Thursday, September 23, 2010

Shannon Palermo on The Fun Movement

The Potential of Fun To Create Paradigm Shift
by Shannon Palermo

For the better part of nine years, from my perch in Portland, Oregon, I participated unknowingly in something kinda revolutionary. Within the biking community, we started calling it "The Fun Movement". That's what we called folks collaborating, networking, and making the city better using fun as a means. Stuff like: Zoobomb, the bicycle dance revolution, Pedalpalooza, March Fourth, Velomutations, Show Me the Pink, Chunkathalon, punk shows, midnight mystery rides, street art. I observed fun (for a lack of a better word) & its ability to wake people up in a prescribed world of apathy and fun's ability to create vibrant community. Over the years, I started asking questions about the The Fun Movement's potential to create paradigm shift. I've tried to organize my observations & reflections on this subject. I don't claim to have all the answers or to be any sort of expert on The Fun Movement. My reflections are governed by my social location & I am a layman in these matters. Regardless, here are my thoughts on The Fun Movement's potential to create paradigm shift.

In order to understand the potential of "The Fun Movement", we must first understand our own cultural lens. Fun is all fine and dandy when your belly isn't hungry. Here in North America, we have enjoyed privilege beyond the comprehension of most people living on this earth. In our privileged culture, we have a level of complacency & no real need to fight back against the injustices. Desperation doesn't motivate us to take to the streets. Fun! is quite possibly the best tool we have against apathy here in the "developed" world. It is my opinion that in a privileged culture, fun is a people power rousing tool.

I'd like to further explore social location and juxtapose that North America with what I refer to as "RAD America". This is a short tangent that I think is VERY relevant to understanding fun's potential for paradigm shift. Different from America, I believe RAD America is made up of North, Central, and South America. It is home to art warehouse collectives, folks living sustainably, people taking to the streets, floating art armadas, sweaty basements, farmers standing up for their rights, workers taking over factories. I am a Rad American. We are the people who, despite the luxury of complacency or not, are fighting back. Although we don't have solidarity with a lot of what people identify the word "America" with, we have mad solidarity with each other & we know we aren't alone.

Here is a little example of the power of fun to get people off their asses. October 24th, 2009 was a global day of action around climate change in anticipation of the Copenhagen Climate Talks. 15,000 people took to the streets in Ethiopia, 200 actions took place in China & there were 181 countries that participated all on the same day. It was impressive on a global scale. Barely a blip on the Portland radar, I walked home from the local rally & ran into a HUGE zombie ride. The zombie ride was just for fun. Happened to be the same day and downtown as well. The zombies outnumbered the progressives at least 3 to 1. So I suppose the lesson to be learned here is that the troops WILL rally if there is fun. Seems fun appeals to people, however uncomfortable it might be to admit, more than global issues of climate change. If not for sheer numbers, then for the immediate need we have for a more tolerant compassionate world, we could use fun to bring the people to the streets!

So, as a Rad American, what can you do with "fun"? Can you dress her up and take her on adventures with you? Why yes, yes you can!

Fun is for kids!
Want to engage the wee ones with your revolutionary agendas? Yup, this is the SECRET: Interject it with FUN!

Reclaim public space!
Take to the streets! It gives you a perspective on location, urban planning, infrastructure, and nature. Go on a full moon night & you'll get an extra dash of magic! Getting people out of their day to day & providing them with fun in the streets is perhaps a means of bringing people not only together, but together with radical intention.

Art as advocacy!
The message lingers more poignantly through art. Folks love entertainment, specially in a "developed" country. Is it enjoyable, maybe even fun? For example, I helped start and maintain an all-female syncronized mini-bike dance team for the past 5 years. Named The Sprockettes, we choreograph dances to songs using bikes and bike thematic elements. We perform in all sorts of settings including pavement, asphalt, dirt, grassy fields, & dance floors. The spectacle of a Sprockettes' performance continues to be wildly popular & well received. Besides entertaining audiences, The Sprockettes represent a message of female empowerment, sustainable transportation, positive life living, & community. Twirling, balancing, and laughing our message resonates with our audience without ever saying a word. Inevitably after every show, we get what we call "testimonials" - declarations from people moved by the bigger ideas our collective and our performance embodies. Put the revolution in your art. Entertain Me! I'm a first world lady that wants to have Fun!

Positive life living!
The biggest complaint with "activism" today is its focus on the negative. Fun interjected into your "thing" can more easily adopt a positive message. For example, instead of protesting outside the Home Depot, you could put on a dance that highlights a message using their huge shopping carts. The funner, the better. Reflect a positive message with fun. Furthermore, any spectacle that is fun or funny will engage & gather crowds.

Compassion reigns or the universality of fun!
There is a universal element to fun. It can supercede other things that might otherwise separate folks, and instead connect people on a deeper level. Foster an environment where there is an even playing field and you'll motivate compassion & responsibility to fellow participants. Not to dumb-down the point I'm trying to make, but even a baby laughs at a fart. Laughing is pretty contagious. Funny is really fun. There are some things, no matter how banal, that are just straight up universal. The human connections that a "fun" environment can nurture are unique. At least I think they are. I've also observed that the human connections made through "having a good time" can be augmented with physical activity. There is a camaraderie that is adopted when you play a game of ball, hike, race, go through an obstacle courses & even make love!

Subverting the dominant paradigm!
Use a good dose of "fun" to remind folks that real life cannot be found on a screen, that the moon goes in cycles, that the seasons offer different wisdoms, and that the real fun isn't at a bar or spending money even!

In a nutshell:

Fun as a revolutionary tool works in what is commonly referred to as "developed" countries. This is to our advantage because the "developed" countries & the big money industries they engender are, in fact, responsible for a lot of the world's injustices. Using "fun" in light of these observations could help push us, the people, in a direction to take to the streets. As Rad Americans, we're the lucky ones. We get to fight with fun, love and light instead of out of desperation.
I hope you'll interject the inclusive wisdom of The Fun Movement into your life, projects, and events! You want to make a little splash in the world on the side of righteousness & truth? Seriously consider street theater, synchronized dance, leading a bike ride, hosting a pillow fight on the light-rail, free art. Think "Fun". Hell, think "funny"! I don't know what to say. It seems to work.

Long Live The Fun Movement!

Here are two quotes ruling my world right now that I hope will inspire you:
"You can't clean it up until you make a mess"
----> Tracy & The Plastics
"Stand up & be counted with all the rest"
----> Nina Simone

Shannon Palermo
stayhidden AT gmail dot com

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