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Ephemera: How You Get Adopted
How the Liminoid Wins!
First a note about Victor Turner and the Liminal v. the Liminoid
According to the cultural anthropologist Victor Turner, liminal events fall at the traditional seams or articulations of a culture; for example, weddings, Halloween, New Year’s. They allow for ritual at these marked events. For instance the Honeymoon allows the married couple to leave their peer group for a traditional three days, then return as a recognized couple.
Liminoid events have the qualities of the liminal — communitas: a flattened social hierarchy where people have an equal social standing, for instance — but liminoid events can happen at any time, and typically require a fee. For example rock concerts.
To me the liminoid has always been a testing ground for new images, ideas, social models. While I was part of the Cacophony Society we watched our high jinks morph from public pranks into public institutions. Cacophony members sewed huge salmon costumes and wore them to swim “upstream,” running against the tide of erstwhile marathoners in the Bay to Breakers race. A year later Nike recreated the stunt, but as a big-budget television commercial. With much grander costumes.
Likewise, Burning Man has morphed from a dirty, desert transgressive prank — for example the Disgruntled Postal Workers Camp, where everyone wore mail carrier uniforms and openly carried firearms, a nod to workplace shootings — into a vast money-making festival where the likes of Facebook set up plush air-conditioned camps for their employees to attend. Later, MTV broadcast from there.
As for SantaCon…
In the salad days of SantaCon, aka “the red tide,” aka “the Con,” hundreds of Cacophony peeps would descend on a host city to rove from bar to bar, always chased around by local police. The Santas crashed high society holiday parties. They flooded department stores and filled Windex spray bottles with blue-tinted vodka and gin so they could publicly squirt one another in the mouth. It was never a success until the red tide had a stand-off against the police, the thin blue line, and a few arrests were made. Exposed breasts and public urination were still a legal no-no.
Which brings us to…
A branded SantaCon. With a website. And with strict rules. And tiered pricing — so much for the flattened social hierarchy of communitas. Here it seems that some Santas are more equal than other Santas. The heart of “the Con” was always the erasure of gender, age, and race. Everyone assumed the name “Santa” and if another Santa lap danced you, you had little or no idea who was grinding away.
From the website for Stumptown SantaCon.
Stumptown SantaCon is all about the experience! What better way to take that experience to the next level than to ILLUMINATE YOUR COSTUME? Add some dazzling lights to that hideous sweater, sparkling ice-icicles from your Santa hat, or a rockin’ pair of illuminated Santa pants! Whatever you choose to light up the night with make sure it’s securely fastened. Not only does it make your SantaCon experience amazing, it makes for great memories for our photographers to promote SantaCon too! There’s that whole safety piece that we like as well.
And from PDXToday:
Stumptown SantaCon is a Costume-Themed Dance Festival with over 20 participating venues, covered outdoor areas, and DJ'd Dance party with over 2,500 Santas in the street. All to raise money for four local charities!
This is what success looks like
When you create an experimental liminoid event you hope that it serves people so effectively that the larger culture adopts it. You’re in effect leaving a baby on someone’s doorstep. Well, this is what adoption looks like. Whether your liminoid experiment is a book or a public prank, when the world begins to sustain it as a “tradition” it will lose some outsider luster.
It would be ludicrous for Cacophony peeps to gripe, here. Any time you put your idea out, you’re quietly hoping it will take over the world. And vice versa.
Me at the Con in 1996, the year Fight Club was published:
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