speech from the given sources as videos and articles.

Write a 3-4 minute speech from the given sources as videos and articles.

All readings available in the module for the unit!
Bell- Performing Culture.pdf (uploaded)
Hall_The_work_of_representation.pdf (uploaded)
Fusco, Other History Of Intercultual Performance.pdf (uploaded)

In this quarantine art challenge, creativity begins at home (Links to an external site.)

People Recreate Works of Art With Objects Found at Home During Self-Quarantine

MAKE SURE TO fulfill all the three below Points:

The good critical response has three components:

A summary of one major idea the reading presented. All the texts and articles we will read have multiple theoretical contributions or critical perspectives on the case study they are discussing. Select an idea that resonated most with you and offer a very brief summary.
Your own example from societal and cultural practices that illustrate this idea. This example or illustration of the idea can be taken from a text, performance, or an everyday cultural practice.
Do you agree with the author – why or why not? Give a well-thought out argument to support your position. Remember, you are not giving your personal opinion (“I don’t like what they are saying” or “I like what they are saying”) but critically evaluating their position.


Performing Culture

A nthropology, sociology, and even psychology in the mid-nineteenth cen-tury took “the study of man” as their central concern. The guidingmethod for these new academic areas was positivism, the belief that cov- ering laws of human organization could be discovered through direct observation. This perspective maintains that the universe is orderly, and the job of scientific inquiry is to discover this order and classify it in systematic ways. Charles Darwin’s work on evolution was an important model for researchers in the social sciences who searched for origins in the “evolution” of culture.

Theories of the evolution of culture are interwoven with the study of religion. Three schools of theory emerged in the nineteenth century—myth and ritual, soci- ological, and psychological—all asking the question, Did religion originate in myth or ritual? Mircea Eliade was interested in the phenomenology of religious experi- ence and how myths and rituals are expressions of both the sacred and the profane in culture that provide unity for people. The sociological school, led by Emile Durkheim, maintained that religion is a social creation whose function is to pre- serve the welfare of a society. Sigmund Freud anchored the psychological approach: taboos of incest and patricide necessitate rituals that appease repressed desires.

Across these approaches, performance was studied for its window into larger cultural structures, like religion, politics, economics, language, and identity (Beeman 1993). When specific performance genres were studied (like rites, rituals, games, contests, dance, and music), performance was often seen as a fixed, static product, evidence of cross-cultural similarities, and indicative of universal needs and expressions.

This chapter traces the theories that helped transform the “study of man” into the study of performance. Arnold van Gennep’s (1909/1960) rites of passage, Johan


Theory in Perspective: How Do Cultures Perform?

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Huizinga’s (1938/1950) play theory, and Milton Singer’s (1972) cultural performance laid the groundwork for the performance turn in the study of culture. This turn rejects the view of performances as fixed objects to be studied in the science of pos- itivism and embraces performance as a paradigm for understanding how culture makes and remakes itself. Performance can be understood as “the embodied processes that produce and consume culture . . . performance makes things and does things” (Hamera 2006, 5).

The work of anthropologist Victor Turner, introduced in Chapter Four through the social drama, is credited for ushering in this performance turn in the study of culture. Turner rejects concepts of culture as static or deterministic structures that “imprint” themselves on waxlike, malleable humans. Humans push back in mean- ingful and efficacious ways on culture, and in turn, change it. Turner argues that a performance approach to culture (1) reflects dynamic cultural processes, (2) enables possibilities between and within cultural structures, and (3) provides opportunities for critique and transformation. Performances are constitutive of culture, not something added to culture; performances are epistemic, the way cul- tural members “know” and enact the possibilities in their worlds; and perfor- mances are critical lenses for looking at and reshaping cultural forms.

This chapter surveys theories that help us answer these questions: What is cul- ture? How do people move in and through culture? What is ritual? How is culture performed individually and collectively, especially as a vehicle of history, public memory, and institutions? What are our ethical responsibilities toward cultures other than our own?

What Is Culture?

Dictionary definitions of “culture” have changed through time. From the Latin cul- tura, meaning “cultivation” or “tending,” the growing of plants, crops, or animals is a very early meaning of the word. Most of us think of culture in two different ways based on definitions more than one hundred years old.

In 1882, British poet and social theorist Matthew Arnold proposed culture as the refinement of tastes and sensibilities. He maintained that culture is “the pur- suit of our total perfection by means of getting to know . . . the best which has been thought and said in the world.” Arnold held Western music, art, architec- ture, and literature as his standard for civilization and for “high culture.” English anthropologist Edward Burnett Tylor (1871/1958) expanded the definition of culture as “that complex whole which includes knowledge, belief, art, morals, law, custom, and any other capabilities and habits acquired by man as a member of society.”

Raymond Williams (1958/1983) was the first to propose that culture is ordi- nary, the “common meanings and directions” of a society. These meanings are learned, made, and remade by individuals. Culture is at once traditional, a whole way of life passed on through generations, and creative, the processes of discovery that lead to new ways of thinking and doing.


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Clifford Geertz (1973) argues that culture is semiotic: Systems of meaning, sig- nification, and symbol use are central to both patterned conduct and individual frames of mind. Culture is a symbolic system unique to humans in which meanings are publicly shared and the collective property of a group. Drawing from Kenneth Burke, Geertz (1973, 9–10) argues that “human behavior is symbolic action— action which, like phonation in speech, pigment in painting, line in writing, or sonance in music, signifies.”

John Bodley (1994) lists three components of culture: what people think, what they do, and the material products they produce. Bodley summarizes the proper- ties of culture: It is shared, learned, symbolically transmitted cross-generationally, adaptive to the physical world, and integrated with it.

Wen Shu Lee (2002) defines culture as “the shifting tensions between the shared and the unshared,” acknowledging that culture is contested within and across groups. She offers this example of historical and value shifts: “American cul- ture has changed from master/slave, to white only/black only, to antiwar and black power, to affirmative action/multiculturalism and political correctness, to trans- national capital and anti-sweatshop campaigns” (quoted in Martin and Nakayama 2004, 76).

In one hundred years, the concept of culture has developed and shifted. The ten- sions, however, have remained the same as theorists posit culture as between and among the individual and the group, high and low, tradition and change, symbol systems and material products, human biology and human learning, shared and unshared meanings within and between groups, systems, and power.

Approaches to Studying Culture

Robert Wuthnow (1987) outlines four contemporary approaches to studying cul- ture that are helpful in understanding the above definitions. A subjective approach to culture focuses on beliefs, attitudes, and values held by individuals. Culture is conceived as mental constructions expressed in outlooks, anxieties, desires, and sub- jective states of the individual. Meaning in this approach is “the individual’s inter- pretation of reality” (1987, 11). Social psychologists and sociologists often take this approach when they measure people’s attitudes, values, and beliefs with surveys, focus groups, participant observation, and interviews.

A structural approach to culture seeks out the patterns and rules that hold a cul- ture together. This approach looks for the symbolic boundaries evident within a cul- ture created in language and how these boundaries among cultural elements are maintained and changed. A structural approach differs from a subjective approach: Culture is the object to be studied and observed, not the subjective states of indi- vidual members. Culture is characterized by its boundaries, categories, and ele- ments that can be seen, read, recorded, and classified. Kinship systems are a good example of boundaries that maintain and change culture.

Wuthnow’s third category is a dramaturgical approach to culture which “focuses on the expressive or communicative properties of culture. . . . Culture is

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approached in interaction with social structure” (1987, 13). Like structural approaches, a dramaturgical approach maintains that culture is observable, but classifies these observations as “utterances, acts, objects, and events” (13). Most important, this approach seeks to explore the dramatic ordering of social life not as information, but for the ways that rituals, ideologies, and other symbolic acts “dra- matize the nature of social relations” (13). Chapter Four, “Performing Drama,” fea- tured Kenneth Burke and Victor Turner. Chapter Six features Erving Goffman. All are considered “fathers” of this approach to culture.

An institutional approach to culture adds the elements of culture as studied by structuralists to the moral order studied by dramaturgists to explore the organiza- tions that constitute culture. These organizations necessarily require resources and influence the distribution of these resources across members of their culture. Institutional approaches most often feature the interplay between culture and state. Marxist, socialist, and systems theorists utilize this approach. “Follow the money” is a common phrase for tracking institutions (the federal, state, and local govern- ments, education, science, even the mass media) as agents that garner and distrib- ute resources in a culture.

How culture is conceptualized—as mental states, structures, social relations, or institutions—is intimately linked to how culture is studied across academic disci- plines and methods. Moving from social scientific models of positivism to critical models of interpretation and power, Judith N. Martin and Thomas K. Nakayama (1999, 13) advocate a dialectical approach to studying culture as heterogeneous, dynamic, and contested. This approach “accepts that human nature is probably both creative and deterministic; that research goals can be to predict, describe, and change; that the relationship between culture and communication is, most likely, both reciprocal and contested.”

The tensions between the individual and the group, high and low, tradition and change, symbol systems and material products, human biology and human learn- ing, culture and communication will pull especially tight when the study of culture leaves some members out entirely.

Class Culture

Think of your classroom as a culture. Divide the class into five groups to approach this culture subjectively, structurally, dramaturgically, institutionally, and dialectically. How might this class be described, what elements can be stud- ied, and how might change be advocated when approached in these five dif- ferent ways?

Perform your discoveries for the class. First, create a “slice of life” in this cul- ture that seeks to highlight your approach’s assumptions about culture, where it is “located,” and its properties. Second, present your analysis of that perfor- mance. What are the benefits of this approach? What are its limitations?


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“This Was My Life as an Undergraduate”

Donna Marie Nudd (1998, 152), Professor of Communication at Florida State University, regularly participates in teaching workshops offered at the beginning of the fall semester for new teaching assistants. She and her colleague from the- atre, Frank Trezza, create and perform scenes of classrooms with the PIE (Program for Instructional Excellence) Players. The idea is to show, rather than tell, new teachers classroom dilemmas. They follow the performances with peri- ods of discussion. The following is Nudd’s description of one eight-minute scene (featuring Terry Galloway) and her analysis of the audience’s reaction.

It’s the third day of class, the teacher is taking role. Terry enters late and slams the door. Undergraduates mutter comments to themselves or each other: “Oooh, that’s tough on a hangover,” “God, her student loan must not have come through,” etc. The teacher continues to call role from the desk. Terry, chat- ting with a student behind her, misses her name as she is actively engaged in con- versation about the price of books. Class begins. The teacher tries to facilitate a discussion on affirmative action and its effect on women. She writes, “A.A.” and “Women” on the chalkboard. Class discussion begins. Thinking the topic at hand is Alcoholics Anonymous, Terry at one point in the group discussion launches into a seemingly unrelated monologue about her sister who is a member of that orga- nization and her resentment of its religious overtones. The teacher is thrown by

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SOURCE: Photograph by Jaclyn Lannon. Copyright © 2007 by Jaclyn Lannon.


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Terry’s response, but picks up some lone thread of Terry’s monologue and tries to weave it back into the topic at hand. Another member of this class makes fun of Terry and her ridiculous ideas. Terry responds in kind. As the situation becomes even more heated, the teacher unsuccessfully tries to regain control. The class degenerates into name-calling. Finally, at her wit’s end, the infuriated teacher calls an end to the discussion. She tells them, “It’s over!” With her back again toward Terry, she tells the class to get into their assigned small groups and adds, “You have exactly ten minutes to summarize all the key points from the textbook in regard to affirmative action’s effect on women.” Terry, watching the students stand up and move, and having lip-read “It’s over!” thinks the class has been dismissed and leaves the classroom muttering snide comments.

That was the scene. In their small group and large group discussions, 200–250 teaching assistants analyzed this scene by noting (1) that the teacher was woe- fully unprepared; (2) that topics such as “affirmative action” are controversial and difficult to handle in the classroom; (3) that the rude, not-too-smart, volatile, and clearly disturbed student, Terry, should be immediately advised to go to the coun- seling center. After the graduate students expressed their views, the emcee of the plenary session quietly motioned to Terry. Terry said simply, “I’m deaf; this was my life as an undergraduate.” Once the proverbial pin had dropped in the audito- rium, Terry spoke briefly about being a deaf college student. After Terry’s autobi- ographical follow up, the PIE Players replayed the scene. This time, the nine or ten clues to Terry’s disability that were built into the scene seemed thrown into relief—her slamming the door, her missing entire sections of the teacher’s lecture when the teacher was writing on the blackboard, her shifts in volume level . . . her previously viewed non-sequitur about A.A. . . .

Hundreds of graduate students were made acutely aware of how difficult it can be to pinpoint a disability even in what might seem to be the most obvious of circumstances.

SOURCE: Donna Marie Nudd, “Improvising Our Way to the Future.” In The Future of Performance Studies: Visions and Revisions, edited by Sheron J. Dailey, 1998. Used by permission of the National Communication Association.

D. Soyini Madison (2005, 149) writes that performance is central “to the meanings and effects of human behavior, consciousness, and culture. These days, it seems one can hardly address any subject in the arts, humanities, and social sciences without encountering the concept of performance.” Performance—as central to the study of humans across academic disciplines—didn’t take center stage overnight.

Two important theorists in the twentieth century asked new questions of culture to begin the shift from studying “man” as a “bearer of culture” to studying perfor- mance as constitutive of culture. Arnold van Gennep theorized rites of passage and John Huizinga theorized play as founding moments in and through culture.


From Studying “Man” to Theorizing Movement and Play


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Play and rites of passage are central to thinking differently and asking different questions about what people do, the movement through cultural processes, and the products they produce. Play and ritual are often conceived as opposite cultural structures:

[P]lay is understood as the force of uncertainty which counter-balances the structure provided by ritual. Where ritual depends on repetition, play stresses innovation and creativity. Where ritual is predictable, play is contingent. But all performances, even rituals, contain some element of play, some space for variation. And most forms of play involve pre-established patterns of behavior. (Bial 2004, 115)

The next two sections trace the development, central concepts, and intertwining of rites of passage and play that lay the groundwork for a performance approach to culture.

Rites of Passage: Moving through Culture

In 1909, French ethnographer and folklorist Arnold van Gennep published a book entitled Les Rites de Passage (The Rites of Passage). At the time, ethnography as an academic endeavor was thriving, but van Gennep was critical of the tendency to “extract data,” the rites, ceremonies, and other practices, from the social settings and contexts in which they were performed. Van Gennep is interested not only in the “what” of religious beliefs and practices across the world, but in the “how” and “why” of those practices (Kimball 1960).

Van Gennep’s central thesis is that all individuals undergo “life crises,” and that ceremonies exist to assure safe travel through those crises; hence, rites of passage. While the forms and contents of these rites differ from group to group through time, van Gennep argues,

For groups, as well as for individuals, life itself means to separate and to be reunited, to change form and condition, to die and to be reborn. It is to act and to cease, to wait and rest, and then to begin acting again, but in a different way. And there are always new thresholds to cross: the thresholds of summer and winter, of a season or a year, of a month or a night; the thresholds of birth, adolescence, maturity, and old age; the threshold of death and that of the after- life—for those who believe in it. (1909/1960, 189–90)

While a number of ethnographers and anthropologists have studied, for example, “puberty rites” or “marriage rites” in particular cultures, van Gennep describes and explains their significance in three new ways.

1. Rites of passage are ordered in a typical, recurring pattern: separation, tran- sition, and incorporation. All rites of passage begin by separating the individual from his or her customary environment; a period of transition is marked by

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liminality—betwixt and between the two worlds; the third stage is incorporation into the new group or state and a return to the customary environment.

2. Transition is the stage that orients and enables the other two stages. If the transition period is lengthy, it will usually repeat within it the separation, transi- tion, and incorporation phases.

