A recent article in the SF Chronicle indicated that the recent 2009 Valentines Day Pillow Fight incurred at least $19,000 in city cleanup costs. As a result, the city is looking into cracking down on this and other related messy events like the Zombie Mob which leaves a trail of fake blood and the Pie Fight with it’s splattering of shaving cream pies. Of course, fake blood and shaving cream is much easier to just hose away than feathers.
As many of you know, I’ve been involved in a number of these events, either as a UN CCH Observer at the Pillow Fight or one of the hoards of undead at Zombie Mob. I admittedly have had a bargeload of fun at these events and left my quota of blood behind upon the sidewalks; while I spilt no feathers myself as a UN Observer, we did little to stem the flow. I am also a firm believer in Leave No Trace at Burning Man, Balsa Man, and whenever I go camping; unlike most, I even pick up after myself at movie theaters. Why then do I participate in events that leaves such a wreck in it’s wake? This is a good question‚ one that I was already beginning to ask myself before reading the article in the Chronicle.
Rowdy analogues around the world
While contemplating the nature of these events it is important to realize that these large entertaining mob events have analogues in the rest of the world: the chaotic stampedes of Pamplona Spain’s Running of the Bulls, the actual bloodletting during the Shi’a celebration of Ashura, the rowdy Haxley Hood game in England, and the citric squashing of the Battle of the Oranges in Italy. The Valentine’s Day Pillow Fight may not have the history behind it that these events have, but it is arguably similar in both style and messy aftermath. Also, it seems fitting that as Americans our large mob events would have no connection with history.
That said, Pillow Fight did leave quite a pricy sludge of feathers behind which is hard to just shrug off. As stated so eloquently by NinaVizz (aka Nina Alter), all this highlights “why the Leave No Trace ethos in anarchist art making is so fundamental.”
The Pillow Fight, Zombie Mob, et al. have no meaningful historical connection and thus are essentially anarchistic celebratory expressions of the community. While the Italian government may shake it’s head when cleaning up the smashed citrus covering it’s streets after the Battle of the Oranges, the celebration resonates with a historical toppling of the tyrant Raineri di Biandrate (and the subsequent tyrant Marquis Gugliemo of Monferrato). Because of this deep connection with the past, the Battle of the Oranges can be celebrated by all and the resultant cleanup can be shouldered by all. Whereas the Pillow Fight is essentially an event enjoyed by but a few and shouldered by everyone else in the city with a number of pissed off citizens.
The responsibility of participation
Whether you want to call them flash mobs, pranks, or celebrations, I think there is a need in society for these sorts of events. By their very nature these events guarantee that at least some artistic flotsam and jetsam is left behind. However, I believe those who participate should work to make the event fun for all ‚Äî including those responsible for cleaning up. In the very least, we should reduce the impact it has on our city’s workers and others.
In this regard, the Obama/Bush street sign change was a perfect execution as the signs were easy to remove and by many accounts the city workers got a laugh out of the whole thing. I doubt this was true for those cleaning up the sopping feathery sludge left behind after Valentine’s Day, and personally I don’t see any way for the chaos of Pillow Fight to be contained or diminished, so I will no longer be participating in it. As for other events, like much of life, I will consider my level and style of participation on a case by case basis.