In Philosophical Culture (1911), Georg Simmel, German sociologist and philosopher, expanded the notion of culture which he viewed as the essential condition for the development of human potential. In this text, Simmel breaks down culture into two aspects: objective and subjective culture. Objective culture is a large component of the metropolis where, the individual is a cog in large social machinery who is given an array of stimulations, interests and ways to fill up one’s days which “carry the person, as if in a stream and one needs hardly to swim for oneself.” Simmel views “objective culture” in direct contradistinction to the individual who must fight back against cultural machinery by creating a “subjective culture” where people are capable of producing and controlling certain aspects of their lives. Contending that the rise of modernization has threatened the ability of individual culture to react, shift and push back, Simmel regards objective culture as that which stifles creativity while also encouraging passivity and adaptation within the city. This chipping away at the individual is what Simmel calls the “atrophy of individual culture and the hypertrophy of objective culture,” as the cultural thrust to conform comes to dominate the individual.
Simmel’s preoccupation with the erasure of individual culture is a concept I frequently contemplate. Every June I realize how much individual culture has been wiped away by objective culture the minute Gay Pride hits most every western metropolitan center, replete with a gazillion gay clichés hitting the streets faster than you can say “jazz hands.” Anyone who thinks that Christmas and Valentine’s Day are the only commercialized events of the year, think again. I have attended Gay Pride festivities across the globe since reaching adulthood and as counter-cultural their roots might be, these events have been surprisingly mainstream for well over two decades in most urban centers. More astonishing is that these festivities are generically packaged as if a McDonalds had come in and managed each and every Pride event, nothing really special about one Pride over another.
In New York, since the early 1990s, Gay Pride has been highly commodified with floats for local radio stations, clubs, Broadway shows, the token gay male baton twirler, twinks in boxer briefs and feather boas, bare-chested men in kilts and military boots, rainbow flags emblazoned everywhere, the Dykes of Bikes leading the way and more drag queens than you can shake a stiletto at. Sounds original? It’s not. Just jump across the Atlantic to Brighton’s Pride festivities and you will find the same breakdowns, much of it in the same order.
Gay Pride rose from Christopher Street Liberation Day on 28 June 1970 on the first anniversary of the Stonewall riots. Beginning with an assembly on Christopher Street, the first Pride March left Sheridan Square, head east towards Sixth Avenue and then north to 59th Street, ending with a “Gay-In” in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow. During the birth of the gay liberation movement, Pride was a much needed event serving a cultural need at a moment when gay men and women were simply not free to be out of the closet. But that was then and Pride no longer serves a purpose for the gay community, if we can even use this term any longer.
Today Pride has turned into a mass marketing spree for everyone to buy into an antiquated idea of what homosexuality “looks like” when it is often the case that there are more straight folks at Pride than gay with many skipping it entirely to avoid the madness back in the city. The objective culture of Pride since 1970 has has created a machinery that feeds the need for the younger generation of gay men and women to find community by paradoxically destroying all that is community-like. These festivities are never uniquely about the people, but rather they function as an abstract concept of celebration while serving to influence marketing perceptions for its participants. Everything about Pride is a publicity stunt from the floats to the music we are told should be our “Pride Anthem” to Google’s rainbow hack especially made for this year’s Pride.
In fact, tech firms have taken a keen interest in the gay community over the years from their involvement in pushing for the end of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to Apple being one of the first companies to offer equal rights and benefits to its employees’ same-sex partners (ie. health insurance). More recently, tech companies are outdoing themselves for Pride with Apple rolling out its Pride watch band and face, the LGBT Foundation and OST highlighting the new LGBT cryptocurrency and Spotify, Instagram, Twitter and Google are all offering a “gay” color tweak to their apps. Still, none of this has anything to do with the celebration of homosexuality with many in the gay community permanently uninterested in an annual event that they view as exploiting a cultural history while turning it into a marketplace.
Pride has now become a standard for ritualizing what used to be a private matter, now a performed sexuality for the public sphere in homage to a mythic past. These celebrations are entirely invested in the externalization of the private onto the public sphere with the expectation that everyone conform. While Pride is often a rite of passage for younger gay men and women or those who are newly “out of the closet,” many still be feel obliged to participate since it is a ready-made event. Unlike Christmas which involves a lot f preparation, labour and shopping, Pride merely requires that you roll out of bed. From your doorstep, pretty much everything you might need, you can buy as you walk along the streets. It’s almost too difficult to refuse because as commodity, Pride means that there is no excuse since you are merely filling a role with a ready-made script and rainbow flags on every corner. You need not even think for yourself. But what is being offered other than a flag posited as the metonymy of an actual community?
JUN 22, 2018 @ 07:25 PM