Spectacular drama in urban entertainment : the dramatisation of community in popular culture
This is a study of some of the many types of entertainment that have been called spectacular, of the cultural significance of certain conventions in ways of transforming space and identity. Forms of spectacular drama both require and celebrate urban social relations, they constitute essential parts of the popular cultural landscape. They display an idealisation of ways of picturing collective experience. Although I note continuities in forms of spectacular drama through different eras, it is differences in the ways in which our sense of collective life or community is experienced and expressed that provide for very different understandings of forms of spectacular display. I describe and discuss forms of spectacular drama in the fifteenth, nineteenth and twentieth centuries. I have chosen the fifteenth century as it was a period when there was a flourishing range of dramatic entertainment but no theatres. The principal features of the culture that I stress are the looseness of the dramatic frame. In contrast, the nineteenth century is a period of both urban expansion and theatrical supremacy. In the course of the century the population became urbanised and the growing cities became spectacular stages for new forms of social experience. I describe a broad framework of popular entertainment which provided many forms of spectacular experience, but concentrate upon the theatrical form of melodrama and forms of pictorial realism. In the chapter on the twentieth century I am principally concerned with the implications of processes of massification - both of society and culture. I argue that the democratic individualism of consumer culture and mass leisure has made the vocabulary of identity and community peculiarly problematic. The theme is that spectacular drama in contemporary culture has become more insistent and more public and yet our participation and response has been increasingly privatised.