Hallelujah! We are Busting Out of Our Cocoons

Published on
by
The Age (Australia)

Hallelujah! We are Busting Out of Our Cocoons

Dare we finally say good riddance to the Age of Atomization?

AS FAR as trends go, this one was benignly vile. Cocooning - coined in the late 1980s, coming of age in the '90s and sticking around in the noughties - was the brainchild of trendspotter Faith Popcorn. She predicted an en masse retreat from social and public life, in favor of a ''cocooning'' in one's home.

Sociologist Gabrielle Gwyther told Good Weekend in 2003: ''They [home owners] love cocooning inside their McMansions, which are like castles, fun factories and mini-resorts in one.''

In short, we've been stuck for more than 20 years with a trend predicated on the fact that the world is nasty, and other people are horrible - possibly out to rob or kill you, so best throw on a tracksuit, line up your remotes, order in pizza and stay indoors.

The cocooning trend was commercially significant, fueling spending in homewares that have a '90s/early 2000s vibe: huge bath towels, home coffee machines where you could enjoy an inferior coffee in isolation, ugg boots and huge plasma screens that were no longer mere TVs but ''home theaters''.

Cocooning's effect on community life was also debated. Would it turn us into deracinated Bowling Alone types? Would it spell the end for the Jaycees?

But the Age of Atomization could finally be ending. Retail is struggling. Our appetite for buying stuff is slowing. And we no longer want the big houses that characterized the cocooning period. Last week the head of Stockland, Matthew Quinn, said homes were shrinking and the trend was ''locked in''. Media rooms were a casualty of the readjustment.

Now we are going out. Like children whose parents are away for the weekend, we are climbing out the windows and staying out past our bedtimes.

The latest Live Performance Australia survey reports that Australians spent a record $1.3 billion on tickets to live shows last year. Between July 2009 and June 2010 in Victoria there were more than 5.4 million attendees at live music venues - outstripping AFL match attendances. Like teens off the leash, where we are heading to is random, joyous, catholic, experimental and kind of mental.

Contemporary music showed the biggest increase, with musical theater and circus theater also performing well.

Also on the uptake are art galleries, camping music festivals, classical music, burlesque, book festivals and bars.

When Radio National last week talked about the trend towards entertainment spending, parents rang in saying they were taking their children to concerts and festivals because they want to provide experiences - not stuff.

And it is the experiences you remember. I cannot remember a thing I brought in 1994, 2008, or 2004. But I remember the heady experience of risking impalement to breach the security barrier at the Myer Music Bowl to get to the Pearl Jam mosh. Or in standing in a field linking arms with some dude wearing a top hat and crinoline skirt as Leonard Cohen sang Hallelujah from a faraway stage, or standing in a room by myself in the Hermitage surrounded by Kandinskys, almost hyperventilating in an emotion that felt close to panic and exhilaration that the dancing paintings - so close - would leap off the walls.

We don't talk much about collective ecstasy any more. It seems a bit too subversive - too warped by associations of the drug of the same name, too dangerous - with the potential to veer into violence and civil disobedience, as if something primal was unleashed.

But what is collective ecstasy other than this - a gig in a hot room, or in a field and you are packed in so close to each other you are not sure if it's your sweat soaking through your T-shirt or the bloke next to you. You are not sure if you will get out alive, but at this point - dancing - you don't care.

And then there are the quieter joys we are taking up in greater numbers. Going to a public gallery and staring at a painting. Hearing classical music. A Wheeler Center talk.

For us secular types who have broken the nexus between worship, community and a ''religious experience'', there is still a need for transcendence. I can honestly say I have never had a peak experience while watching television or purchasing massive towels.

American author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote about the need for this in Dancing in the Streets: ''The capacity for collective joy is encoded into us almost as deeply as the capacity for erotic love of one human for another.''

A society that dances together is one I want to be part of. Belfast poet Nick Laird wrote it best and most succinctly: ''There is such a shelter in each other.''

Of course not every gig will be Dionysian. Not every painting will be profound. Time will be wasted seeing a socially crippled, dry-mouthed author at literary events, unerotic burlesque shows, unfunny comedy.

But to bust out of our cocoons! To hit the streets. To wake up and feel alive in our bodies again. To be out in the world, celebrating the talent and skill of others. To reject creeping atomization and individualization. To turn to the person next to us at the gig or the gallery or the winery or the community choir and introduce ourselves. To get to know each other again. It's good to meet you.

Brigid Delaney

Brigid Delaney is a freelance journalist.

More in: