Karaoke... communities?

January 7, 2018

The old man and the younger woman singing together on stage. How sweet! Seriously, no sarcasm. But, as with most real things, there's more to it. The woman is the owner of the bar. The man is her father. According to her, this is the moment through which they share a rare mutual bond. They gather on stage together, every week, and sing a song.

 

As I watch this moment happen, again, once again, for yet another week in a row, I start to realize how many faces I've recognized, whether regularly or semi-regularly, how many people were in conversation with each other as they performed, how much interaction on stage, between stage and audience, within audience, and on the semipermeable edges of the magic circle where the real world starts to intercede. And that's just it, isn't it? We're in the real world, playing at being rock god and pop star, all while existing in a pub or a restaurant or whatever else that has all the play-sucking consumerism that reminds us of where we are while pretending to be somewhere else. These regulars, these players or the game of karaoke, must be forming communities. They must be sharing, discussing, debating, competing, collaborating, celebrating, mourning, and otherwise engaging with each other.

 

Who are these people? Why are they here? What is the locust of this engagement? What, exactly, is a karaoke play community?

 

Celia Pearce, in her book Communities of Play, says "play communities tend to be viewed as outside the norm. This is especially true of communities whose play cultures are deeply tied to imagination, fantasy, and the creation of a fictional identity." And indeed, karaoke seems all about identity creation, or some reasonably facsimile of that act, in which the player seems to be acting out a combined identity of original performer and self, resulting in a performance-self. Quoted by Pearce from Ferdinand Tönnies, "Communities take varying forms, from religious sects to neighborhoods, and are characterized by affiliations around a group identity that includes shared customs, folkways, and social mores. Typically, the will of individuals within a community is, to a certain extent, subjugated to the greater good." Which is to say, in some place within this community of play exists an ethos to collaborate, to support and assist, and to otherwise play together. And thus we arrive at this beautiful image of a daughter and her father playing together. What are they playing exactly? Is this a shared performance of a relationship? Is it a wish at something that isn't but can be within this special space? Or is it nothing more than "play that blur[s] the boundaries between real and [fantastic], everyday life and imagination, work and play."

 

Sing on, you two. Sing on.

 

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