3. Rites of passage are territorial passages. That is, they involve physical space, and these spaces are not just “symbols” of movement. “In fact, the spatial separa- tion of distinct groups is an aspect of social organization. . . . In short, a change of social categories involves a change of residence, and this fact is expressed by the rites of passage in their various forms” (192).

Categories of Rites of Passage

Van Gennep categorizes six kinds of rites of passage. He begins with the often elab- orate ceremonies that deal with strangers (greeting rituals, signs of friendship, pro- tections, and taboos) and how to move them from separation, to transition, and to incorporation safely within the group. Rites of pregnancy and childbirth follow the threefold structure: The pregnant woman is separated or isolated from the group because “she is considered impure and dangerous or because her very pregnancy places her physiologically and socially in an abnormal condition” (1909/1960, 41). These may be marked by special taboos against food, sex, or places during preg- nancy. Birth usually marks the beginning of “a transition period with gradual removal of barriers,” and then “reintegration into ordinary life” (44) as a “social return from childbirth” for the mother.

Birth and childhood rites of passage often begin with ceremonies for the new- born child to highlight separation from mother’s body. Transition rites for the new- born or the child feature moving into this new world. Incorporation involves being accepted into family, extended family, tribe, and clan through naming ceremonies, ritual nursing, or baptism. All of these serve “to introduce [the] child into the world.” (54). In naming rites, especially, the child is “both individualized and incor- porated into society” (62).

Initiation rites for van Gennep include a host of ceremonies “which bring about admission to age groups and secret societies” (65). Van Gennep is careful to distin- guish “puberty rites,” which usually involved physical or sexual maturation, from what he called “social puberty.” Instead of marking the advent of sexual activity, which varies so vastly from group to group, he notes that “these are rites of separa- tion from the asexual world, and they are followed by rites of incorporation into the world of sexuality, and, in all societies and all social groups, into a group con- fined to persons of one sex or the other” (67). Initiates are often cut or marked as a “a sign of union” with the new group. For clan membership or secret society, entrance is often gained through a death/rebirth dramatization. “Twice born” and “born again” are phrases that indicate a new life.

Betrothal and marriage is the fifth category of rites of passage. “Marriage is an essentially social act,” according to van Gennep, and its repercussions cross groups,

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economics, and emotions. “To marry is to pass from the group of children or adolescents into the adult group, from a given clan to another, from one family to another, and often from one village to another” (1909/1960, 124). Marriage ceremonies, as separa- tion from old worlds, are often denoted by acts that cut, break, or throw away something associated with the old world. The transition is sometimes marked by breaking “virginity” symbolically, bathing or annointments, veiling oneself, or changing one’s name or personality. Other marriage separation rites include passing over something, whether stepping, jumping, or being carried over (131), or breaking a ritual threshold of some kind.

Marriages are essentially “rites of union,” so rites of incorporation, uniting two people together, often involve exchanging gifts and food, sharing the same seat, washing or annointing each other. Van Gennep maintains that “all these rites of incorporation should be understood literally rather than symboli- cally: the cord which binds, the ring, the bracelet, and the garland which encircles have a real coercive effect” (134).

Finally, van Gennep details the stages of separa- tion, initiation, and incorporation in funeral cere- monies. For mourners, separation involves marking them off as a special group, often designated by special clothing and prohibitions; their specialness increases depending on their relation to the deceased. Ordinary social activity is suspended. Transition often involves the “extended stay of the corpse or coffin” in wakes or viewings. The funeral itself, for the mourners, is the transition. The meal or gathering after the funeral is a rite of incorporation, serv- ing “to reunite all the surviving members of the group with each other, and some- times also with the deceased, in the same way that a chain which has been broken by the disappearance of one of its links must be rejoined” (164–65).

Van Gennep sought to explain the structures that move people between life stages, groups, and social stations. “Safe travel” is always about thresholds, move- ment, and territory.

From Individuals to Cultural Membership

While rites of passage may seem to focus on the individual, rites of passage are cru- cial to culture constituted in and through its performances. Barbara Meyerhoff, Linda A. Camino, and Edith Turner (1987) argue that rites fulfill the crucial task of “inculcating a society’s rules and values to those who are to become its full-fledged members” (383). Ritual participants are especially susceptible to learning during

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SOURCE: Photograph by Fritz Everhyi (www.memoriesbyfritz.com). Copyright © 2006 by Fritz Everhyi.

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rites: Old habits and ways of being are stripped away, awaiting new forms of participation and performance in cul- ture. The crux of learning and transfor- mation is in the performance.

While anthropologists have studied rites of passage across the world, perfor- mance studies research tends to feature historical and contemporary American rites and performances that enable group unity and personal development. Ann Larabee (1992, 53) details a rite of passage before 1914 at Wellesley College, one of the first women’s col- leges in the United States. First-year students had to pass under the chair of a statue of Harriet Martineau, a femi-

nist educator, in “a brilliant and brutal parody of the transition into college life.” Elizabeth Fine’s 2003 Soulstepping explores how step shows are an integral rite of pas- sage into full membership in the brotherhood or sisterhood of African-American fraternities and sororities. Fine (2003, 53) maintains that “joining an African American Greek-letter society involves a transition to greater social visibility as well as a fictive kinship of brotherhood or sisterhood.” Tracy Stephenson (2004) investi- gates backpacking as a rite of passage for American youth that is a performed achievement by the individual.

Eric King Watts (2005) explores Eminem’s film 8 Mile through the real and sym- bolic violence of Rabbit’s initiation; and Robert Westerfelhaus and Robert Brookey (2004) analyze Fight Club for its celebration of homosocial bonding available through initiation’s liminal phase. These film analyses of rites of passage—as a tri- partite structure, as transitional, and as physical movement—argue that race and heterosexual privilege are maintained at the violent expense of others. The learning that happens in these rites need not be libratory for culture.

Passage on the Web

Some argue that Northern American culture is devoid of rites of passage, giving rise to individuals without a compass or direction. The Internet is full of organi- zations that offer programs, retreats, and journeys for “at-risk youth,” “adoles- cent girls,” “directionless women,” and even “inner-city gang members.”

Choose one Web site and analyze the organization’s characterization of rites of passage, its functional claims for the individuals and society, and its created ceremonies. How do these organizations enact van Gennep’s three phases? How is the transition period enacted? How does the rite involve territorial movement?


SOURCE: Photograph by Justin B. Hankins. Copyright © 2006 by Justin B. Hankins.

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Homo Ludens/Playing Man

John Huizinga was a Dutch historian well known at the time for his 1914 book, The Waning of the Middle Ages, but he began as a scholar of Indian literature and cul- tures. He brought a vast knowledge of history, literature, and cultural forms to his theory of play. Huizinga wrote Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture in 1938; the first German edition was published in 1944; the English edition was published in 1950.

Huizinga begins his treatise on play as a cultural phenomenon with an amazing claim and description:

Play is older than culture, for culture, however inadequately defined, always presupposes human society, and animals have not waited for man to teach them their playing. We can safely assert, even, that human civilization has added no essential feature to the general idea of play. Animals play just like men. We have only to watch young dogs to see that all the essentials of human play are present in their merry gambols. They invite one another to play by a certain ceremoniousness of attitude and gesture. They keep to the rule that you shall not bite, or not bite hard, your brother’s ear. They pre- tend to get terribly angry. And—what is most important—in all these doings they plainly experience enjoyment. Such rompings of young dogs are only one of the simpler forms of animal play. There are other, much more highly developed forms: regular contests and beautiful performances before an admiring public. (1938/1950, 1)

Huizinga argues that play is a special and significant form of human activity, one of the main bases of civilization, a founding moment of culture.

Huizinga begins by rejecting previous theories of play that assume that play must serve some purpose: discharge of energy, need for relaxation, practice in skills, wish fulfillment, imitation, and so on. None of those explanations treat play as play, what it is, and what it means to the player. Nor do any of those theories account for fun. Huizinga outlines the characteristics of play as play.

Characteristics of Play

1. Play is voluntary. It must be freely chosen, otherwise it becomes duty or obligation. Remember when your mother made you play with a cousin you hated?

2. Play steps out of “real, ordinary life” and into a “temporary sphere of activ- ity with a disposition all its own” (8). Play literally transports us into another world, and we are fully aware that this other world is “pretend.” Play is not serious, but it is absorbing. The “intensity” of play is observable on the face and body of any “absorbed” video game player.

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3. Play creates its own limits of time and place. These limits, in backyards or on front stoops, are often broken when someone hollers, “Time for dinner!” As certain forms of play are repeated, they become traditions: Repetition and alternation are integral.

The space and place for play, the play-ground, is marked off beforehand, “either materially or ideally, deliberately or as a matter of course” (10). Whether in solitary games of puzzles or skill or in gambling and athletics, play tests the player’s prowess and abilities.

4. Nothing is “produced” by play. There are no material gains or profits, except the joy of play itself.

5. Play creates its own rules. These rules must be agreed to by all and adhered to by all, otherwise rule-breakers are “spoilsports.” Unlike cheaters, spoilsports destroy the play world, shattering the illusion (which literally means “in-play”) of play.

6. Play promotes both secrecy and social groups. Play is especially wonderful when a “secret” is made out of it, promoting and pertaining to “us” and not others. Play also creates permanent play-communities, oftentimes marked by “dressing up.”

For Huizinga, these characteristics of play fund connections between play and three concepts: language, myth, and ritual. All are permeated with play. Language is always a “play on words,” creating a symbolic world alongside material reali- ties. Myth is an account of the world that plays “on the border-line between jest and earnest.” In ritual, Huizinga insists, the “spirit of pure play” is “truly understood” (4–5).

Is Ritual Play Really Believed?

Ritual performances exhibit all the same formal characteristics as play: A special place is staked out, a sacred ground, creating a rule-bound world of its own. And play, as “pretend,” infects poles of belief in ritual acts. Huizinga argues that all rit- ual involves participants who, on some level, question the “reality” of what is hap- pening. On another level, they willingly participate and experience the moods and feelings the rite seeks to create. Huizinga writes, “Whether one is sorcerer or sorcerized one is always knower and dupe at once. But one chooses to be the dupe” (23).

Huizinga’s claim is borne out by the experience of believing in and enacting tra- ditions of Santa Claus in the West. Carl Anderson and Norman Prentice (1994) interviewed fifty-two children to ask, “When did you stop believing?” Around age seven, they claimed. The children reported they enjoyed being “in” on the Santa story. But children also “pretended” to believe for three reasons: to protect younger siblings, to avoid disappointing their parents, and to continue to garner gifts. The seriousness of “play” in the language, myth, and ritual of Santa is manifested in performances—individual, family, and culture.


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The Lion Is Real

Camara Laye, author of The Dark Child: Autobiography of an African Boy (1954, 100–101, 106, 109), tells the story of the ceremony of the lions, prelude to his rite of passage to manhood in the Malinke tribe of French Guinea (now Mali, in northern Africa).

Konden Diara, “the lion who eats little boys,” was a constant “bogeyman” of his childhood, used by authorities to elicit his good behavior. The ceremony begins with drumming and rounding up the boys to go face the lion. Laye writes, “Here was Konden Diara leaving the dim world of hearsay, here he was taking on flesh and blood, yes, and roused by Kodoke’s tom-tom was prowling around the town! This was to be the night of Konden Diara” (1954, 94–95).

Laye’s description speaks to the multiple levels of experience, secrecy sur- rounding the rite, and the “game” played. The initiates are taken to a special place in the bush, cleared of tall grasses, near a bombax tree. They are ordered to kneel on the ground and cover their eyes, to wait for Konden Diara to appear.

We were expecting to hear this hoarse roar, we were not expecting any other sound, but it took us by surprise and shattered us, froze our hearts with its unex- pectedness. And it was not only a lion, it was not only Konden Diara roaring: there were ten, twenty, perhaps thirty lions that took their lead from him, utter- ing their terrible roars and surrounding the hollow; ten or twenty lions separated from us by a few yards only. . . .

“You mustn’t be afraid!” I said to myself. “You must master your fear! Your father has commanded you to!” . . . How was I to stave off fear when I was within range of the dread monster? If he pleased, Konden Diara could leap the fire in one bound and sink his claws in my back!

I did not doubt the presence of the monster, not for a single instant. . . . What was it my father had said? “Konden Diara roars; but he won’t do more

than roar; he will not take you away.”. . . Yes, something like that. But was it true, really true? . . .

And do not people also die of fright? Ah! how I wished this roaring would stop! How I wished I was far away from this clearing, back in the . . . warm security of the hut! Would this roaring never cease? . . .

Whereupon, suddenly, they stopped! . . . Later I got to know who Konden Diara was, and I learned these things when

the time had come for me to learn them. . . . No, they were not real lions that roared in the clearing, for it was the older boys, simply the older boys. They cre- ated the roaring sound with small boards, thick at the center, sharp at the edges. . . . There was a hole on one side that permitted it to be tied to a string. The older boys swung it around like a sling, and, to increase the speed of the gyrations, they too turned with it. The board cut through the air and produced a sound like a lion’s roar.

. . .

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I know that such conduct must appear strange, but it is absolutely true. If the cer- emony of the lions has a character of a game, it is for the most part pure mystifica- tion, yet it has one important feature: it is a test, a training in a hardship, a rite; the prelude to a tribal rite, and for the present that is all one can say. . . . It is obvious that if the secret were to be given away, the ceremony would lose much of its power.

SOURCE: Excerpts from THE DARK CHILD by Camara Laye, translated by James Kirkup, Ernest Jones, and Elaine Gottlieb. Copyright © 1954, renewed 1982 by Camara Laye. Reprinted by permission of Hill and Wang, a division of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC.

Ritual theorists, across academic disciplines and methods, have agreed on three characteristics of ritual activities, according to Catherine Bell (1997, 94). First, rit- ual action is communal, involving groups of people who gain social solidarity through their participation. Second, the action is traditional and “understood as carrying on ways of acting established in the past” (94). Third, ritual is rooted in beliefs in divine beings.

Ritual action is often divided into sacred and secular, but these categories are usu- ally not distinct from each other, especially when approached as “genres of ritual action.” Bell lists these genres: rites of passage, calendrical rites, rules of exchange and communication, rites of affliction; feasting, fasting, and festivals; and political rites. All of these activities are “strategic ways of acting” (7) that in turn produce and orga- nize our knowledge of the world. These ways of acting range from the “religious to the secular, the public to the private, the routine to the improvised, the formal to the casual, and the periodic to the irregular”(138). Bell explains five characteristics of ritual- like activities, demonstrating that ritualization is a process, flexible, and strategic.

1. Formalization is the degree of formality in dress or speech that marks an activity as ritual-like. Ceremonial costumes, language, gestures, and movement occur on a continuum between informal and casual to highly restricted and formal. These restrictions say a great deal about hierarchy, authority, and symbolic mes- sages. A family dinner at the kitchen table and a state dinner at the White House differ in degrees of formality.

2. Traditionalism, or “we have always done this” (150), appeals to cultural precedents. Bell gives the examples of using great grandmother’s lace tablecloth at Thanksgiving, the British judicial system’s powdered wigs and robes, and academic regalia as examples of traditional ways of acting. The Pledge of Allegiance to the U.S. flag, “invented” in 1954, testifies to the fact that “traditional” practices may be quite young.

3. Invariance emphasizes “precise repetition and physical control” (152). Actions are performed exactly the same each time. Military marching maneuvers and high kicks of the Radio City Rockettes are examples that speak to the rigorous


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training of the body. This repetition testifies to the “timeless authority of the group, its doctrines, or its practices” (150). The structures and formulas enacted at Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, for example, are the same everywhere.

