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The Revolution Ends at Dawn
An Essay by Bruce Gatenby













The cold passion for truth hunts in no packs.
– Robinson Jeffers, Be Angry At the Sun

First, the whistles

Imagine half a million whistles blowing in brain-piercing, unsyncopated rhythm to the fillibrating beat of hardcore techno music. Although to call techno music is to insult not only music but technology as well. The whistles, the thumps, the beats, the scratches, the pops and static and samples add up to an assault on the ears not unlike the banshee wail I imagine demons make while roasting on the spits of hell. But here on Earth it’s all in the name of Love and Peace.

One World, One Love Parade

The Love Parade is held each year in July in the city-in-progress called Berlin. First held in 1989 on the Ku’damm with around 20 000 spectators, the Millennium Edition in the Tiergarten – under the motto “One World, One Love Parade” – is expected to draw over 1 500 000. The actual figure turns out to be a little less than that.

The Love Parade is the offspring of one Dr. Motte, a DJ who wanted to stage a demonstration of “tolerance, respect and understanding between nations” using music instead of speeches. The techno community converges at the Siegessäule on Strasse des 17 Juni in the center of the Tiergarten and drinks, dances, drugs, urinates and fucks the time away while huge “Love Trucks” slowly force their way through the crowd, towing dancing fools and DJs blasting their techno creations to the heavens. This demonstration has morphed into a full-fledged cartoon fashion extravaganza, the whole spectacle shown on German TV, adding further incentive for outrageous attire and foolish acts of behavior.

Part Mardi Gras, part Fiesta of San Fermin, part Gay Pride parade, part European summer festival, the Love Parade is laboratory proof of Nietzsche’s herd philosophy. Although demonstration, not festival, is the correct term, since the city of Berlin will pick up the cost of cleaning up after a demonstration, but not a festival. Clever guy, that Dr. Motte.

The Code of The Herdsman

From Nietzsche to Henry Miller to Erich Fromm to Charles Bukowski to Don DeLillo, modern philosophers and writers have mapped the terrain of mass behavior. Order, conformity and control take precedence over chaos, spontaneity and individuality, because of the desire for safety and security from the risks and hazards of the world. Human beings, it seems, have a natural disposition to belong to the herd. Christianity, Islam, Capitalism, Communism, Fascism, even Popular Culture would not exist otherwise. Neither would the contemporary curse of media-manipulated marketing and advertising.

That is, unless you really are your khakis.

I’m tightly packed into a group of people about 100 yards from ground zero, the Siegessäule, spruced up with video screens and advertising for Deutsche Telekom’s TD1 ISDN internet service. Four young Fraus stand around me, each wearing the same bucket hat, the same shade of chromium red hair dropping like a curtain onto the same thin shoulders, the same dark shades, the same lip piercing in the triangle below the lower lip, the same tongue piercing visible during laughter and gum chewing, the same bocknobel piercing and the same jeans. I’m reminded of the scene in “Life of Brian” where Brian of Nazareth stands on the balcony overlooking the crowd of his followers and shouts: “But don’t you understand? You’re all individuals!” And the crowd shouts back: “We’re all individuals!”

This is the dynamic of mass herd behavior. It’s just a short jump from hundreds of thousands of people chanting “One World, One Love Parade,” to “Deutschland Über Alles” and “Heil Hitler,” or the mass hysteria in the USA masquerading as political correctness and cultural diversity. The untamed energy of mass crowds is easy to tame and manipulate, as the propagandists of fascism, communism, mass marketing and this techno celebration understand only too well. It’s controlling the individual that’s the hard part.

Have You Heard the One About Five Guys in Kilts?

When several of my German friends heard I planned on going to this year’s Love Parade they responded with sordid tales of naked dancers, public sex in the bushes of the Tiergarten and Love Trucks decorated with fornicating couples from a German porn production company. “You’ve seen all of these things?” I asked. “Not actually,” they responded, “we’ve never been.”

The truth? The Love Parade is not exactly the pagan Dionysian orgy that Christianity sought to banish by transforming sex into a shameful act that should be hidden in the privacy of the conjugal bedroom. Cavorting couples on the Love Trucks? An occasional topless woman being fondled by her boyfriend, perhaps. Sex in the bushes? Under cover of darkness, perhaps, but not in the light of day. Actually, there’s more urinating in the bushes…and the trees…and the leaf-strewn groundpaths of the Tiergarden than anything else. Five guys in red plaid kilts stomp through the lacework of light filtering through the canopy of leaves, encircle a tree like a pack of wild dogs and – as if they’ve choreographed the move like a dance routine they’ll use later that night at a disco – flip up their kilts and, penises in hand, water the tree like a human sprinkler system. One of them, his T-shirt reading “Bier Rein (arrow pointing up) Bier Raus (arrow pointing down)” accomplishes the not unimpressive feat of drinking one beer while recycling another.

Berlin 2000

Growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, I remember all too well the televised images of the Berlin Wall and the machine- gunning of those brave or desperate or stupid enough to try to escape from the Communist East across no man’s land to the Democratic West. In one of those turns of phrase only George Orwell could delight in, the East was then called the Democratic Republic of Germany.

