Monday, March 14, 2005

Re-enactment

Re-enactment seems to be a newly popular cultural trope, but then maybe it's always been around and I'm only noticing it because over the last 2 years I've been involved in a few re-enactment projects in the art world (e.g. pan right to find "Is Someone Coming to Get Me?"). In the art world, Jeremy Deller has re-enacted the 1984 miner strikes. Rod Dickinson has re-enacted the Milgram Obedience to Authority Experiments. Ben Coode-Adams and I, in collaboration, have re-enacted the 1996 disaster on Mount Everest, an event popularised by Jon Krakauer's bestselling book _Into Thin Air_ (see link above).

Outside the art world, of course (but, in light of the projects above, how far outside?), historical re-enactment groups have existed for a long time. In the UK, for instance, there are Tudor Societies (artists Pope and Guthrie have been working on a project with the Tudor re-enactors; and Jeremy Deller worked with historical re-enactment societies to re-enact the miner strikes). In the U.S., Civil War re-enactment societies are the most popular object of mockery. But re-enactors the world over, I think, are equally mocked. And why? Because they're nerds? Because they spend so much time in another century, appearing to eschew the more *present* pleasures and pains of this one? Because they spend so much time passionately participating (full stop) in something (full stop) that most people can't understand (full stop) or that isn't popular? Not enough critical or ironic distance? I'm not sure any of these answers are particularly helpful, but the penultimate one, about passionate participation, gets closest for me. And doesn't this start to sound like a form of mockery often directed at bloggers and WWW participants generally?

So then what do we say about SkyNews' recent Michael Jackson trial re-enactments? Bizarre, right? But compelling I'll bet (I hope to get to see some of it this week, thanks to a kind friend with access to Sky.

Outside of a similarly vectored derision, I think there are some other compelling reasons to think about blogs as re-enactments. The way they consider time. A similarly ambivalent relationship to audience. The way they re-make events by re-playing them. And the related hazards of fidelity, accuracy and a "narrowing of narrative opportunities". Of course, we can identify differences, but I don't think these invalidate the usefulness of the comparison. They may, in fact, enhance it.

I think we can make a similar argument that photoblogs, even photographs themselves, are re-enactments—or share tactics (uses and effects) with re-enactment projects, although the case here seems trickier. Not less welcoming, but more in need of qualification and careful thinking.
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