4. Rule-governance maintains that ritual-like activities are governed by rules that guide and direct the activities, especially by designating what is not allowed or accept- able. Sporting events and games, debates, and legal proceedings all have specific rules that “hold individuals to communally approved patterns of behavior” (155).

5. Sacral symbolism appeals to supernatural beings. People and objects become sacred through the ritual acts, or ritual-like acts, that create them. The Christian cross, the Star of David, the American flag, even places (war memorials, Niagara Falls, and Mt. Everest) become something special in and through ritualization.

Rituals Are Performed

All of the above characteristics are manifested in and through performance. In short, ritual or ritual-like events do not exist outside of the performances that cre- ate them. In Victor Turner’s phrasing (1981, 155–56),“I like to think of ritual essen- tially as performance, as enactment, and not primarily as rules or rubrics. The rules frame the ritual process, and the ritual process transcends its frame. A river needs banks or it will be a dangerous flood, but banks without a river epitomize aridity.”

Rituals, and ritual-like actions, abound in our daily lives as a way to give mean- ing and significance to experience. Memorials and tributes, for example, spring up

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SOURCE: Photograph by Jack Delano. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA-OWI Collection [reproduction number LC-USW3-2809-D].

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spontaneously for local victims of tragic deaths or for episodes of violence that cap- ture national attention (Jorgensen-Earp and Lanzilotti 1998). These are important moments that not only memorialize the deceased but attempt “to address larger, causative, social problems” like domestic violence, child kidnapping and abuse, massacres, and war protests (Santino 2004). September 11 tributes at baseball parks across America sought to comfort participants, but soon turned to propaganda of “belligerent patriotism” (Butterworth 2005).

Ritual events are also marked by joy, fun, and anticipation: the Olympic Games, Halloween, birthday parties, Native American powwows (Roberts 2002), the return of Monday Night Football, even the annual televised showing of The Wizard of Oz (Payne 1989). For Turner, this is the “room for play” that ritual performance enables: play with symbols, play with meanings, and play with words (1981, 162).

This room for play is evidenced in contemporary “do-it-yourself rituals.” Laine Bergeson (2004, 66) writes,

Ritual celebrations knit us into history, and even into prehistory, connecting humans to each other over geography and time. . . . Many still find connection in the rites and ceremonies passed down to them from the lives and faiths of their parents and grandparents. For others, contemporary life has grown so secular, colored by irony, or just plain different that the old ways of marking major transitions no longer resonate. As more people enter nontraditional romantic partnerships, choose not to have children, and change jobs or gen- ders or continents, the rituals of the past feel increasingly outdated. The need for ritual is so deep, though, that people have begun creating their own.

Do-it-yourself (DIY) rituals include celebrating the arrival of menopause, births and deaths marked without religious ceremonies, divorce ceremonies, even “marry yourself” ceremonies. Remi Rubel married herself in a public ceremony, saying, “this relationship will last.”

DIY Rituals

Divide the class into groups. Each group should create its own ritual to mark, celebrate, mourn, or honor something in its group life. Pay special attention to levels of formality, tradition, invariance, rules, and symbols as you create the performance. How does this ritual hold possibilities for transformation for indi- viduals? How does this ritual express, confirm, and embody cultural values?

In 1954, Milton Singer, of the Chicago School of Urban Ecology, traveled to India in search of “The Great Tradition” in Indian civilization. “The Great Tradition” claims that a civilization is assumed to have a charter for action, for organizing,


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a “worldview” that structures belief and calls for action. This charter is often avail- able in sacred texts—“oral, written, inscribed, carved and painted, sung and acted” (Singer 1972, 4).

Singer quickly discovered the difficulty of the task. Across three million square miles, India is marked by twenty-three different, official languages and twenty- eight different geopolitical boundaries shaped by vastly different historical influ- ences and religious affiliations. Where to begin putting his finger on “The Great Tradition”? Singer describes what happened:

I discovered what I suppose every field worker knows, that the units of cogi- tation are not units of observation. There was nothing that could be easily labeled Little Tradition or Great Tradition, or “ethos” or “world view.” Instead, I found myself confronted with a series of concrete experiences, the observa- tion and recording of which seemed to discourage the mind from entertain- ing and applying the synthetic and interpretative concepts I had brought with me. (70)

Singer named these concrete experiences, observable to an outsider and record- able for study, cultural performances. More important, Singer claims that his Indian friends “thought of their culture as encapsulated in these discrete perfor- mances, which they could exhibit to visitors and to themselves. The performances became for [Singer] the elementary constituents of the culture and the ultimate units of observation” (71).

Elements of Cultural Performances

Singer (1972) outlined five components of cultural performances, beginning with their formal characteristics. Each cultural performance can be characterized by (1) a limited time span (a beginning, middle, and end), (2) an organized program of activity, (3) a set of performers, (4) an audience, and (5) a place and occasion of performance.

The cultural stage is the place where the performance occurs—in homes, temples, public halls, and community centers. Oftentimes the cultural training in the home, the rearing of children and passing down of traditions, is informal and casual. Traveling performances, without a fixed institutional base, are often difficult to pin down, as they create their stages in and through the performance.

Performances are created by cultural specialists, people who are especially recruited, trained, paid, and motivated to engage in performances. Singer lists priests, scholars, reciters, storytellers, singers, dancers, dramatic performers, and musicians. In mass mediated cultures, editors, program directors, story writers, and producers are also cultural specialists. Still other specialists assist the performers— production assistants, costumers, makeup artists, teachers, patrons, and organizers of performances. These cultural specialists often serve as arbitrators of cultural tastes, as well as make cultural policy.

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Cultural media are the modes and forms of communication the performance utilizes: singing, dancing, acting, and recitation as well as graphic arts. Many cul- tural specialists are known for their mastery of one of these media. While spoken language is often the premiere cultural medium, nonlinguistic media are also uti- lized in performances. With developments in mass media, analysis of cultural per- formance requires considering how “cultural themes and values are communicated as well as on processes of social and cultural change” (77).

While Singer didn’t discover India’s “Great Tradition,” he did describe a way to “trace the actual lines of communication” that create and transform cultural pat- terns constituted in performance, expressive of cultural beliefs and practices, and important to sociopolitical organization.

The “Performance Turn” in the Study of Culture

Van Gennep’s work on rites of passage, Huizinga’s characteristics of play, and Singer’s characterization of cultural performance are all important developments for enabling the “performance turn” in the study of culture. This turn argues that not only are performances legitimate objects to study, but they can be the entry point for studying culture. Victor Turner sought to humanize the study of culture as performance by conceiving of humans as performers, Homo performans.

If man is a sapient animal, a tool-making animal, a self-making animal, a symbol- using animal, he is, no less, a performing animal, Homo performans, not in the sense, perhaps that a circus animal may be a performing animal, but in the


SOURCE: Photograph by Beatrice Queral. Copyright © 2006 by Beatrice Queral. Courtesy of Mickee Faust Club.

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sense that man is a self-performing animal—his performances are, in a way, reflexive, in performing he reveals himself to himself. (1988, 81)

A performance-centered approach enables four features of culture to be high- lighted: process, play, poetics, and power. On process, Dwight Conquergood (1989, 83) writes, “Instead of static structures and stable systems with variables that can be measured, manipulated, and managed, culture is transacted through perfor- mance. Culture becomes an active verb, not a noun.”

Huizinga’s work on play was an important foundation for Turner’s interest in Carnival, ritual reversals, tricksters, and the way cultural structures are manipu- lated, critiqued, and changed in and through performance genres. Carnival in Rio de Janeiro is evidence of “society in its subjunctive mood—to borrow a term from grammar—its mood of feeling, willing, and desiring, its mood of fantasizing, its playful mood” (Turner 1988, 123). Barry Ancelet (2001) and Patricia Sawin (2001) both explore play at Louisiana Mardi Gras celebrations. They argue that the serious work of group commitment and the emergence of alternative communities are enabled through play. Yoram Carmeli (2001) examines play as central to all circus performances—from its arrival in town to its departure.

Poetics emphasizes the constructedness of culture. Rites of passage, for example, are constructions—“fabricated, built, and created”—to move us through and to the stages a culture deems important (Meyerhoff et al. 1987). Chapter Four surveyed how our participation in social dramas questions and reinvents cultural values and rules as they unfold in our lives and makes them anew. But culture as “ordinary life” is also a poetic construction through cultural forms. Aleksandra Wolska (2005, 93) writes, “When we look for lost keys, burn our dinner, or crash into a garage door, our engagement with technology slips into farce, tragedy, or a combination of both. In this sense, performance remains embedded in the very fabric of cultural poesis [sic], in the ordinary process of doing things.” Culture is not merely created, but it is creative (Conquergood 1989, 83).

Power is especially important in light of Turner’s analysis of the social drama. “Because it is public, performance is a site of struggle where competing interests intersect, and different viewpoints and voices get articulated” (Conquergood 1989, 84). Viewpoints and voices are always embodied: “The body, within cultural and narrative performances, is of great importance as it functions as a site where poli- tics and power are written on and through” (Holling and Calafell 2007, 61). Instead of conceiving of culture as disembodied static structures, work, rules, and top- down law, culture constituted in performance in and through embodied process, play, poetics, and power are important lenses.

Liminality: Betwixt and Between

Victor Turner built on van Gennep’s liminal stage in the rite of passage to argue for a more encompassing notion of liminality to include categories of people and public places. Limen, or the threshold between rooms, is literally “betwixt and between.” For ritual initiates, especially in rites of passage, they are “neither here

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nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremonial” (Turner 1967, 98). Stripped of former mark- ings of status, belonging, and group identification, liminal persons have nothing and are nothing: “no status, insignia, secular clothing, rank, kinship position, noth- ing to demarcate them structurally from their fellows” (98).

Liminality, as betwixt and between, also applies to people between social and cul- tural structures: “teenagers, students, trainees, travellers, those with new jobs, and people in times of major disaster” (E. Turner 2005, 99). Their statuses are ambigu- ous, and they are often perceived as dangerous to established structures. Thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in September of 2005 not only lost every- thing; they—mostly Black and poor—stood in an ambiguously dangerous position to the Bush administration and FEMA.

Liminality can also be experienced in public places, like Mardi Gras or Carnival. “Taboos are lifted, fantasies are enacted, indicative mood behavior is reversed; the low are exalted and the mighty abased. Yet there are still some controls: crime is still illicit, drunken bodies may be moved off the sidewalks” (V. Turner 1988, 102). The key features of liminality in these public spaces are heightened emotions, suspen- sion of the rules of normal life and time, and centralization of the marginal.

Communitas: Magical Togetherness

Whether stripped of everything in formal rituals, a natural disaster, or at Mardi Gras, something is also generated among the participants who experience liminal- ity. Communitas is “the sense of sharing and intimacy that develops among persons who experience liminality as a group” (E. Turner 2005, 97). Communitas is “the gift of togetherness. . . . It has something magical about it” (E. Turner 2005, 98).

Musical jam sessions among jazz musicians form a prototypic example. In these sessions, communitas is normative: It is characterized by “we” feelings, a loyalty to the group, and a willingness to sacrifice for it. The group is mobilized toward a goal—to make music together that no one member could make alone. Communitas is existential: Group differences in status are diminished, even dis- solved; “the self becomes irrelevant. In the group, what is sought and what happens is unity, seamless unity” (E. Turner 2005, 98). Direct and unmediated communica- tion takes place as musicians seem to “read each other’s minds” and know the next riff or direction for the music. Finally, communitas is spontaneous: There is a shared “flow” of action and awareness; the structure is not governed by outside rules but by rules that emerge in the process of making music itself.

Many other groups experience communitas: religious pilgrims, parishioners of pentecostal and charismatic churches, dancers, singers, any group that “engage[s] in a collective task with full attention” (E. Turner 2005, 99). Larry Russell (2004) and Bernadette Calafell (2005) write of their own pilgrimages as ways to desire, honor, and constitute their own identities in cultural history.

Most important, communitas invites critique of established rules and structures because it arises “1) through the interstices of structure in liminality, times of change of status, 2) at the edges of structure, in marginality, and 3) from beneath structure in


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inferiority” (E. Turner 2005, 98). Liz Locke (1999, 3) explains how “inferiors” create communitas in their view from below: “The non-athletes, the readers, the musicians, the skate rats, the gamers, the geeks, the metal-heads, the ravers, the stoners, the net- heads, the writers, the outcasts, the refugees—we find a way to create communities.”

Spontaneous communitas, however, is very difficult to hold on to. Victor Turner writes (1982, 47), “The great difficulty is to keep this intuition alive—regular drug- ging won’t do it, repeated sexual union won’t do it, constant immersion in great literature won’t do it, initiation seclusion must sooner or later come to an end. We thus encounter the paradox that the experience of communitas becomes the mem- ory of communitas. . . . ”


Communitas on the Front Lines of Katrina

All the characteristics of communitas—as a gift, as collective, as produced between liminal, marginal, and inferior structures, are elaborated in Elizabeth Mehren’s (2005, A12) story of “A Gospel and Granola Band.”

Days after Hurricane Katrina hit, they began cooking together in a grocery store parking lot: evangelical Christians from Texas and Rainbow Family flower children from all over.

Soon they were serving 1,000 free meals a day at their cafe housed in a domed tent. Side by side, members of this improbable alliance worked nonstop, helping the people of what was once a scenic beach town.

Gradually, barriers melted. The evangelicals overlooked the hippies’ unusual attire, outlandish humor and persistent habit of hugging total strangers. The hippies nodded politely when the church people cited Scripture. The bonds formed at Waveland Village have surprised both groups.

“We are Methodists, Episcopalians and Baptists, along with various and sundry other Christian groups,” said Fay Jones, an organizer of the Bastrop (Texas) Ministerial Alliance. “Did we ever think we would have such a wonder- ful relationship with hippies? No.”

Brad Stone, an emergency medical technician from the Rainbow Family, called the Christian-hippie coalition his new community. He explained: “It has been unbelievable. We are all so close. I am actually dreading leaving.”

But about three months after they got here, the Rainbow Family volunteers and the Texas church delegation are preparing to head home. They will serve a grand banquet on Thanksgiving Day—turkey with all the trimmings, which at the Waveland Village Cafe includes steamed seaweed. Over the holiday week- ends they will hold a parade.

Then the church folks will hop in their pickup trucks and the hippies will climb into their psychedelic school buses. Both groups say they have been for- ever changed by the experience.

“They are as amazed as we are,” said Pete Jones, who with his wife orga- nized the ministerial group. “We have all learned so much.”

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The Christians from about a dozen churches near Austin arrived first, four days after the hurricane hit Aug. 29, when the roads to Waveland were barely passable. Pete Jones, 67, said they were drawn by God to the asphalt in front of a demolished supermarket.

When the volunteers began cooking, famished storm victims emerged out of nowhere. Some were naked, having lost every stitch of clothing to Katrina. All were so hungry that the Texans began running out of food. They decided to pray.

“We thought we’d better be specific, so we prayed for hot dogs, because they could be cut up to feed a lot of people,” Fay Jones said. “About the time we said ‘Amen,’ a guy drives up with a truck filled with 2,600 hot dogs. That was the beginning of the miracles around here.”

The next wondrous event occurred when the Rainbow Family appeared. The ministerial group was exhausted from nonstop cooking for a crowd that multi- plied with every meal. Hippies with dreadlocks and body piercings poured out of a bus painted like a Crayola box.

“We set up two 10-by-10 pop-up tents and started cooking,” said 25-year- old Clovis Siemon, an organic farmer and filmmaker from Wisconsin. “We were trying to find someplace to fit in, somewhere to be useful.”

