[I've learned since writing this that the group renting the Terrace public space is BYI: Bright Youngest Things, a new set of people who live off their inherited and unearned income.. I didn't know. I wish I had had a Sign Occupy the South Gallery!]
Last night the Kennedy Center showed how if the Occupy Movement has changed some of the public dialogue, it has done nothing to move one iota the values and behavior that has led to these desperate encampments. The organization privatized a huge central area of space normally used in several central ways: 1) for the spill-over of the cafeteria to eat at before the evening shows stars; 2) for ingress and egress to various places on the terrace of the building, including getting to bathrooms, going for walks on the outside. Well knowing that a huge number of people would be coming to the building as there were a number of Christmas-driven shows going on, they nonetheless cut off this space for a tiny elite to listen to an orchestra in, drink expensive drinks, and sit in an area which was lit by an artificial lighting company as set apart.
The result was a huge number of people were pushed into waiting on line for spaces to get into the cafeteria, far more coming (as is not uncommon) than can sit in the area right near the cafeteria food. They had not room enough for everyone; the outer space was needed for the spill-over. They were also forced into standing into an artificially created corridor -- in their fancy clothes, ready for this good time, humiliated. For if like people often do, they would want to deny this, this is what happened. 99% of the clientele last night at the Kennedy Center was discommoded, inconvenienced, many not getting their dinner or risking not getting to their show on time so an exclusive subset of people could take over the space. The real irony is this event for this subgroup was starting at 9:30 pm, so this need not have been done. But forsooth you would not want the band not to practice, you would not want the technicians not to be putting up their phony lighting (which takes time and hard work) and of course if the space was there, who would want the hoi polloi to sit in it watching what's happened. The whole idea is exclusion.
I said to the woman sitting grimly in her chair in the space where people could have walked into the usual free area, "this is very wrong," and "shame on you," She adopted a sneering smile.
Welcome to Christmas 2011. Downstairs there was a free program of music going on -- a leftover from the 1960s mentality which had built this building in the first place. But lest you think gentle reader that the two values were equal, remember the cost of all the shows there and that this is but one hour of prelude. Go to the shop. Last night on sale from a family in Germany of craftsman (whose name was repeated to me as if I should start up with admiration as they are famous) were two tables of exquisitely foot high nutcracker dolls, each done individually to represent famous people (Napoleon, natch, Louis XIV, natch -- no Robespierre here folks), one of the three wise men complete with tiny creche and characters from famous fairy and folk tales and bogus historical perspectives. A member of this family was sitting at a table for my delectation (to see her). The dolls cost from $300 each.
And of course one need not go to the inexpensive cafeteria. On the other side of the terrace is a super-luxurious dining place which is and was last night too usually more than half empty. It too is for the 1%.
So there we were come for a concert of songs by Eric Owens. a rising powerful beautifully-voiced bass-baritone, recently capturing public attention because of the HD broadcasts of Wagner's Ring where he sang Alberich, as an intensely angry huge dwarf emotionally exploiting probably his own memories of growing up black in the US to replace the anti-semitism of the original stereotype with a driving ferocity of resentful exclusion that the modern American audience can empathize with.
As to our experience of this:
We escaped the ignominy and frustration of the cafeteria because we got there early partly because the Admiral is often anxious or eager to start off early wherever we are going, this time on the theory that we could go downstairs to the Millenium Hall where each night at 6 there is a free concert, sometimes of remarkably good people singing, playing instruments. The bill was not terribly detailed: the NSO, young adult musicians on scholarships would play their instruments. When we got upstairs, we saw the very large area leading to the cafeteria was roped off and loud noise coming from the band. We got our food and began to see the cafeteria crowd up and people at first roving for seats. That stopped -- we saw this later as ropes were quickly set up to stop more people coming into this cafeteria area than can be accommodated.
As we left we saw this line, 3 and 4 thick and deep. We walked back along it with others who had come early. They looked embarrassed and relieved it was not then. The people in the line were very irritated, but they are trained to obey, to be civilized even if others are not civilized or decent to them in turn.
The concert downstairs was young people playing strings: Debussy was what we heard. Too many people were there to be seated. The music was well done and reminded me of Afternoon of a Fawn. We wandered about and among other things saw the Nutcracker dolls.
When we go upstairs the Admiral was disappointed in the concert. Mr Owens was (so the Admiral called it) all Teutonic gloom. He chose all strongly melancholy elite type songs in German (Wolf, Schumann, Schubert -- it sounded to my ears like Wagner) and the second half was going to be more of the same in French. Mr Owens could not relax, let down his guard and talk much. He was dressed all in a kind of black outfit, not a tux (I liked that) a kind of prison garb. There was him, the grand piano and his pianist, Craig Rutenberg. When Mr Owens was host at the HD opera a few weeks ago, he was nervous and embarrassed. I felt for him then and last night too. The audience was notably much less lily white than usual; many black people in the audience really. Many people dress to the nines.
We saw some of the people of the Wagner Society who (as I have written) did not think our money as good as that of others to go to their limited number weekend away each year. After our first appearance, we were seen not to be good or well connected enough or rich or whatever, and the second time our check was held to the last moment when they got someone they preferred to take our place. That is an elite weekend at at $500 a pop. At the time the Admiral was not yet retired.
We did leave half-way through. I had fallen asleep during the first half and Yvette said she didn't mind leaving. So,as we walked out I could see that elite tiny group really super-dressed up just starting their "good" time. Al herd together. We are all one in one area of the earth too.
Locally, the Terrace Theater is close to thiscommon area, now cordoned off for the elite in their atmosphere and with their high decibel band, with the two cafeterias (on the other see below) close by too
The area in the artificial corridor was now deserted and the inexpensive cafeteria quiet, deserted.
The 1% are winning because the 99% don't know what to do. The codes and norms by which we live are set up to support what happened at the Kennedy Center last night. Set up to favor elites, the rich not just in the public media (which is mostly owned and controlled by them.)
It is one thing to rent out a building to a party -- say the Torpedo Factory in Alexandria, at 5 for a party to occur after the public hours are over and the space is not otherwise needed. It's another to deliberately cordon off needed space. But what does the Kennedy Center care? they are in their rights, aren't they? Business, profits, and especially creating gift spaces for the few.
What we saw was disgraceful and should have been framed as shameful. I said to a man and woman (husband and wife probably) who walked with us past that line, we should Occupy the Terrace. They laughed nervously and agreed in words. But none of us on that elevator going down (who had been lucky enough to get some of the dinner) did anything.
That's what it's all about, isn't it? What's been happening to their New Years' Eve party at the Kennedy Center is the price has shot way up so the Admiral, Yvette and I no longer go. The events on are more glitzy pop drivel than they were before to try to lure more people in too. The food in the cafeteria has lately been improved, but it is now over $60 to eat there.
Sing on Alberich.
Eric Owens as Alberich grasping his fairy gold
See also Mr Bloomberg, the man who makes a huge noise before each HD opera begins: His Own Private Army
Home, homelessness, un-home-y: the dysfunctional society sheds its asylums
Also, how many recent literary studies are driven by a desire to show their writer a money-greedy professional, part of the admired elite, ever so social and networking too, as in Fergus's Jane Austen businesswomen, even, hilariously (Paula Byrne) appropriating an singularly absurd portrait of woman overdressed in front of a window quill in hand. Shakespeare remember didn't write his plays, how could a nobody?