Walk through the Brandenburger Tor, across the Pariser Platz and down Unter den Linden, into the heart of what was once East Berlin. Even though there’s now a McDonalds, a Burger King, a TGIFridays and a Häagen Dazs shop, it’s still an eerie feeling. So much history and so much horror. Now the eastern part of Berlin is truly a city-in-progress: construction sites, scaffolded buildings, tall cranes, fences and old, broken sewer pipes are everywhere. The Potsdamer Platz, once a deserted wasteland flanked by the Wall, is now a pedestrian shopping extravaganza, its centerpiece the gleaming silver Sony Center and IMAX theater. The revolution – architecturally and culturally at least – has been won by the forces of consumer capitalism, their new temple a monument not to some charismatic leader but to mass consumption, Sony-style.

As the construction crews and politicians go about the business of erasing the history of Berlin, there are still pockets of memory to be found. Several buildings in the former East are still pock-marked with bullet holes from the fierce fighting in the last days of WWII. Past the Lustgarten, site of mass Nazi rallies in 1935 and now front yard to the Altes Museum and the Pergamon Museum, across the Spass River is a tiny street called Rosenstrasse. The remaining buildings are undergoing renovation into flats but a red column at both ends of the street documents the story of the Gestapo deportation of the hundreds of Jews of Rosenstrasse to Auschwitz in 1943. Another photo plaque marks the site where the oldest synagogue in Berlin once stood (“Hinter dem Gebäude befand sich in der Heidereutegasse die älteste Synagoge Berlins“). As I’m pondering this, a young man walks up and asks for directions to the Pergamon museum in accented English. I ask him where he’s from. “Poland,” he answers. “Katowice.” He studies the column for a moment. “Near Auschwitz.” He smiles sadly and walks off.

The Velvet Revolution in Fashion

This year’s fashion statement at the Love Parade is angora-like leg warmers.

Shorts with leg warmers. Mini skirts with leg warmers. Bathing suits with leg warmers. Red or green or yellow or silver or pink dyed hair with leg warmers. If I were postmodern posterboy David Foster Wallace I would spout some nonsense about this being a self-reflexive ironic comment on the Flashdance generation, irony being for postmodernists what daffodils were for Wordsworth. But let’s not give credit where credit isn’t due. In truth, the Love Parade is as monotonous and tiring as the thumping techno beat jump-starting the hearts, hormones and adrenaline of the youthful community gathered together in the Tiergarten. As are David Foster Wallace and postmodernism in general.

While the Love Parade is supposed to be a non-commercial enterprise, a demonstration of Love and peaceful togetherness, it’s not. Deutsche Telekom is a major presence, both as a source of advertising and of free condoms. Other Handy companies are present as well (Handy being the German term for cell phones), passing out promotional gimmicks. The Love Trucks are also just massive moving advertisements for DJ’s and record companies. This year Yahoo! and eBay have also sponsored trucks. You can buy the commemorative T-shirt for only 50 marks. You can also order the special edition Love Parade 2000 compilation CD. The revolution is over. Long live the revolution.

There’s something pathetic about the decline of the revolutionary impulse in our time, a steady spiral downwards from Dada to the Wobblies to the Beats to rock and roll, through the 60’s to the punks, deconstruction, grunge and rap. A new revolution in art, music, literature or politics? Forget about it. The great reifying power of capitalism transforms all revolutionary ideas into marketable products. Now hair color, body piercings, tattoos, fashions and mass dance movements synched to the antics of a DJ and dancers on a Love Truck contain the cultural and sexual revolutionary impulses of youth. Or perhaps it’s just a self-reflexive ironic commentary on revolution itself. One thing’s for certain: no one will be wearing their green shorts, pink hair and fuzzy yellow leg warmers when they all stumble back into work on Monday morning. Even though German workplaces are for the most part as casual as those in the USA, they’re not that casual.

And the Winner Is…?

The Love Parade represents nothing more than the triumph of the capitalist revolution and its largest export, popular culture. In these late capitalist, post-postmodern times of ours, content has become irrelevant. Content is no longer a valuable attribute formed by a single, conscious artistic genius but is constructed through the collaboration of marketing and media. How else do we explain Britney Spears and “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?” The goal of this revolution is to produce the highest profit level possible; any aesthetic value the products of this culture may contain is purely incidental and irrelevant to an audience trained through the manipulations of advertising to accept the mediocre, or in Alexander Pope’s great phrase, the bathetic.

And the Love Parade is a celebration of the Bathos: in music, fashion, thought and alas, revolution.

By 6am, after the all-night dancing and drinking and raving have dissipated into another cool, cloudy Berlin summer morning, the 250 truckloads of city work crews have nearly finished cleaning up the streets and pathways surrounding the Tiergarten. The revolution ends at dawn on a Sunday morning. Two people have died from drug overdoses and a couple of hundred more have been arrested. A few shell-shocked revelers stumble around the Brandenburger Tor, one lone whistle tooting in the distance to an unheard, non-existent electronic beat, sounding more like the clipped whistle of a policeman controlling rush-hour traffic than a member of the new Love Generation.

Too bad Dr. Motte cannot come up with something else to jump-start their minds.


Copyright © Bruce Gatenby 2000

This essay may not be archived or distributed further without the author’s express permission. Please read the license.

This electronic version of The Revolution Ends at Dawn is published by The Richmond Review by arrangement with the author.

Bruce Gatenby is an American writer living in Germany. He is currently finishing his third unpublished novel, An Anthology of Misfortune. He can be reached at gatenby@hotmail.com and his home page is at http://www.geocities.com/bgatenby/

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