Aaron Funk, an Arthur Murray dance instructor from Berkeley, also was among the first Rainbow Family volunteers here. Funk, 33, said his group was well prepared for the effort after decades of Rainbow Family gatherings on mountaintops and in national forests.

With tens of thousands of “brothers and sisters” scattered around the world, the Rainbow Family calls itself the largest “non-organization” of “nonmembers” on the planet. There are no rules, no dues and no officers—just a website (strictly unofficial, the group emphasizes) that promotes the belief that “peace and love are a great thing, and there isn’t enough of that in this world.”

Funk said the Katrina disaster response marked the Rainbow Family’s first major volunteer effort. The call for help went out on cellphones and the Internet.

“We figured it was a social obligation,” he said. “We already had the work- ing knowledge of feeding large numbers of people. We got here, and the sense of desperation and urgency was off the charts. There was no time to talk about it. It was just service, time to do what we came here to do.”

“The first week we were here,” Siemen said, “we had a guy from the Pentagon sitting in a circle with us, chanting ‘Om.’ It was pretty cool.”

Still, the organizers of Waveland Village say it is time to move on. Traditional stores and restaurants are reopening here, and though the landscape remains decimated, a shaky new normality is taking hold.

“Our purpose is not to detract from the local economy,” Pete Jones said. Siemon said he would be returning to his organic farm with far more than he

brought to Waveland. “What have I gained from this? Everything,” he said. “I’ve gained the expe-

rience of working with other humans in a wall-less, prejudice-less environment where the sole purpose is to help other humanity.

“That’s something not many people get to do.”

SOURCE: “A Gospel and Granola Band” by Elizabeth Mehren © 2005, Los Angeles Times. Reprinted with permission.



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What Do Cultural Performances Do?

Milton Singer’s theory of cultural performance is a descriptive one—cataloguing the constitutive elements of performance. Victor Turner moved beyond description to posit the structures and functions of cultural performances as both reflective and reflexive.

As reflective, cultural performances communicate the content of culture through orchestrations of cultural media. Turner (1981, 158) argues that cultural performances are composed of “sensory codes” that enlist all of the senses: “All the senses of participants and performers may be engaged; they hear music and prayers, see visual symbols, taste consecrated foods, smell incense, and touch sacred persons and objects.”

The sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and touch of Christmas, as celebrated by many North American Christians, are particularly well-orchestrated sets of sensory codes. The content of those performances—cooking seasonal foods, singing carols, exchanging gifts, decorating inside and out, attending parties—mirrors a material world. While one family may prepare a Christmas goose, others prepare Christmas tamales, but both utilize codes and materials that reflect that culture.

This reflection of the world as communicated in performances, however, is flexible and nuanced with no set “meaning” or interpretation. According to Turner (1988, 23–24), (1) cultural performances are capable of carrying many messages at once, (2) they are capable of subverting on one level what another level seems to be saying, and (3) the full “reality” of meaning and messages is only attained through the performance.

The Super Bowl, the Miss America Pageant, graduation ceremonies, and wed- dings are all cultural performances in the United States reflective of ongoing social processes. Each of these cultural performances makes an explicit or implicit claim about who is important, what is valued, how society ought to function, and why this performance demands our participation. Beauty pageants (Jones 1998; Roberts 2002), weddings and pornography (Bell 1999), lynchings (Fuoss 1999; Stephens 2000), travel on commercial airlines (Murphy 2002), and even the office Christmas party and company picnics (Pacanowsky and Trujillo 1983) have been examined as cultural performances that reflect the social processes that fund them.

Cultural performances are not just mirrors, according to Turner, but active agents of change. As reflexive, cultural performances provide moments to enact, comment on, critique, and evaluate the norms and values of a culture. Turner describes performance reflexivity (1988, 24): “a sociocultural group turns, bends, reflects back on itself, upon the relations, actions, symbols, meanings, codes, roles, statuses, social structures, ethical and legal rules, and other components that make up their public selves.”

Kwanzaa celebrations, for example, resist the commodification of the Christmas season, celebrate Afrocentric roots and traditions, and offer alternative ways to engage in family and community. John MacAloon (1986, 372) describes cultural performances in ways particularly applicable to Kwanzaa celebrations as “occasions in which as a culture or society we reflect upon and define ourselves, dramatize our collective myths and history, present ourselves with alternatives, and eventually change in some ways while remaining the same in others.”

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Carrying, Subverting, and Attaining Messages

Make a list of cultural performances you’ve participated in. Then list as many of the “messages” you can think of communicated in and through the perfor- mance. (For example, The Super Bowl privileges huge men and their physical strength and endurance.)

Now argue that that same performance communicates the opposite of each item on your list. (For example, The Super Bowl privileges team owners, their money, and business acumen.)

How do these performances create such flexible and nuanced messages in and through their sensory codes (the sights, sounds, smells, taste, and touch)?

Roadside Shrines as Cultural Performances

Rebecca Kennerly (2002) studied roadside shrines erected by individuals to mark the death of a loved one, usually in a vehicle crash. Kennerly describes, analyzes, and writes evocatively and poetically of her encounters with over two hundred shrines across thirty states. These roadside crosses, decorated with flowers, mementos, and notes, are familiar sights to most Americans. Kennerly maintains these shrines are “performance vortices,” bringing together cultural perfor- mance, ritual performance, and resistant practices.

For mourners who erect them, the shrines mark not only the death of a loved one but the last place this loved one was alive. The shrines also fall out- side traditional ways to mourn and sanctioned places to grieve at funeral homes, houses of worship, and cemeteries. Builders of shrines also create them to stand as warnings to others. One mother said she built the shrine to her daughter “to catch the eyes of every passer-by [so they know] someone died there, so they think, slow down, maybe buckle up—maybe even decide not to drink and drive” (248).

For communities, these roadside shrines are contested spaces: people argue they are unsightly, appropriate community property, utilize a religious symbol on state-owned land, and, depending on state statutes, are unlawful. Still, roadside maintenance crews often mow around them, unwilling to disturb their sanctity. If they are removed by law, shrines are often replaced with stronger, studier, more permanent structures. In still other states, judges utilize the building and maintenance of roadside shrines as part of the punishment of a convicted driver responsible for the crash.

Kennerly writes, “Roadside shrines call attention to themselves, insisting on a performative engagement with them from those who mourn, those who are dead, those of us who pass by, and those who would have them removed” (252). Her conclusion, rendered in poetic form that mirrors the erect cross of many of these roadside shrines, captures the many tensions in these cultural performances:



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Conclusion: Resisting Arrest between literacy

and orality,

between secular space and sacred space,

between human nature and cultural determinations

of the natural, between authentic expression

and performance,

between grief and

memory, between

life and death, and between research, writing, the page, and the stage

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SOURCE: Sketch by Rebecca Kennerly. Copyright © 2005. Courtesy of Rebecca Kennerly.

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Performing History

Performances associated with museums, tours, tourism, and historical recreations are particularly enlightening for analysis of the reflexivity available in cultural perfor- mances. In antebellum Southern mansion tours (M. Bowman 1998), living museums such as Colonial Williamsburg and Plymouth Plantation (Snow 1993), a Polynesian cultural center (Balme 1998), the LSU Rural Life Museum (R. Bowman 2006), staged slave auctions (McConachie 1998; Thompson 1996), and souvenirs purchased at tourist sites (Love and Kohn 2001), performances construct history, people, events, places, and cultural memories. They often rely on theatrical strategies of conflict, antagonists and protagonists, and dramatic build. Cajun swamp tours, in Eric Wiley’s (2002) analysis, cast the tour guide as hero against the enemy alligator. The scripted and improvised speeches of tour guides are also opportunities to explore how a com- munity languages itself in and through performance (Fine and Speer 1985).

While many of these performances are invested in historical accuracy and mimesis, they are always creations—poiesis—that

are not neutral. They are not slice of life lifted from the everyday world and inserted into the museum gallery, though this is the rhetoric of the mimetic mode. On the contrary, those who construct the display also constitute the subject, even when they seem to do nothing more than relocate an entire house and its contents, brick by brick, board by board, chair by chair. (Kirschenblatt-Gimblett 1991, 389)

These performances make culture and public memory. Phaedra Pezzullo (2003) analyzes “toxic tours” in the petrochemical belt of

Louisiana along the Mississippi River where more than 125 companies manufac- ture fertilizers, gasoline, paint, and plastics, creating what residents call “a toxic gumbo.” Residents offer tours of polluted sites, lacing their speeches with stories of cancer rates, physical ailments suffered by their neighbors, and environmental damage to the community. Such tours not only mirror the reality of ecological damage but seek to raise consciousness and mobilize action. Pezzullo’s analysis relies on Victor Turner’s claim that cultural performances function reflexively, as “active agencies of change, representing the eye by which culture sees itself and the drawing board on which creative actors sketch out what they believe to be more apt or interesting ‘designs for living’” (Turner 1988, 24).

Performing history, public memory, and political critique are potent forms of Homo performans, performing humans. As reflective and reflexive, the possibilities of process, play, poetics, and power are evidenced in cultural performances.

Performing Others

Dwight Conquergood (1985) writes of the moral imperatives that saturate any study of cultures outside of one’s own. For three and a half years, Conquergood conducted fieldwork among the Hmong and Lao refugees in Chicago. He created


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and presented performances from this fieldwork before a variety of audiences: social service agencies, educators, religious groups, and civic groups. Conquergood readily admits he was an advocate for the groups he studied.

While many of these audience members came to see the Hmong differently through Conquergood’s performances of their stories, still others accused him of a number of offenses: (1) “collaborating in the work of the devil” by presenting a rad- ically different, non Judeo-Christian religious tradition, affirming Hmong religious beliefs and stories; (2) “retarding the refugees’ assimilation into mainstream America” by honoring their ancient traditions; (3) presenting the Hmong as “stu- pid and backward” by preserving the grammar and pronunciation of his collected texts. Conquergood also faced his own concerns about “white guilt”: “What right do you, a middle-class white man, have to perform these narratives?” (4).

From these experiences, Conquergood argues that performing ethnographic materials is fraught with “complex ethical tensions, tacit political commitments, and moral ambiguities” (4). He outlines four performative stances, or ethical pitfalls, in studying and performing the “other” (see Figure 5.1).

Moral Mapping and Dialogic Performance

The poles of the box in Figure 5.1 represent the tensions among “identity” and “dif- ference” and “detachment” and “commitment,” while the center “dialogical performance” balances these poles and reconciles the extremes.

Chapter 5: Performing Culture——141

The Custodian’s Rip-Off

Selfishness plagiarism

The Skeptic’s Cop-Out

Cynicism stony silence

The Curator’s Exhibitionism

Sensationalism tourists’ stare

C o

m m

itm en




The Enthusiast’s Infatuation

Superficiality singles’ bar cruising

D et

ac h

m en


Dialogical Performance

Genuine conversation

Figure 5.1 Moral Mapping of Performative Stances Toward the Other

SOURCE: From “Performing as a Moral Act,” by Dwight C. Conquergood, Literature in Performance (1985), reprinted by permission of Taylor & Francis Ltd., http://www.informaworld.com.

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The Custodian’s Rip-Off is characterized by selfishness and the desire to take, to own, and (sometimes) to sell performances and artifacts of others, often in the guise of “preserving dying cultures” (Conquergood 1985, 5). The Enthusiast’s Infatuation trivializes the other in superficial and often naïve performances, based on little or no fieldwork or contact. Identification with the other is too easily and quickly claimed. The Curator’s Exhibitionism is committed to difference, but dif- ference that is “exotic,” remote, and often shaped to shock audiences. This stance denies the “other” membership in a moral, and often human, community. The Skeptic’s Cop-Out is familiar: “I am neither black nor female: I will not perform The Color Purple” (8). Conquergood maintains that this detachment and difference is cynical, refusing to engage the other under a mask of arrogant imperialism. Only members of dominant groups can claim such cynical, privileged refusal. This silence forecloses dialogue with and knowledge about others.

Conquergood proposes “dialogic performance” as a way through those pitfalls. “This performative stance struggles to bring together different voices, world views, value systems, and beliefs so that they can have a conversation with one another” (9). Conquergood characterizes Dialogical Performance in four ways:

1. As stretched among the poles of identity, difference, detachment, and com- mitment, this stance falls “between competing ideologies,” bringing them together even as it holds them apart.

2. As an examination of identity and difference that leads to questioning and challenging our own a priori assumptions about culture. Such questioning about ourselves is important to any dialogue with others.

3. As dialogue with performance, a two-way conversation with others that resists speaking to and for others.

4. As dialogue in which performance resists conclusions, but instead begins a conversation.

From Dialogue to Responsibilities

Madison (1998, 278) extends Conquergood’s stances and emphasis on dialogue to argue that performances of possibilities are important routes for the “principles of transformation and transgression, dialogue and interrogation, as well as acceptance and imagination to build words that are possible.” She offers three questions that help guide any performance work built on the lives of others:

1. By what definable and material means will the Subjects themselves benefit from the performance?

2. How can the performance contribute to a more enlightened and involved citizenship that will disturb systems and processes that limit freedoms and possibilities?


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3. In what ways will the performers probe questions of identity, representa- tion, and fairness that will enrich their own subjectivity, cultural politics, and art? (278)

E. Patrick Johnson (2002) utilizes Conquergood’s stances and Madison’s con- cept of “possibility” to explore the performances of “an all-white, mostly atheist, Australian gospel choir” for the contradictions among Blackness, appropriation, and authenticity. He explores the problematics of cross-cultural gospel perfor- mance as well as the mutual benefits, phrased as the transformative power available in dialogic performance, for self and other. Michelle A. Holling and Bernadette M. Calafell (2007) analyze stage performances of Richard Montoya and Guillermo Gómez-Peña through Conquergood’s “dialogic performances” and Madison’s “pos- sibilities” for Chicano identities, narratives, and cultural performance.

The body within performance, and particularly ethnographic traditions, tem- pers the danger of speaking for “others” through sensuous engagement, priv- ileging dialogic performance that brings together various voices, worldviews, value systems, and beliefs in conversation that resists conclusions, remaining open to ongoing discussion between ethnographers and interlocuters. (61)

Randall Hill (1995) explores ritual performances of Native American peoples as resources for rehearsal processes; the dangers, following Conquergood, are “bor- rowing authority” from a ritual shaman by a director and arrogant and sacrilegious attempts at “duplication” of rituals. David Olsen (1992) details the building of a performance around Kai T. Erikson’s 1978 book, Everything in Its Path: Destruction of Community in the Buffalo Creek Flood. The performance demanded a dialogic encounter between the victims of a devastating flood in the Appalachian moun- tains and the economically privileged graduate students at Northwestern University.

Kristin Valentine extends Conquergood’s four pitfalls with a fifth: “some audi- ence members, not understanding the sacredness of the ceremony, perhaps unknowingly, act in inappropriate ways” (2002, 281). She suggests guidelines for “intense spectatorship,” a present-minded audiencing that assumes self-reflection at cultural performances, especially sacred ones, outside one’s worldview. Valentine writes,

Intense spectators do not pretend to understand the ceremony as they think a member of that culture might. Rather, intense spectators try to make sense of what they experience as audience members, basing their comments on exten- sive background research and careful observation of the public parts of the ceremonies. Knowing that ethical codes of conduct are not fixed, intense spec- tators necessarily live with ambiguity. (281)

Performing culture, as performer, audience, critic, insider, and outsider, is an intensely ethical act. Performance scholars have outlined pitfalls and suggested

Chapter 5: Performing Culture——143

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ways through the dilemmas of performing self and other, present and past, individual and community. Guillermo Gómez-Peña (1994, 21) offers an important watchword for performance border crossings that spreads responsibilities: “In order to dia- logue we must learn each other’s language, history, art, literature, and political ideas. We must travel south and east, with frequency and humility; not as cultural tourists, but as civilian ambassadors.”


