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Michael Bettencourt
Our Mediated Lives
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August 2012

This year, for the third year in a row, the Macy's fireworks fired off from the Hudson River.

This meant, once again, that Brooklyn and Queens lost out, and lost out (again) to New Jersey, indignity of indignities.

Boulevard East, in Weehawken, becomes jammed with fireworks-watchers, who come wandering in about mid-afternoon to stake out their sites.  The first wave usually consists of the photographers, who post themselves to the railings and walls to get their unobstructed views.

Then behind them comes the really extraordinarily diverse waves of people, a vigorous mix of Asians (ranging east/west from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh to the Philippines and north to China, Japan, and Korea), African Americans, Spanish speakers from every country in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean, and probably from geo-religio-ethnic categories that exist on no census form or in any sociology textbook.

Their colors, their voices, their foods and musics and passing-the-time games — these are the real fireworks, the real spectacles, the real reason to be at this gathering at all.

As for the fireworks themselves — at a certain age, it is true to say that once you've seen one Macy's July 4th display, you do not ever have to see another one.  They went up, they exploded, they came down, repeat, repeat.

What struck me this time, though, was this, which is why this entry has the title it does.

At 9:20 PM or so, as the first rocket pierced the evening, a forest of arms arose, like Birnam Wood coming to Dunsinane, except that instead of branches in their mitts, the people held cameras of all kinds.  All of sudden, all attention to the event became filtered through the device, and people spent time watching through the screens, scanning the pictures they'd just taken, taking some more, sending some off to other people (the woman next to me sent a photo, with text, to someone else in the same crowd, as if they were not sharing the same experience).

It reminded me of a story told by Bruce Babbitt, who was the Secretary of the Interior in Bill Clinton's administration. He watched a group of Japanese tourists at the Grand Canyon as one person, with a Polaroid camera, took a picture of the others lined up with the Arizona sunset in the background.

Snap.  Out whirrs the photo.  And the group gathers around to experience that solar wonderment by watching the Polaroid develop, ignoring the actual sun as it sets.

The device mediates the experience, and something is lost in the translation/transaction.  Theatre, of course, is a mediating device as well, as is all art, but art functions differently, not only filtering in and filtering out but also, in the best-made devices, requiring us to respond to the mediation in some way that touches and moves us beyond the ordinary and the habitual.

And that's what it was like on Wednesday, July 4.

Except for the children, who only had their unmediated eyes to do their looking.  As usual.

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©2012 Michael Bettencourt
©2012 Publication Scene4 Magazine

Michael Bettencourt is a produced and published playwright and a Senior Writer and Columnist for Scene4.
Continued thanks to his "prime mate" and wife, Maria-Beatriz

Read his theatre reviews in Scene4's Qreviews
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August 2012

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