the conversations between the actors. With every crowd, group, family, or couple passing by, the audience would be scrutinized. E.g. Who are these dorks — with large headphones — sitting on an elevated stage facing the Sentosa Express entry and exit point? What's so exciting about the ticketing office? What are they looking at? (Looking around nervously.) Who are they looking at?

Any discomfort at this unwanted attention soon faded away as we, the audience, observed how the public is oblivious to the drama unfolding in their midst.

The watchers watch the actors. The watchers become the watched; the new watchers become unwitting actors (or extras) in the production; and the watched return to being watchers. Beautiful.

Is pain less agonizing when shared beyond one's private sphere? Is glory all the more glorious with pictures, videos, and media coverage? Is attention the new measure of worth in our society? If that is the moral calculus, then why do people make it a point of pride to state, rate (and even, inflate) the number of tables at weddings but annul or divorce in secret? While others beam for cameras at award ceremonies but duck, hide from, or hit photographers outside courts?

Is the value — quantity and quality — of joy augmented by attention? (Perhaps this explains conspicuous, or even invidious, consumption?)

Is tragedy any more painful endured alone? (Do we need the wahmbulance?)

Over dinner in a setting breathtakingly ludicrous (exponentially more so when referenced to the minimalist setting of the play) with its over the top attempt at anachronistic simulacra of Oriental, turn of the century menial servitude, and gluttony: Food Republic, we discussed the title of the performance. Being the himbo that I am alleged to be (to the one who levied that charge, I am not worthy, but thank you all the same. I will try harder. Seen my training schedule?), I compared it to road debris — cast off, broken pieces, detritus of vehicles that transport and protect us — littering our road shoulders; and perhaps even traffic intersections. We do not notice these pieces, let alone consider how they got there, in our hectic, narcissistic, and hedonistic lives ego parades. This is life in the city. Where did that piece of motorcycle fairing come from? How did it get there? Where's the rest of that broken helmet? Is the owner alive? Conscious? Intact? Was he or she the sole breadwinner? How did is his family coping? That fragment of a license plate. What's his story? How was his day — at what stage of his life was he at? — when this happened?

No, we don't notice these. We are oblivious of, or ignore — the possibilities of — these stories until...

       their relics give us a flat tire.

Then, for a little instance, we notice these small metal objects. While blaming it upon God, luck, fate, Murphy, our verbally / emotionally / physically abused partners (but never the cell phone!), et cetera, we rectify the situation, and return to our headlong rush for numero uno once again. If the tire punctures get too frequent, taxpayers lobby the authorities to invest in better, more efficient street sweepers — probably from an even poorer country. And so it goes... (with apologies to Vonnegut)

"small metal things" reveals that it is the same for subalterns of society.

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.
         (Henry David Thoreau)


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