Positivism was a valuable way to create scien- tific knowledge through direct observation. But we now recognize that nineteenth- century scientists and theorists also wrote racist, sexist, and elitist assumptions on the cultures they studied: “Africa became a place of darkness, one lacking the enlightenment of the West. India has been used to model not the ‘origin of man,’ but the ‘origin of civiliza- tion.’ Both are forms of ‘othering’ for western symbolic operations” (Haraway 1989, 262).

“Others” in cultural study in the nineteenth century were most often treated as inferior, if exotic, animals ruled by biology and emotions—especially when com- pared with the intellectual, rational, Western white men who studied them.

Wurtham’s four approaches to studying culture (subjective, structural, drama- tistic, and institutional) can be risky for studying performance. When looking for attitudes, structures and functions, dramas, or resources, performances can unwit- tingly be turned into second-order phenomena. Catherine Bell (2004, 93) writes that much performance theory assumes an underlying “something,” a latent mean- ing under the performance, “that devalues the action itself, making it a second- stage representation of prior values.” The challenge is to explore performance as performance, much like Huizinga’s attempts to study play as play, and not to approach performance as automatically servicing other cultural goals or processes.

Jon McKenzie critiques theories of cultural performance that valorize liminal- ity and performance’s potential for cultural transformation. He calls this the “lim- inal norm” in performance studies research, “the transgressive or resistant potential that has come to dominate the study of cultural performance” (2001, 30). When we approach performance as a constant challenge to cultural structures, we obscure the many, many ways that cultural performance upholds and strength- ens cultural traditions.


SOURCE: Photograph by Arlene Sadcopen. Copyright © 2005. Courtesy of Arlene Sadcopen.

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Shannon Jackson (2000, 22), following Judith Butler and Joan Scott, notes that “reading” culture, history, and performances as texts can also create “misreadings.” In Jackson’s Professing Performance (2004, 175), she offers evidence of “gendered blindspots” and racist assumptions in the history of performance. Favoring trans- gressive approaches to culture in this history overlooks “the implicit, domestic, every- day, life-producing performances” women and people of color have enacted to survive.

Elizabeth Bell (1995b) critiques Conquergood’s moral stances as scripting the performer as prone to abusive power in the relationship with the other. Instead, Bell argues for an economy of knowledge in and through pleasure of performance. Knowledge of the “other” is impossible, but the pleasure of the “self”—as per- former, creator, and owner—is a gift created in the economy of performance.

The study of culture in and through its performances has come a long way from the goal of the British structural-functionalist school of anthropology. Turner (1981, 139) describes this goal: “to exhibit the laws of structure and process which . . . determine the specific configurations of relationships and institutions detectable by trained observation.” With the groundwork laid by theories of rites of passages, play, ritual, and cultural performance, Turner moved the “study of man” theorized as covering laws to an enlightenment theory of culture as performed. The study of culture as performed has moved from theories of positivism to critical theories that explore voices and viewpoints as embodiments of power. Performances are consti- tutive of culture, not something added to culture after the fact; performances are epistemic, in that we learn and know our worlds through our performances; and performances are critical lenses for looking at and pushing back on culture.

The “performance turn” generated a new lens for studying culture as process, play, poetics, and power, especially in performances that generate liminality and communitas. Cultural performances are always reflective and reflexive, offering opportunities to confirm and transform values, structures, dramas, and institu- tions. Whether performing, watching, critiquing, or studying performances of others, the commitments are always ethical and political. Indeed, Mary Frances HopKins (1995) extends the “performative turn” metaphor to argue for the “per- formance turn and toss,” to suggest that a certain amount of squirming, of discom- fort, of ambiguity is both necessary and inevitable in any study of performances that constitute culture.

Chapter 5: Performing Culture——145

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The Other History of Intercultural Performance Author(s): Coco Fusco Source: TDR (1988-), Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1994), pp. 143-167 Published by: The MIT Press Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/1146361 Accessed: 29-05-2020 19:56 UTC

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The Other History of Intercultural Performance

Coco Fusco

In the early I9oos, Franz Kafka wrote a story that began, “Honored members of the Academy! You have done me the honor of inviting me to give your Academy an account of the life I formerly led as an ape” (1979:245). Entitled “A Report to an Academy,” it was presented as the testimony of a man from the Gold Coast of Africa who had lived for sev- eral years on display in Germany as a primate. That account was fictitious and created by a European writer who stressed the irony of having to dem- onstrate one’s humanity; yet it is one of many literary allusions to the real history of ethnographic exhibition of human beings that has taken place in the West over the past five centuries. While the experiences of many of those who were exhibited is the stuff of legend, it is the accounts by ob- servers and impresarios that comprise the historical and literary record of this practice in the West. My collaborator Guillermo G6mez-Pefia and I were intrigued by this legacy of performing the identity of an Other for a white audience, sensing its implications for us as performance artists dealing with cultural identity in the present. Had things changed, we wondered? How would we know, if not by unleashing those ghosts from a history that could be said to be ours? Imagine that I stand before you then, as did Kafka’s character, to speak about an experience that falls somewhere be- tween truth and fiction. What follows are my reflections on performing the role of a noble savage behind the bars of a golden cage.

Our original intent was to create a satirical commentary on Western concepts of the exotic, primitive Other; yet, we have had to confront two unexpected realities in the course of developing this piece: I) a substantial portion of the public believed that our fictional identities are real ones; and 2) a substantial number of intellectuals, artists, and cultural bureaucrats have

sought to deflect attention from the substance of our experiment to the “moral implications” of our dissimulation, or in their words, our “misin- forming the public” about who we are. The literalism implicit in the inter- pretation of our work by individuals representing the “public interest” bespeaks their investment in positivist notions of “truth” and depoliticized, ahistorical notions of “civilization.” This “reverse ethnography” of our in- teractions with the public will, I hope, suggest the culturally specific nature of their tendency toward the literal and moral interpretation.

The Drama Review 38, I (TI4I), Spring 1994. Copyright ? 1994 New York University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


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144 Coco Fusco

i. Two Undiscovered

Amerindians visit Irvine,

California. Guillermo G6mez-Pena and Coco

Fusco perform at the Art Department of the Univer-

sity of California, Irvine in February 1992. The local health officials were mostly concerned with excrement

disposal, afear redolent of Orange County’s right- wing extremists’ character-

ization of Mexican immigrants as “environ- mental hazards.” (Photo by Catherine Opie)

When we began to work on this performance as part of a counter- quincentenary project, the Bush administration had drawn clear parallels between the “discovery” of the New World and his New World Order. We noted the resemblance between official quincentenary celebrations in 1992 and the ways that the 1892 Columbian commemorations had served as a justification for the U.S.’s then new status as an imperial power. And yet, while we anticipated that the official quincentenary celebration was go- ing to form an imposing backdrop, what soon became apparent was that for both Spain and the United States, the celebration was a disastrous eco- nomic venture, and even an embarrassment. The Seville Expo went bank- rupt; the U.S. Quincentenary Commission was investigated for corruption; the replica caravels were met with so many protestors that the tour was cancelled; the Pope changed his plans and didn’t hold mass in the Domini- can Republic until after October I2th; American Indian Movement activist Russell Means succeeded in getting Italian-Americans in Denver to cancel their Columbus Day parade; and the film super-productions celebrating Columbus-from 1492: The Discovery to The Conquest of Paradise-were box office failures. Columbus, the figure who began as a symbol of Eurocentrism and the American entrepreneurial spirit, ended up being de- valued by excessive reproduction and bad acting.

As the official celebrations faded, it became increasingly apparent that Columbus was a smokescreen, a malleable icon to be trotted out by the mainstream for its attacks on “political correctness.” Finding historical justi- fication for Columbus’s “discovery” became just another way of affirming

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Intercultural Performance 145

Europeans’ and Euro-Americans’ “natural right” to be global cultural con- sumers. The more equitable models of exchange proposed by many multiculturalists logically demanded a more profound understanding of American cultural hybridity, and called for redefinitions of national identity and national origins. But the concept of cultural diversity fundamental to this understanding strikes at the heart of the sense of control over Other- ness that Columbus symbolized, and was quickly cast as unAmerican. Res- urrecting the collective memory of colonial violence in America that has been strategically erased from the dominant culture was described consis- tently throughout 1992 by cultural conservatives as a recipe for chaos. More recently, as is characterized by the film Falling Down, it is seen as a direct threat to heterosexual white male self-esteem. It is no wonder that

contemporary conservatives invariably find the focus by artists of color on racism “shocking” and inappropriate, if not threatening to national inter- ests, as well as to art itself.

Out of this context arose our decision to take a symbolic vow of silence with the cage performance, a radical departure from Guillermo’s previous monolog work and my activities as a writer and public speaker. We sought a strategically effective way to examine the limits of the “happy multi- culturalism” that currently reigns in cultural institutions, as well as to re- spond to the formalists and cultural relativists who reject the proposition that racial difference is absolutely fundamental to aesthetic interpretation. We looked to Latin America, where consciousness of the repressive limits on public expression is far more acute than here, and found many ex- amples of how popular opposition has for centuries been expressed through the use of satiric spectacle. Our cage became the metaphor for our condition, linking the racism implicit in ethnographic paradigms of discov- ery with the exoticizing rhetoric of “world beat” multiculturalism. Then came a perfect opportunity: In 1991, Guillermo and I were invited to per- form as part of the Edge ’92 Biennial, which was to take place in London and also in Madrid as part of the quincentennial celebration of Madrid as the capital of European culture. We took advantage of Edge’s interest in locating art in public spaces to create a site-specific performance for Co- lumbus Plaza in Madrid, in commemoration of the so-called Discovery.

Our plan was to live in a golden cage for three days, presenting our- selves as undiscovered Amerindians from an island in the Gulf of Mexico that had somehow been overlooked by Europeans for five centuries. We called our homeland Guatinau, and ourselves Guatinauis. We performed our “traditional tasks,” which ranged from sewing voodoo dolls and lifting weights to watching television and working on a laptop computer. A dona- tion box in front of the cage indicated that for a small fee, I would dance (to rap music), Guillermo would tell authentic Amerindian stories (in a nonsensical language) and we would pose for polaroids with visitors. Two “zoo guards” would be on hand to speak to visitors (since we could not understand them), take us to the bathroom on leashes, and feed us sand- wiches and fruit. At the Whitney Museum in New York, we added sex to our spectacle, offering a peek at authentic Guatinaui male genitals for $5. A chronology with highlights from the history of exhibiting non-Western peoples was on one didactic panel, and a simulated Encyclopedia Britannica entry with a fake map of the Gulf of Mexico showing our is- land was on another. After our three days in May 1992, we took our per- formance to Covent Garden in London. In September, we presented it in Minneapolis, and in October, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. In December, we were on display in the Australian Mu- seum of Natural History in Sydney and in January 1993, at the Field Mu-

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146 Coco Fusco

Intercultural Performance

Performance Art in the West did not begin with Dadaist “events.” Since the early days of the Conquest, “aboriginal samples” of people from Africa, Asia, and the Americas were brought to Europe for aesthetic contemplation, scientific analysis, and entertainment. Those people from other parts of the world were forced first to take the place that Europeans had already created for the savages of their own Medieval mythology; later with the emergence of scientific rational- ism, the “aborigines” on display served as proof of the natural superiority of European civiliza- tion, of its ability to exert control over and extract knowledge from the “primitive” world, and ultimately of the genetic inferiority of non-European races. Over the last 500 years, Australian Aborigines, Tahitians, Aztecs, Iroquois, Cherokee, Ojibways, Iowas, Mohawks, Botocudos, Guianese, Hottentots, Kaffirs, Nubians, Somalians, Singhalese, Patagonians, Terra del Fuegans, Kahucks, Anapondans, Zulus, Bushman, Japanese, East Indians, and Laplanders have been exhib- ited in the taverns, theatres, gardens, museums, zoos, circuses, and world’s fairs of Europe, and the freak shows of the United States. Some examples are:

1493: An Arawak brought back from the Caribbean by Columbus is left on display in the Span- ish Court for two years until he dies of sadness.

150I: “Eskimos” are exhibited in Bristol, England.

I55os: Native Americans are brought to France to build a Brazilian village in Rouen. The King of France orders his soldiers to burn the village as a performance. He likes the spectacle so much that he orders it restaged the next day.

1562: Michel de Montaigne is inspired to write his essay The Cannibals after seeing Native Americans brought to France as a gift to the king.

1613: In writing The Tempest Shakespeare models his character Caliban on an “Indian” he has seen in an exhibition in London.

1617: Pocahontas, the Indian wife of John Rolfe, arrives in London to advertise Virginia to- bacco. She dies of an English disease shortly thereafter.

1676: Wampanoag Chief Metacom is executed for fomenting Indigenous rebellion against the Puritans, and his head is publicly displayed for 25 years in Massachusetts.

1788: Arabanoo of the Cammeraigal people of North Sydney, Australia, is captured by Governor Phillip. At first Arabanoo was chained and guarded by a convict; later he was shown off to Syd- ney society. He died a year later from smallpox.

1792: Bennelong and Yammerawannie of the Cadigal people of South Sydney travel to England with Governor Phillip where they are treated as curiosities. Yammerswannie dies of pneumonia.

1802: Pemulwuy. Aboriginal resistance fighter from the Bidgegal people, is shot by white settlers in Australia. His head is cut off and preserved and sent to England to be displayed at the Lon- don Museum.

180-I8815: “The Hottentot Venus” (Saartje Benjamin) is exhibited throughout Europe. After her death, her genitals are dissected by French scientists and remain preserved in Paris’s Museum of Man to this day.

I822: “Laplander” family is displayed with live reindeer in The Egyptian Hall in London.

1823: Impresario William Bullock stages a Mexican “peasant” diorama in which a Mexican In- dian youth is presented as ethnographic specimen and museum docent.

1829: A “Hottentot” woman exhibited nude is the highlight of a ball given by the Duchess du Barry in Paris.

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Intercultural Performance 147

1834: After General Rivera’s cavalry completed the genocide of all the Indians in Uruguay, four surviving Charrias are donated to the Natural Sciences Academy in Paris and are dis- played to the French public as specimens of a vanished race. Three die within two months, and one escapes and disappears, never to heard from again.

1844: George Catlin displays “Red Indians” in England.

1847: Four “Bushmen” on exhibit at The Egyptian Hall in London are written about by Charles Dickens.

1853: Thirteen Kaffirs are displayed in the St. George Gallery in Hyde Park, London.

1853: “Pygmies” dressed in European garb are displayed playing the piano in a British draw- ing room as proof of their potential for “civilization.”

1853-1901: Maximo and Bartola, two microcephalic San Salvadorans tour Europe and the Americas, and eventually join Barum and Bailey’s Circus. They are billed as “the last Aztec survivors of a mysterious jungle city called Ixinaya.”

1878: The skeleton of Truganini, a Tasmanian Aboriginal, is acquired by the Royal Society of Tasmania. Her remains are displayed in Melboure in 1888 and I904 and then returned to the Hobart’s musuem where they are displayed from I904 until the mid-g960s.

1879: P.T. Barnum offers Queen Victoria $Ioo,ooo for permission to exhibit captured war- rior Zulu Chief Cetewayo, and is refused.

1882: W.C. Coup’s circus announces the acquisition of “a troupe of genuine male and fe- male Zulus.”

