“Movement Politics” — Essay for “RockCitizen” by Michael J. Kramer
August 25th, 2018 | By Michael J. Kramer
The Seldoms Rock Citizenship, From the Sixties to Now
RockCitizen uses the social movements of the 1960s as a starting point for probing questions of citizenship and social activism today. Multimedia dance theater becomes an immersive means of scrutinizing whether what happened then can help us grapple with what is going on now. RockCitizen is no nostalgia piece, however. It does not, Hair-like, believe that we are at the dawning of a new Age of Aquarius. Instead, The Seldoms move through a dense tapestry of 1960s references, from pop stars and songs to political figures and activists both familiar and obscure, to investigate what was at stake—and what is still at stake—in seeking to rock citizenship, to test the meaning and nature of civic belonging, to see if it can weather the changes necessary to realize its most expansive potential for freedom. In RockCitizen, The Seldoms agitate, with both the swivel of hips and the raising of fists, for democratic social change.
Of course, as the social movements of the 1960s taught us, the swiveling of hips and the raising of fists are fundamentally linked. Feelings experienced close to the bone are never far away from matters of state and society. The personal is political, as second-wave feminists proclaimed. The intimate and the public are inextricably intertwined, much like the 216 multicolored brassieres stitched together for RockCitizen by visual artist Bob Faust on a moveable rigging to create a striking “Brascape.” As The Seldoms dance below, around, through, with, against, and in the Brascape, they explore thrilling pleasures as well as serious business, kicks and joys as well as civic politics, consciousness as well as conscience, the individual sensorium as well as the nature of the collective polity. As radical feminist Ellen Willis claimed, “The history of the sixties strongly suggests that the impulse to buy a new car and tool down the freeway with the radio blasting rock and roll is not unconnected to the impulse to fuck outside marriage, get high, stand up to men or white people or bosses, join dissident movements.” RockCitizen want to know how these different kinds of agitation are, to use Willis’s curious phrase, “not unconnected.” How have everyday people rocked citizenship, from the sixties to now? Why did they both reach deeply into their own psyches and out toward others? How did they expand the scope of participation in civic life? How did they shape it, demand places in its orderings and rankings, protest its shortcomings and failures, and strive to make their individual bodies fully part of the larger social body through actions both personal and public?
Chasing these questions, RockCitizen throttles toward our contemporary moment, reminding us that the United States and the world have been through tumultuous, destabilizing times before. We step back into the past with The Seldoms in order to ask whether the widespread, multifaceted effort to rock citizenship from the halcyon days of hippies, rock stars, antiwar protesters, black power activists, radical feminists, and gay liberationists still has any thrust left in it in the age of Occupy, #blacklivesmatter, #metoo, and #abolishice. RockCitizen is a study in multiplicity and density, shifting kaleidoscopically among stories and instances when 1960s energies connect to struggles today for civic democracy in the United States during our own moment of crisis. Can citizenship still be rocked in positive ways or is it, in our present age, confined to agitation without transformation? Taking us back to, as poet Gary Snyder put it, “a time when it seemed / the world might head a new way,” The Seldoms remind us that we are not at a standstill now, not by a long shot: a world of full and free citizenship for all remains poised in the balance, waiting yet to be rocked.
Michael J. Kramer
Dramaturg and Historian-in-Residence, The Seldoms
Assistant Professor of the Practice, Digital History
Acting Director, Digital Liberal Arts
Middlebury College, Vermont