Performance Art Upstaged by Election Returns -- Who Could've Guessed?
By Joe Eskenazi
With all the talk about San Francisco values flowing through the ether, it was almost reassuring to see city denizens walk into a consciously artistic gathering and proceed to act like men at a baby shower.
At "The Art of Freedom" election party at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, thousands of registered voters clamored into the building, got in line for their adult beverage of choice and then proceeded to hunker down in front of a stash of oversized televisions. Had they been watching the 'Bama-Ole Miss game instead of election returns, the analogy would have been complete.
"Hey, the Democrats are running things now," said Don McLeod, a left-leaning prison guard at San Quentin, as he waited in line for a beer. "Drinks for everyone."
Nearly 1,000 revelers had crammed into the YBCA by 7 p.m., with a line still snaking around the corner. A good percentage of them didn't seem to get past the TV at the front door - and if you were less than 6 feet tall, you weren't seeing much. "Say what happened!" shouted one shorter woman when a group of television-watchers bellowed their approval of Elizabeth Dole's electoral demise.
Gradually, one realized that he or she could wander into the actual arts portion of the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts and out of the foyer. Within were a pair of even larger TVs - they were the sort you'd expect to be planted in a public square in a Brazilian country town during the World Cup - and a stage.
Naturally enough, folks walked forward and began watching the gargantuan TVs with the sound off, an experience not unlike following a baseball or football game solely through an ESPN GameCast.
Inevitably, a performer sauntered up to the stage. An Obama-thin woman with frizzy blond hair and an intense gaze -- who, somehow, managed to resemble every man's ur-ex-girlfriend - assumed the lotus position. She blew on a conch shell three times; the crowd, largely populated by what will probably be the final generation mandated to read "Lord of the Flies" in High School, instinctively quieted down.
"The great revolution has begun," she said dreamily before chanting for about two minutes while MSNBC's David Gregory silently delivered the news in a pinstriped suit he apparently borrowed from a traveling company performing "Guys and Dolls."
The ur-ex-girlfriend mentioned something about a Tibetan prophesy of an army that would win a mighty victory without shedding a drop of blood and then chanted for a few more minutes. And when she finished there was applause. Deafening applause; applause even Liberace would have been floored by. After all, the giant TVs revealed that Barack Obama had been projected to win Ohio. After her next diversion into chanting, some smart-ass shouted out, "Now make him win Virginia!"
Okay, it was me.
At this point, a man with bells on his feet told everyone in the room to form a giant circle. The choreographer Anna Halprin informed us we were about to participate in a dance event. The bell guy, a violinist and a drummer would sound out a beat, and her students would begin to run in a complex series of four interlocking circles. Sound complicated? It sure was, what with election returns and Gregory's Nathan Detroit-style garb distracting you.
A barefoot woman shouted how she was running because her loved ones were risking their lives in Iraq. Another woman shouted about how she was running to support abortion rights. Another shouted, in Spanish ... well, our Spanish isn't as good as it should be. As the women began circling the room like electrons propelled by a base-drum beat, the man at the microphone urged us to say what we were running for.
And, at this point I rose and ran. I did not utter my thoughts - but, if I had, they would have been "I am running outside, for television - and beer!"