I893: The skeleton of Neddy Larkin, an Aboriginal from New South Wales, is sold to the Harvard University Peabody Museum together with a collection of stuffed animals, stones, tool, and artifacts.

1898: At the Trans-Mississippi International Exposition in Omaha, Nebraska, a mock Indian battle is staged, and President William McKinley watches.

19o5: The sole surviving member of the Yahi tribe of California, Ishi, is captured and dis- played for the last five years of his live at the Museum of the University of California. Pre- sented as a symbol of the U.S.’s defeat of Indian nations, Ishi is labeled the last Stone Age Indian in America.

1906: Ota Benga, the first “pygmy” to visit America after the slave trade, is put on display in the primate cage the Bronx Zoo. A group of black ministers protest the zoo’s display, but lo- cal press argue that Ota Benga was probably enjoying himself.

1911: The Kickapoo Indian Medicine Company is sold for $250,000, after 30 years of perfor- mances in the U.S. 50o shows include one or more Kickapoo Indians as proof that the medi- cines being hawked were derived from genuine Indian medicine.

193I: The Ringling Circus features I5 Ubangis, including “the nine largest-lipped women in the Congo.”

1992: A black woman midget is exhibited at the Minnesota State Fair, billed as “Tiny Teesha, the Island Princess.”

In most cases, the human beings that were exhibited did not choose to be on display. More benign versions continue to take place these days in festivals and amusement parks with the partial consent of those on exhibit. The contemporary tourist industries and cultural minis- tries of several countries around the world still perpetrate the illusion of authenticity to cater to the Western fascination with otherness. So do many artists.

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I48 Coco Fusco

seum of Chicago. In early March, we were at the Whitney for the opening of the biennial, the only site where we were recognizably contextualized as an artwork. Prior to our trip to Madrid, we did a test run under relatively controlled conditions in the Art Gallery of U.C.-Irvine.

Our project concentrated on the “zero degree” of intercultural relations in an attempt to define a point of origin for the debates that link “discov- ery” and “Otherness.” We worked within disciplines that blur distinctions between the art object and the body (performance), between fantasy and re- ality (live spectacle), and between history and dramatic reenactment (the di- orama). The performance was interactive, focussing less on what we did than how people interacted with us and interpreted our actions. Entitled Two Undiscovered Amerindians Visit…, we chose not to announce the event through prior publicity or any other means, when it was possible to exert such control; we intended to create a surprise or “uncanny” encounter, one in which audiences had to undergo their own process of reflection as to what they were seeing, aided only by written information and parodically didactic zoo guards. In such encounters with the unexpected, people’s de- fense mechanisms are less likely to operate with their normal efficiency; caught off guard, their beliefs are more likely to rise to the surface.

Our performance was based on the once popular European and North American practice of exhibiting indigenous people from Africa, Asia, and the Americas in zoos, parks, taverns, museums, freak shows, and circuses. While this tradition reached the height of its popularity in the Igth cen- tury, it was actually begun by Christopher Columbus, who returned from his first voyage in 1493 with several Arawaks, one of whom was left on display at the Spanish Court for two years. Designed to provide opportuni- ties for aesthetic contemplation, scientific analysis, and entertainment for Europeans and North Americans, these exhibits were a critical component of a burgeoning mass culture whose development coincided with the growth of urban centers and populations, European colonialism, and American expansionism.

In writing about these human exhibitions in America’s international fairs from the late-Igth and early 20th century, Robert W. Rydell (author of All the World’s a Fair: Visions of Empire at American International Exhibitions, i876-i916 [I984]) explains how the “ethnological” displays of nonwhites- which were orchestrated by impresarios but endorsed by anthropologists- confirmed popular racial stereotypes and built support for domestic and foreign policies. In some cases, they literally connected museum practices with affairs of state. Many of the people exhibited during the Igth century were presented as the chiefs of conquered tribes and/or the last survivors of “vanishing” races. Ishi, the Yahi Indian who spent five years living in the Museum of the University of California at the turn of the century, is a well-known example. Another lesser known example comes from the U.S.-Mexico War of 1836, when Anglo-Texan secessionists used to ex- hibit their Mexican prisoners in public plazas in cages, leaving them there to starve to death. The exhibits also gave credence to white supremacist worldviews by representing nonwhite peoples and cultures as being in need of discipline, civilization, and industry. Not only did these exhibits re- inforce stereotypes of “the primitive” but they served to enforce a sense of racial unity as whites among Europeans and North Americans, who were divided strictly by class and religion until this century. Hence, for example, at the Columbian Exhibition of I893 in Chicago, ethnographic displays of peoples from Africa and Asia were set up outside “The White City,” an enclosed area celebrating science and industry.

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Intercultural Performance 149

Emerging at a time when mass audiences in Europe and America were barely literate and hardly cognizant of the rest of the world, the displays were an important form of public “education.” These shows were where most whites “discovered” the non-Western sector of humanity. I like to call them the origins of intercultural performance in the West. The displays were living expressions of colonial fantasies and helped to forge a special place in the European and Euro-American imagination for nonwhite peoples and their cultures. Their function, however, went beyond war tro- phies, beyond providing entertainment for the masses and pseudo-scientific data for early anthropologists. The ethnographic exhibitions of people of color were among the many sources drawn on by European and American modernists seeking to break with realism by imitating the “primitive.” The connection between West African sculpture and Cubism has been dis- cussed widely by scholars, but it is the construction of ethnic Otherness as essentially performative and located in the body that I here seek to stress.

The interest that moderists and postmodernists have had in non-West- ern cultures was preceded by a host of references to “exotics” made by Eu- ropean writers and philosophers over the past five centuries. The ethnographic shows and the people brought to Europe to be part of them have been alluded to by such writers as William Shakespeare, Michel Montaigne, and William Wordsworth. In the I8th century, these shows, together with theatre and popular ballads, served as popular illustrations of the concept of the Noble Savage so central to Enlightenment philosophy. Not all the references were positive; in fact, the Igth-century humanist Charles Dickens found that the noble savage as an idea hardly sufficed to make an encounter with Bushmen in Egyptian Hall in 1847 a pleasurable or worthwhile experience:

Think of the Bushmen. Think of the two men and the two women

who have been exhibited about England for some years. Are the ma- jority of persons-who remember the horrid little leader of that party in his festering bundle of hides, with his filth and his antipathy to water, and his straddled legs, and his odious eyes shaded by his brutal hand, and his cry of “Qu-u-u-u-aaa” (Bosjeman for something desper- ately insulting I have no doubt)-conscious of an affectionate yearning towards the noble savage, or is it idiosyncratic in me to abhor, detest, abominate, and abjure him? […] I have never seen that group sleeping, smoking, and expectorating round their brazier, but I have sincerely desired that something might happen to the charcoal smoldering therein, which would cause the immediate suffocation of the whole of noble strangers. (Altwick 1978:28I)

Dickens’ aversion does not prevent him from noting, however, that the Bushmen possess one redeeming quality: their ability to break spontane- ously into dramatic reenactments of their “wild” habits. By the early 20th century, the flipside of such revulsion-in the form of fetishistic fascination with exotic artifacts and the “primitive” creativity that generated them-had become common among the members of the European avantgarde. The Dadaists, often thought of as the originators of performance art, included several imitative gestures in their events, ranging from dressing up and dancing as “Africans,” to making “primitive-looking” masks and sketches. Tristan Tzara’s dictum that “Thought is made in the mouth,” a perfor- mative analog to Cubism, refers directly to the Dadaist belief that Western art tradition could be subverted through the appropriation of the perceived

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150 Coco Fusco

orality and performative nature of the “non-Western.” In a grand gesture of appropriation, Tzara anthologized African and Southern Pacific poetry culled from ethnographies into his book, Poemes Negres, and chanted them at the infamous Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich in 1917. Shortly afterward, Tzara wrote a hypothetical description of the “primitive” artist at work in Note on Negro Art, imputing near shamanistic powers on the Other’s cre- ative process:

My other brother is naive and good, and laughs. He eats in Africa or along the South Sea Islands. He concentrates his vision on the head, carves it out of wood that is hard as iron, patiently, without bothering about the conventional relationship between the head and the rest of the body. What he thinks is: man walks vertically, everything in na- ture is symmetrical. While working, new relationships organize them- selves according to degree of necessity; this is how the expression of purity came into being. From blackness, let us extract light…Transform my country into a prayer of joy or anguish. Cotton wool eye, flow into my blood. Art in the infancy of time, was prayer. Wood and stone were truth…Mouths contain the power of darkness, invisible substance, goodness, fear, wisdom, creation, fire. No one has seen so clearly as I this dark grinding whiteness. (1992:57-58)

Tzara is quick to point out here that only he, as a Dadaist, can compre- hend the significance of the “innocent” gesture of his “naive and good” brother. In The Predicament of Culture (1988), James Clifford explains how modernists and ethnographers of the early 20th century projected coded perceptions of the black body-as imbued with vitalism, rhythm, magic, and erotic power, another formation of the “good” versus the irrational or bad savage. Clifford questions the conventional mode of comparison in terms of affinity, noting that this term suggests a “natural” rather than po- litical or ideological relationship. In the case of Tzara, his perception of the “primitive” artist as part of his metaphorical family conveniently recasts his own colonial relation to his imaginary “primitive” as one of kinship. In this context, the threatening reminder of difference is that original body, or the physical and visual presence of the cultural Other, must therefore be fetishized, silenced, subjugated, or otherwise controlled to be “appreci- ated.” The significance of that violent erasure is diminished-it is the “true” avantgarde artist who becomes a better version of the “primitive,” a hybrid or a cultural transvestite. Mass culture caged it, so to speak-while artists swallowed it.

This practice of appropriating and fetishizing the primitive and simulta- neously erasing the original source continues into contemporary “avantgarde” performance art. In his 1977 essay “New Models, New Vi- sions: Some Notes Toward a Poetics of Performance,” Jerome Rothenberg envisioned this phenomenon in a entirely celebratory manner, noting cor- relations between Happenings and rituals, meditative works and mantric models, Earthworks and Native American sculptures, dreamworks and no- tions of trance and ecstasy, bodyworks and self-mutilation, and perfor- mance based on several other variations of the shamanistic premise attributed to non-Western cultures. Rothenberg claims that unlike imperialism’s models of domination and subordination, avantgarde perfor- mance succeeded in shifting relations to a “symposium of the whole,” an image strikingly similar to that of world-beat multiculturalism of the I980s.

Referring to Gary Snyder’s story of Alfred Kroeber and his (unnamed)

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Intercultural Performance 151

Mojave informant in 1902, Rothenberg notes Snyder’s conclusion that “The old man sitting in the sand house telling his story is who we must become-not A.L. Kroeber, as fine as he was” (I977:I5). Rothenberg goes on to claim that artists are to critics what aborigines are to anthropologists, and therefore suffer from the same misrepresentation. “The antagonism of literature to criticism” he writes, “is, for the poet and artist, no different from that to anthropology, say, on the part of the Native American mili- tant. It is a question in short of the right to self-definition” (I977:15).

Redefining these “affinities” with the primitive, the traditional, and the exotic has become an increasingly delicate issue as more artists of color en- ter the sphere of the “avantgarde.” What may be “liberating” and “trans- gressive” identification for Europeans and Euro-Americans is already a symbol of entrapment within an imposed stereotype for Others. The “affin- ity” championed by the early modems and postmoder cultural transves- tites alike is mediated by an imagined stereotype, along the lines of Tzara’s “brother.” Actual encounters could threaten the position and supremacy of the appropriator unless boundaries and concomitant power relations remain in place. As a result, the same intellectual milieus that now boast Neo- primitive body piercers, “nomad” thinkers, Anglo comadres, and New Age earth worshippers continue to evince a literal-minded attitude toward artists of color, demonstrating how racial difference is a determinant in one’s rela- tion to notions of the “primitive.” In the 1987 trial of minimalist sculptor Carl Andre-accused of murdering his wife, the Cuban artist Ana Mendieta-the defense continuously suggested that her Earthworks were in- dicative of suicidal impulses prompted by her “satanical” beliefs; the refer- ences to Santeria in her work could not be interpreted as self-conscious. When Cuban artist Jos6 Bedia was visited by the French curators of the

2. Two Undiscovered Amerindians visit Covent

Garden, London in May 1992. Audience members,

after initial shyness,

wouldfeed G6mez-Pena and Fuscofrom outside the cage. (Photo by Peter Barker)

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I52 Coco Fusco

Les Magiciens de la Terre exhibition in the late ‘8os, he was asked to show his private altar to “prove” that he was a true Santeria believer. A critically acclaimed young African-American poet was surprised to learn last year that he had been promoted by a Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe impresario as a former L.A. gang member, which he never was. And while performing Border Brujo in the late I98os, G6mez-Pefia encountered numerous presenters and audience members who were disappointed that he was not a “real shaman” and that his “tongues” were not Nahuatl but a fictitious language.

Our cage performances forced these contradictions out into the open. The cage became a blank screen onto which audiences projected their fan- tasies of who and what we are. As we assumed the stereotypical role of the domesticated savage, many audience members felt entitled to assume the role of the colonizer, only to then find themselves uncomfortable with the implications of the game. Unpleasant but important associations have emerged between the displays of old and the multicultural festivals and eth- nographic dioramas of the present. The central position of the white spec- tator, the objective of these events as a confirmation of their position as global consumers of exotic cultures, and the stress on authenticity as an aes- thetic value, all remain fundamental to the spectacle of Otheress many con- tinue to enjoy.

The original ethnographic exhibitions often presented people in a simu- lation of their “natural” habitat, rendered either as an indoor diorama, or as an outdoor re-creation. Eyewitness accounts frequently note that the hu- man beings on display were forced to dress in the European notion of their traditional “primitive” garb, and to perform repetitive, seemingly ritual tasks. At times, nonwhites were displayed together with flora and fauna from their regions, and artifacts, which were often fakes. They were also displayed as part of a continuum of “outsiders” that included “freaks,” or people exhibiting physical deformities. In the Igth and early 20th centu- ries, many of them were presented so as to confirm Social Darwinist ideas of the existence of a racial hierarchy. Some of the more infamous cases in- volved individuals whose physical traits were singled out as evidence of the bestiality of nonwhite people. For example, shortly after the annexation of Mexico and the publication of John Stephens’ account of travel in the Yucatan, which generated popular interest in pre-Columbian cultures, two microcephalics (or pinheads) from Central America, Maximo and Bartola, toured the U.S. in P.T. Barum’s circus; they were presented as Aztecs. This set off a trend that would be followed by many other cases into the 20th century. From I8Io-I815, European audiences crowded to see the Hottentot Venus, a South African woman whose large buttocks were deemed evidence of her excessive sexuality. In the United States, several of the “Africans” exhibited were actually black Americans, who made a living in the Igth century by dressing up as their ancestors, just as many Native Americans did dressing up as Sioux whose likenesses, thanks to the long and bloody Plains Wars of the late Igth century, dominate the American popular imagination.

For G6mez-Pefia and myself, the human exhibitions dramatize the colo- nial unconscious of American society. In order to justify genocide, enslave- ment, and the seizure of lands, a “naturalized” splitting of humanity along racial lines had to be established. When rampant miscegenation proved that those differences were not biologically based, social and legal systems were set up to enforce those hierarchies. Meanwhile, ethnographic spectacles cir- culated and reinforced stereotypes, stressing that “difference” was apparent in the bodies on display. They thus naturalized fetishized representations of Otheress, mitigating anxieties generated by the encounter with difference.

