I was in Times Square for New Year's Eve for the first time in my life (though I've lived in or less than 30 miles from NYC all my life) and I saw a Broadway musical for the first time as well. Beauty and the Beast. A truly Disney experience through and through Being in that large a crowd and going through countless police checks was a bit of a dystopian experience making me think vaguely of far-distant cousins in Northern Ireland or any other of a number of situations around the world where people have to pass through police barricades.
Not that there was a threat of danger in Times Square on New Year's Eve...Comparing it to Northern Ireland, Eastern Europe, the Middle East would be simply ignorant. I mean that I thought of those other places where one would have to go through barricades of armed police or military.
And then the musical, which was about as perfect an example of a product of the Culture Industry as one could hope to never see… Nietzsche begins the Use and Abuse of History with a quote from Goethe "… I hate everything which merely instructs me without increasing or immediately enlivening my activity." And I think of this in moments like this where I’ve gone through something full of hype and pyrotechnics and it has been as eventful as a morning ride on the subway. Of course I walk into something like a B’way musical looking for things to hate but I walked out feeling very little at all.
And then walked uptown with family and friends staying in hotels. Marveling about how much safer Times Square (and Manhattan as a whole) is these days which is a leitmotif. Which is statistically true but I always feel uneasy in these discussions as no sense of what might be lost as a price of such security emerges.
Adorno saw something in America in the 50's and 60's and wrote about the dominant social and cultural tendencies of America and the developed West which would soon become a global cultural dominant . The administered society is one where technological advances do not make life qualitatively better but refine and reinforce the control the state has over individuality. I hate to butcher Adorno so I'll just alude to this idea in passing. But the feelings of vague unease came from the way in which this night of enforced and controlled gaiety was for me this multi-layered Disnified experience. And even those close to me could only speak in terms of basically negative experiences. And the great need for some kind of security and community which drove (mostly tourists) people to participate in this kind of celebration in this way.
The need is a false sense of security and community which is underpinned by enormous contradictions. In Michael Harrington's book The Next America he talks about talks about Disney as on the one hand having technologically advanced utopian possibilities and on the other being a sinister force for consolidating and Haussmann-izing American public spaces. An oft quoted passage characterizes Disney’s efforts at urban planning as a:
"… town fraudulently concocted by a huge corporation; a celebration of free enterprise within the confines of a perfect monopoly; a homely, reverential, authoritarian and corporate-dominated place; a society managed by a sophisticated business elite but pretending to be a laissez-faire utopia."
With these and other thoughts, It was turning into a morose evening to say the least…
But something happened when my wife and I said goodbye to the others and made off through Central Park (made safe by Guiliani and Mickey M). The snow, still white and powdery; the fireworks; the openness and utopian layout of the great park, not yet Disneyfied. Maybe it was the fireworks - the spectacle Adorno called the "prototype of art" an emblem of subjectivity that flowers momentarily and unexpectedly leaving only the anticipation of the next such moment…