Abstract for Lisbon keynote – On the Life and Afterlife of the Popular 4.12.12
Two Augusts and Several Monuments
To evaluate the popular, and its returns, I will contrast two Augusts of recent English summers. In 2011 there were three nights of youth rioting, which might otherwise be called a popular uprising that was both an expression of anger at austerity, and not without links to the student protests of 2010 and the various events in the wake of Tunisia and Tahrir Square that pass under the name of Arab Spring. Whether in Tahrir Square or in London these popular uprisings were met with significant and unpopular police violence. In the subsequent period, across the Arab world, and in London in August 2012, the policing of the popular has taken divergent paths. In August 2012 London’s major security effort was the operation to protect the Olympic Games, universally recognised as a success (despite problems with G4 and much carping before the opening ceremony). In Libya, Syria, and arguably Egypt, a less popular mode of policing, indeed a counter-revolutionary war, has been the order of the day.
I cannot make a full assessment of the Arab Spring in this talk, but note it as a context for a possible angular appreciation of what the Olympic Games achieved for London. To make a point about the politics of popular festivals I will do a Vasco De Gama (viewed from the tower built for Expo 98) and take three examples from outside Europe, intentionally looking elsewhere for perspective, and finding it in carnival (Mela) films from India. With a historical perspective drawn from Indian film theorists like Madav Prasad and Arvind Rajagopal a possible critical perspective on the austerity cycle of power and performance, bread and circuses becomes more clear. The Ferris Wheel of the Chicago World Fair, the Eiffel Tower and the London Eye will be associated images.