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Intercultural Performance I53

In his essay, “The Other Question” (I990), Homi Bhabha explains how racial classification through stereotyping is a necessary component of colonialist discourse, as it justifies domination and masks the colonizer’s fear of the inability to always already know the Other. Our experiences in the cage have suggested that even though the idea that America is a colo- nial system is met with resistance-since it contradicts the dominant ideology’s presentation of our system as a democracy-the audience reac- tions indicate that colonialist roles have been interalized quite effectively.

The stereotypes about nonwhite people that were continuously rein- forced by the ethnographic displays are still alive in high culture and the mass media. Imbedded in the unconscious, these images form the basis of the fears, desires, and fantasies about the cultural Other. In “The Negro and Psychopathology” (1967), Frantz Fanon discusses a critical stage in the development of children socialized in Western culture, regardless of their race, in which racist stereotypes of the savage and the primitive are assimi- lated through the consumption of popular culture: comics, movies, car- toons, etc. These stereotypical images are often part of myths of colonial dominion (for example, cowboy defeats Indian, conquistador triumphs over Aztec Empire, colonial soldier conquers African chief, and so on). This dynamic also contains a sexual dimension, usually expressed as anxiety about white male (omni)potence. In Prospero and Caliban: The Psychology of Colonization (I990), Octave Mannoni coined the term the “Prospero com- plex,” described as the white colonial patriarch’s continuous fear that his daughter might be raped by a nonwhite male. Several colonial stereotypes also nurture these anxieties, usually representing a white woman whose “purity” is endangered by black men with oversized genitals, or suave Latin lovers, or wild-eyed Indian warriors; and the common practice of publicly lynching black men in the American South is an example of a ritualized white male response to such fears. Accompanying these stereo- types are counterparts that humiliate and debase women of color, mitigat- ing anxieties about sexual rivalry among women. In the past, there was the subservient maid and the overweight and sexless Mammy; nowadays, the hapless victim of a brutish or irrational dark male whose tradition is devoid of “feminist freedoms” is more common.

These stereotypes have been analyzed endlessly in recent decades, but our experiences in the cage suggest that the psychic investment in them does not simply wither away through rationalization. The constant concern about our “realness” revealed a need for reassurance that a “true primitive” did exist, whether we fit the bill or not, and that s/he be visually identifi- able. Anthropologist Roger Bartra sees this desire as being part of a charac- teristically European dependence on an “uncivilized other” in order to define the Western self. In his book The Savage in the Mirror (1992), he traces the evolution of the “savage” from mythological inhabitants of for- ests to “wild” and usually hairy men and women who even in the moder age appeared in freak shows and horror films. These archetypes eventually were incorporated into Christian iconography and were then projected onto peoples of the New World, who were perceived as either heathen savages capable of reform or incorrigible devils who had to be eradicated.

While the structure of the so-called primitive may have been assimilated by the European avantgarde, the function of the ethnographic displays as popular entertainment was largely superseded by industrialized mass cul- ture. Not unsurprisingly, the popularity of these human exhibitions began to decline with the emergence of another commercialized form of voyeur- ism, the cinema, and their didactic role was assumed by ethnographic film. Founding fathers of the ethnographic filmmaking practice, such as Robert

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154 Coco Fusco

Flaherty and John Grierson, continued to compel people to stage their sup- posedly “traditional” rituals, but the tasks were now to be performed for the camera. One of the most famous of the white impresarios of the hu- man exhibits in the United States, William F. “Buffalo Bill” Cody, actually starred in an early film depicting his Wild West show of Native American horsemen and warriors, and in doing so gave birth to the cowboy and In- dian movie genre, this country’s most popular rendition of its own colonial fantasy. The representation of the “reality” of the Other’s life, on which ethnographic documentary was based and still is grounded, is this fictional narrative of Western culture “discovering” the negation of itself in some- thing authentically and radically distinct. Carried over from documentary, these paradigms also became the basis of Hollywood filmmaking in the ‘5os and ‘6os that dealt with other parts of the world in which the U.S. had strategic military and economic interests, especially Latin America and the South Pacific.

The practice of exhibiting humans may have waned in the 20th century, but it has not entirely disappeared. The dissected genitals of the Hottentot Venus are still preserved at the Museum of Man in Paris. Thousands of Native American remains, including decapitated heads, scalps, and other body parts taken as war booty or bounties, remain in storage at the Smithsonian. Shortly before arriving in Spain, we learned of a current scan- dal in a small village outside Barcelona, where a visiting delegation had reg- istered a formal complaint about a desiccated, stuffed Pygmy man that was on display in a local museum. The African gentleman in the delegation who had initiated the complaint was threatening to organize an African boycott of the ’92 Olympics, but the Catalonian townspeople defended what they saw as the right to keep “their own black man.” We also learned that Julia Pastrana, a bearded Mexican woman who was exhibited throughout Europe until her death in 1862, is still available in embalmed form for scientific research and loans to interested museums. This past summer, the case of Ota Benga, a Pygmy who was exhibited in the pri- mate cage of the Bronx Zoo in I906 gained high visibility as plans for a Hollywood movie based on a recently released book were made public. And at the Minnesota State Fair last summer, we saw “Tiny Teesha, the Island Princess,” who was in actuality a black woman midget from Haiti making her living going from one state fair to another.

While the human exhibition exists in more benign forms today-that is, the people in them are not displayed against their will-the desire to look upon predictable forms of Otherness from a safe distance persists. I suspect after my experience in the cage that this desire is powerful enough to al- low audiences to dismiss the possibility of self-conscious irony in the. Other’s self-presentation; and even those who saw our performance as art rather than artifact appeared to take great pleasure in engaging in the fic- tion, by paying money to see us enact completely nonsensical or humiliat- ing tasks. A middle-aged man who attended the Whitney Biennial opening with his elegantly dressed wife insisting on feeding me a banana. The zoo guard told him he would have to pay $Io to do so, which he quickly paid, insisting that he be photographed in the act. After the initial surprise of en- countering caged beings, audiences invariably revealed their familiarity with the scenario to which we alluded.

We did not anticipate that our self-conscious commentary on this prac- tice could be believable. We underestimated public faith in museums as bastions of truth and institutional investment in that role. Furthermore, we did not anticipate that literalism would dominate the interpretation of our work. Consistently from city to city, more than half of our visitors be-

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Intercultural Performance 155

lieved our fiction and thought we were “real,” with the exception of the Whitney, where we experienced the art world equivalent of such misperceptions: some assumed that we were not the artists, but rather ac- tors who had been hired by another artist. As we moved our performance from public site to natural history museum, pressure mounted from institu- tional representatives obliging to didactically correct audience misinterpreta- tion. We found this particularly ironic, since museum staffs are perhaps the most aware of the rampant distortion of reality that can occur in the label- ling of artifacts from other cultures. In other words, we are not the only ones who are lying; our lies simply tell a different story. For making this manifest, we are perceived as either noble savages or evil tricksters, dis- simulators who discredit museums and betray public trust. When a few un- easy staff members in Australia and Chicago realized that large groups of Japanese tourists appeared to believe the fiction, they became deeply dis- turbed, fearing that the tourists would go home with a negative impression of the museum. In Chicago, just next to a review of the cage performance, the daily Sun-Times ran a phone-in questionnaire asking readers if they thought the Field Museum should have exhibited us, to which 47% an- swered no, and 53% yes (1993). We seriously wonder if such weighty moral responsibilities are leveled against white artists who present fictions in nonart contexts.

Lest we attribute the now infamous confusion we have generated among the general public to some defect of class or education, let it also be known that misinterpretation has filtered into the echelons of the cultural elite. Cambio i6, a left-leaning news magazine in Spain ran a newsbrief on us as two “indians behind bars” who had conducted a political protest (1992). Though ironic in tone, the story only referred to us by our first names, almost as if to make us seem like the latest exotic arrival to a local

3. Two Undiscovered Amerindians hold a press conference in Sydney, Australia inJune 1992. In choosing not to speak, except through unintelli-

gible words and dancing, G6mez-Peea and Fusco

confront the assumption in

intercultural performance

of speechless Others.

(Photo courtesy of the

Australian Museum)

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156 Coco Fusco



RU”NNN/ rimE 30 MIN

_? Li L ;;_ Mj.N? , …I …. ? I1 … wa ….. … ??? ? ;- i …. ;__ ? I – I 1 1? I -1- I I.. I ??? ??? I ?? I , I ?I ? -i 1. l( il. I….. I I – – ??

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Intercultural Performance 157

zoo. The trustees of the Whitney Museum questioned curators at a meet- ing prior to the Biennial asking for confirmation of rumors that there would be “naked people screaming obscenities in a cage” at the opening. When we arrived at UC-Irvine last year, we learned that the Environmen- tal Health and Safety Office had understood that G6mez-Peiia and I were anthropologists bringing “real aborigines” whose excrement-if deposited inside the gallery-could be hazardous to the university. This is particularly significant in light of the school’s location in Orange County, where Mexi- can immigrants are often characterized by right-wing “nativists” as environ- mental hazards. Upon request from the art department, the office sent several pages of instructions on the proper disposal of human waste and the over 30 diseases that were transmitted through excrement. Interest- ingly, those institutional representatives who have responded to our perfor- mance with moral indignation also see us as dangerous, but in the more ideological sense of being offensive to the public, bad for children, and dis- honest subverters of the educational responsibilities of their museums.

I should perhaps note here the number of people who have encountered this performance. We do not have exact figures for Columbus Plaza and Covent Garden, which are both heavily trafficked public areas; however, we do know that I,ooo saw us in Irvine; I5,ooo in Minneapolis; approxi- mately 5,000 in both Sydney and Chicago; and I20,000 in Washington, D.C. Audience reactions of those who believe the fiction occasionally in- clude moral outrage that is often expressed paternalistically (i.e., “Don’t you realize,” said one English gentleman to the zoo guards in Covent Gar- den, “that these poor people have no idea what is happening to them?”). The Field Museum in Chicago received 48 phonecalls, most of which were from people who faulted the museum for having printed misinforma- tion about us in their information sheet. In Washington, D.C., an angry visitor phoned the Humane Society to complain and was told that human beings were out of their jurisdiction. However, the majority of those who were upset only remained so for about five minutes. Others have said they felt that our being caged was justified because we were, after all, different. A group of sailors who were interviewed by a Field Museum staff member said that our being in a cage was a good idea since we might otherwise be- come frightened and attack. One older African-American man in Washing- ton asserted quite angrily that it would only have been alright to put us in a cage if we had some physical defect that classified us as freaks.

For all the concern expressed about shocking children, we found that their reactions have been the most humane. Young children invariably have gotten the closest to the cage; they would seek direct contact, offer to shake our hands, and try to catch our eyes and smile. Little girls gave me barrettes for my hair and offered me their own food. Boys and girls often asked their parents excellent questions about us, prompting ethical discus- sions about racism and treatment of indigenous peoples. Not all parents were prepared to provide answers, and some looked very nervous. A woman in London sat her child down and explained how we were just like the people in the displays at the Commonwealth Institute. A school group visiting Madrid told the teacher that we were just like the Arawak Indian figures in the wax museum across the street. And then there have been those children who are simply fascinated by the spectacle; we heard many a child in Sydney, where our cage sat in front of an exhibit featuring giant mechanized insects, yelling, “Mommy, Mommy, I don’t want to see the bugs. I want to stay with the Mexicans!”

The tenor of reactions to seeing “undiscovered Amerindians” in a cage changes from locale to locale; we have noted, for example that in Spain, a

4. The publicityflyerfor Coco Fusco and Paula Heredia’s video “The

Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey,” shown at the New York Film Festival in October

1993. The video was based on Fusco and Guillermo G6mez-Pefia’s

international tour of Two Undiscovered Amerindian

Visit…during the 500- year anniversary of Columbus’s explorations west.

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58 Coco Fusco

5. Two Undiscovered Amerindians visit Colum-

bus Plaza, Madrid, Spain in 1992. Spanish busi- nessmen continually ha- rassed Fusco with sexual

innuendos, while G6mez- Peia had his legs stroked in Irvine, California. (Photo by Peter Barker)

country with no strong tradition of Protestant morality or empirical philosophy, opposition to our work came from conservatives who were concerned with its political implications, and not with the ethics of dis- simulation. Some patterns, nonetheless, have repeated themselves. Audi- ence reactions have been largely divided along the lines of race, class, and nationality. Artists and cultural bureaucrats, the self-proclaimed elite, exhib- ited skeptical reactions that were often the most anxiety-ridden. They sometimes have expressed a desire to rupture the fiction publicly by nam- ing us, or they arrive armed with skepticism as they search for the “believ- ers,” or parody believers in order to join the performance. At the Whitney Biennial the performers of DanceNoise and Charles Atlas, among others, screamed loudly at G6mez-Penia to “free his genitalia” when he unveiled a crotch with his penis hidden between his legs instead of hanging. Several young artists also complained to our sponsors that we were not experimen- tal enough to be considered good performance art. Others at the Whitney and in Australia, where many knew that we were part of the Sydney Biennale dismissed our piece as “not critical.” One woman in Australia sat down with her young daughter in front of the cage and began to apologize very loudly for “having taken our land away.” Trying to determine who really believes the fiction and who doesn’t became less significant for us in the course of this performance than figuring out what the audience’s sense of the rules of the game and their role in it was.

People of color who believe, at least initially, that the performance is real, have at times expressed discomfort because of their identification with our situation. In Washington and London, they have made frequent refer- ences to slavery, and to the mistreatment of Native peoples and blacks as part of their history. Cross-racial identification with us among whites was

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Intercultural Performance 159

less common, but in London a recently released ex-convict who appeared to be very drunk grabbed the bars and proclaimed to us with tears in his eyes that he understood our plight because he was a “British Indian.” He then took off his sweater and insisted that G6mez-Peiia put it on, which he did. In general, white spectators tended to express their chagrin to our zoo guards, usually operating under the assumption that we, the Amerindians, were being used. They often asked the zoo guards if we had consented to being confined, and then continued with a politely delivered stream of questions about our eating, work, and sexual habits.

Listening to these reactions was often difficult for the zoo guards and museum staff people who assisted us. One of our zoo guards in Spain actu- ally broke down and cried at the end of our performance, after receiving a letter from a young man condemning Spain for having colonized indig- enous Americans. One guard in Washington and another in Chicago be- came so troubled by their own cognitive dissonance that they left the performance early. The director of Native American programs for the Smithsonian told us she was forced to reflect on the rather disturbing rev- elation that while she made efforts to provide the most accurate representa- tion of Native cultures she could, our “fake” sparked exactly the same reaction from audiences. Staff meetings to discuss audience reactions have been held at the Smithsonian, the Australian Museum, and the Field Mu- seum. In all the natural history museum sites, our project became a pretext for internal discussions about the extent of self-criticism those museums

could openly be engaged in. In Australia, our project was submitted to an aboriginal curatorial committee for approval. They accepted, with the stipu- lation that there be nothing aboriginal in the cage, and that exhibition cases of aborigines be added to our chronology.

Other audience members who realize that we are artists have chastised us

for the “immoral” act of duping our audiences. This reaction was rather popular among the British, and has also emerged among intellectuals and cul- tural bureaucrats in the U.S. I should here note that there are historical pre- cedents for the moralistic responses to the ethnographic display in Britain and the U.S., but in those cases, the appeal was to the inhumanity of the practice, not to the ethics of fooling audiences, which the phony anthropologists who acted as docents in American Dime Museums often did. A famous court case

took place in the early Igth century to determine whether it was right to ex- hibit the Hottentot Venus, and black ministers in the U.S. in the early 20th century protested Ota Benga’s being exhibited in the Bronx Zoo. Neither protest triumphed over the mass appeal of the spectacle to whites.

