crowd theory

I’ve realized that the reason I don’t enjoy large, loud concerts is because I am less capable than most at succumbing to a collective. Last night was the huge stadium concert, which actually looked fairly unimpressive, because the stadium seats 56,000, and about 12,000 people actually showed up to the concert, though close to none actually went to the entire six-hour event.

Anyway. Not my point. (But they should have had it in McKale so it would look more impressive.) I really, really enjoy good concerts. I do. I adore music, and there is something really special about witnessing its creation and performance live. But I am really not a very flamboyant spectator. This is how I know I would not be a good famous singer, much as I’d like to be famous. I can’t really free myself to move around a lot or scream or anything. I sing along, yes. That I feel almost compelled to do, and it’s hard to keep my mouth shut. But moving around and waving my arms and showing “my diamonds,” as Jay-Z asked us all to do, is hard to do.

Waving my arms is the worst. I feel supremely uncomfortable and self-conscious when I am doing that. I’m sure it’s actually gotten harder since leaving high school, since I don’t dance anymore. But it’s never been something I’ve been able to do naturally. It’s a strange feeling, but even though I feel stupid not doing it, I feel like I have a physical aversion to doing it if I actually try to be one of the crowd.

There’s this thing called crowd psychology, and you can google it or look it up on Wikipedia if you like. I think the best example of this is English soccer fans, if only because I’ve already had a long conversation with my friends about that particular theory and how it’s manifested in that group. But basically, it’s the idea that people do things they would never do otherwise when they’re in groups, and it’s also very easy to be caught up in a sort of collective conscious and feel the same, act the same, and react the same. This is how people can end up rioting after they win a soccer game, or how they can feel an amazing rush of adrenaline when they and their friends go after a rival team’s fans and start beating them to a pulp. Ahh, the rush of physical fighting! Such a guy thing. I really don’t get it.

This is also how people feel when they go to a school football game and find themselves with a passion for their team that they never knew they had, or they notice that they’ve never had such a potty mouth before, or they realize that they and everyone around them is saying the same things, “oh!”ing at the exact same time, stamping their feet together, clapping the same rhythmic pattern, or what have you. Crowd psychology. Try and say you’ve never experienced this.

But I swear I don’t have that. I feel detached from other people almost all the time. I have definitely felt some moments of belonging, so I guess I’m not a complete alien, but those moments are things like bonding with the party room crew while we were sitting by the haunted house at Bennington College, or snapping a photo with my Kenya group soon after we’d returned, just before we went inside to graduate from high school. Group pride, certainly, and a sort of collective understanding and a feeling like in that moment, I loved those people more than anyone else, but never have I really lost myself in a moment that became a collective moment.

Even when Obama won the presidency, ecstatic as I was, I felt like I was faking it. I cheered because, yes, it was a wonderful thing, and because everyone else was doing it, but it was conscious. That’s not crowd psychology. It didn’t take me over; I just observed it and blended as well as I could. And even then, in a moment that I was truly happy and hopeful, I was not part of a collective conscious.

So last night, though I loosened up as the night went on, and I shouted the lyrics to “99 Problems” like nobody’s business, I felt completely aware of how out of my comfort zone I felt. And shouting the lyrics and dancing a bit was the only thing I did. My arms feel too heavy to wave them like everyone else; I don’t understand that whole diamonds thing because I’m definitely not as cool as I like to pretend I am; I did not shout out to Kelly Clarkson, “Kelly, I love you!”** repeatedly, and even if it had happened to be a Mariah Carey concert and I was thinking that same thing, I wouldn’t say it. I was lost in the musical conscious, but that’s not tangible, and it’s not even human. I am incapable of being part of a crowd.

I take back my earlier statement. I probably am an alien.

**This same girl at one point turned back to me and asked me something; I think the question was, “Aren’t you so happy right now?” which, looking back, is a really nice feeling to have, and I just smiled, because I wasn’t yet ready to buy the whole Kelly Clarkson deal (though after her entire set, I am sold–hers may not be my favorite style of music, but the girl is well-trained. She can belt, she can sing, she can scream–all in one song). Later, Kelly played a song from her new album, and this girl immediately grabbed her BlackBerry and googled the lyrics so she could sing along. Best. Concert. Moment. Ever.

***Also, check out Cindy Pon’s blog, book, and contest. She’s giving away a beautiful brush painting/bookstore gift certificate, plus a signed copy of her book, which looks awesome. You should click on the book cover now. Do it.

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