Saturday, October 13

Provoked experiences

Three nights back, when I was going through my little rant on Höfbräuhaus, I hit a wall that very nearly caused me to give up on the post. I was all prepared to rip into the famed Biergarten for creating an illusion and specifically provoking our reactions, but it occurred to me that many pieces of art very much attempt to do the same thing. A piece representing the loss of the creator's true love is not, after all, likely meant to put you into a good mood.

The difficulty in this realization? I like art but not Höfbräuhaus so much but was still seeing a parallel between the two on the very thing that led to my distaste of the latter. Obviously, I shouldered through, promising myself that I would revisit the issue. I knew the two were different, but that clarification would need more time. Now I think I know the difference.

The experiences created and maintained by places like Höfbräuhaus are all-consuming. When they are encountered, they assault every sense. Costumes and colors excite sight while music works over the ears. Even a carefully regulated temperature and smells appeal to two of our less popular senses. Literally, we are within the experience and allowed no room to step back from it. The creators seek total control, no room for the participants to deviate from the planned experience. All there can be is the expected response.

Now, the artist may want the same thing (I certainly do not want people breaking into tears and start reaching for the deluxe-size bottle of sleeping pills when I relate a story of hope), but their means are much more limited. In contrast to the omnipresence of the Höfbräuhaus experience, art, no matter its medium, is limited and the audience has control over its reception. A painter can paint his picture, the musician write her song, the director combine the visual and audio into a film, but their ultimate products do not consume in the same way. Even more, we can change the circumstances of our experience of the art. I can move the painting and those that surround it to create new points of contrast and comparison. I can listen to the song by myself in a dark room during a thunderstorm or with others during a tea party. Even if I watch the film in a theater, which attempts to absorb us into the experience as completely possible, the edges of the screen are still visible and the other audience members intrude on our experience. And, in the ultimate show of control, we can always turn it off or look away. Go to Höfbräuhaus, and you are within the experience until you leave.

Again, in the hopes of avoiding comparisons with a certain recently deceased philosopher whom I despise, I offer the disclaimer that I have strayed into hyperbole in my description of the control exhibited in these consuming experiences. Of course human agency still exists within them. It is more the intention of the consuming experience creators that I am raging against here than any practical matter.

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