The literalism governing American thought complements the liberal be- lief that we can eliminate racism through didactic correctives; it also en- courages resistance to the idea that conscious methods may not necessarily transform unconscious structures of belief. I believe that this situation ex-

plains why moralizing interpreters shift the focus of our work from audi- ence reactions to our ethics. The reviewer sent by the Washington Post, for example, was so furious about our “dishonesty” that she could barely con- tain her anger and had to be taken away by attendants. A MacArthur Foundation representative came to the performance with his wife and they took it upon themselves to “correct” interpretations in front of the cage. In a meeting after the performance, the Foundation representative referred to a “poor Mexican family” who was deeply grateful to his wife for explain- ing the performance to them. After receiving two written complaints and the Washington Post review, the director of public programs for the Smithsonian Natural History Museum gave a talk in Australia severely criti-

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I60 Coco Fusco

6. Two Undiscovered Amerindians visit the

Walker Art Center,

Minneapolis in September I992. American art critics

took Fusco to taskfor not

dancing “authentically.” Overall, American audi- ences tended to be less

playful with Fusco and G6mez-Pena than their

counterparts outside the

U.S. (Photo by Robert Sanchez)

cizing us for misleading the public. We have heard that he has since changed his position. What we have not yet fully understood is why so many of these people failed to see our performance as interactive, and why they seem to have forgotten the tradition of site-specific performance with which our work dovetails, an historical development that preceded perfor- mance art’s theatricalization in the I98os.

On the whole, audience responses have tended to be less pedantic and more outwardly emotional. Some people who were disturbed by the image of the cage feared getting too close, preferring instead to stay at the periph- ery of the audience. Barbara Kruger came to see us at U.C. Irvine and went charging out of the gallery as soon as she read the chronology of the human display. Claus Oldenberg, on the other hand, sat at a distance in Minneapolis, watching our audiences with a wry smile on his face. The curator of the Amerindian collection at the British Museum came to look

at us. As she posed for a photo she conceded to one of our Edge Biennial representatives that she felt very guilty. Her museum had already declined to give us permission to be displayed. Others found less direct ways of ex- pressing such anxiety. A feminist artist from New York questioned us after a public lecture we gave on the performance in Los Angeles last year, sug- gesting that our piece had “failed” if the public misread it. One young white woman filmmaker in Chicago who attended the performances showed up afterward at a class at the University of Illinois and yelled at G6mez-Pefia for being “ungrateful” for all the benefits he had received thanks to multiculturalism. She claimed to have gone to the performance with an African-American man who was “equally disturbed” as she was by it. G6mez-Peia responded that multiculturalism was not a “gift” from whites, but the result of decades of struggle by people of color. Several feminist artists and intellectuals at performances in the U.S. have ap- proached me in the cage to complain that my role is “too passive,” to be- rate me for not speaking and only dancing, as if my activities should support their political agenda.

Whites outside the U.S. have been more ludic in their reactions than

Americans, and they have appeared to be less self-conscious about express- ing their enjoyment of our spectacle. For example, businessmen in London and Madrid had approached the cage to make stereotypical jungle animal sounds. However, not all the reactions have been lighthearted. A group of skinheads attacked G6mez-Pefia in London and were pulled away by audi- ence members. And scores of adolescents in Madrid stayed at the cage for hours each day, taunting us by offering beer cans filled with urine and other such delicacies. Some of those who understood that the cage piece was performance art have made a point of expressing their horror at others’ reactions to us in private, perhaps as a way of disassociating themselves from their racial group. One Spanish businessman waited for me after the performance was over to congratulate me on the performance, introduced me to his son, and then insisted that I had to agree that the Spaniards had been less brutal with the Indians than the English. The overwhelming ma- jority of whites who believed the piece, however, have not complained or expressed surprise at our condition in a manner that is apparent to us or the zoo guards. No American ever asked about the legitimacy of the map (though two Mexicans have to date), or the taxonomic information on the signs, or G6mez-Pefia’s made-up language. An older man at the Whitney told a zoo guard that he remembered our island from National Geographic. My dance, however, has been severely criticized for its inauthenticity. In fact, during the press review at the Whitney, several writers simply walked away just as I began.

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162 Coco Fusco

The reactions among Latin Americans have differed in relation to class. Many upper-class Latin American tourists in Spain and Washington, D.C., voiced disgust that their part of the world should be represented in such a debased manner. Many other Latin Americans and Native Americans im- mediately recognized the symbolic significance of the piece, expressing soli- darity with us, analyzing articles in the cage for other audience members, and showing their approval to us by holding our hands as they posed for photographs. Regardless of whether they have believed or not, Latinos and Native Americans have not criticized the hybridity of the cage environ- ment and our costumes for being “unauthentic.” One Pueblo elder from Arizona who saw us in the Smithsonian went so far as to say that our dis- play was more “real” than any other statement about the condition of Na- tive peoples in the museum. “I see the faces of my grandchildren in that cage,” he told a museum representative. Two Mexicans who came to see us in England left a letter saying that they felt that they were living in a cage every day they spent in Europe. A Salvadoran man in Washington stayed with us for an extended period, pointing to the rubber heart sus- pended from the top of the cage, saying, “That heart is my heart.” On the other hand, white Americans and Europeans have spent hours speculating in front of us about how we could possibly run a computer, own sun- glasses and sneakers, and smoke cigarettes.

In Spain there were many complaints that our skin was not dark enough for us to be “real” primitives. The zoo guards responded by explaining that we live in a rain forest without much exposure to the sun. At the Whitney, a handful of older women also complained that we were too light-skinned, one saying that the piece would only be effective if we were “really dark.” These doubts, however, did not stop many from taking ad- vantage of our apparent inability to understand European languages; many men in Spain made highly charged sexual comments about my body, coax- ing others to add more money to the donation box to see my breasts move as I danced. I was also asked out on dates a few times in London.

Many other people chose a more discrete way of expressing their sexual curiosity, by asking the zoo guards if we mate in public in the cage. G6mez-Pefia found the experience of being objectified continuously more difficult to tolerate than I did. By the end of our first three days in Madrid, we began to realize that not only were people’s assumptions about us based upon gender stereotypes, but that my experiences as a woman had prepared me to shield myself psychologically from the violence of public objectification.

I may have been more prepared, but we both were faced with sexual challenges that transgress our physical and emotional boundaries during the performances. In the cage we are both objectified, or in a sense, feminized, inviting both male and female spectators to take on a voyeuristic relation- ship to us. This might explain why women as well as men acted upon what appear to be the erotic attraction of a caged primitive male. In Sydney, our sponsoring institution, the Australian Museum of Natural His- tory, was approached by a female reporter from a soft-por magazine who wanted to do a photo spread in which she would appear topless, feeding us bananas and watermelon. She was refused by the museum publicist. In- terestingly, women have been consistently more physical in their reactions, while men have been more verbally abusive. In Irvine, a white woman asked for plastic gloves to be able to touch the male specimen, began to stroke his legs, and soon moved toward his crotch. He stepped back, and the woman stopped-but she returned that evening eager to discuss our feelings about her gesture. In Chicago, another woman came up to the

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Intercultural Performance 163

cage, grabbed his head and kissed him. G6mez-Peina’s ex-wife had lawsuit papers delivered to him while we were in the cage at Irvine, and subse- quently appeared in costume with a video camera and proceeded to tape us for over an hour. While men taunted me, talked dirty, asked me out, and even blew kisses, not one attempted physical contact in all our perfor- mances.

As I presented this “reverse ethnography” around the country, people in- variably asked me how I felt inside the cage. I experienced a range of feel- ings from panic to boredom. I felt exhilarated, and even playful at times. I’ve also fallen asleep from the hot sun, and been irritable because of hun- ger or cold. I’ve been ill, and once had to be removed from the cage to avoid vomiting in front of the crowd. The presence of supportive friends was reassuring, but the more aggressive reactions became less and less sur- prising. The night before we began in Madrid, I lay awake in bed, over- come with fear that some demented Phalangist might pull a gun on us and shoot before we could escape. When nothing of that sort happened, I calmed down and never worried about our safety again. I have to admit I like watching people on the other side of the bars. The more we have per- formed, the more I have concentrated on the audience, while trying to feign the complete bewilderment of an outsider. Although I love the inten- tional nontheatricality of this work, I have become increasingly aware of how engaging in certain activities can trigger audience reactions, and acted on that realization to test our spectators. Over the course of the year, I grew fond of the extremists who verbalized their feelings and interacted with us physically, regardless of whether they were hostile or friendly. It seems to me that they have a certain braveness, even courage, that I don’t even know I would have in their place. When we came upon Tiny Teesha in Minnesota, I was dumbstruck at first-not even my own perfor- mance had prepared me for the sadness I saw in her eyes, or my own en- suing sense of shame. One memory in particular has come to the forefront of my mind as we

have traveled with this performance. It involves an encounter I had over a decade ago, when I was finishing college in Rhode Island, where I had studied film theory. I had met an internationally known French ethno- graphic filmmaker in his sixties at a seminar he was giving, and told him I planned to spend time in France after graduation. A year later, I received a phone call from him while I was in Paris. He had found me with the help of a student from my alma mater. He told me he was going to begin pro- duction on a feature, and might be able to offer me a job. After having spent part of the summer as a translator-salesgirl at a department store, I was excited by the prospect of film-related work. We arranged to meet to discuss his project. Even though we were conversing in a language I had not mastered, it

didn’t take long for me to sense that the filmmaker’s interests might be more than professional. I was not exactly prepared to deal with sexual ad- vances from a man who could have been my grandfather. I thought I had protected myself by arranging to meet in a public place, but he soon ex- plained that we had to leave the cafe to meet with the producers for a reading of the script. After I5 minutes in his car, I began to suspect that there was no meeting planned. We eventually arrived at what looked like an abandoned house in a rural area, without another soul in sight. He proudly announced that this was the house he had grown up in and that he wanted to show it to me. I was by this time in a mild state of shock, furiously trying to figure out where I was and how to get away safely. The filmmaker proceeded to go into a shed next to the house and re-

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I64 Coco Fusco

AMERINDIANS: I) A mythical people of the Far East, connected in legendary history with Seneca and Amerigo Vespucci.

Although the term AMERINDIAN suggests that they were the original inhabitants of this continent, the oldest authorities (e.g., Christopher Columbus in his diaries, and more recently, Paul Rivette) regarded them as Asian immigrants, not Americans. Other explana- tions suggested are arborindians, “tree people,” and amberindians, “brown people.” The most that can be said is that amerindians may be the name of an indigenous American stock that the ancients knew no more about than ourselves.

AMERINDIANS: 2) One of the many English terms for the people of Guatinau. In their language, the Guatinaui people’s word for themselves signifies “outrageously beautiful” or “fiercely indepen- dent.” They are a jovial and playful race, with a genuine affection for the debris of Western industrialized popular culture. In former times, however, they committed frequent raids on Spanish ships, disguised

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Intercultural Performance 165

as British pirates, whence comes their familiarity with European cul- ture. Contemporary Guatinauis have only recently begun to travel outside their island.

The male and female specimens here on display are representatives of the dominant tribe from their island, having descended from the Mintomani stock. The male weighs 72 kilos, measure 1.77 meters, and is approximately 37 years of age. He likes spicy food, burritos, and Diet Coke, and his favorite cigarette brand is Marlboro. His fre- quent pacing in the cage leads experts to believe that he was a politi- cal leader on his island.

The female weighs 63 kilos and measures 1.74 meters, and appears to be in her early thirties. She is fond of sandwiches, pad thai, and herb tea. She is a versatile dancer, and also enjoys showing off her domestic talents by sewing voodoo dolls, serving cocktails and mas- saging her male partner. Her facial and body decorations indicate that she has married into the upper caste of her tribe.

Both of the Guatinauis are quite affectionate in the cage, seemingly uninhibited in their physical and sexual habits despite the presence of an audience. Their anamist spirituality compels them to engage in pe- riodic gestural prayers, which they do with great enthusiasm. They like to massage and scratch each other, enjoy occasional long em- braces, and initiate sexual intercourse on the average of twice a day. Anthropologist at the Smithsonian observed (with the help of surveil- lance cameras) that the Guatinauis enjoy gender role playing together after dark, transforming many of their functional objects in the cage into makeshift sex toys by night. Visitors who get close to them will note that they often seek to fondle strangers while posing for photo- graphs. They are extremely demonstrative with children.

Encyclopedia Britannica

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166 Coco Fusco

move all his clothes except his underwear. He emerged with a manual lawn mower, and went to work on his garden. At one point he ran up to me and exclaimed that he wished he could film me naked there, to which I did not respond. At another point, he handed me a basket and told me to gather nuts and berries. While my anger mounted, my fears slowly sub- sided, as I realized that he was deeply immersed in his own fantasy world, so self-involved that it hardly needed my participation. I waited for him to finish his playacting, and then told him to take me to the closest train sta- tion, which he did, but not without grabbing me and ripping my shirt as I got out of his car.

I got back to my apartment safely. I was not physically harmed, but I was profoundly disturbed by what I had witnessed. The ethnographic film- maker whose fame rested on his depictions of “traditional” African societ- ies had projected his racist fantasies onto me for his own pleasure. What I thought I was, how I saw myself-that was irrelevant. Never had I seen so clearly what my physical presence could spark in the imagination of an ag- ing colonialist pervert.

The memory of that ethnographic filmmaker’s gaze haunted me for years, to the point that I began to wonder if I had become paranoid. But I, having watched behavior only slightly more discreet than his from behind the bars of our cage, can reassure myself that I am not. Those are the moments when I am glad that there are real bars there. Those are also the times when, even though I know I can get out of the cage, I can never quite escape.


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Coco Fusco is a Los Angeles-based writer and interdisciplinary artist. She recently completed a video documentary, co-produced with Paula Heredia, on her perfor- mances in a cage with Guillermo Gomez-Pena entitled The Couple in the Cage: A Guatinaui Odyssey. In collaboration with Gomez-Pena, she is currently prepar- ing a book of essays, scripts, poems, and other texts about cultural relations between

the North and the South that will be published by The New Press in I994.

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Issue Table of Contents
TDR, Vol. 38, No. 1 (Spring, 1994) pp. 1-192
Front Matter [pp. 1-6]
TDR Comment
TDR &the NEA: the Continuing Saga [pp. 7-26]
In Memory
Robert Willoughby Corrigan 1927-1993 [pp. 27-28]
Utpal Dutt 1929-1993 [pp. 29-30]
Letters, Etc.
Marxism, Melodrama, and Theatre Historiography [pp. 31-34]
Lampe Responds to Kitazawa [pp. 35-37]
Retiring or Recharging? [pp. 37-38]
Royalty-Free Plays. Foreman’s Invitation to Directors [pp. 38-42]
Announcements [pp. 42-43]
Muhammed and the Virgin: Folk Dramatizations of Battles between Moors and Christians in Modern Spain [pp. 45-61]
“A Radiant Smile from the Lovely Lady”: Overdetermined Femininity in “Ladies” Figure Skating [pp. 62-78]
Tomas Schmit: A Fluxus Farewell to Perfection: An Interview [pp. 79-97]
Going, Going, Gone: Theatre and American Culture(s) [pp. 98-105]
Whatever Happened to the Sleepy Mexican?: One Way to Be a Contemporary Mexican in a Changing World Order [pp. 106-118]
The New World Border: Prophecies for the End of the Century [pp. 119-142]
The Other History of Intercultural Performance [pp. 143-167]
Review: untitled [pp. 168-171]
Review: untitled [pp. 171-175]
Review: untitled [pp. 175-177]
Review: untitled [pp. 177-182]
More Books [pp. 183-186]
Back Matter [pp. 187-192]

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